Michael Marra Official Website Michael Marra iTunes Tracks

Michael Marra

The passing of Dundonian folk singer, MICHAEL MARRA (on the 23rd October 2012), was indeed sad. Sadder still, was that his unique brand of songwriting/storytelling didn’t quite navigate beyond Caledonian shores – maybe posthumous global rewards will now kick in. From Hens Teeth (alongside DOUGIE MACLEAN) and punk-era sextet, SKEETS BOLIVER, to a distinguished solo career from the early 80s onwards, and recent collaborations with Mr McFalls Chamber and The HAZEY JANES (his son and daughter’s indie band), MARRA’s blend of 50s-style pop and church music, has garnered him the tag of Scotland’s answer to RANDY NEWMAN, DR. JOHN or TOM WAITS.
Born 1952, in Lochee district, Dundee, he was expelled from Lawside Academy at the tender age of 14; Michael duly made an early entry into the working world with a series of jobs including apprentice electrician and baker. In 1971, he formed his first band, Hens Teeth (a young DOUGIE MACLEAN figured in the line-up) before graduating to the ranks of Dundee hopefuls SKEETS BOLIVER in mid-decade – described as the best band ever to play the Four Seasons in Montrose – not the Vivaldi classic but a pub!
Despite constant tips for the top and a couple of singles (`Streethouse Door’ and `Moonlight In Jeopardy’), commercial success eluded them and they split at the turn of the decade. MARRA subsequently took a job as an in-house songwriter at a London publishing firm, while releasing his own debut solo album, THE MIDAS TOUCH (1980) {*5}, a patchy record that featured folkies MADDY PRIOR, MELANIE HARROLD and oor ain BARBARA DICKSON. The dreaded musical differences then ensued as MARRA resisted his manager’s attempts to cast him in an MOR singer-songwriter vein.
GAELS BLUE (1985) {*6} was the album his manager didn’t want him to make (was to have been named “Dubiety”), a self-financed, uniquely Scottish affair released on Michael’s own Mink imprint after he’d moved back to Dundee. Work at the city’s Repertory Theatre followed, leading to further commissions from the likes of Communicado in Edinburgh. Although this work was purely musical, MARRA jumped at the chance to act and duly appeared in the latter company’s production of A Wee Home From Home, subsequently broadcast by the BBC. Regular TV and film work followed, including Hamish MacBeth and movies, The Big Man and Ruffian Hearts. The talented Dundee United fan – he once recorded a rare 45 for their goalie Hamish McAlpine – also adding soundtrack work to his CV (John Byrne’s award-winnning Your Cheatin’ Heart) and a live collaboration with poet Liz Lochhead.
On the recording front, MARRA kept up a less than prolific release schedule – ON STOLEN STATIONERY (1991) {*6} and CANDY PHILOSOPHY (1993) {*6} – although his pithy songwriting continued apace and he’s forever showcasing new material in his tireless live schedule; apparently the man has even provided lyrics for ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus(!).
During a lean period in his career, MARRA delivered two sets, PAX VOBISCUM (1996) {*6} – recorded live in Glasgow – and THE MILL LAVVIES (1998) {*5}; the man only settling back to good reviews courtesy of 2001’s POSTED SOBER {*7}; check out one of the tracks, `Reynard In Paradise’, a song about the day a fox ran onto the pitch at Parkhead during a Celtic-Aberdeen game! (eat your heart out, PAUL McCARTNEY!).
A man not willing to be beaten by throat cancer, MARRA served up a couple of swansong collaborative sets. The first of these, RECORDED LIVE ON TOUR 2010 (2010) {*7}, saw backing from Mr McFalls Chamber, a sextet to accompany many retrospective dirges from cosmopolitan sources (the Yukon, Schenectady, Mexico and back to the Shetlands). Alongside numerous comedic intros and a “best of” array, one gem of a song (penned for his old mucker DOUGIE MACLEAN), `Niel Gow’s Apprentice’, stands out from the pack.
MARRA must have been a proud father when his brood (daughter Alice and son Matthew from indie country-poppers The HAZEY JANES), collaborated with him on a mini-set, HOUSEROOM (2012) {*6}. Recorded in a couple of days on the Isle of Mull, the unique combination was a nice touch for a man that deserved better rewards in his 60 years on earth.
© MC Strong 2002/GSM // rev-up MCS Oct2012

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