Michael’s love of music grew with him as a young boy in the Lochee area of the city and those memories and observations were not only an inspiration to him, but provided key reference points throughout his songwriting career.
Over the past few days tributes have poured in from every corner of Scotland, such has Michael’s life, work, songs and compassion touched the country. Folk singers, actors, rock stars, journalists, footballers, politicians, academics and theatre directors hailing him as a ‘genius’ and ‘one of Scotland’s greatest ever songwriting talents’.
His career as a songwriter, composer, musician, playwright, actor and artist started in the 1970s on the folk circuit with Hen’s Teeth (with Dougie MacLean) and Skeets Boliver (with his brother Chris).
After a few years in London, a major record deal and his first solo album The Midas Touch, Michael realised that he and the mainstream record industry might not be the ideal bed fellows and chose to go it alone. By the mid 1980s he released the critically acclaimed Gaels Blue on his own Mink record label.
His song Hermless is widely regarded as the alternative Scottish national anthem and his songs have been covered by rock, pop and folk artists alike. One of the more unusual covers is Leo Sayer’s version of his song Hamish the Goalie written about Dundee United’s legendary goalkeeper from the 1980s. He has provided lyrics for Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA, performed with poet Liz Lochhead and written an operetta for Dundee Rep Theatre. Standing still was never an option for this remarkable man.
As his critical acclaim grew so did his breadth of writing and he began working with several theatre companies across Scotland. It was at this point his long standing relationship with Dundee Rep Theatre first blossomed.
Michael was one of a kind, a true gentleman, a man of humour, a man driven by compassion and humanity, whose work moved seamlessly from folk to rock to operetta and theatre without the slightest hint of affection or insincerity.
To hear his voice, once described as gravel coated in chocolate, was to hear the man’s heart. With Michael there was no half-way house, no compromise for the sake of commerciality. He wrote what he lived and breathed and took his world to the listener through humour and empathy. Notably, he once opened a gig with the line, ‘I’d like to do some songs about Dundee and its surrounding planet’.
Most recently, Michael dedicated a great deal of his time in trying to bring the El Sistema Project to his home city of Dundee, specifically to work with disadvantaged children. His family have invited donations to Sistema Scotland http://makeabignoise.org.uk/
Eddi Reader said of him, ‘God Bless Michael Marra, songwriting genius and a wonderful, wonderful man’.
And Pat Kane of Hue & Cry, who covered Michael’s song Mother Glasgow, paid tribute by saying, ‘It’s a great artistic and personal loss. Michael was one of Scotland’s greatest ever songwriters.’
His family added: ‘We 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’.
Words: Stuart Fleming, PRS for Music