Songwriter Rab is inspired by his recovery from cancer

Rab Noakes
Rab Noakes

Fife-born singer songwriter Rab Noakes has revealed how his recovery from cancer treatment inspired the songs on his new EP ‘The Treatment Tapes’ released last month.

The move comes as the Scottish musician celebrates his 70th birthday and his 50th year touring.

Rab – who was born in St Andrews, grew up in Cupar and has also lived in Kirkcaldy and Strathmiglo – has been singing since he was little, but his first properly-billed performance was with Robin McKidd at The Glasgow Folk Centre in 1967.

However, it wasn’t until 1968/9 that Rab wrote some songs that could be performed and were suitable for recording. These appeared on his first album ‘Do you see the lights?’ in 1970. Since then he has become well-known on the Scottish music scene, having performed with Lindisfarne, Stealers Wheel and Gerry Rafferty.

2017 is a landmark year for Rab but it has also proved to be quite poignant after a health scare.

He explained: “In late 2014, a lump appeared on my neck and, although there was no pain, it didn’t seem friendly. “Following an initial examination, a series of tests and biopsies took place and the diagnosis of tonsillar cancer was confirmed. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant thing to hear but my surgeon talked us through what was to happen.

“My wife Stephy was with me all the way and we decided that we would take this on board and deal with it. We were told the cancer wasn’t too close to the vocal cords so expectations of the voice not being greatly affected were relatively good.

“However, I had to cancel and miss a number of planned performances. I worked on the release of my completed, now delayed double-CD ‘I’m walkin’ here.’ I was eased back to performance by being invited to take part in a multi-artist Neil Young tribute in September 2015. Stephy organised a wee tour for November to launch the album.”

In terms of treatment Rab had surgery, 30 radiotherapy sessions and two chemotherapy sessions between March and May 2015 which rendered him inactive for a few months.

He continued: “It is pretty brutal and the post-treatment is tough. I must say though the NHS is a formidable organisation in such a situation. The expertise, the time, the positive attitudes and the high-grade specialist equipment there to help you is nothing short of remarkable.”

The singer songwriter revealed how the songs on the new EP helped his recovery after the treatment.

“They did in two distinct ways,” he said, “One is that writing and singing, and subsequently recording them, was a crucial part of the recovery process. The other is that it’s been interesting to use the experience and observations of the process to inform the writing. The songs turn out to be good to sing so they’ve all been turning up in performances at different times. I feel the CD is a good record of what happened and our approach to it.”

His treatment is now over but Rab said he is examined by his surgeon and others regularly: “They are encouraged by the progress. It won’t be signed-off as anything like all clear for at least five years from May 2015. I don’t dwell on any of it though, our behaviour is to get on with things. There’s no hint of dark places.”

He is now looking ahead to his big birthday on May 13. Rab said: “My shows this year are branded 70/50 in 2017 to mark both my 70th birthday and the Glasgow Folk Centre night in 1967. I feel rather good about aging. For what I’ve been interested in, and done, I’ve had the perfect life-span in popular culture terms.”

He has a local show at The Green Hotel in Kinross next month: “Kinross has a special place for me now. The most recent time I played here, in November 2015, was the first full-length show I did following the treatment. It’ll be a solo show and a night celebrating songwriting covering nearly 50 years.” Rab Noakes is Backstage at The Green Hotel on March 2 at 8pm. Tickets £16. Tel. 01577 863467 or visit: www.mundellmusic.com/venue-backstage-at-the-green/.