Seeking neither fame nor fortune, Michael Marra was one of Scotland’s most influential singer-songwriters. His talents were so eclectic that it was impossible to classify him. He once said that among the songs that inspired him were Dionne Warwick’s Anyone Who Had a Heart and Danny Kaye’s Inchworm, but he may have been joking.
He came from a musical family. His mother sang in a choir, and his father enjoyed Beethoven and Duke Ellington in equal measure. After being expelled from school at the age of 14, he had a variety of jobs, working as a baker, electrician, labourer and messenger before forming his first band, Hen’s Teeth, in 1971 and later joining another group, Skeets Boliver. In spite of long tours, it had little commercial success and disbanded in 1979.
The people of Scotland, and particularly his native Dundee, were a distinctive emphasis in Marra’s songwriting. One of his compositions was Hamish (The Goalie), which told the tale of the Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine, and was recorded by Leo Sayer. Kiki Dee covered another of his songs.
Marra eventually moved to London, where he recorded his first solo album, The Midas Touch, with Polydor, featuring Barbara Dickson on backing vocals. But he soon found his brand of music was at odds with Polydor’s more commercial interests and he returned to Scotland.
In 1985, he formed his own label, Mink Records, and released his second album, Gaels Blue. Marra also worked for the theatre, as both actor and musical director. He wrote an operetta, If the Moon Can Be Believed, for Dundee rep and music for a play for the company about the city’s jute industry. Collaborating with the Scottish poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead, he also devised a show called Fragrant Delicht, which was staged in America and Australia, as well as Scotland.
In 2007, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dundee, followed four years later by Glasgow Caledonian University making him a Doctor of Letters. In 2010, he embarked on one of his most ambitious tours, performing with McFall’s Chamber, an ensemble with a wide-ranging repertoire.
Michael Marra, who was born in Dundee on February 17, 1952, died there on October 23, aged 60.