A certain Dundonian songwriter once sang “bad news spreads like wildfire, good news travels slow”. And so it was with tremendous speed that we learned of the passing of a true Scottish legend this week. The news of Michael Marra’s death burned across social media sites with a keen ferocity only matched by the great man’s wit and wisdom, and served to remind us that we don’t always know what we’ve got until it’s gone.
For the quiet and unassuming son of a schoolteacher never seemed one to boast – he let his songs do the talking. And how they talked. “If Dundee Was Africa”, “Chain Up The Swings”, “Hermless”, “Peerie Willie Johnson” all testament to his unique skills – bitingly satirical, intelligent, irreverent but always heartfelt, his was a towering and versatile talent that also saw him compose extensively for the theatre. My own band played a number of shows with his son Matthew and daughter Alice’s band The Hazey Janes, with whom Michael toured very recently, and it was through them that I discovered the genius of the man.
A family statement said "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." It’s a gift of the greatest kind, and the only sadness is that he’s not here to see how much we appreciate it.
Some called him the Scottish Randy Newman, but that would be to admit he had peers. Michael Marra was one of a kind, and we’ll be paying tribute to him on the show tonight at 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland.
Listen to Michael in conversation with Barbara Dickson in 2011, on songwriting and growing up:
Michael's wit and down-to-Earth good nature shines through in this interview from 2010.
An interview from Travelling Folk, on the release of an album he made with The Hazey Janes:
Michael Marra talks to Bruce about the new EP he's recorded with The Hazey Janes and chooses some of his favourite music.