Rab Noakes, Demos & Rarities Vol2 (Neon)

SOME demos and rarities stay in the vaults for good reasons. Others, like these nineteen tracks, make you wonder why they have, in most cases, been hidden away for so long. The opening track will be familiar to those who bought Gerry Rafferty’s first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back, and the closing gem comes from the concert that Rafferty’s friend Rab Noakes directed for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival in honour of Rafferty’s life and music.

In between, there are items that were either given a general release before being lost or come singing back from memories of seeing Noakes in his 1970s pomp. Mostly, though, these are new discoveries of the sort that caused mass movement of men and digging equipment to California in the 1840s.

The UK pop scene of the time must have been rich indeed if it couldn’t find an excuse to share Lonely Boy Tonight or Same Old Place with a mass radio audience and while much of this music celebrates the friendship that Noakes forged with Rafferty after meeting him in Billy Connolly’s dad’s house in Partick, Glasgow, in 1969, there’s evidence here that, while Rafferty was riding a wave of success with his – it seemed – effortlessly companionable hits, his pal might only have been a Baker Street-style saxophone hook or two away from following suit.

Noakes and Rafferty bonded over their love for the same songs. The impression is that they’d both got under the bonnets of 1950s rock’n’roll classics and the Beatles’ and possibly the Beach Boys’ catalogues like autophiles exploring car engines to see how they work. Shine a Light certainly suggests that John Lennon had quite an effect on Noakes, although his piano playing, which has been largely kept in the background during his career, has a certain Brian Wilson quality in the left hand.

Although Rafferty is present too, the robust finger-picking style that carries Noakes’ vocal on Restless is the classic Noakes that those seeing his seemingly ever-present name in Melody Maker’s what’s on guide during the 1970s would have heard had they turned up to one of the advertised gigs. There’s a similar experience later as Noakes and Rafferty, captured in 2001, relive one of Noakes’s staples from his folk club days, John Sebastian’s (Sittin’ Here) Lovin’ You with the enthusiasm of fans but the quality of seasoned pros.

Another item from the Rab & Gerry sections, All Away, highlights Noakes’ confiding, personal singing style and his ability to develop songs in often surprising but always engaging ways while Rafferty’s guitar playing confirms that the melodic sensibility he brought to his own songwriting flowed in an accompanying role too.

Noakes the rock’n’roller roars out of It’ll Be Me and the almost menacing, low-voiced delivery he brings to See Me Again, by this time in the assured, creative company of guitarists Richard Brunton and Steve Whalley and Rafferty’s masterful session drummer Liam Genockey, hints at a previously unsuspected liking for Kevin Ayers’ crooning or perhaps the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ E E Lawson.

The one performance that Noakes will wish hadn’t had to happen is Moonlight & Gold, which he sang solo in tribute to Rafferty and which closes the set.  Conveying, at once, pride in his friend’s talent and the emotion of the occasion without missing a beat, it’s a golden moment that celebrates great songwriting ability and equally great interpretive talent and for anyone who was present it will take them right back to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall that evening in January 2012.

Rob Adams