Rab Noakes marks 50 years in music with trip to Anniversaryville

Rab Noakes with cover creator Celie Byrne. Pic: Walter Neilson.
Rab Noakes with cover creator Celie Byrne. Pic: Walter Neilson.

The last year has been a period of special anniversaries for one of Fife’s most popular singers.

Folk legend Rab Noakes celebrated his 50th year in music and his 70th birthday last year and his latest release is his 20th full album.

To mark his half century in music Rab performed at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections, putting together an eight-piece band and performing a mix of old favourites and new songs.

With the band all in one place for just a short period of time, Rab decided to get everyone in the recording studio before they went their separate ways.

The result of that is his latest album – Welcome to Anniversaryville.

The album, like the concert, features a mix of old classics and new tunes.

“There have been a lot of anniversaries,” Rab said.

“If you’ve lived long enough I guess you celebrate with numbers like 50 and 70 attached to them.

“I don’t want to be too indulgent but it felt like something worth marking – a one-off.

“There’s a lot of new songs on it as well so it’s not just looking back.”

The St Andrews-born performer, who grew up in Newport and then Cupar, moved to Glasgow for work in 1963, a “fertile” area for musicians at the time.

Just 16-years-old, Rab recalled that he was “part of that ’60s generation that wanted to get out there and explore the world”.

“We wanted to get to London,” he said, thinking back more than five decades.

“There were a few local bands – I remember the Sundowners, who were named after a movie – so we did have our local groups.

“The music scene was small town things like Ms Neilson’s singing class.

“Our generation benefited from the early murmurings of globalisation. We were getting all of this entertainment – mainly from the US.

“But Glasgow in the 1960s was a fertile place. I got to know the whole folk music scene. That was the most interesting place to be.”

It was during his time in Glasgow that Rab met Billy Connolly, who he would share the stage with during his first appearance at the Lochgelly Centre.

“Back in 1984, when the Miners’ Strike was taking place, I was on the phone to Billy Connolly – a pal from the 1960s,” Rab said.

“He said ‘if you’re doing anything in Fife for the miners, count me in’.

“So I took it to Arts in Fife and Fife County Council and we put on two shows for the miners’ benefit – one at the Carnegie Hall and one at the Lochgelly Centre.

“That was my first experience of the centre.”

Rab will be returning to the Lochgelly Centre on August 29 for the official launch of his new album.

Rab has grown very fond of the venue he described as a “great resource” and he remains passionate about making sure that everyone has access to culture, no matter their background.

“Art and culture get devalued in the 21st century for some reason,” he said.

“It isn’t seen as essential – but it is.

“There’s definitely a class distinction in the distribution of cultural events throughout the UK. Access is a serious issue.”

As well as featuring a performance by Rab, the launch will also include an exhibition by local artist Celie Byrne.

Celie created the front cover for Welcome to Anniversaryville – a painting of Rab “flicking the V”.

The pair have known each other since Celie was young, as Rab was friendly with her dad John.

After seeing an exhibition of her work at the Lochgelly Centre, Rab asked her to create the cover for Welcome to Anniversaryville.

“I was delighted to work with Celie and I think what she has produced is terrifc,” Rab added.

“It has a lot of attitude and a bit of wit too.”

After agreeing to do the album cover, Celie said she had an instant image of what she wanted to create.

“I had an image in my head anyway – over the last few years I’ve been doing paintings of people flicking the V,” she explained.

“I saw a picture of Rab in this Vivienne Westwood suit and thought ‘brilliant’.

“Flicking the V is a bit of Scottish humour and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s like a Scottish version of the famous Jonny Cash cover.”

For details about the launch visit www.onfife.com.