RAB NOAKES – The Treatment Tapes EP (Neon Records NEONCD018)

Treatment TapesI haven’t heard much of singer/songwriter Rab Noakes since the early 1970s, when he was associated with Lindisfarne, Gerry Rafferty and others, as well as working as a highly-rated soloist. So I jumped at the chance of reviewing The Treatment Tapes EP – due for release on January 20th 2017 – not least because I have fond memories of his 1975 album Never Too Late. When it arrived, it turned out to be very different to that album, and with good reason.

As Rab himself notes: “The background to this collection of songs is the aging process and some of the things that visit us as we progress through the years.” Well, few of us of his vintage write or perform in the same way that we did in the 70s. However, when I realized that one of the things that had visited him was tonsillar cancer, and that the songs here were written in the period subsequent to his radiotherapy and chemotherapy, I fed it to my stereo with some trepidation. But there was nothing to fear. This is emphatically not an exercise in self-indulgence, but the well-crafted, life-affirming music of an artist who’s gone through a frightening experience and used it to create art. Or, in his own words: “…it’s what we do creatively. We utilise experience and observation of, and response to, life’s ingredients, add a helping of imagination and deliver a work.” Certainly these songs will stand well alone even for listeners who aren’t aware of the backstory.

While the CD notes mention the possibility of a “wee rasp” such vocal rasps evaded my elderly ear. There is, perhaps, a slight fragility about his delivery in places – due, perhaps, to the “phlegm and saliva-based” issues mentioned in the notes – but it doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the project, as far as I’m concerned.

The songs here are ordered chronologically, All are credited to Rab except for ‘Mindful’, which is co-credited to his wife Stephy Pordage. The songs vocals and guitars are credited to Rab, supported by Stuart Brown (percussion), Una McGlone (double bass), Atzi Muramatsu (cello) and Anne Rankin (oboe).

As is customary, here’s the track-by-track listing.

  1. ‘Fade (To Shades Of Black)’ is vocally a little uncertain but underpinned by muscular guitar, and perhaps we should all take its message to heart about living in the moment.
  2. Rab describes ‘By The Day (One More Shave ‘n’ Haircut)’ as “a wee bit of a diary of sorts“, and while the tone is a little dark on the surface – “One more shave ‘n’ haircut/and that’s it for me“, there’s actually an undercurrent of humour. ‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’ is one of the names given to one of those scraps of tune that musicians sometimes use to finish off a tune with vaguely comic effect. The vocals are stronger here, especially in the double-tracked chorus. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear this one picked up by other singers.
  3. ‘Mindful’ may not be the first song ever to benefit from exposure to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but its “Be here now” message, supported by some strong fingerpicking and oboe, succeeds in raising the spirits.
  4. ‘That Won’t Stop Me’ has a blues-y feel, accentuated by “New Orleans marching band” percussion. I think it might find its way into my own repertoire at some point.
  5. ‘I Always Will’ is a love song. Nice fingerpicking which reminds me vaguely of Richard Thompson, if less showy, and I enjoyed the thoughtful background cello.
  6. ‘Water Is My Friend’ is a suitably exuberant finish to the set, with its reference to “…people looking after me/who don’t get paid enough“.

And I’m thankful they were looking after him. I wouldn’t have missed hearing this set for anything. And now I need to start thinking about catching up with some more of his music that I’ve missed since 1975.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: www.rabnoakes.com