One to look forward to in January…The Great Fife Road Showfeaturing; Maureen (Chalmers) Blyth, Davie Craig, Barbara Dickson, Noel Farrow, Cilla Fisher, Jim Herd, Jimmy Hutchison, Brian Miller, Rab Noakes, Davey Stewart and Artie Trezise.
Back in late 1969 a troupe of singers from the Fife Folksong Scene gathered themselves together for a trip to Belfast. The occasion was an invitation to provide a show around Folksong from Scotland at Queens University. Later that year a wee tour of East Anglia was undertaken and here the name The Great Fife Road Show was unveiled.
As 1970 emerged, ambition was rife and a tour over the summer months was suggested. And so it came to pass. The numbers expanded and the tour was plotted. It’s here the late John Watt makes his presence felt and a level of professionalism and organisational skill is introduced. The tour covered Scotland from Dumfries to Ullapool, a total of some 25 dates.
Following that outing, the personnel altered slightly as new members arrived and others went on to establish substantial presence in the world of music’n’song. Reunions and celebratory events have occurred occasionally and The Great Fife Road Show has gone on to achieve legendary status.
This celebratory show will be performed by all surviving ex-members. Singer/Guitarist Des Haldane, who died too young in 2008, will be fondly remembered and there’ll be a segment of the show devoted to the seminal John Watt which will contain several of his masterly compositions. The show will revisit some of its renowned ensemble pieces and solo performances. There’ll be old songs, new songs, old jokes and a delicious camaraderie on display.
To quote the song ‘Fife’s Got Everything’ – “Fife’s entertainment, finest in the country, when it comes to arty talk we’re no’ the mugs”. But we’ll let the audience be the judge of that claim.
Laughter, tears, nostalgia and memories of 50 years of friendship, wrapped up in The Great Fife Road Show.
A well-established veteran of the Scottish folk scene, Duncan McCrone returns with Land Of Gold, his fourth solo album, and his first on the esteemed Greentrax label. It is a record of new and revisited songs; some recent originals inspired by old stories, a few recordings of older writings and a fine selection of covered material; which fit seamlessly with Mr McCrone’s own songwriting style and (at times) the album’s subject matter. While this is no concept album, there are certainly recurring themes; nautical themes, geographical themes, themes of wishing, travelling and searching to find…but sometimes never finding.
The title track opens the record with its beautiful melody, lyrics and imagery, telling the story of the “Hebridean Klondike Kate”, who left behind her home in Scotland to seek her fortune in the Yukon Valley, at the time of the gold rush. While this track deals with the song’s protagonist leaving Scotland, McCrone later deals with songs in which the lead protagonist is arriving in Scotland; namely ‘The Pioneers’, which tells the story of Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP who emigrated from Pakistan to Scotland as a 21 year old, in 1961.
Throughout the album, McCrone takes the opportunity to showcase his ability to retell engaging stories through music. This can be seen, particularly, in numbers like ‘Song of the Skylark’ (an ode to a small sailing vessel which saved over 600 lives during the Second World War), ‘Honeymoon Bridge’ (about a husband and wife, reunited after four years, tragically killed en route to their belated honeymoon), ‘Harbour Wall’ (where the souls of deceased mariners wait for their true love) and ‘Resurrection Road ( A Clydeside Carol)’ featuring Rab Noakes, which juxtaposes nostalgic images of Christmas time in Glasgow, with the harsh, grittier images of the realities of homelessness in the city.
Between these numbers, it is the well placed selections of cover material which fill in the gaps.
Love songs and industrial ballads by Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’ and ‘My Old Man’ respectively) are done tremendous justice by Mr McCrone, as is Eric Bogle’s ‘If Wishes Were Fishes’ and Matt McGinn’s poignant masterpiece, ‘Magic Shadow Show’. However, it is Graeme Mills anthem for dreamers, searchers and ‘nearly men’ titled ‘My Eldorado’ which is perhaps the most bittersweet song on the entire record.
This is an album that is rich in great talent, with finely crafted songs, punctuated by the incredible musicianship of some of the most respected names on the Scottish folk scene. What is even more impressive, is that it is a recording by an artist whose already noteworthy musical resume must date back some 40 years, and Land Of Gold might just be Mr McCrone’s best work yet.
I was delighted to receive a review copy of the new Rab Noakes CD Welcome To Anniversaryville – scheduled for release on the 13th July 2018 – especially as I had previously reviewed and enjoyed his EP The Treatment Tapes. I mention the earlier EP because it was released in the wake of his recovery from tonsillar cancer. It’s good to hear him again sounding so comfortable with his own voice performing an outstanding collection of songs, in the company of a fine assortment of players and singers. The recording session followed his 70/50 in 2017 concert in Glasgow, using the songs and the band from that concert as the jumping-off point for the album.
Rab’s ‘Let The Show Begin’, with its line “there’s no stoppin’ now“, is described as “a remnant reference” to the previous CD: I have to agree that it makes a perfect start to the CD.
