Ross Wilson of Blue Rose Code runs his hand repeatedly through his thick lumberjack beard, gripping it roughly as he shakes his head in obvious frustration. His pursed lips shift into a wry smile before he opens his mouth and lets out a short Scottish chuckle, obviously amused at the simple question: Are you enjoying your tour? “Nothing irritates me more than hearing musicians complain about doing the thing they profess to love” Ross says “bedwetting musicians moaning about touring, it’s high class problems. For me, I love it”.
Since the release of his debut album North Ten in February, Ross has been busy: he’s clocked around sixty gigs, played the summer festivals, taken an exclusive trip with the BBC to Nashville and recorded two EP’s. So with the live tour soon coming to an end, what’s next? Wilson grins excitedly at this question “We’re going into the studio in December” he says rapping the table emphatically, “after that there’ll be no more live dates until the Album launch in May next year”.
Despite the buoyant progress, anyone who is familiar with Blue Rose Code’s more melancholy songs knows there’s a darker story behind the recent success. Now a recovering alcoholic, Ross struggled with addiction for years, eventually ditching music entirely during 2009 in an effort to dry himself out. He suffered for eighteen long months before gradually returning to music, but the purge did little to stem his drinking. For such a passionate musician, how did he manage without it? Ross lowers his head, shaking it at the same time “I thought it was going to save me” he says with steady eyes and childish honesty “I thought I’d be able to take myself out of the music business and that would help me drink safely”.
Checking himself in for treatment, Ross slowly managed to re-gain self control, weaning himself off the bottle. Several years later he’s teetotal, bringing his coffee mug up to his mouth his brow furrows and he kneads his temple as he considers the question: What was the decisive moment? “Either I was going to be a musician, or I wasn’t” he says slowly, leaning forward in his chair, placing the coffee mug on the table “and here I am, on licensed premises. It’s fine for me to be around drink because it’s not what I want to do anymore”.
With the dark days steadily receding, Blue Rose Code has been quickly gaining attention in the British folk scene, he has shared stages with the likes of Lau, King Creosote as well as the legendary Bert Jansch. Selected by the BBC for a recent showcase in Nashville, Ross and other emerging UK musicians performed in the international event, “It was great fun, amazing” he smirks modestly, his thick beard nodding up and down.
Later that evening Ross walked casually onto the stage, smiling and greeting the audience with his affable Scottish charisma, in the darkness the chatter quickly became subdued and all eyes focused on this hairy man in the tartan shirt. Performing solo, he was without the harmonies, double bass, banjo and other elements that make his album North Ten so thick and rich. But despite this, he was still a demanding presence. From the up beat ‘Julie’ to the eerie ‘Acquainted with the Night’ his solo presence was sublime, holding the audiences attention fixed for the full hour and half which was no small feat in such a cosy bar. After the encore he set down his guitar, stepped to the mike wiping his brow and looked out at the shadowy faces, “I’d like to thank you all. I’ve had a wonderful evening, you’ve been lovely”. The applause erupted.
There’s something particular about Blue Rose Code that resonates strongly with certain people. A word that perhaps nails this down, a word that appears in reviews of his album from time after time is ‘authentic’. Ross doesn’t disagree, tilting his head knowingly, “What groups everything together, what underpins it all” he pauses for effect “is me. The experiences I’ve had”. With lyrics covering his depression, addiction, heartbreak and love, everything is raw and visceral. “If I’m not being authentic”, Ross continues, spreading his arms wide, “then why would anyone want to plug into what I’m doing? First and foremost music has to be from the heart, it has to be authentic”
So with the tour winding down, how does he think his new album is going to turn out? Ross’s face cracks into a wide smile “All musicians say this”, his eyes light up and he pulls his chair towards the table, “but my next record will be even better than the last”.
Interview by: Jack Kenyon
Video Session: Whitechapel
“We spent a bit of time in a disused warehouse before hijacking a boat that was tied up along side the building. Ross gave a heart warming performance of “Whitechapel” from his “North Ten” album. I hope you enjoy the track as much as we enjoyed shooting it.”
John of BaylisGray