Oct 262012

All Things Must Pass, wrote George Harrison, and they do.

Sometimes, though, the death of someone who you don’t really know, but who has affected you in some way, can hurt.  That’s the case with Michael Marra, songwriter, performer, actor and artist who was defiantly and proudly Dundonian who died on Tuesday. Voice’s David Innes writes.

His refusal to drop the overt Caledonian influences and references in his writing when employed as a professional songwriter in London in the early 1980s saw him return home to Dundee and hone his talent to razor-sharpness without ever losing his desire to tell life stories, very often set in Dundee and seen through his own off-centre prism.

That was London’s loss.

His songs were supremely-crafted vignettes whatever the subject matter.  Whether a view on the state of humanity like Here Come The Weak, an observation of women at the berries dissing each other’s housing schemes in Baps and Paste, or a message to his great uncle who was disowned by his family as contained in The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke.  

Equally as entertaining were his introductions to the songs where his clever, self-effacing humour would have audience members in convulsions of laughter.

When he playfully insulted Aberdeen in If Dundee Was Africa and got a laugh for it (even in the Lampie and the Lemon Tree) he would insist that he paid the city a tribute by having the Dons held up as heroes for redeeming the human race in the eyes of the fox in Reynard in Paradise.

His live shows were wondrous to behold.  Always nervous offstage, once he sat behind a piano he became a changed man.  Often, the instrument was his own electronic keyboard, or as he described it once when rippling arpeggios on the Jazz Club grand piano in the Blue Lamp:

 “a piece of plastic on an ironing board”.

He was an inveterate collaborator too.

There have been, and are, musical geniuses in his home city and Michael worked with them all – The Woollen Mill, Skeets Boliver, the Clarks, his own brother the supremely-talented Christopher etc.  These people inspired and were inspired by him and throughout his repertoire there were references to Gus Foy (Hamish the Goalie), Peter McGlone (Peter), Dougie MacLean (Niel Gow’s Apprentice) and Dougie Martin (Julius).

Michael was also an actor.

He appeared in Hamish Macbeth and The Big Man and delivered a well-received performance as Jim, the pyromaniac, in Chris Rattray’s acclaimed The Mill Lavvies for which he also wrote the songs.

He was characteristically self-effacing about his painting and drawing skills but he had talent in this area too.

For a man who cliché demanded had to be termed ‘Scotland’s best kept secret’, he was held in high respect and great affection by significant figures in Scottish artistic circles, yet he was a man who would rather discuss Dundee’s League-winning team of 1962, or The Beach Boys, than talk about his own talent and finely-crafted songs.

Michael was a private man, happy to chat with fans, but never keen on the limelight.  Often keen to play piano at the side of a stage helping out others.

The many touching tributes which have been paid by household names in the arts world are proof that this little grey-haired Dundonian with an easy grin, twinkling eye and black beret was regarded as an outstanding talent and, more importantly, one of life’s genuine and generous good guys.

Michael Marra 1952-2012.  Sleep easy, Michael.

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Mar 152012

By Stephen Davy-Osborne. 

Following a sell-out performance at Aberdeen’s AECC last month, the students of some of Aberdeen’s secondary schools are set to receive a boost to their fundraising for next year’s Rock Challenge, after an Aberdeen singer announced the proceeds of his latest single will all be donated to the cause.
Myke Black tells Aberdeen Voice all about it.

Myke Black, 25, is an acoustic singer/songwriter based in Aberdeen, and released his debut album, ‘Nice Little Earner’, at the end of 2010.

Speaking of his decision to donate the proceeds of his latest single Do What You Want to Rock Challenge, Myke said:

“I was very impressed by what the charity aims to do, and achieves, for young kids every single year. I am always happy to do my bit for charity, plus the last time I released anything was at the end of 2010, with my debut album Nice Little Earner. So this was an opportunity for me to do something worthwhile for a good cause, and an incentive to record and release a brand new track”.

“I have to admit that I knew nothing about the charity when they first approached me. But once I was told about what they do and the scale they do it on, I was more than keen to get involved!”

Rock Challenge is a worldwide performing arts competition for children aged 12-18, which sees young people express themselves through a piece of dance or drama with their school.

Underlying the event is a message encouraging young people not to get involved with drugs or alcohol; to be their best without the need for stimulants.

