Rab Noakes: The Treatment Tapes EP review – brave, life-affirming set
FROM his days with Gerry Rafferty in Stealers Wheel to his adventurous 2015 album I’m Walkin’ Here, Rab Noakes has always taken a highly individual approach to song-writing, reflecting his love of Americana, British folk, and pop.
When he was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer, and needed radiotherapy and chemotherapy, he responded by writing about the experience.
The musical influences here include country and blues, and the sturdy melodies are matched by impressive finger-picking guitar work. But what makes these six songs special are the lyrics. There are bleak autobiographical patches at the start, but then come the cheerfully tuneful Mindful, the defiant That Won’t Stop Me, and Water Is My Friend, a gloriously original politically edged song that is both about hydration and praise for “people looking after me who don’t get paid enough”. A brave and life-affirming set from a performer now thankfully back on tour.
Robin Denselow, The Guardian – original review online here
THERE may only be half a dozen tracks on it, and the instrumentation is far from lavish, but you may not hear a more uplifting recording this year.
The nod to Dylan in the title and the splendid photo collage cover by David Mach dresses the project singer/songwriter Noakes undertook in the face of a diagnosis of tonsillar cancer. The cure was more of a trial than the affliction, but, as he says, at least he got a song or two out of it.
The closer, Water Is My Friend, includes this couplet: “There are people looking after me who don’t get paid enough/While bankers take a big reward for far less useful stuff” and that spirit suffuses the whole project.
Recorded at John Cavanagh’s home studio in Muirend, Glasgow, Noakes wife Stephy Pordage co-produces and supplies on assist on one of the lyrics, while drummer Stu Brown, bassist Una McGlone, cellist Atzi Muramatsu and oboeist Anne Rankin offer very specific support on particular tracks.
But the set – out next week launched with a gig at the end of Celtic Connections – is all about Noakes finding his voice again, and treating himself to a new guitar to accompany it – just don’t give him any of that silly battling/fighting cancer nonsense. He knows where credit is due.
Keith Bruce, The Herald – original review online here
THESE tracks were written during a session of treatment for tonsillar cancer that legendary singer-songwriter Rab Noakes had to endure during 2015.
It must have been a hammer blow for a professional singer but, as he says, “at least I knew I’d probably get a couple of songs out of it.”
There are six to be precise, from the reflective Mindful, enhanced by Anne Rankin’s sombre oboe, to the rural blues defiance of That Won’t Stop Me.
The love song I Always Will is a beautiful tribute to his wife and fellow fighter Stephy Pordage and closing track Water Is My Friend, inspired by advice from his radiographer, is a tribute to her and other NHS staff which points up the inequality of society’s value of their worth compared with bankers.
Good to know Noakes is back on top form.
He’s certainly “not going anywhere,” if this marvellous EP is anything to go by.
5/5 Chris Bartter, Morning Star – original review online here
THE resilience and fortitude in the human soul is at times the most amazing and outstanding thing that anyone can ever be privileged to witness.
It is an honour at times to see the spirit of the race carry on in the face of untold dangers and come through it, as individuals or as a collective, with courage and resilience so intact that the next thing they do is even more remarkable. To put down on paper, to record feelings that might never have been thought of if such hardship has not been faced is something very special and unique, the framing of the human condition in its most wonderful, so fragile and yet inspired; it is something that Rab Noakes has captured with great sincerity in The Treatment Tapes E.P.
The songs that appear on the E.P. are not just stories wrapped up in a comfortable tune or a welcoming set of notes, these have all the authenticity of being so personal, so interwoven with the thoughts of recovery, of possible loss and the hardship of the battle in which letting go is an honest reaction; at times the one that may be right but is always considered wrong.
To let go though is to admit that there might be nothing more worth writing about and there is always a story, a tale, the sheer moment of reflection in which to stand up once again and smile in the face of every sling and arrow, every needle, every down moment, it is not something Rab Noakes adheres too as the tales are there to be heard in their full glory and it is a state of mind which is beautiful.
Despite having been quite seriously ill, the artistic brain keeps going and it is one that serves this artist well. In songs such as Fade (To Shades of Black), That Won’t Stop Me and Water Is My Friend, that creativity is shown with care, consideration and a powerful message of keep going tied to its demanding but excellent lyrics.
A subtle reminder that music continues to feed the body, that the mind can never be truly broken if the spirit endures, Rab Noakes embodies such gratifying feeling.
Ian D. Hall, Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *