Interview: The Men From Leith – Ross Wilson (Blue Rose Code)

Leith comes to the Southside this Friday evening, as three of the historic port’s top singer-songwriters converge at The Queen’s Hall. Inspired by Dean Owens’s classic song, Man From Leith, the show – guaranteed to be a compelling fixture full of fire, grit, and honesty – features folk legend, Dick Gaughan, the beautifully brushed balladry of Ross Wilson (aka Blue Rose Code), and, of course, former Felsons frontman, Owens.

All are proud Leithers, so this is a rare opportunity to hear some of the best songwriters in the land come together under the same roof.

A first, surely, Ross Wilson? 

“I can’t speak to the history of the QH but, what I can say is, since being a wee laddie, the QH is the gig that I’ve loved. I’ve grown up watching all manner of great performances here; Courtney Pine, Karine Polwart, Lau, to name a few. It’s a special place and I’m excited to play.”

How did the whole idea come about? Who instigated it? And what can audiences expect? 

“I got a call asking would I like to nail my colours (green and white) to the mast. To play with Gaughan is a long held dream, having seen the man many times over the years. You can expect three very different acts, sharing a love of storytelling and authenticity.”

Apart from The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith, there isn’t that many traditional songs about the historic port, let alone famous songs. Given the wealth of history in Leith, why is that? 

“Aye, that’s true, and in fact I did quite a lot of research into trying to dig out some Leith songs. Frankly, I’ve no idea why there’s a shortage of songs. I’m sure many have been lost. The place rings with the Tradition, music, movement, struggle.”

Do you sing about Leith yourself? If so, what makes the place such a beguiling place to write about? 

“I have a song, ‘Ghosts Of Leith’ but, in fact, it’s about my running away and written in exile. My real love-song to Leith is ‘Edina’, name-checking Great Junction Street and Easter Road. For me, I write about what I know, from whence I came; there was a need for conciliation and that birthed the song.”

Dean, Dick and yourself are all Leithers. Is it a surprise that all of you – successful songwriters – come from the same area? 

“I don’t really know what successful means. I guess I make a living doing what I love, that’s a measure of success I suppose, but I’d do it regardless. Norman Maccaig talked about the urge to write; it was like ‘being hungry’. It’s not a choice, it’s an instinct. I don’t know Dean or Dick well enough to comment but, if they’re anything like me, they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about achievement, just the next project.”

Are there any plans for all three of you to tour together? Leithers on parade. Surely an album together would be a concept worth pursuing? 

“A Leith project is something that I’ve been discussing with other like-minded creatives, I wouldn’t want to restrict it to merely music. Songs would be but a strand of the rope. I believe in the force of identity in Leith that shines on through each folding generation. There’s so much to inspire, I’m sure it will happen.”

You’ve come a long way in such a short time. Why do you think that is? What are you doing that seems to resonate with audiences? 

“I am honest and authentic, and I’m clean and sober.”

You’re all Hibs fans, right? Ever thought about writing the team a new tune?

“Dean is not a Hibee although perhaps he’s open to persuasion. I would never swap Sunshine On Leith, the song is a masterpiece and, honestly, the boys don’t want to run out to my miserable songs.”

Question is: are they going to win the Scottish Cup? 

“They are definitely going to win the Scottish Cup.”

Describe Leith in three words…

“Unrepentant. Inclusive. Vital.”

The Men From Leith: Dick Gaughan, Blue Rose Code, Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts, Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, Friday, 6 May, 7.30pm, £16, 0131-668 2019

Words: Barry Gordon