Published: 01/06/2018 08:00 - Updated: 01/06/2018 13:35

Rab Noakes travellin' light for latest trip to Ullapool

Written byKyle Walker

Rab Noakes.
Rab Noakes (right) and long-time folk friend Allan Taylor come to the north this weekend.

After more than five decades in music, you can forgive Rab Noakes for wanting to look back on his career a little bit.

The folk icon – whose visits to Ullapool have been an annual Ross-shire treat for “approaching 40 years now” according to the man himself – spent last year celebrating two momentous milestones in his 70th birthday and his 50th year in music.

And now his next album, on which he’s just putting the finishing touches to, is set to reflect on that long career with Welcome to Anniversaryville – a mixture of songs old, new and traditional.

“I like it – it’s turned out rather well actually,” Rab said, before chuckling. “Even though I say it myself!”

Currently dealing with a Kickstarter to get the final production costs sorted out – currently sitting at £3000 of a £5000 target – it marks the latest self-published effort by the singer-songwriter.

When it’s brought up how many hidden costs there are in putting together an album, he laughs. “I know! I know!”

“It’s the time involved as well! I mean, we don’t have the record company infrastructure around us anymore so you’re handling all of that yourself, and then with all the social media things that have to be done and stuff it can be really time-consuming.

“I mean we do try to have a good checklist and sort of do everything properly and get the records out as far and wide as they can go, so it’s all tied to sort of cover that as well.”

Rab Noakes.

However, while this album has one eye on the past, Rab continues to plough forward with new works – he has shows and collaborations in the pipeline with people including Paisley country star Jill Jackson and former Lindisfarne bassist Rod Clements.

But first up sees this year’s show at the Ceilidh Place, with a particularly special guest – fellow folk troubadour Allan Taylor – for a show called Travellin’ Light (after the Cliff Richard song Rab covered in 2015 album I’m Walking Here).

“Allan and I, we’ve known each other for nearly 50 years now,” Rab explained. “We first met in 1969 at a Radio 2 – either Country Meets Folk or Folk on Tour, I can’t remember which of the shows it was – that gets a little blurred!

“We’ve had a sort of parallel period of doing similar things over many years, so we built this show around a narrative and songs based on the length of time we’ve known each other. It’s not a life story thing, it keeps itself contemporary but it allows us to go back into back catalogues as well, so it’s a kind of anecdotes and songs show.

“We haven’t done it massive amounts of times, but when we take it out it’s nice and fresh so I’m really looking forward to that.”

People who have seen Rab perform before will be aware of his love of a good anecdote – his set has long been peppered with stories, in the manner of so many other artists from the 1960s folk scene. “We just met all of those characters the likes of whom you’d never really met before – artistic people – and there was a real...what’s now called equalities, but also a civil rights thing came into that.

“It was to the left politically. but in a kind of very strong socially conscious way and you know many of those people just pointed the way for us – as performers they would be bringing a lot of that into their shows.

“Part of the thing with anecdotes as introductions is that obviously you’re keeping the audience attentive, but it can sort of alleviate the fact that subject matter in the songs may be a bit dense and heavy – it just kind of keeps the flow and dynamic of the show going. I was always really impressed by the people who could carry that off well.”

Rab Noakes.

While Rab does enjoy “a bit of social commentary in a song – political to a certain extent as well”, he doesn’t fully consider political proselytising to be within his own particular idiom. “I never terribly feel inclined to make the whole song about that – I find it much stronger if it’s just a couple of lines that go in there. If they’re well written and strong enough then they’re going to make that point for you, perhaps even better if they’re there briefly rather than something that’s a sort of polemic that’s been repeated and repeated throughout the thing.

“It’s not an either/or thing - I’m not dismissing that and you know those kind of songs can have different functions as well. Sometimes they are a long narrative telling a tale, other times they’re quite rallying songs with a chorus designed to be used in demonstrations.”

He pauses for a moment. “The song,” Rab laughs suddenly. “It’s a marvellous entity really, isn’t it?”

Rab Noakes and Allan Taylor come to the Ceilidh Place, Ullapool tonight. Entry is £10. For more information, go to www.rabnoakes.com

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