Will Be Well as Scottish music stars pay tribute to Michael Marra
By Jennie Macfie, STV
The darkened stage fills with dimly seen figures while the unmistakable 'gravel soaked in whisky and dried in smoke' tones of Michael Marra fill the tightly packed Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
It's the spoken introduction to Liberation by another lamented Scottish genius, Martyn Bennett; the words of Psalm 118. “I shall not die but live...” has now acquired another, sadder, resonance.
It'd be easy for a memorial concert, especially one so soon after the passing of the subject, to become mawkish but Marra was never sentimental and his friends and family – musically directed and compered by Rab Noakes – never stray into the soggy quagmire. It's a warm, uplifting celebration of his life and his songs.
One thing that comes through loud and clear is that the songs will go on. Deftly arranged by Hilary Brooks and shared out amongst a host of names – Dougie Maclean, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever, Pat and Greg Kane among them – they take on a new life.
Now that their originator is no longer here to sing them, there is no reason for other singers not to dip into the Marra songbook. That more didn't while he was alive, with the notable exception of Hue & Cry's Mother Glasgow, was possibly a tacit acknowledgement that there was only one Michael Marra.
But to hear Kris Drever in magnificent voice on Schenectady Calling, or the trio of Reader, Maclean and Noakes tackling Niel Gow's Apprentice or the three Mackenzie sisters shred all hearts with Happ'd in Mist, is to realise that the songs will stand on their own feet for a long time.
The first half closes with John Spillane's fabulously angry attack on The Homeless Do Not Drink Here Any More. Marra never raised his voice louder than necessary; both the humour and the rage were always oblique and it's strangely refreshing to hear the iron beneath the velvet. Chain up the Swings in the second half gets the same treatment – if Marra had wanted to, he could have led a revolution.
The only time he did uncloak the menace was in A Wee Home From Home and then it wasn't done musically. By standing still and doing, apparently, nothing he created a dark violence which completely dominated the stage. Few actors have that gift.
The backing musicians worked heroically throughout the evening, including Duncan Chisholm's fiddle, Christine Hanson's cello, Steve Kettley’s sax, and the excellent percussionist (whose name is this morning sadly illegible), ornamenting but not obscuring the simplicity that was Marra's trademark.
Alice Marra singing Monkey Hair is a standout moment and there are few tears unshed; any that resisted being overcome by Liz Lochhead's valedictory poem. “As if they were ospreys, and Angus was Africa...”. Thousands of voices are raised in All Will Be Well – and it will.
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