Dec 012011

Tayside troubadour Michael Marra performed at The Lemon Tree Cafe Bar on 24 November. Mike Gibb, local playwright and friend of Voice, was there, and here’s what he made of it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Michael Marra was described as ‘Scotland’s best kept secret’.

Fortunately, that’s no longer the case as a packed Lemon Tree clearly displayed. It was obvious that the audience included a fair sprinkling of aficionados keen to listen, once again, to Marra’s unbeatable blend of music and humour.

You may know most of the stories but he delivers them with such warm, natural charm that you simply can’t help laughing along.

It was clear though, from the number who had to ‘rehearse’ the communal singing of Baps n Paste and Hermless, that there were many new faces there too. And after witnessing Marra’s masterful performance, they’ll be back next time Dundee’s finest export ventures north – even forgiving him for his jibes at Aiberdeen in I Don’t Like Methil and If Dundee Was Africa.

The two sets featured many of the finest moments from Michael’s vast and varied repertoire. Yet he began with an inspired rendition of Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney’s depression-era anthem Brother Can You Spare A Dime, very relevant given today’s economic turmoil. There followed a masterclass in songwriting – brilliant lyrics married to fascinating tunes, perfectly performed on piano and guitar with hilarious introductions populated by characters from Michael’s past, including The Bothy Cat, The Angry Cat, The Man With No Nickname and The Singing Moth.

Devotees’ favourites abounded. The wonderful unaccompanied tribute to Dundee drunks, Muggie Sha’, the imaginative linking of Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo with a less-salubrious Dundee drinking establishment in Freda Kahlo’s Visit To The Tay Bridge Bar and his tribute to a castrated and wayward cat, Pious Porteous.

Then he treated us to Farlow, The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke, Bob Dylan’s Visit to Embra, Big Wide World Beyond The Seedlies, a hilarious testament to the perils of lonely hearts columns in He Said, She Said, and a new song, the ravishing Heaven’s Hound, inspired by the Mississippi travels of long-time Marra friends from Kintore.

Michael left the stage to a tumultuous, well-deserved and heartfelt ovation. His encore paid tribute to his own songwriter heroes Gerry Rafferty, in Mary Skeffington, and a poignant treatment of Hoagy Carmichael’s Rocking Chair, before he finally departed with the Marra anthem Hermless, to my mind the saddest comedy song I’ve heard in many a long day.

The audience could have stayed all night, so haste you back Michael. When he does return I’m sure all who attended will be there once again bringing friends with them.

Michael Marra is no longer Scotland’s best kept secret. He is one of Scotland’s greatest treasures. 


Jan 072011

By David Innes.

No matter how lurid were the stories of Gerry Rafferty’s personal demise in summer 2010’s tabloids, it was still shocking to hear that he had died on 4 January, aged only 63. His career is well-documented elsewhere. This is a fan’s view of his talent.

I first heard of The Humblebums in the late 1960s. They may even have appeared on one of the low-budget, dodgily-shot, poorly-recorded, grainy Scottish music TV shows of my youth. I may even have been attracted to them by the fact that the word ‘bum’ was in their name. I cannot remember. Neither can I recall anything about any performance I may have witnessed.

What did affect me though, was a friend’s copy of a record in what looked like a hand-painted sleeve, in the days when sleeves were constructed from stout cardboard, were a foot square and served well as temporary indoor hats, worn to display to fellow listeners your own excellent personal taste in listening choice. Maybe that was just me and my teenage trusties, come to think of it. I later discovered that the sleeve, credited to “Patrick” was the work of the scarily-gifted, all-round good guy John Byrne, Gerry’s enduring pal, commemorated in The Humblebums’ Patrick.

Can I Have My Money Back, on Transatlantic subsidiary Blue Thumb Records was to have made a star of young Rafferty. His material was the melodic bedrock on which The Humblebums’ live reputation was founded whilst Billy Connolly took care of the gags, in his unique, hilarious and anarchic way. Comparisons to Paul McCartney are no exaggeration when the title track, with its still-relevant lines

Listen to the lies of the politician man

Saying that we live in a democratic land
One land for the rich, another for the poor
And if you try to change it, they’ll nail you to the floor

is considered along with melodic tours de force, Mary Skeffington and Long Way Round and the subtle brashness of New Street Blues.

Can I Have My Money Back still sounds amazing today. The songs themselves are sublime, the arrangements precise and sympathetic and the delivery proof that young Rafferty had a supreme pop sensibility. Alas, this landmark release did not sell in the numbers it deserved to.

There was no other identifiable solo releases until City To City, which is not to dismiss the three Stealer’s Wheel efforts Stealer’s Wheel, (it included THAT single) Ferguslie Park and Right Or Wrong, but Transatlantic had the foresight – at least it seemed so to Rafferty addicts – to release Gerry’s Humblebums’ material in a variety of guises during the mid-70s. Anyone with an ear for melody could not fail to be moved by the wistful beauty of Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway, the resignation to fate of Rick Rack and the strolling funk of Steamboat Row.

When it was announced in 1977 that a first solo album for six years was to be released, I ordered the title track released on 45rpm single, from Aberdeen’s emporium of dreams The Other Record Shop. I asked for another brand new release to be popped in the bag with it. Were there ever two more incongruous purchases than City To City and The Sex Pistols’ Holidays In The Sun? That was VERY 1977.

There was greater success. Royalties from Baker Street and from Stuck In The Middle accompanying a cop lug-ectomy in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, meant that Rafferty was able to live comfortably and securely until he bowed out this week.

In some ways, given his recent history, he wrote his own epitaph early on

But when he took to drinking we knew that he was thinking
That his days were quickly coming to an end
He’d only speak of Steamboat Row, he said someday we ought to go
And walk along that dusty road
Fifteen miles to get there, fifteen miles to go
Fifteen miles back home again, home to Steamboat Row

That’s how I’ll remember Gerry Rafferty, 1947-2011.