Album Review

Rab Noakes: The River Sessions

reviewed by Derek Walmsley

Rab Noakes has a number of Lindisfarne connections. Lindisfarne covered “Turn A Deaf Ear” and “Together Forever” on their first two albums, Rab performing the latter at the band’s 25th Anniversary concert at Newcastle City Hall in July 1995. Another Lindisfarne Noakes cover from those early days, “On My Own I Built A Bridge”, made it onto the “Buried Treasures Vol.2” collection of rarities released in 1992. Ray Laidlaw played drums and Rod Clements bass/slide guitar on Rab’s “Under The Rain” (Black Crow 1983).

Together Forever” was first released on Rab’s debut “Do You See The Lights” (Decca Records 1970). “The River Sessions” contains a live version from the Music Hall, Aberdeen in July 1982, here described by Rab as a “country and northern song”.

 “The River Sessions” previews four of these tracks at a Radio Clyde studio session in July 1982, here with just Rab and his guitar. Another track from this radio session, “I Had A Girlfriend” remains otherwise unreleased.

Although similar in arrangement, the Radio Clyde studio tracks have a crystal clear intimate clarity and are alone worth the price of admission for Rab fans. “The Old Routine”, is especially effective, with or without drums and bass. “Don’t Keep Passing Me By”, written on the night Margaret Thatcher was re-elected, has a backing Rab describes as “minimalist piano accompaniment played on the guitar”. “Take this Letter” is described as “pop-blues” and “How Can I Believe You Now” is another political song, this time directed at politicians.

The remaining tracks are live, dating from May and July 1982. Quality is still very good and showcase Rab as a talented performer playing to an audience.

First, another Lindisfarne connection. Rod Clements played dobro, mandolin and various guitars on The Varaflames’ excellent “Throwing Shapes” (Neon Records 2000). Rab provided most of the songs, vocals and more guitars, also supported by ex-Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers and the harmonica of Fraser Spiers. As a duo, Rab and Fraser also released the fine “Lights Back On” (the title recalling Rab’s debut, again Neon Records 2000).

On the Varaflames’ album is an excellent rockabilly re-recording of “Restless”, first recorded as the title track of Rab’s album for Ringo Starr’s record label (Ring o’Records 1978). Here, on “The River Sessions” is a more laid back live version from Aberdeen, what Rab describes in the copious sleeve notes as a “fingerstyle country lick”.

Of the other three live tracks from Aberdeen, two appeared on Rab’s eponymous album (MCA 1980). “Call It A Day” reminds me of Michael Chapman and “Memories” is a moody waltz. Another, the promising “One More Night Downtown”, is otherwise unreleased.

The final track on “The River Sessions” is from the Kelvingrove Festival. This is a rendition of “Diamond Ring”, an interesting song built round seventh chords and first heard on Noakes’ acclaimed “Red Pump Special” album (Warner Bros 1973).

The River Sessions” is a fine addition to the collection of anyone who values the work of this fine Scottish songwriter. Although short measure (11 tracks and approx 34 minutes) it is good that these tracks have seen the light of day and in such fine quality.
        Thanks, River Records!

Charles Orr’s recent excellent interview with Rab can be found on this site and his own website is at

"River records" was set up in 2003 to manage Scottish Radio Holdings’ music archive of live concert recordings and studio sessions. Their website is at  from which the Rab Noakes and Lindisfarne sessions CDs can be ordered.