The Scotsman Sessions #70: Rab Noakes

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Rab Noakes performs an as-yet-unreleased song called A Little Way Up.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rab Noakes’ debut album Do You See the Lights? which was to have been celebrated with a tour entitled 2020 - The Expedition Continues. The expedition has inevitably been curtailed for now and, while other musicians have taken to online gigs with alacrity, the erstwhile Stealers Wheel member and broadcasting veteran has been cautious about joining the streaming gig circuit.

“Lockdown hasn’t been too arduous,” he says. “But I haven’t been singing as much as I thought I might - maybe because there’s no specific purpose. It’s more difficult to crank up from zero.”

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Happily, an invitation to record a performance for the Scotsman Sessions has yielded his lockdown debut, an as-yet-unreleased song called A Little Way Up, written after Noakes visited a Bridget Riley exhibition in London.

Rab Noakes

“It was quiet enough for me to have space to absorb the paintings,” he recalls. “I even managed 15 minutes alone with a particular canvas of dots. As I was leaving this song appeared in my head. The melody came later and borrows the key change middle-eight idea from Billy Reid’s A Tree in the Meadow. It’s safe to say the song virtually took less time to write than it does to sing it.”

Suitably warmed up, Noakes is now considering other online gig offers, which he will fit round his housework duties (”I like a clean and tidy house and clothes pressed etc. It takes up a lot of time though….”) and an online touch-typing course.

“There lurks a failure in my 1950s gender-biased education,” says Noakes. “The lassies got to learn typing, while we boys got to bash bits of metal and cut bits of wood, the purpose of which was unclear to me then and has remained so. How much more useful the shorthand/typing would have been…”

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