Michael Marra

TrackAlbum
Racing From NewburghGaels Blue
Happed In MistGaels Blue
HermlessOn Stolen Stationery
True LoveCandy Philosophy
Frida Kahlo's Visit To The Tay Bridge BarPosted Sober
Letter From PerthPosted Sober
All Will Be WellPosted Sober
The Lonesome Death Of Francis ClarkeMr McFall’'s Chamber
Schenectady Calling Peerie Willie JohnsonQuintet (EP)
Taking The Next Train HomeChaso Theory

 

 

Contributor: Colin Duncan

The above listing is in chronological order.

I first came across Michael Marra at a Dundee hotel on Sunday nights in the early seventies playing in a band called Skeets Boliver. The band were excellent and in the band there was a guy who used the same bus as me, ferrying us back and forward to the Lochee area of Dundee (he got off in South Road). I thought it was unusual and strange that there was a full time musician who lived in Lochee.

I lost touch with Michael and his music; he going to London with Skeets Boliver, who later split up. However, Michael went solo and recorded The Midas Touch with Polydor, an album I have never heard or seen. Rejecting Polydor’s commercial ideas for the follow up album, Michael returned to Scotland.

I moved to the West Coast – Scotland, not America, then came across the album Gaels Blue in the mid-80s on one of my frequent returns to Dundee. I thought the album was brilliant and from that time collected all of his albums and tried to see Michael whenever he played Glasgow or Paisley. I really enjoyed every concert because of the way Michael would interact with the audience, the outstanding quality of the songs and the way he delivered them. You felt good leaving a Michael Marra concert. He always gave a performance.

His songs are clever, thought provoking and well crafted. They cover a variety of styles and genres and tell stories. For example, the EP, Quintet, is five songs about five different musicians. His love songs are moving and beautiful.

I was lucky to see Michael solo with guitar and piano several times; with Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar (national poet); with the dancer Frank McConnell in the theatrical production, ‘A Wee Home From Home’, and with the Average White Band and Hue And Cry.

In addition to Gaels Blue, Michael produced On Stolen Stationery, Candy Philosophy, Pax Vobiscum, Posted Sober, Michael Marra with Mr McFall’s Chamber, Live On Tour, Chaso Theory, Houseroom, Silence and Michael Marra And The Hazy Janes. He also helped produce The Word On The Pavey with Saint Andrew.

Michael was involved in critically acclaimed theatrical work in Dundee, and although I have heard some of the related songs, it was my regret I never saw productions in Dundee. Michael has also worked with Patti Smith, Eddi Reader, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra, Karen Matheson and Karine Polwart.

When you heard Michael sing, you believed in what he was singing. I’ve been lucky to have seen many great artists, but always up there in greatest concert moments would be Michael singing the moving Happed In Mist, a song related to ‘Sunset Song’ by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This song is one of the great Scottish songs.

He could also interpret other writers’ songs. His renditions of Hoagy Carmichael’s songs and ‘Green Grow The Rashes’ by Burns were interpreted with great feeling.

Michael received a well deserved honorary degree from the University of Dundee in 2007.

The songs I have chosen are thoughtful and beautiful and I still play them all regularly, but with Toppermost’s rules allowing only ten selections I have had to leave out many other great songs. I could easily produce a list of ten other poignant songs and I’ve had to omit many brilliant humorous, historical and narrative songs. I treasure all of Michael Marra’s work and I would like Hermless (from On Stolen Stationery) to be the Scottish National Anthem.

I bought Chaso Theory, a compilation album, at a gig in Paisley and assumed Michael had produced it to sell at gigs at a time when it was difficult to find some of his albums. The track listing is Mincin Wi’ Chairlhi, Rats, O Fellow Man, Johnny Hallyday (Je Vous Salue), The Angus Man’s Welcome To Mary Stuart, The Guernsey Kitchen Porter, Niel Gow’s Apprentice, General Grant’s Visit To Dundee, Australia Instead Of The Stars, Monkey Hair, Taking The Next Train Home, When These Shoes Were New, Happed In Mist.

I never ever spoke to Michael Marra apart from when he said he was from Lochee at a Paisley gig and I from the audience said, ‘Me too’. He made a comment about how Lochee people seem to get everywhere, then seamlessly went into an introduction to The Lonesome Death Of Francis Clarke. Michael often played the smaller halls, villages and towns, but I never attended a concert which wasn’t full. I’m sad that there will be no more new songs or concerts to go to:

Transport these golden bars
Let this music touch the stars

 

 

Michael Marra (1952 – 2012)

 

Michael Marra official Facebook page

Karine Polwart sings Michael Marra’s Like Another Rolling Stone

Michael Marra biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #82

3 Comments

  1. Martin Palmer
    Oct 18, 2013

    I saw Michael Marra only once, on the main arena stage at Sidmouth Folk Festival. Can’t recall the year exactly, but we went several years running until 2005 (the last year before Devon CC pulled the plug on funding and it shrank to a fraction of its former glory). I’d never heard of Michael – we were just spending the afternoon in the sunshine enjoying the music and he turned up next on the bill. I do remember thoroughly enjoying his set and wondering why I’d never come across him before.

    I never did follow him up, but you’ve reminded me of him again and I’ve already found a rich seam of YouTube material. I’ll certainly be buying hard copies or downloading some more of his music soon. Thanks!

  2. Colin Duncan
    Oct 25, 2013

    I’m glad you enjoyed the set, Martin. Perhaps you never came across him before because many of his gigs were in Scotland. Also, I’m glad that lyrics were not lost on you because they are Scottish. I love the song ‘Hermless’ meaning ‘Harmless’ because it celebrates ordinary, gentle Scots folk, not the stereotypical aggressive Scot. He was appreciated by people other than Scots. On the EP ‘Quintet’ an EP with five songs related to five musicians he writes a song ‘If I Was An Englishman (For Martin Carthy)’. Also, he collaborated with Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba. Many of his songs have universal appeal, for example ‘Beefheart and Bones’, the breaking up of the record collection when a relationship breaks up or ‘She Said, He Said’, a comical look at dating related to lonely hearts columns. Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue saw him as the greatest Scottish songwriter but I feel he should have been better known. Glad you posted – this week has been the anniversary of his death. Too soon gone.

  3. Ian Ashleigh
    Dec 29, 2013

    In 1990 Michael Marra contributed a track to an album Richard Thompson compiled to accompany a TV documentary called Hard Cash. I had not explored who he was so I thank you for the essay.

    The track was called ‘The Guernsey Kitchen Porter’. The album has never been released on a CD to my knowledge and the vinyl sells for unreal amounts on e-bay so my copy is safely stored.

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