I was aware of Rab Noakes for many years before I met him. Lindisfarne's second offering 'Fog on the Tyne' was one of the first LPs I ever owned. I still have that copy. Rab's deceptively poignant song 'Together Forever', which lingers there, had been ringing in my ears as though since birth when we met in 2011. That was at my first Scribblers, Pluckers, Thumpers & Squawkers lunch: the bi-annual gathering of vintage musos, hacks and broadcasters nowadays referred to as the SCRIBs. Throughout his cancer ordeal, and then his wife Stephy's long, devastating illness, we talked frequently. We got to know each other well. I'm not inclined to say too much about that. As my friend Martin said, 'Someone's death is never an opportunity to promote oneself. Or rather, it never should be.' Suffice it to say that Rab was always of a mind to do random favours, such as arranging for me to take part in Glasgow's Aye Write book festival, and getting his friends down to fill that huge hall. We had Jim Diamond in common, another spade-a-spade, ferocious Scot with many a grievance to grind. Having been brought up by former coal miners and three-quid-a-week footballers, I was entirely at home in such company.
Rab spoke his mind. He would not suffer fools. He loathed bullshit. I will cherish forever the day he called a household-name fellow SCRIB 'an insufferable prick'.
As is too often the case, he was a more important musician than the industry recognised. A founding member of Stealers Wheel, he enriched the Scottish folk/rock scene for more than half a century. His 1974 album 'Red Pump Special', recorded in Nashville and featuring both Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, is the one to go looking for. There, you will find 'Clear Day', a true gem. He made twenty-odd albums, was a senior producer at BBC Radio Scotland, founded the production company Neon with Stephy, and leapt to nurture the talent of a sixteen year-old Scottish waif who grew up to be the gifted singer-songwriter Jill Jackson.
The best I can say is that Rab was happy in his life. He appreciated himself, and knew his own worth. He respected his ability to make music. He carried it the way a mother carries a newborn. The song he wrote for his wife after she died, 'I Always Will', encapsulated his talent for distilling raw, scattered emotions into confined song.
He was seventy-five, yes, but his death was unexpected. He said he'd been referred to see a hospital specialist. They kept him in. A 'minor' surgical procedure was performed. He brimmed with the joys when they said he could go home. He never made it.
Emotion erupted in anger. Neglecting to pause to allow dust to settle, fools rushed in. They call it 'paying tribute'. Is it? Blaring across social media their connection to a man they barely knew when there were members of his family who hadn't yet been informed? I can imagine what Rab would have said about that. I didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't know what to think. I wrote this.
The many few who rushed to post, to vaunt and cry, 'I knew him most,' to brandish images and boast, 'I loved him better.'
Whose need to validate and claim reveals this Farcebook as a game where those with least the most proclaim in empty letters.
I realise now, I fail to get the thing that drives this weirdness, yet I'm often here post-toil and sweat to offer stories.
I wonder now that he has faded, endless thoughts and words paraded, damned by him as 'poor' and 'jaded' pointless glories.
Our fallen friend personified a worthier time when simple pride and precious modesty resided in the wisest.
We are left to pause and ponder what we'll get, and how much longer. We may fear the Reaper stronger, but we shouldn't.
Scrape the Marmite on the toast. Reflect, resist the urge to boast. Then soldier on, and make the most, because he couldn't.
* 'No More Time', the song Rab wrote for his late friend Gerry Rafferty: