Review: All Will be Well Celtic Connections 2013

Added on Saturday 2 Feb 2013

Photo: rab noakes alice marra matthew marra. The Life and Songs of Michael Marra' concert

review by Pauline Keightley

A diverse and colourful cast of musicians and singers took to the stage for a memorable night to celebrate Michaels's life and songs. Artists taking part in cluded Chris Marra,The Hazey Janes, Eddi Reader, Dougie MacLean, The Mackenzie Sisters, Pat & Greg Kane (Hue & Cry), John Spillane, Jimmie MacGregor, Kris Drever and Musical Director and host Rab Noakes. Dundee singer-songwriter Michael Marra died in October 2012.

The concert opened with the entire cast and The Hazy Janes, whose members include Michael's children Alice and Matthew, singing his songs When These Shoes Were New and The Midas Touch. There followed an iconic experience when Scottish legends Eddi Reader, Rab Noakes and Dougie MacLean performed Dear Hank William. We were also treated to lovely harmonies from the Mackenzie Sisters, who sang Happed in Mist and The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke.

This was a concert of many voices. Dougie MacLean gave a moving interpretation of Goodnight To Lovely You. He explained that Marra had once sang the song at the Blairgowrie Folk Club but had never recorded it. Hue & Cry sang Mother Glasgow and Like Another Rolling Stone. Pat Kane spoke of Marra with affection, saying that quality always shone through in his performances.

One of Marra's jazzier songs, Under the Ullapool Moon, was performed by Sylvia Rae in her captivating husky voice. Noakes put his melodic guitar spin on Marra's song General Grant and Eddi Reader gave a rousing performance of Here Comes the Weak.

Marra enjoyed his 'fitba' and often wrote songs about the sport. Rod Paterson stood out with the Marra songs Hamish (about the unforgettable night when Monaco came to Tannadice in the European Cup) and The Bawbee Birlin - his deep gravelly voice reminiscent of Marra. The performers were accompanied by a top class band, which included sax, cello and fiddle.

Kris Drever's performance of Schenectady Calling was impressive and near the close Alice Marra gave a haunting rendition of her father's favourite song Monkey Hair. You could feel the emotion both among the audience and on stage and tears were shed as Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead, recited a poem about taking flight - As If They Were Ospreys....

Rab Noakes was a worthy and knowledgeable host and drew on his experience to provide excellent musical direction I am sure Marra would have been proud as the night ended with All Will Be Well and a poignant rendition of Hermless.

Marra's music drew on a variety of influences - and there are many references in his songs including pop, Dylan, musicals, and more. Rab said Michael was able to sing in different dialects and that he could switch easily from a mid-Atlantic pop music accent, that they grew up listening to, to a broad Dundonian accent. Marra liked to think sideways. He mixed celebrities with the ordinary man in his songs and he looked at the small details. The music labels wanted him to change his song titles, to smooth things out and soften the edges of his songs but Marra refused to compromise. Noakes made the point that Marra wanted to have his name in brackets not in lights.

Marra was a wee man with a quizzical look, a big heart and a gift for expressing the absurd. To me Marra painted with words and I've never seen an audience so engrossed at a gig as at Marra's Mugdock Theatre One, where the theatre had a grand piano in the corner and tiered seating. He kindly signed a print for me there and said how much he enjoyed playing at such small intimate venues.

I remember at his Milngavie Folk Club gig he oddly set his keyboard on an ironing board. He was a humble and keen observer of human foibles and contradictions and enjoyed the humorous side of life. Thanks Michael.

SET - ALL: When These Shoes Were New/ Hazey Janes; The Midas Touch/ Hazey Janes; Dear Hank Williams/ Rab Noakes, Eddi Reader, Dougie MacLean: Niel Gow/ Tom Mitchell: Frida Kahlo/ Mackenzie Sisters & Kris Drever: Happed in Mist/ Hue & Cry: Mother Glasgow/ Riley Briggs: Alter Boys/ Dougie MacLean; Goodnight To Lovely You/ Eddi Reader; Machushia/ Rod Paterson: The Bawbee Birlin/ John Spillane: The Homeless Do Not Seem To Drink Here

II Hazey Janes: Golden Slippers/ Mrs Gorrie/ Rab Noakes: General Grant/ John Spillane: Chain up the swings/ Sylvia Rae: Under the Ullapool Moon/ Dougie MacLean: Peddie Street/ Hue & Cry: Like Another Rolling Stone/ Mackenzie Sisters: The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke/ Kris Drever: Scenectady Calling/ Eddi Reader: Here Come the Seak/ Rod Paterson: Hamish/ Alice Marra and Andrew Marra: Monkey Hair/ ALL: All Will Be Well/ Hermless

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