Rab Noakes is a force to be reckoned with in the world of music in Scotland and beyond.
2013 has been busy so far. In January the centerpiece of Rab’s activity was the Celtic Connections concert ‘All will be well’. This was a commemorative, celebratory event featuring the songs of Michael Marra, who sadly died in October 2012.
Here’s a review below, you’ll find more at these links:
Review: All Will Be Well: A Tribute to Michael Marra
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Mon 28 Jan 2013.
Review by Richard Bull.
The voice gone, and yet...
There it was, to begin the concert. The whole company assembled on a dark stage, as the unmistakable voice of Michael Marra intoned Psalm 118 from Martyn Bennett's monumental Liberation: in death eternal life, "marvellous in our eyes". This evening brilliantly demonstrated that Michael's uniquely creative and generous work will live on and on.
Michael willfully retreated from conventional, wider success, and to follow him sometimes felt like being in on a secret. This evening represented a breaking out, beyond the folk club or specialist radio show. It was Celtic Connections’ hottest ticket, despite its late insertion into the programme, following Michael's death, the news of which cast a huge shadow on the day of the festival's press launch.
Rab Noakes eloquently produced and MC-ed this commemoration and celebration of his friend, but it was Michael's daughter Alice whose presence was at the heart of the night.
Hers was the first voice we heard (after Michael's), on When These Shoes Were New (reclaiming Michael's original title for the song blithely renamed Take Me Out Drinking Tonight by his then record company). She provided devoted backing almost throughout, and fronted several more with her band the Hazey Janes (which also includes Michael’s son Matthew).
A host of illustrious friends, family and fans followed. Eddi Reader’s love for Michael was clear in her heartfelt, rallying performances. Hue & Cry provided Mother Glasgow, adding the hope that it opens the Commonwealth Games. And Happed in Mist featured the uncanny sisterly harmonies of Mackenzie and the sublime voice of Kris Drever.
There is not an ordinary line in Michael’s songs, and voices of strong character are required to do them justice. And that’s what we got: Rod Patterson, for example, with the wholly convincing take on traditional Scots, The Bawbee Birlin.
Another such voice is John Spillane (his involvement a cause for personal pleasure, I recall conversing with Michael about our shared appreciation of John). He brought fire and spit to The Homeless Do Not Seem to Drink in Here and Chain Up the Swings, showing that Michael could be righteous when riled, berating moaners and joy killers.
There are still gems undiscovered in the songbook (oh for a box set containing all the recordings and lyrics!), and we were treated to a mix of the familiar and the less so, including a lovely unrecorded early song, remembered by Dougie MacLean and entitled – possibly – The Last to Say Goodnight.
Also present and correct was a fine selection drawn from the Marra iconography – figures like Frida Kahlo, Hank Williams, Peerie Willie Johnson and Hamish McAlpine, who captured his imagination and consequently ours.
A great part of a Michael Marra concert was his explanation of the songs, which he’d elevated to an art form in its own right. This evening, along with Rab’s thought-provoking words, we had Dougie MacLean to explain with pride how Michael came to immortalise him as Niel Gow's Apprentice.
Other featured vocalists include Riley Briggs, Tom Mitchell, and the jazz stylings of Sylvia Rae Tracey. Jimmie Macgregor made a surprise appearance, adding his voice to Rab Noakes's take on General Grant's Visit to Dundee.
Musical backing was beautifully provided by a fine cast of musicians, with special mention for the keening fiddle of Duncan Chisholm, the saxophones of Steve Kettley, and the atmospheric percussion of Dave Haswell.
Emotion ran high throughout the concert hall as the night reached its conclusion. Alice Marra sang a spare version of Monkey Hair, the song her father revealed to her as his own favourite. And the Scots Makar Liz Lochhead read a new poem, of Michael near the end of his life, watching for new life in an osprey's nest.
Hermless of course was the finale: a song in celebration of the ordinary man, as Rab said, to close an evening in celebration of an extraordinary man. We sang along. Alice appropriately gave us the last line: "Naebody’d notice that I wasnae there if I didnae come hame for ma tea.”
Oh but we would, Michael, and we did.
The songs, though, will continue – just like Hamish the goalie – to stoke dreams into a burning flame. We left with heads full of song, full of lines bursting with life and love: "I'll be four girls walking backwards, casting petals at your footsteps, as you make your way..."
The Live at The Reid Hall Edinburgh 2005 album will be with the manufacturer soon so this will be available as a CD, at last, in the coming weeks.
