Mary McGregor, who lives in Dundee, has written the following tribute to the acclaimed singer songwriter, Michael Marra, who died on October 23rd.
Every obituary and tribute to Michael Marra seems to begin with
I met Michael in… or
I have known Michael since … and when I sat down to write about him, I realised that that was how I too wanted to begin. Michael was weel kent and it must have been around 1976/77 when I first met him playing with the Dundee band of truly talented musicians called Skeets Boliver. Since then, our lives and paths have crossed and weaved and no matter how many years passed since I saw him last, he always remembered me or at least had the good grace to pretend to. I always found him a kind and gentle man steeped in politics, culture and history.
Michael was born in 1952 and brought up in Lochee. His passing is all too early. He was a socialist and a republican who had enough cynicism of mainstream politicians not to be fooled by any of them but enough humility to recognise that even mainstream politics is filled with people trying to make a difference. He could argue with the best of them but he was respectful and tolerant; listening as well as talking.
He was a great supporter of the Palestinian cause and did benefit gigs for Tayside for Justice in Palestine and would turn up to photo calls to help us publicise the plight of the Palestinians. The Timex strike and other industrial disputes were also on Michael’s agenda no matter how weel kent a face he became. He was a Dundee boy through and through and proud of his city’s history of struggle.
Michael was my favourite kind of intellectual; one who speaks unashamedly in a broad Dundee dialect and brings more clarity to the social problems of our time than a host of university professors with pan loafy accents. But he had no truck with inverted snobbery and valued education and reading and intellect. He valued it in the people he found around him; the working man and woman whose experiences he so clearly showed through his songs.
What a prolific talent he was. From those early days with Skeets and songs like Shithouse Door (any reference to this which you see as Streethouse Door is only to save some puritanical blushes) to a career in the theatre writing the music for They Fairly Mak Ye Work and The Mill Lavvies. He was a raconteur and a poet as well as a singer songwriter. His song, Freda Kahlo’s visit to the Taybridge Bar is a beautiful surreal song, which sticks with me always as it is about icons only finding peace amongst ordinary people and the humanity that can be found amongst them. And that is what Michael was about – humanity. The way he mixes the everyday with universal themes of justice, love and loss is metaphysical in quality.
Now that he has died, it feels like everyone is trying to claim a wee bit of Michael Marra such was the extent of his influence. But it is not only the rich, famous or the literati who can do this. Thousands of Dundonians who worked in mills and factories or drink in pubs or who argue about politics with their pals or who have loved and lost or who have felt the burning injustice of capitalism, we too can claim Michael.