Michael Marra. Queen's Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
DHM and Stoneypost Associates
Michael Marra, Mairi Campbell
Running time

I spoke to someone the other day who had never heard of Michael Marra and asked what kind of style he had; who he was like. Well, the answer was, “He’s not like anybody. He’s unique.”

It’s a cliché to say that he is a well kept secret because to his many loyal fans that is nonsense. A fully paid up Dundonian, Marra has been performing as a solo singer songwriter for many years both locally and around the world.

He is usually the star of his own show, but has opened for some big names like Van Morrison, The Proclaimers, Louden Wainwright III, Barbara Dickson and Deacon Blue and toured with Scotland’s new Makar, Liz Lochhead in their collaborative show, In Flagrant Delicht, to name only some of his musical achievements.

Marra sings as though he has just gargled with gravel as he sits at the piano and spills out the layers and layers of clever, funny and empathetic lyrics that make you want to lug intae to every word from this silver-Tayed wordsmith. He creates surreal worlds in every song where his imagination has Freda Kallo walking in to the Tayside Bar, where Dundee is Africa and where dugs smoke fags and wear pointed toed shoes.

Even when the songs are based on true events like seeing Bob Dylan in Edinburgh, Dr John at Blairgowrie or Grace Kelly at Tannadyce they take on a surreal quality. He is quintessentially Scottish yet with a universal eye that produces his singular style. In his own words, he’s not a purist but loves the ‘clash’ of styles that together makes ‘something else’ come out, and that ‘something else’ is pretty fabulous.

Along with one new song called Heaven’s Hound, he sang lots of familiar songs like The Lonesome Death of Francis Clark, full of his kind philosophy and dedicated to his great Uncle, the subtly subversive If I Were an Englishman and the salutary and outrageous She Said, He Said that contains the hilarious acronym EDKIB. Between songs Marra delighted the audience with his own wit that included some wry acronyms of Scottish towns.

Michael Marra was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Dundee in recognition of his contribution to the cultural profile of his home town, and quite right too.

He reckons that Dundee women are so enlightened that they are a few ‘... steps ahead of Simone de Beauvoir’. He respects women accepting them or what they are, it seems and with no rosy specs as can be heard in the song to a legendary Muggie Shaa. He generously advertised an all women choir from Dundee with the wonderful name Loadsaweeminsinging.

He is a performer that can be seen again and again yet still seems fresh and interesting. He is talented and successful yet seems to be a kind and modest man. What more would you want?

Michael Marra was supported by Scottish singer songwriter Mairi Campbell and her five-piece band. She has a sweet, steady, strong voice that worked very well for her solo about Sweet Will, sung in a madrigal style with her fiddle. She is an assured performer but her strength would seem to me to be in melodic folk, rather than aiming for swing, that didn’t quite make it for this listener.

Her lyrics were rather clichéd but her song about Portobello Beach and Bazra was heartfelt and on a different level. Her duo of Burns’ Green Grow the Rashes O with Marra at the end was a delight as was their apt tribute to the late Gerry Rafferty with his song to his mother, Mary Skiffington.

Friday, 18th February 2011, 8pm