‘It All Joins Up (In The End)’ is appropriately described in the booklet as “a celebration of a ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll lifespan’“, despite having its origins in that slightly dizzying moment when you realize that you’re older than your father was when he died. (Yes, I know that one…) A fine example of Rab’s ability to generate a positive experience from what in other hands might be steeped in sadness.
This new recording of ‘Together Forever’ may bring back happy memories of Lindisfarne, champions of Rab’s songs in the 70s. But if you don’t remember the song from that era, you have a treat in store.
‘Gently Does It’ is Rab’s song from 1985, a tribute to Alex Campbell, by then a “shadow of his former, formidable self“, urging him to slow down. (Sadly, Alex died a couple of years later.)
‘Oh Me, Oh My’ recalls (perhaps deliberately) the folk/country crossover feel of later Rick Nelson.
Though a prolific and talented songwriter in his own right, Rab has never been reluctant to cast his nets wider than his own work. In the first few tracks, we see this in the references to ‘We Can Work It Out’ in the second track or to Alex Campbell’s ‘Been On The Road’ in the fourth track, but there are also a few cover versions in this set. ‘Just One Look’ was a 60s hit for co-writer and well-known session singer Doris Troy, though UK readers may remember it better as a hit for the Hollies, among others. Nice backup harmonies here.
‘TCB (Working Man And Working Woman’ takes a sideswipe at class-ridden British society, recalling the theme of the last verse of his 1970s song ‘Turn A Deaf Ear’ (not included here): “Every peg into its own hole was what he seemed to say/And that no one should go looking for a better place to stay“.
‘The Handwash Feein’ Market’ also essays a little social content, inspired by the resemblance of the hiring process at his local carwash to the agricultural feeing markets of yesteryear.
‘Long Black Veil’ is the country ballad first recorded by Lefty Frizzell in the 50s and subsequently recorded by Joan Baez, Johnny Cash and many others.
‘The Twa Corbies/An Dà Fheammaog’ is a fascinating meld of an ancient and chilling Scots ballad – with Rab singing lead – and a version translated into Scots Gaelic by Seonaidh MacIlleathain, sung by Kathleen MacInnes.
‘Tramps And Immigrants’ is also performed as a medley of ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ and Dylan’s melodically very similar ‘I Pity The Poor Immigrant’. It works rather well.
‘Still In Town’ is a classic country song recorded at least twice by Johnny Cash.
‘A Voice Over My Shoulder’ is another of Rab’s own songs, apparently in remembrance of long-time musical associate Robin McKidd.
‘Jackson Greyhound’ is a bluesy reminiscence of a 2013 road-trip in the US.
Rab’s song ‘London Town’ rings quite a few bells with me, having lived in and enjoyed a love/hate relationship with the city for some 25 years. However, for me it’s better revisited in song than in person at this point…
‘Anniversary Song’ is the song by Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin you may know better from its first line, “Oh how we danced on the night we were wed“.
Kathleen MacInnes takes lead vocals on the country classic ‘Tennessee Waltz’: this was the encore at the concert, and is, as Rab notes, “the ideal way to close this album.“
While his vocals here are not as strong as I remember from the 70s, this is an excellent album. After all, any album that includes Rab Noakes songs is fine by me, and the covers have their usual idiosyncratic charm. And the band is very good indeed: not in terms of show-stopping ‘look-at-me’ solos, but exactly the right vocal and instrumental support for a fine and varied selection of songs.
Welcome to Anniversaryville released on Friday 13th July 2018
In February of 2017 Rab Noakes performed a well-attended, highly-acclaimed concert, with his ‘70/50 in 2017’ band of musicians at Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket, as part of that year’s Celtic Connections festival. That concert, its songs and its players form the backbone of this record. The songs are mostly by Rab and span nearly 50 years of songwriting from ‘Together Forever’  to ‘It All Joins Up (In The End)’ . They form a sequence which contains interpretations of songs from a diverse range of sources from Scots traditional to Scots Gaelic to Al Jolson to Doris Troy to Pee Wee King to Marijohn Wilkins.
The band members are a rich mixture of people, some of whom Rab has worked with before and some he hadn’t. Some of them had played together before and some hadn’t. They are Stuart Brown – drums; Christine Hanson – cello; Jill Jackson – guitar, singing; Kathleen MacInness – singing; Una McGlone – double-bass; Lisbee Stainton – 8-string guitar, banjo, singing; Innes Watson – fiddle, guitar, singing. A broad range of songs was chosen, and rehearsed, for the concert. It was an easy decision to reach to arrange to visit the recording studio on the weekend immediately following it. Over those three days, the backbone of this record was laid. Some of the songs were performed live in the studio.