The subsequent recording project and release will be Demos & Rarities Vol 2. This will include a number of tracks featuring Rab’s long association with Gerry Rafferty. The centerpiece is a collection of songs known as The Kilmacolm Demos from 1976.
Work-in-progress includes obtaining a licence for Neon to issue Red Pump Special on CD to mark its 40th anniversary. The aim is to have it available by the end of 2013.
Rab’s current album project w/t I’m walkin’ here is ongoing.
Rab recently compiled and produced an album of folk club recordings of his long-time friend Barbara Dickson. It’s called b4 seventy-four and is available from Barbara’s website. It’s lo-fi but charming. It includes a few tracks with Barbara and Rab recorded n Leicester in 1970.
Barbara and Rab are planning to do some shows together, probably be next year.
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2012 had its moments as the year began with his prominent participation in three prestigious sold-out Celtic Connections events in Glasgow. The first of these was a two-night commemoration and celebration of the work and life of his friend Gerry Rafferty. The second was his own show, Rab Noakes & Friends. The third was a 40th-anniversary celebration of the UCS Work-in.
The reviews were consistently positive..
Bring It All Home - Gerry Rafferty Remembered
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (22.01.12)
It’s infinitely pleasing, with all the international artists flying in to appear at Celtic Connections, that the first concert of this year’s festival to produce, for this reviewer at least, a real big sense of occasion should be in honour of Scotland’s own. Gerry Rafferty never made it on to a Celtic Connections stage, being more of a studio dweller, but his songs got him there by proxy big time at this sold-out standing-room-only celebration of his life and music. His presence was assured through his daughter, Martha, and her five cousins singing Family Tree, with definite traces of his vocal DNA in their voices. But the spirituality, wit and realism that Rafferty put into his songwriting were also brought out in a series of fabulously personalised readings of songs from his early days with The Humblebums through Stealers Wheel and onto the remarkable consistent solo years. With a superb house-band in Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire augmented by regular Rafferty sessioneers, including ace guitarist Hugh Burns and saxophonist Mel Collins, the big songs were big indeed – none bigger than Shipyard Town wirh Jack Bruce powering through its lyric with bluesy conviction. More intimate moments such as the concert’s producer, Rab Noakes’s wonderful vocal-guitar take on Moonlight and Gold and James Vincent McMorrow lending his frontier preacher’s voice to My Singing Bird were equally powerful. And just as, through writing Another World, Rafferty has become Maria Muldaur’s new guru, her singing of this modern-day hymn with Betsy Cook made them the new McGarrigle Sisters.
ROB ADAMS – HERALD
Rab Noakes And Friends,
Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow (31.01.12)
You might have been forgiven for imagining that there was a portrait in Rab Noakes’s attic, because the bloke who arrived on stage here was supposed to be in his sixties. Looking and sounding about half that age, he embarked on a thoroughly engaging journey through 40 years of song writing. Having fronted the raptur- ously-received Bringing It All Home shows at this year’s festival, in which he and a selection of artists remembered his great friend, Gerry Rafferty, Noakes was not in the mood to perform too many covers, so that the impressively-filled Strathclyde Suite was treated to a wide selection of his own work.
Backed by an excellent band, which included ex-Pilot Davey Paton on bass, Rod Clements from Lindisfarne on guitar and mandolin, and Fraser Speirs on the mouthie, he played songs from his first album, Do You See The Lights, released in 1970, all the way through to his latest, Standing Up, released in 2010. He shared numerous tales of his experiences in the business and some of the most compelling work was
when he played solo. No More Time, a beautifully poignant tune for and about Gerry Rafferty, was particularly impressive.
There were turns from his friends, too. Clements played a solo Meet Me On The Corner and folk veteran Jimmie Macgregor revisited his skiffle roots with Freight Train, a song he recorded with the Chas McDevitt Group in the 1950s, leaving before the song became a huge hit. One of the highlights came in the encore, with an excellent reading of Dylan’s Mississippi and, all told, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening from one of Scotland’s great songsmiths.
STUART MORRISON – HERALD
2012 saw the CD release of two recently-completed albums from Rab. One is a collection of songs by Boudleaux & Felice Bryant from 2007 and the other Standing Up Again is a new collection from 2009.
He has been prolific of late and is in the process of recording another album which will feature new songs many of which have been cited in reviews and attracted positive comment from audience and journalists alike.
