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Rab Noakes

Born Robert Noakes, 13 May 1947, St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, Rab was brought up in the Clackmannanshire town of Alloa; most people will associate NOAKES with STEALERS WHEEL although his tenure was brief, leaving prior to their debut album and their greatest three minutes, `Stuck In The Middle…’. However, the singer-songwriter did play guitar and sing backing on GERRY RAFFERTY’s inaugural set in 1971, `Can I Have My Money Back’, while formative influences included fellow Scottish folk revival players like ARCHIE FISHER, HAMISH IMLACH and BERT JANSCH. Rab followed the well-trodden path down south to London in 1966, frequenting the city’s folk clubs and picking up tips from the stars of the day. Subsequently securing a recording deal with Decca, he released DO YOU SEE THE LIGHTS? {*7} as his debut solo set in 1970. That brief stint with GERRY RAFFERTY and Joe Egan’s STEALERS WHEEL helped to boost further studio projects as they returned the favour on the RAB NOAKES (1972) {*6} eponymous release for A&M Records (a set featuring Bruce Philips’ `The Goodnight Loving Trail’).
NOAKES had major label muscle – not to mention the brassy punch of the Memphis Horns – behind the bluesy RED PUMP SPECIAL (1974) {*6}, the first of a couple of albums for Warner Bros; `Frisco Depot’ was penned by MICKEY NEWBURY and `Clear Day’ written with the aforementioned RAFFERTY and EGAN. NEVER TOO LATE (1975) {*5} saw a cover of Heyman & Young’s perennial `Love Letters’, while 1978’s independent release RESTLESS (1978) {*4} won no new friends.
Unable to make any commercial headway, NOAKES seemed destined for cultdom appeal despite a further major label (M.C.A.) effort, RAB NOAKES (1981) {*5} – featuring future DEACON BLUE singer Lorraine McIntosh of Gene Pitney’s Birthday – at the dawn of the 80s. Following 1984’s UNDER THE RAIN {*5} album, Rab finally gave up recording in favour of production work for BBC Scotland. Nevertheless, he was involved in the 1987 WOODY GUTHRIE tribute set, `Woody Lives!’ (alongside BERT JANSCH, DICK GAUGHAN, Rory McLeod, et al), and continued to be a popular figure on Scotland’s folk circuit. More recently, Rab has returned to the contemporary music scene courtesy of two bluesy/country albums, the first of which was STANDING UP (1995) {*4} – featuring his takes on ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `What Do You Want The Girl To Do?’, The BLUE NILE’s `The Downtown Lights’, TALKING HEADS’ `Psycho Killer’, MICHAEL MARRA’s `Niel Gow’s Apprentice’ and DYLAN’s `Lenny Bruce’ and `Absolutely Sweet Marie’.
The subsequent collaborative effort with harmonica man Fraser Spiers, LIGHTS BACK ON (2001) {*5}, featured Monica Queen (ex-THRUM) and James Grant (ex-LOVE AND MONEY). Preceding this by several months was another joint effort, THROWING SHAPES (2000) {*4}; this time he was augmented by the Varaflames, as he was with 2007’s UNLIMITED MILEAGE {*6}.
If one was missing the Scottish folk-soul of national treasures RAFFERTY and MARRA (who’d passed away of late), then RAB NOAKES would fill the void in STANDING UP AGAIN (2012) {*6} and the John Cavanagh-produced I’M WALKIN’ HERE (2015) {*7}. While the former set possessed singer-songwriter prowess as always, the ageing star surprised many with his re-interpretations of RADIOHEAD’s `High And Dry’ and The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’s `Darling Be Home Soon’.
The follow-up double-CD, sub-titled “21st Century Skiffle”, featured a stellar cast of musos young and old (ranging from RODDY HART and Emma Pollock to JIMMIE MACGREGOR), while it was split into a mainly self-penned disc and a covers one, highlighting recognisable nuggets such as `Travellin’ Light’, `Freight Train’ and `Bye Bye Blackbird’, plus stripped-back dirges from the modern-day: GARBAGE (`Only Happy When It Rains’) and BECK (`Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard’).
© MC Strong 2002-2010/GSM-GFD // rev-up MCS Nov2015

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