The sad news of Michael Marra’s death yesterday has stunned many. He was a remarkable talent – not nearly as well known as he deserved, he shunned self promotion and the marketing machine which is so much part of the music ‘industry’ preferring to work on his own priorities, creating his own art.
He was a entertainer par excellence, but much more, he was a unique talent. Not only a singer/songwriter of the highest caliber, he also created operas, musicals and plays. I saw the re-run of his 20 year old play ‘A Wee Home From Home’ with Frank McConnell at Dundee Rep a while ago. Still as cutting edge as the day it was made. Marra’s ability to get into the Glasgow psyche demonstrated that his art, tho grounded in Dundee, was never parochial.
He had a brilliant take on his home city of Dundee. He was able to encapsulate Dundee’s history, tradition and strengths with a unique and honest voice. Some of his songs must be impenetrable to people who don’t know the city – but he didn’t care about that! He often gave long, humorous, rambling introductions to his songs, bringing his audience with him.
I remember him introducing a song about two dundee women boasting about their housing schemes, to paint the backdrop for a hilarious and warm human story sung with typical Marra-esque panache. And in ‘If Dundee Was Africa’ he goes round parts of the city giving them African nation status. ‘If the Ferry was Mozambique, the Ferry would maybe seem no bad…’ And the back story – this was done to help a man who couldn’t read or write picture where North Africa was. Of course, it was Lochee!
Michael worked with some young people in St John’s School in Dundee last year, coaching them on songwriting as part of the Dundee Wave of Change. The young folks who had the opportunity to work with him were inspired by his approach and down to earth support. He did this work for a (very small!) fee – why? because he cared. He cared about Dundee. He cared about young people having the opportunity to develop their talents and flourish.
I was trying to get some of his albums a few years ago, and a friend of mine from Dundee said that he would copy me some that were no longer available. He had spoken to Michael about this and how should he pay for albums. Michael told him to go ahead and copy them – just to give a donation to Amnesty International. So, if you thoughts turn to Michel Marra, you can join me today and offer him the kind of tribute he would appreciate by making a donation to Amnesty. Don’t copy the albums tho! Some of his work is now available on line and you can download some of his albums here.
His called his song ‘Hermless‘ scotland’s alternative national anthem. This brilliant, and typically understated song, is simply wonderful. ‘I ging tae the library, I tak oot a book, then I gae hame fir ma tea.’
His acute observations were warm and human. His unique blend of humour and wit, his insight into the human condition, and the courage to confront issues of injustice is in the highest tradition of art.
Michel Marra was a unique voice.
Dundee has lost a son, Scotland one of its most quirky and significant creative voices, we are all the poorer for his passing. My thoughts are with the family at this time.