It’s clear Rab Noakes is no ordinary performer as his voice, at age 65, is at least as good as it’s ever been and his creativity clearly flourishing. No leaning back on retreads and crowd-pleasers here. A Rab audience comes expecting to be included in the here-and-now event that his shows are. As he was about to perform in BBC Scotland’s 20111/12 Hogmanay someone suggested he had been singing at parties at the festive season for some time now. He thought for a moment then replied, “Yup - 60 years”.
Rab's first album was released in 1970. Thirty years later in the year 2000, Rab formed his own record label and produced a couple of new releases. In the intervening years Rab Noakes has made his presence felt as a creative entity across music and media. From being one of the singer-songwriters of the 1970s to his present activities with Neon Productions he has released nearly twenty albums and toured extensively. The once sought-after hit single remained elusive but didn't impede his progress. In recent years he has been involved in a rich mixture of production, writing and performance.
Before he and his wife Stephanie Pordage set up Neon in 1995 he spent an ten-year spell at the BBC where he ran the radio music and entertainment shows in Manchester and Scotland. A formal job in radio was appropriate as the radio had played a major part in Noakes's creative development from an early age.
Born in 1947 Rab Noakes enjoyed the benefits of growing up as rock'n'roll was born and of being present as new sounds - from Little Richard to Woody Guthrie drifted across the Atlantic.
Impressed by the success of Scots Bert Jansch and The Incredible String Band he dusted down an old guitar and began touring in Britain and Denmark with a set embracing pop, country and folk. Prior to the release of his first album in 1970 five Noakes songs appeared on albums by Archie Fisher and Barbara Dickson.
A relationship with Gerry Rafferty continued since Noakes was a founder member of Stealers Wheel. Noakes played guitar on one of Rafferty's later albums, Over my Head.
Lindisfarne and Rab met in the North East of England when they were each playing regularly in that part of the world. The group demonstrated its respect for Rab by recording one of his songs on each of their first two albums. They also shared a producer in Bob Johnston who had introduced Bob Dylan to working in Nashville with the Blonde on Blonde record. Noakes himself recorded in Nashville with acclaimed producer Elliot Mazer. The resulting album, Red Pump Special, remains a collectors' item and is cited as an influence by several young upstarts.
Noakes worked with Terry Melcher at John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Tittenhurst Park on an album for Ringo Starr's record label.
In the ’eighties Noakes teamed up with some young Glaswegian musicians including Brendan Moon, Lorraine McIntosh and Andy Alston to form Gene Pitney's Birthday. Into the 'nineties this grew into The Varaflames whose members have included harmonica ace Fraser Speirs, Rod Clements of Lindisfarne, guitar ace Jerry Donahue, Pilot’s David Paton, Hilary Brooks, Jim McDermott, Deacon Blue's Ewen Vernal and Pick Withers of Dire Straits.
Rab Noakes has also been involved with some high-profile music production activity on shows such as John Byrne's Your Cheatin' Heart and Elaine C. Smith's TV series. Neon continues to provide quality TV and radio programmes from its base in Glasgow's Kinning Park. The unique knowledge and abilities in the Neon team continue to give the programmes an edge.
As we carry on into the 21st century Rab Noakes is often working with harmonica supremo, Fraser Speirs. They have developed a unique act which covers a broad range of popular styles. As well as a handsome helping of original Noakes material they play a rich mixture of Blues, Country and Pop that reflects a lasting love of popular music as popular culture. He also plans to record and release a number of albums and to make a few appearances with the Varaflames when the occasion permits.
The first record on the Neon label to become available was 'Throwing Shapes' by The Varaflames. That was followed up with Rab and Fraser releasing a new album, 'Lights back on', an album which won him many new admirers. The strong mix of carefully selected versions of others' songs paired with Noakes's own eloquent compositions helped create one of the best albums to come out of Scotland in years.
A limited edition release of the 'stuffhouse ep' has made 750 numbered copies of this future rarity available. 'Demos and Rarities Volume One' was released in 2002. Neon partner and Rab's wife, Stephanie Pordage volunteered to go through the many hours of recordings and has dug out the best and most appropriate material.
Noakes' own record production skills have been much in demand with albums by John Watt and macAlias being released and well-received. In 2003 he recorded with a young group from Aberdeen called Stuka. Fraser Speir's album, 'About Time', was recorded at Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival in 2000 and features guest performances from many artistes, Rab included.
In 2004 Neon expanded to release Karine Polwart's 'faultlines' album produced by Rab. Later in the year Neon released two more Rab productions 'At this Moment' by Karen Dunbar and 'Thai Whisky Tears' by The Cellers.
