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Reviews / ‘Eclectic and exuberating’ evening at Sound Hall

Ross Wilson of Blue Rose Code: "ne of the most engaging young performers many of us have seen for a very long time". Photo: Chris Brown

IF TONIGHT’S double-header concert were to be converted into a political context rather than a musical one, writes Davie Gardner, it might be likened to an elder statesman having a good natured public debate with a newly elected ‘back-bencher’ who’s never-the-less tipped for great things – with Ivan Drever occupying the elder statesman role and Ross Wilson aka ‘Blue Rose Code’ currently the young pretender.

The fact that our very own Hom Bru share the same stage (perhaps unusually for them kicking off the night) can be seen as more than a bit of a bonus.

Performing as a trio tonight due to their double bass player being at the fishing (a very Shetland scenario indeed) Hom Bru have the crowd engaged from the very first set, with the brakes immediately off as they launch into their ‘Hurlocks Reel’ set.

They deliver a tried and trusted set – but who’s complaining when that includes terrific songs and tunes such as ‘Rowin Foula Doon’ and ‘Serendipity’. “This is from our last album” quips Gary Peterson – while laughingly reminding folk that that was now 13 years ago. They ably set the scene for a great night – if the audience response is anything to go by.

Orcadian legend Ivan Drever, who now lives in Norway, unassumingly takes the stage reminding everyone that his last visit here was now 22 years ago as part of Wolfstone. “I’ve never seen so many Shetlanders in one room at one time – apart from maybe at an Orkney dance” he jokingly observes, before launching into a wonderful set peppered with story-telling songs and tunes from his most recent album ‘What You Hear’ and a very extensive back catalogue.

Father and son: Ivan Drever, on his first visit to Shetland in 22 years, was briefly joined by Kris Drever during last night's set. Photo: Chris Brown

Drever is a master storyteller and wordsmith extraordinaire, while his relaxed experience is clearly evident throughout his performance. You have to be brilliant to make everything, especially your lyrics, sound so simple, totally understandable and mentally picturesque. I can do him no greater justice than to say he’s folk music’s answer to the great John Prine in that particular context.

Toward the end of his set he’s joined by son Kris Drever for the beautiful instrumental ‘Sina’s Tune’ (written for his grand-daughter) plus the Tom Paxton standard ‘Rambling Boy’. The audience reaction says it all. It may be 22 years since his last visit, but Drever, with largely only his guitar for company this time around, conquers Shetland all over again.

What can be said of, and indeed how do you describe, Ross Wilson/Blue Rose Code. Don’t even bother trying to pigeon hole what this guy does – that’s nigh on impossible. Think ‘Astral Weeks’-era Van Morrison, but with a distinctive Scottish accent, or perhaps the great Tim Buckley with likewise. Wilson highlights the fact he’s been likened in the press to Marvin Gaye meets the Proclaimers – yes indeed, that unorthodox.

His wonderfully wordy, educated and often emotionally uplifting songs, primarily lifted from his albums ‘North Ten’ and ‘The Ballads of Peckham Rye’, tend to belie an apparently troubled past and are largely delivered almost as a series of animated and at times even agitated personal statements. They include not only self penned opuses such as ‘Edina’ and ‘Ghosts of Leith’, but also poems from the likes of Hugh MacDiarmid (‘Simply Scotland’) and Robert Frost (‘Acquainted with the Night’) set to music. Everything borders on the non-conventional with Blue Rose Code, while song structure wise he often adopts a freewheeling and at times almost unstructured and un-restrained approach. Nevertheless, you have to be incredibly tight musically to carry off something like this in the first instance. Quiet please genius at work!!

Hom Bru ably set the scene with a "tried and trusted" set. Photo: Chris Brown

And indeed there’s almost complete audience silence – until the end of each song that is. This is a one-man performance that automatically demands attention followed by explosive response. It’s abundantly clear that Wilson is one of the most engaging young performers many of us have seen for a very long time. It’s also clear that although he may live south of the border his heart and thoughts still very much reside in his native Scotland.

He’s then joined onstage by our own Lois Nicol (fiddle) and Bryan Peterson (double bass) and the trio work off each other harmoniously well, especially given the limited time they’ve presumably had to bring together this aspect of the show. Wilson is quite obviously relishing the experience at any rate.

Decibel-driven demands for an encore are answered by the beautiful ‘Love Song’, followed by a musical chide generally aimed at an apparent rejection by certain elements of the folk world early in his musical career via the witty ‘This Is Not a Folk Song’.

If there were ever any doubts as to how Blue Rose Code would go down on his first visit to Shetland, those have been well and truly answered and dispelled, and now it’s on to almost certainly conquer Voe in a similar vein. Get there if you can. You won’t be disappointed I can assure you.

All in all, a wonderfully eclectic and exuberating evening of music via, and with thanks to, Neil and Kelly Riddell of local promoters Ragged Wood.

Davie Gardner

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