Over the past few weeks the local and national media has been fulsome in its praise of the much-lamented Michael Marra, who died in his home city of Dundee after battling lung cancer.
I was fortunate enough to interview him on a couple of occasions and sympathised with those Scots football journalists in Argentina in 1978 who were dubbed ‘fans with typewriters‘, such was my awe at meeting one of my musical heroes.
McSterMacSterLogoWebHis music has been pigeonholed under Folk, Pop, Big Band, Blues and Country.  He’s been called the Songwriter’s Songwriter and likened to a Dundee Hoagy Carmichael, although I can’t recall any HC songs involving goalkeepers, love letters from Perth Prison, perpetual motion in Broughty Ferry or the visit of an ex-President of the USA to Tayport.  But that was Michael Marra.
Come back with me a good few years ago. It’s a snowy evening in February and I’m sitting in an upstairs lounge of the Birnam House Hotel partaking of coffee and custard creams with the man himself. The lounge is called The Potter Room and he jokes that tonight’s show is a very worrying one for him because “I’m frightened of Beatrix Potter but my analyst said it would be good for me.”
We talk about the songs on his new album, Posted Sober. I say that it contains the usual mixture of Marra songs in that some are instantly accessible, some need a wee look at the sleeve notes and some remain incomprehensible until you see him in concert and he explains - in part only - what just might be the real meaning.
I ask about Letter from Perth. “I’m a big fan of Christine Primrose,” he says, “and she gave me the idea for this song. We were talking about this thing where she had known somebody and they had developed a code. My idea in this song is there’s a fella in the jail in Perth and he’s writing to his lover but he knows that someone else is going to read it and …” he pauses, “I would say no more about the song than that because there are different ways you can take the song and I’d prefer not to interfere with that,” he says with an enigmatic grin. And that was the essential Michael Marra.
Michael’s family paid tribute to him in a statement saying “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.” 
As another wee boy from Lochee I feel privileged to have shared time with a man whose seemingly local – or even parochial – songs reflected the biggest issues of all.  Michael Marra always reminded me of the words of the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh who, having lost faith with village politics, is visited by Homer’s ghost, who tells him “I made the Iliad from such a local row. Gods make their own importance.”


 

 

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