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The life of Marra: festival celebrates a folk legend

THE Celtic Connections music festival will host a special tribute to Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Marra, who died last month.

The late Michael Marra
The late Michael Marra

The life and work of the traditional-music star will be celebrated by a line up including some of Scotland's best-loved folk musicians.

Artists and groups including Eddi Reader, Dougie MacLean, Pat and Greg Kane, Kyle Falconer, Riley Briggs, John Spillane, Hazey Janes, Marra's brother Chris, and Rab Noakes, who is also the musical director, will perform their versions of Marra's songs at the All Will Be Well – The Life And Songs Of Michael Marra concert.

Marra, who died aged 60 on October 23 after a long illness, was famous for a large body of work including the alternative Scottish national anthem, Hermless.

Born in Lochee, in Dundee, Marra wrote witty and insightful songs about life in the city and in Scotland. He played with stars including Van Morrison, The Proclaimers, Loudon Wainwright III, Barbara Dickson and Deacon Blue.

Marra was also known for his acting, short stories, art and directing roles.

His work won him accolades including honorary doctorates from Dundee University and Glasgow Caledonian University and a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel award in 2010.

He performed at almost every Celtic Connections festival since the inaugural one in 1994.

Eddie Reader said the concert celebrated one of the "wittiest and most insightful songwriters Scotland has ever produced".

"I feel honoured to have met Michael along the way, be it listening to him in concert, or performing with him in some way, or sitting soaking up his wisdom and his brilliant company," she said.

"I'm only glad I get the opportunity to be involved in this concert. He quietly, but most definitely, stole my heart. Now it's broken. Therefore, to celebrate him and what he left behind will help mend me and everyone else that loved and worked with him.

"Maybe it'll feel like he's back with us for a while, and to share his work will reinforce how beautiful and clever my fellow Scots can be."

One of the last projects Marra worked on was the EP Houseroom in collaboration with the Hazey Janes, the band in which his two children Alice and Matthew perform.

"It was amazing – we had done loads of live shows with him in the past but we had never been in a studio setting before," Alice Marra, 32, says. "I think he really enjoyed working with us and we certainly enjoyed working with him."

She said she thought the tribute concert, the proceeds from which will go to the Marra Family's Appeal to start one of Sistema Scotland's Big Noise Orchestras in Dundee, was a wonderful idea.

"I think one of the things we kept talking about is that his music should be played as much as possible and to people who have never heard it before.

"So I think doing this concert is a great way to get to people who maybe haven't heard any of his songs yet," she said.

"He covers so many subjects, and scripts of his songs are very entertaining, very clever, very funny – he had a very unique way of writing and obviously they are very special to me as they are my dad's songs."

Rab Noakes worked with Marra on a number of occasions including BBC TV series Your Cheatin' Heart.

"Michael Marra as a musician and songwriter occupies a unique position within the whole history and archaeology of Scottish music," Noakes says.

"I like to think of Michael in a complimentary sense, as being a link in the chain, because when you deconstruct Michael's work you can trace a lot of the lineage of what he was doing but there was no-one else that put it together in the way that he did.

"I would like to think his work will live on in other people's work in some way or another, that it will be a reference point.

"He had a most unique way of looking at things. He was a great respecter of things from the past, a great respecter of things in the present and would always look to find the good in all things cultural, whether it was the strengths or the absurdities."

Noakes, who also co-curated the tribute concert for Gerry Rafferty last year, said Celtic Connections was a fitting place to commemorate Marra.

He added: "He had that great art of making something very local in its origins spread and resonate globally so it could touch a wide range of people."

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