Tributes have been paid to singer-songwriter Michael Marra, who has died in hospital in Dundee at the age of 60. Michael passed away on Tuesday night at Ninewells Hospital. It is believed he had been ill for some time. Born in Dundee in 1952, Michael rose to fame in the 1980s as a solo performer and became one of Scotland's most prolific songwriters. Michael was also well known for his theatre work, writing the music for several plays and his own operetta. He is survived by his wife Peggy and children Alice and Matthew who, as part of the band Hazey Janes, toured Scotland with their father a few months ago.
Michael Marra - A Wee Home From Home - Plan B
A Wee Home From Home explores the dizzying emotions and memories that one man’s homecoming can provoke. Told with affection and wandering through other familiar territory that would rather be forgotten, the show is a roller coaster ride down an unpredictable memory lane. Frank McConnell’s inspired and well-observed choreography perfectly partners the caustic and heart breaking observations contained in Michael Marra’s exceptional live music.
In a statement, his family said Marra's songs are his legacy.
"We are devastated by our sudden loss but are comforted by the kind words of so many people who loved Michael, his music and his spirit. His life's work has told our family story, and the story of his beloved Dundee. Michael's songs are his legacy, given to Scotland by one wee boy from Lochee."
Michael was brought up in the Lochee area of Dundee, the son of a printer and a schoolteacher. After being expelled from school at the age of 14 he took on a variety of jobs, including message boy in the printing trade, apprentice electrician, apprentice baker and builder's labourer.
Michael formed his first band, Hen's Teeth, in 1971, but it was as a solo artist that he became well known. His first solo album, The Midas Touch, brought him wider fame in 1980. He worked extensively in theatre, writing the music for the play The Fairly Mak Ye Work. More recently, he composed songs for The Mill Lavvies, which premiered at Dundee Rep Theatre last month. Michael also composed his own operetta, If The Moon Can Be Believed.
Michael was a regular performer at Glasgow's Celtic Connnection's festival. Its director, Donald Shaw, said he was a unique talent who would be sorely missed. He said:
"He was just one of the great humanist people. Very soft spoken and great to be around. His songs have so much heart and he had so much insight into the Scottish psyche. He just went along, did his thing, turned up, sang his songs. I feel sad, but I also feel elated because in 20 years people are going to say, why didn't people give him his credit when he was alive? People will realise what a legend he was musically."
'Sense of belonging'
Mr Shaw also credited Michael with helping rejuvenate folk music in Scotland.
"He was a big part of that and he was so generous in spirit to young people and music. The last time I saw him, we had a great conversation about him spending a week in the jail in Dundee, teaching inmates the guitar and singing songs and trying to give them a sense of belonging. I think he's played a big part of the renaissance of music in this country."
Singer Eddi Reader, who performed with him on many occasions, paid tribute to Michael on Twitter. saying:
"God bless Michael Marra, songwriting GENIUS and wonderful, wonderful man. So kind to me, my heart is breaking dear God."
Michael was also a passionate football fan and once wrote a song about former Dundee United player Hamish McAlpine, called Hamish the Goalie. Leo Sayer, one of many who recorded his songs, reposted his own recording of Hamish the Goalie, the Dundee United goalkeeper during the Tayside glory years as soon as he heard the news which gives some indication of how his songs transcended the purely local.
To a man, or woman, they speak of his modesty, his humanity, his genius. He never became massively famous; a record deal fell foul of the eruption of punk in the 1970s, which Michael was definitely not. In later life, Michael would be seen usually sitting quietly in the corner of a bar, putting you in mind of Samuel Beckett; the same lined face, the same spiky, grizzled hair, the same indulgent affection for poor old humanity, warts and all. There was some irony in that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the announcement of the programme for one of the world's great celebrations of singer songwriters, Celtic Connections which he had himself graced on numerous occasions. During his life, he made recordings, wrote and appeared in shows and played everywhere. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Dundee University in recognition of his contribution to the cultural profile of his home town and in 2011 he was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Glasgow Caledonia University. But really, his monument will be his music.
His rendition of Burns' Green Grow the Rashes O at the closing night of Celtic Connections in 2009 is a classic. And many feel that Hermless, with its modest ambitions, is a far more fitting candidate for national anthem than songs about armies and 14th century battles.
Martyn Bennett - GritLiberation, from Martyn Bennett's album Grit, features Michael Marra’s enthralling reading of Psalm 118, enmeshed with layer upon layer of haunting Gaelic psalm singing recorded in the early 1960s. The effect is mesmerizing and this faith affirming piece is widely regarded as Martyn’s masterwork. [Folk Radio]
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