Some were laid as backing tracks. New tunes, awaiting lyrics, were laid and Welcome To Anniversaryville was well underway. In no hurry, so not using up a large amount of days, John Cavanagh, Stephy Pordage and I were in John’s upstairs room, in Muirend, with musicians coming to complete this work. Sometimes they were alone, at other times there were two, even three, of them at a time. Guest musicians appeared such as Davie Craig – fiddle, singing; Alex Gascoine – violin; Sue McKenzie – baritone plus soprano sax and Emily Tse – bass trombone. In time the seventeen tracks were worked on to a satisfactory conclusion.
Rab says, “It’s all too easy for artists to believe their latest is their best work. It’s seldom true and, in any case, it takes time for that to be proved. In this case though, for me, it may well be true. The quality of the contributions from all involved, the attitude and sound achieved alongside the subject matters of the songs and their provenance does seem to add up to something. I always strive to make a record only I can make. I leave it to you to put that to the test”.
I 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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
The latest album from Rab Noakes, his 19th solo release, represents in many ways, a narrative containing references to his whole working life as a songwriter and performer. He describes it as 21st-century skiffle. It is a Double-CD with CD1 consisting of a clutch of Rab Noakes songs written within a fairly close space of time. CD2 contains songs from a variety of sources from traditional to Elizabeth Cotten to Michael Marra to Beck Hansen to the group Garbage plus some more Noakes compositions.
Working with John Cavanagh as producer an engaging range of musicians and singers were assembled for the sessions. Una McGlone on double bass and Stuart Brown on drums are joined by Ula Kinderyte on violin, Harry Hussey on accordion Richard Merchant on coronet and Emma Roche on flute and piccolo. Rab plays most of the guitar parts himself both as live accompaniment with the vocal on the track and a variety of overdubbed parts. Singers Hilary Brooks, Barbara Dickson, Roddy Hart, Jill Jackson, Jimmie Macgregor, Alice Marra and Emma Pollock join Rab on vocals on a number of the songs.
Rab said at the outset of the recordings that he wanted to make an album that nobody else could make. He made that comment with regard to the reference points and to the combination of experience and circumstance that make up its uniqueness.
This is an album full of heartfelt performances of first-rate songs. It is possibly Rab’s best but that’s for you to decide. It certainly hangs together as an album and contains some outstanding performances.
Rab Noakes is a force to be reckoned with in the world of music in Scotland and beyond.
2015 has been eventful in unexpected ways and has not quite been the continuation to 2014 that was anticipated. Later in the year Rab’s most-recent, “21st Century Skiffle”, recordings will be issued as a Double-CD entitled I’m Walkin’ Here which will feature new songs many of which have been cited in reviews and attracted positive comment from audience and journalists alike.
Rab is hard to pin down in terms of influences. He is an accomplished songwriter whose songs reflect his lifelong interest in the popular song, in folk song and in songwriting. Alongside his acclaimed performance skills as applied to his own compositions his celebrated interpretations feature songs from sources as diverse as Elizabeth Cotten to Beck Hansen.
His professional life embraces such activities as media production. 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.
In January 2015 Rab played a significant guest role in the prestigious Opening Concert at Celtic Connections, an orchestration of Martyn Bennett’s acclaimed Grit album by Greg Lawson.
As far as recordings go 2014 saw the CD release of two albums plus one EP. The 40th anniversary of Red Pump Special was issued, along with Demos and Rarities Vol 2 – Adventures With Gerry Rafferty. The EP Reunited, a performance-based clutch of songs with Barbara Dickson, is also now available.
So, 2014 was busy and productive for Rab. A sold-out January concert at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections featured the whole of the 1974 album Red Pump Special in the first half followed by selections from his newer songs in the second. This show was also delivered in a more stripped-down version in June.
Not to mention the creative collaborations. These include the Reunited tour with Barbara Dickson. He has also been touring with acclaimed Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes with a variation on their ‘Love, Ballads and Murder’ show.
Rab’s first fully-professional engagements were in 1967. Almost 50 years and 20 albums later he remains a vital, popular, prolific and acclaimed songwriter and performer.
Constant highlights in his performing life have been a continually well-received series of solo shows plus the production of, and performance in, celebratory commemorative concerts on Gerry Rafferty and Michael Marra.
Rab’s first album Do You See The Lights? was released in 1970. Thirty years later in the year 2000 he, along with his wife Stephy, formed their own record label, Neon, and produced a couple of new releases. Before he and Stephy set up Neon in 1995 he spent an eight-year spell at the BBC where he produced music and entertainment shows radio in Manchester for Network Radio and subsequently headed the entertainment department at Radio Scotland. A formal job in that medium was appropriate as the radio had played a major part in Noakes’ creative development from an early age.
A relationship with Gerry Rafferty continued from the time Rab was a founder member of Stealers Wheel. He played guitar on one of Rafferty’s later albums, ‘Over my Head’.
So, further into the 21st century you’ll most likely find Rab on the road, playing in a town near you, either solo or in one of his creative collaborations.
It’ll be some time yet until he stops making songs, TV and radio programmes or some other creative noise.