Even as planet Earth began to teeter on its axis in a desperate attempt to counter the effects of America’s decision to install a one-man wrecking ball in the White House, two events unfolded – as a result of which, you might say I was all covered in a scarlet light.
Firstly, Michael Marra, sometime of this parish, was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.
If you are unfamiliar with the above reference to “scarlet light” I suggest you check out his masterpiece Frida Kahlo’s Visit to the Tay Bridge Bar. You will not be disappointed and I will still be here when you come back.
Secondly, a 69-year-old Dundee jazz fan called Alan Steadman won a competition to be the new voice of the Speaking Clock. (“At the thurd stroke, the time wuhll be fehv fufty-fehv…”)
This coincidence of events not only struck me as a dovetailing of symbols of hope in an increasingly uncivilised world but it also permitted me to indulge in a small fantasy.
If only Michael had been spared a few more years, can you imagine the song he would have written about the Speaking Clock with a Dundee accent? (“At the thurd stroke, the time wuhll be twa thur’y-seeven…”)
As it is, if ever there was such a thing as a match made in Heaven, it will be that particular songwriter sitting on his cloud in the afterlife, St Peter hot-footing up from the pearly gates to give him the word on the pavey from downtown Dundee about the Speaking Clock.
And he smiles a knowing smile and reaches for celestial parchment and quill, or celestial iPad or whatever they’re using these days. He writes down a title, something like Timed to Perfection and he begins…
He thinks maybe there will be complaints in the Letters Page of The Times and on phone-ins to Radio 2… can’t understand a word the man says, it’s not English, is it whatever else it is…
No, it isnae. (“At the thurd stroke, the time wuhll be fower-fufty-fower and fufty seconds…”)
It’s all grist to the songwriter’s muhll and no one knows more about muhlls than a lad born in Lochee. He once said in a radio interview that Dundee was a beautifully lit vantage point from which to look at the world and I think he never spoke a truer word.
For all my often illuminating travels across Highland and island Scotland and occasional forays into a few of the cold, northern places of the world, I’m better at making sense of life and the world at large whenever I am happed in the benevolent mist of Dundee and Dundee voices.
And of all Dundee voices, his is the one that articulates most truly the good humoured humanity of its streets.
I worked with him once. I was making a wee radio programme about my footballing grandfather, Bob Crumley, based on a short novel I’d written about him.
In that book, I used skylarks as a kind of symbol of hope through the darker parts of his story and included the lyrics of Hoagy Carmichael’s song, Skylark. When the radio thing happened, I thought it would be appropriate to have the song sung by a Dundee voice – THE Dundee voice.
We recorded it in the chapel at Dundee University (it had good acoustics and a good piano) and while I was listening to his unique approach to that sublime song, I finally realised what I had been getting at when I came up with the skylark symbol in the first place.
So Michael Marra has always had a special place all his own in my affections.
When I heard about his Hall of Fame evening at the Marryat Hall, I took his Posted Sober CD out in the car with me and I was covered in a scarlet light all over again.
There was a curious little offshoot to all of the above which impinged briefly on my personal universe.
I had been asked by the John Muir Trust to do a voiceover for a very short film to be screened at the trust’s Spirit of John Muir event in Edinburgh last Tuesday, even as America was voting in the wrecking-ball.
The next day, Alan Steadman was installed as the voice of the Speaking Clock and I got an email as follows: “Just heard that a 69-year-old jazz addict fae Dundee is the new Speaking Clock. It isnae you, is it?”
No, it isnae.
But to Alan Steadman and from one Dundee jazz fan of a certain age to another, warm congratulations. And commiserations for missing out on being the subject of a Michael Marra song.