Myke was invited to perform the charity single at the AECC as part of the Aberdeen heat of Rock Challenge back in February.  He said:

 “I performed the song live in front of 3000 people and it was very well received. I also watched all the performances by the 7 schools that were taking part that night and I was blown away by their efforts.”

Myke added:

“I feel privileged to be a part of Rock Challenge UK and The Be Your Best Foundation and I would be more than happy to continue to with my involvement in the future, providing they feel the same way!”

The single Do What You Want is available for download from iTunes now.

Nov 242011

Deliberately resisting the attraction of the undoubtedly arcane and twisted plots of this year’s Broons annual, David Innes evaluates Maggie Craig’s take on exciting revolutionary times on Clydeside a century ago.

When Lenin appointed John MacLean, perhaps Red Clydeside’s most-revered socialist son, Soviet Consul for Scotland in 1918, the reputation of Glasgow and its industrial satellite towns as the most likely crucible of any UK workers’ revolution was sealed.

In the aftermath of Bloody Friday in January 1919, the militia, backed up by tanks was in George Square, the Riot Act had been read to an assembly of tens of thousands of working people and Scotland’s own socialist revolution seemed inevitable.

When The Clyde Ran Red faithfully documents these tumultuous events which took place in what must have been life-enhancing times, but Maggie Craig achieves much more than re-documenting tales and phenomena well-known to historians and socialists.

In what might be regarded as a primer for the more in-depth and heavy duty histories and biographies listed in her book’s bibliography, she chronicles forty years of the people’s history through the experiences of those closely involved and those affected by events which showed that change was possible if the determination of the people was present and stout, resolute leadership given.

Not only are the iconic heroes of the struggle – Maxton, Muirhead, Kirkwood, Shinwell, Johnston and others – celebrated for their unstinting efforts as leaders in the battle for liberty, equality and fraternity, the lesser-known local heroes of rent strikes and trade disputes are also lauded. The little victories against oppression and exploitation, the author illustrates, are just as vital in changing lives as headline-grabbing larger scale changes.

There is obvious pride in her own Clydeside roots as Craig relates the day-to-day realities of struggles, defeats and wins for working people, describing the Singer dispute, the building, moth-balling and eventual launch of Cunard’s Queen Mary and the Nazis’ terrifying and murderous Clydebank Blitz in 1941.

Whilst these histories are well-known, the author brings new life to their re-telling from the perspective of residents, citizens and workers directly involved and affected.

Craig’s previous form as a novelist, with seven previous publications in this genre, is obvious and welcome as When The Clyde Ran Red is an immensely-readable social history of headily-exciting times and fiery, determined human spirit.

When The Clyde Ran Red
Maggie Craig
Mainstream Publishing

Aug 182011

After months of auditions and much speculation, the North East has spoken and chosen the winner of the first ever NEX Factor. Voice’s Stephen Davy-Osborne reports, with thanks to Yasmeen Ali.

The singing contest, organised by Aberdeen based charity Malaika Africa and Cove based event management company Valley Events, encouraged teenagers to put their musical skills to the test in order to raise funds to build a learning centre for street kids in Mirerani, Tanzania.

The first rounds of auditions were held during June and July in Aberdeen, Dundee and Elgin and out of a total of 45 hopefuls including bands, ten finalists were chosen to perform at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre in the live grand final.

Whittling the ten semi finalists down to three were judges Alex Miller, Steven Milne, Joanne Randall and Ross Milne who selected Rowan Ah-See, Amber Hughes and Cara Mitchell to perform again, leaving the final decision to the audience, who chose 16-year old Rowan – from Aberdeen – as the winner of the first ever NEX Factor thanks to his fantastic voice and guitar playing skills,

Rowan Ah-See ( pictured ) walked away with the much coveted prizes of £1,000 in cash, a professional photo shoot, a recording session at a local recording studio and a luxury car to take the winner to the photo shoot.

Yasmeen Ali and Mirjam Meek were very pleased with how the evening went and with all the positive feedback received:

 “We couldn’t have wanted for a better event and it will be a challenge to do even better next year because the standard of talent was already so high”.

The sell-out evening was a huge success and the charity managed to raise nearly £6,000.

More info and Pictures of the event here: The-NEX-Factor-2011.html