2004 also saw the Neon release of 'Standing Up', Rab's solo album originally issued on the Mediart label in 1994. Also that year, the River Records label released a CD comprising mostly live recordings made for commercial radio in the early eighties.
Rab's 2007 release of new material on Neon was his second album with the Varaflames - ''Unlimited Mileage'
‘Do you see the lights?’ Rab's debut album from 1970 is now available on CD for the first time. This was released on the Neon label in 2008.
In 2009 Rab joined forces with Allan Taylor for a number of joint shows based on their similar careers and parallel experiences. They have been seen out across Europe performing this show on a number of occasions since and 2012 sees the two of them in various parts of the country.
So further into the 21st century you’ll find Rab on the road, playing in a town near you, either solo or with Fraser Speirs. He’ll be making TV and radio programmes or some other creative noise.
Rab is also elected to the Executive Committee of the Musicians' Union so, at times, he’ll be representing the MU membership somewhere in the world.
Here are a couple of additional recent press quotes:
A recent preview piece in The Herald went like this:
Not that you would know it from his lean rock’n’roll physique but Rab Noakes is now in his sixties. His four decades of involvement in music have been marked by two recent releases: a second album with his occasional band The Varaflames, titled Unlimited Mileage, and the release on CD for the first time of his debut album Do You See The Lights? which first saw the light of day in 1970. Showcasing an exemplary taste in interpretations alongside his own songwriting, a Noakes show is a decidedly non-fusty lesson in the history of popular music.
Bring It All Home - Gerry Rafferty Remembered
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (23.01.12)
THE fastest-selling ticket at Celtic Connections may just have yielded its most memorable concert. A year on from Gerry Rafferty’s passing, his daughter Martha and former Stealers Wheel compadre Rab Noakes have curated a “commemoration and celebration” to be proud of with a sprawling yet unified line-up of Rafferty acolytes and associates, not least his former backing vocalists Barbara Dickson and Betsy Cook and trusty sessioneers Hugh Burns, Mel Collins and Graham Preskett, who wore their substantial skills lightly alongside rock solid house band Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire.
With a revolving door of guest vocalists, ranging from old stagers Jack Bruce and Tom Robinson to an ensemble of Rafferty’s nephews and nieces, the logistics of this undertaking hardly bear thinking about. Yet this touching tribute succeeded wholeheartedly in placing Rafferty’s music front and centre, from his early days as Billy Connolly’s straight man in The Humblebums through Stealers Wheel to his own sporadic but inspired solo career. Early highlights included The Proclaimers’ spirited Mattie’s Rag and Ron Sexsmith’s innately soulful Right Down
The Line, while the second half threw up even more gems. The lusty band performance of Get It Right Next Time contrasted with the simple integrity of Emma Pollock’s version of Late Again, while James Vincent McMorrow’s sublime contribution to Waiting For The Day, the soothing solo reverie of Noakes’s Moonlight and Gold and the Rafferty family’s poignant harmonies on The Ark all delivered delicious shivers.
It fell to Paul Brady to front a wonderfully rich rendering of Baker Street, crowned with Collins’s powerhouse sax solo, before a massed finale of Stuck in the Middle with You. Maria Muldaur announced that she has adopted Rafferty as her new guru – after this labour of love, the entire audience were under his spell.
Fiona Shepherd – Scotsman
Amid all the guests and big band numbers one man stood out, however, Scotland's own Rab Noakes, whose voice and acoustic guitar telling of Mississippi and its infamous one regret - staying there a day too long - caught the atmosphere of the song and the mood of the night to perfection.
What, you may ask, about stand-outs? Rab Noakes, less familiar to a younger generation, in particular shined with his solo rendition of Mississippi, which showcased his own finger-picking skills and that of its songwriter’s lyrical self-reflection.
Legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Rab Noakes has announced an upcoming live solo show on Saturday. The show promises to be an incredible opportunity for lovers of roots and folk music to experience a truly mesmerising living legend at work.
“Catchy melodies and gritty lyrics that speak for everyman.” BBC Radio Scotland
His intense and compelling style always works its magic on audiences and never fails to inspire. It would be easy to compare Rab's guitar work to that of 1960s artists such as Bert Jansch and Fred Neil, however it is his own unique vocal and intelligent turn of phrase that have kept him at the cutting edge of songwriting for the best part of thirty-five years.
“Stunning.” - Living Tradition
Rab Noakes’s appearance is guaranteed to be spellbinding. His voice of musical and life-experience is unparalleled in Scotland’s music community, and his charm, wit and talent will bring a suitable audience for such a star.