Celtic Connections @ The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

HAVING curated a couple of Celtic Connections’ biggest tribute shows to Gerry Rafferty and Bob Dylan, it was time for the fine Fife troubadour Rab Noakes to celebrate his own impressive back catalogue of “landmark songs” (his preferred euphemism for a lack of hits) as he marked a number of anniversaries, not least his forthcoming 70th birthday and 50 years since his first professional gig at the Glasgow Folk Centre, in the company of a supple, sensitive backing band specially formed for the occasion.

Those landmark selections included the freewheeling country rockers Together Forever, which was a hit for his friends Lindisfarne, and Clear Day from his Nashville-recorded album Red Pump Special. Yet this was not an overly nostalgic evening. There was a healthy showing for his recent material, including current release The Treatment Tapes, a wry reference to Noakes’ recovery from tonsillar cancer. Noakes has retained his vocal tone, eminently easy on the ear and natural in his phrasing, though the residual influence of Dylan was there in the subtle twang.

The stylishly suited and booted septuagenarian wore his great knowledge and experience lightly and modestly, making no reference to his early partnership with Rafferty in Stealers Wheel but raising up other musicians he has worked with throughout a career which has explored those Celtic connections between the US and Scots folk traditions – and he continued to do so with guest Kathleen MacInnes who led off a final soulful Tennessee Waltz in Gaelic.

**** Fiona Shepherd, The Scotsman – original review here

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NOAKES, who has recently come through a draining series of treatments for tonsillar cancer, was celebrating his forthcoming 70th birthday (no they didn’t wheel a Gene-Pitney-style cake onto the stage, although there was one backstage apparently!), and the 50th Anniversary of his first paid gig – at the Glasgow Folk Centre appropriately enough.

He slipped onto the stage after the band, almost unnoticed until he revealed his suit! But he soon took command. The intro promised a selection of ‘landmark’ songs – so-called because he hasn’t had any hits, he pointed out! – and new material. The former included Lindisfarne’s 1969 hit, Together Forever and the song he wrote inspired by the great Scottish folk singer Alex Campbell, Gently Does It with its touching line -“you’d been on this road so long. Now they’re building a highway to take you home.” – a sentiment that could be applied to Rab himself. 

The concert was packed out, a testament to the affection that his fans have for him, an affection that was almost tangible. The concert was as meticulously crafted as we’ve come to expect from Noakes – albeit with a slight trip over the song order! Contemporary songs in his inimitable country folk style were prominent – four of the six tracks on the new EP. (Reviewed here) and (at least) three from I’m Walking Here.

But the best of the contemporary songs were two that he wrote while getting back into his Scottish music roots. The Handwash Feein’ Mairket is a song about the exploitation of asylum seekers forced into illegal work by our brutal restrictions, and what he called Tramps and Migrants – a mash-up of Bob Dylan’s  Pity the Poor Immigrant and the Scottish traditional Tramps and Hawkers, beautifully assisted by Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes.

His backing band – Una MacGlone, Innes Watson, Stuart Brown, Christine Hanson, Lisbee Stainton and Jill Jackson – more than did him justice, and his voice – if a bit lower in register – has clearly not been damaged by the treatment. A beautiful ‘cello treatment of the love song I always will stood out amongst the closing tunes. Rab is perhaps even better now than he was when he first hit the musical big time. He starts a short tour of UK towns in March. If you’re around – get along!

Chris Bartter – original review online here