Ahead of an online tribute show to Michael Marra, Gayle Ritchie chats to the Dundee music legend’s daughter.
Michael Marra, the “bard of Dundee”, rose from humble beginnings in Lochee to become a national music hero.
The singer-songwriter, also a playwright and actor, died in October 2012 after suffering from throat cancer.
He had carved a hugely successful career in the arts, touring the world with his music, much of which was inspired by his home city.
Marra also worked in theatre, radio and TV and is credited with kick-starting a renewed interest in Scottish folk music.
Since his death – and to pay tribute to the music legend – Marra’s family have organised an annual show titled The Bard is Well featuring singers and musicians from all over the country.
The show will be run online tonight, on December 28, in light of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Myself, my mum and my brother Matthew started the regular tribute shows in 2012 as a way to keep his music alive,” said Marra’s daughter, Alice.
“It seemed an obvious thing to do given the situation.
“The shows are also a way of raising money for the charity we set up in his name, Optimistic Sound.”
The charity raises funds for Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise music programme in Dundee, a children’s orchestral project based in Douglas which combats poverty and social exclusion among young people in the city.
After hearing the sad news that popular music venue Clarks on Dundee’s Lindsay Street was to permanently close its doors, the Marra family were determined to continue running the tribute event.
“Kit and Scott Clark at Clarks were a great support to us and we are very grateful for everything they have done for us over the years,” said Alice, herself a musician from Dundee.
“So it will be a very different show this year, going online but still featuring a diverse range of acts covering Michael’s songs.
“There will be some regular performers plus a few surprises!
“The event will be streamed on December 28 at 8pm and the good thing is there are no restrictions on ticket availability!
“It’s tough asking musicians to perform for a fundraiser, especially in the current climate but everyone was more than happy to contribute which shows how much Michael was loved and respected by his fellow musicians.”
Alice said Marra was a “unique voice” in Scotland and that it’s extremely important for the family to keep his music alive.
“It’s eight years since he left us but his music is still being listened to far and wide which makes us very happy,” she said.
“It’s always so wonderful to hear these tributes but of course it is a reminder to us that he’s no longer here.
“That’s difficult, especially at this time of year, and even more difficult now his first grandchild, a baby boy, (Alice’s son) has arrived.
“It’s very sad that they’ll never know each other. We all miss him terribly.”
It’s always so wonderful to hear these tributes but of course it is a reminder to us that he’s no longer here.”
Alice hopes everyone watching will donate to charity because “every penny helps”.
“The shows have been very popular in the past with queues down the street for limited tickets,” she added.
“I think it’s wonderful that anyone will be able to watch this year from the comfort of their own homes.”
Alice said she hopes to run the gig live in 2021.
“With vaccinations starting, live music must be saved and we hope people will be able to come together and enjoy it. To quote Michael’s most well known song, ‘All will be well’.”
One of Dundee’s finest sons
Brought up in Clement Park, Marra attended Lawside Academy before heading to London.
His first public performance was at an NCR Christmas party in the 1950s.
From there he went on to tour the world performing his music.
His work was heavily inspired by the people and culture of Dundee, and he performed in arts centres and theatres across Scotland.
He wrote his own operetta — If The Moon Can Be Believed — which was performed at Dundee Rep to sell-out audiences, and collaborated on a production of The Demon Barber for Perth Theatre.
Marra performed original songs with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra, as well as his own quintet.
Later in his life, the musician dreamed of bringing Sistema Scotland to Dundee – a project which sets up orchestras for vulnerable and deprived children – in the hope of transforming their lives through music.
The legacy of his work lives on in the efforts of his family and friends, who campaigned for the orchestra to be set up in 2017.
- The Bard is Well goes online for 2020, featuring a cast of wonderful musicians paying tribute to the legacy of the late Dundonian songwriter Michael Marra.
- The online gig, featuring a cast of wonderful musicians paying tribute to Marra’s legacy, will raise funds for Optimistic Sound, the charity set up in his name.
- In turn, this will support Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise music programme in Dundee, which combats poverty and social exclusion among young people in the city.