Celtic Connections

RAB Noakes’ third album, Red Pump Special was a high budget, Nashville recorded debut for Warner Brothers in 1974.

The two singles from the LP, Branch and Clear Day, became turntable hits, but failed to sell in sufficient quantities to make the charts.

Fast forwarding to Monday 27 January 40 years later, it’s shocking that the songs never made it.

From Nashville to Muirend was the name of Rab’s appearance at this year’s Celtic Connections Festival, a night of the old and new.

In the first half of the evening, Rab and band performed the Red Pump Special album in its entirety, assisted by some fine backing vocalists including Emma Pollock, Jill Jackson, Alice Marra and the wonderful Barbara Dickson.

Listeners to my regular show will know my thoughts on the country music genre, but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the first half. But then again, this was Nashville by Rab Noakes!

Highlights were As Big As His Size, Sitting in the Corner Blues and of course, Branches and Clear Day. Listening to the songs now, I fail to see why this album, and its singles, weren’t bigger hits at the time. History did as History done, I guess.

If the first half was history, then the second half was the future, with Rab showcasing material from his forthcoming, working titled I’m Walking Here.

If the first half was Nashville, the second half was Rab n Roll!

Rab calls it 21st Century Skiffle, but we won’t argue.

The second half started off with a tribute to Emmett Miller & The Georgia Crackers. Emmett performed minstrel shows from the early 1920’s into the 1950’s and is credited with influencing the likes of Hank Williams and Merle Haggard among others.

Rab’s influences from artists of this time shone through and I was minded throughout of the works of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant (as featured on Rab’s previous release, Just In Case).

I found myself throughout the night with my eyes closed. Not because of the aesthetics of the venue or the performers, but due to the sheer pleasure of the evening and allow my brain to process the music without the visuals.

Talking of visuals, the power of Rab Noakes’ performance also reminded me of Bob Dylan’s description of the night he saw Buddy Holly just days before he died. Dylan was mesmerised and took the ghost of Buddy with him through his career.

The second half also saw a couple of interesting cover versions, firstly I’m Only Happy When It Rains (originally performed by Garbage, from Wisconsin) and a joint performance with Barbara Dickson of Buttons & Bows (from the film The Paleface with Bob Hope and Jane Russell). Both very different songs, showing the breadth of Rab’s material.

I concur with Rab, that having “favourite songs” is not relative, as it changes so often. Picking a favourite part of the night is therefore irrelevant too.

That said, I can’t wait for the forthcoming album from Rab Noakes and indeed to the tour planned with Barbara Dickson, coming your way in April.

Ross Macfadyen Celtic Music Radio