I have heard Marra twice at the Mugdock theatre, which with the grand piano off to the left is simply the perfect venue for him, and I list his concerts there as some of my favourite ever small venue gigs. The first thing that I noticed at his gigs was how frail he looked, but then when he performed he surprised me with this deep gravelly voice.
With endearing heart and ironic dry wit Marra led us through his medley of songs which were brim full of unforgettable characters and carefully crafted images of places and time. Oddly he props his keyboards on top of a small ironing board. He has a strong character for photos with his humour and expressive eyes.
In March the Milngavie Fraser centre was packed for his gig for the Milngavie Folk Club.
Marra played piano and guitar during his set here and he sang songs with grand titles such as - 'If Dundee was Africa', 'Bob Dylan's Visit to Embra', 'Grace Kelly's Visit to Dundee,' 'Muggie Shaw', 'Freda Kohl's Visit to the Tay Bridge Bar', and 'Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke'. In 'Schenectady Calling', Marra paid tribute to Peerie Willie Johnson, a noted folk musician from Shetland. He finished his set with a Burns song ' Green Grow the Rashes O' and an encore song 'Mary Skeffington' by the late Gerry Rafferty of Paisley.
Marra's songs often mix Scottish places with a fantasy of American celebrity. He writes songs about such diverse topics as football, ladies choirs, and American idols! At times his stories and songs are highly amusing, while other songs are thoughtful and touching. He derives his musical influences from the likes of Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Bob Dylan. His music has grown out of both his Dundee Scottish roots and his American musical tastes, and he calls his sound 'groovy traditional music.'
Although predominantly known as a songwriter, Marra has worked extensively in theatre, radio and television. Marra's children, Alice Marra Clark and Matthew Marra, are are members of The Hazy Janes. Marra was in a band called Skeets Boliver in the late seventies.
'There's Love in this world for everyone, Every precious smile you make, Be sure love is out there looking for you.' Michael Marra
Respected Scottish crime writer Christopher introduced an evening of song with his long time friend - Londoner Billy Franks, from Fulham. Christopher Brookmyre is a Scottish novelist whose novels mix comedy, politics, social comment and action with a strong narrative. He has been referred to as a Tartan Noir author. He was at the 2010 Edinburgh Book festival to discuss his new book 'Pand aemonium' which mixed science fiction and horror.
Billy introduced Christopher as his most 'generous and supportive fan' for over the past twenty years.
I've been following music many years - and very closely the past few. It never ceases to amaze me...! Puzzling over why some artists may receive 'huge critical acclaim' yet not the publics endorsement - while others the reverse! I attend many big event festivals here in Scotland - as well as live gigs by both major artists and up-and-coming artists in Glasgow mostly. .I recently attended Celtic Connections Glasgow, which attracts people worldwide. I try to make the Danny Kyle open mic stage for new artists and the festival club. I've been to many rock, folk and pop gigs here the past years.
I watched X Factor a bit last season.. and what is there to say! It seems a very limited here-today-gone- tomorrow- route' into the industry. I am just listening to Adele's soul voice singing Dylan's 'To Make You Feel My Love'- who says his songs are depressing (!) they need to listen.... I love Adele's new song 'Someone Like You' and her new album is full of co-writers on both lyrics and music. Yet other young artists I follow can get criticised if they haven't written their entire album? Adele came through the BritSchool of music in Guildford - and I've seen her perform on Jools Holland several times - and it occurred to me there is a ton load of 'politics' in music.
*There are several main routes into the industry.
I Popstar. Firstly the reality route via X Factor, Idol or other tv shows. Leona Lewis, Britney, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson. All hghly Americanised rather artificial shows, where the performers are tightly controlled and artists are signed to major labels and it all feels highly superficial. Artists who come top on these shows are marketed usually to a clear niche market - 10 year old girls often - or the mature granny. It's the gran and granddaughter audience! (the boys are too busy playing video games!)
IIPop Label Route: Justin Beiber, Clare Maguire, Ellie Goulding. Labels pick up young artists via A & R men and online networks. They are then 'groomed' over several years for hit 'stardom' via music magazines and by working with LA writing teams. Sometimes for the huge Tweenie' market - the 10 to 12 year old girls. Image is also carefully developed.
IIIMusicCollege. Amy Whinehouse, Adele, Keane, Newton Faulkner. Through the Jools Holland route and via music college. In particular the Brit School at Guildford and a lot of networking goes on between these colleges and the music industry itself. While of course music colleges get invited to the reality shows too. Clearly a lot of coaching does on here also, but in a more sophisticated and expensive way.
V Folk Festivals. Julie Fowlis, Cara Dillon, Kris Drever, Karine Polwart, Thirdly the folk music scene, where young artists can perform 'Open Mic' stages and the many low key festivals. The folk artists tend to use smaller labels. With the live gigs bringing more revenues in music these days, this must be good news for the folk scene- although there is still less money in folk as it is often older tunes compare to the royalties in pop/rock music.
VII Publishing. Many iconic artists have broken in this way - Elton, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, more. Oddly I was thinking many are piano players and the piano is possibly the best instrument for songwriting on. Keys can also be awkward for a band onstage though, when the keyboards can't moved be around in confined spaces and also be often a block between artist and their audience - compared to the favourite guitar. Publishing deals give artists the much needed time to develop their writing and also performing skills.
V Online. New route. Some artists build a following online through one of the networking sites - simply by putting up a few songs.
VII Rock band. Radiohead, U2, Coldplay, more. Lastly the Rock band route via NME or Q tours etc. Things start through small venue gigging - the 'Breaking' stages at festivals, where the A & R men hang about eyeing up the new talent for the next big thing. Most indie bands prefer to sign to indie labels where they are allowed more creative freedoms. In today's music world there is now no longer room for mistakes in the public eye the way there used to be, even back in the 90s. Once you are 'online' on Youtube or myspace etc. it is make or break - and things have to be exactly right with image and sound.
And who are the reviewers (myself included) and judges of music? My impression is that some follow what is considered 'cool' 'sophisticated' or 'hip' regardless. I try to ignore the 'hype' - and certainly there are many artists out there who are 'pushed' at us. I've studied and listened to music all my life (and I'm not so young, I have lived through the decades of pop) and I play and write myself. I try to follow my heart in the first instance and I'm a big fan of what works live.
As the genres are blurring more and more - I often wonder as I watch rocky folk bands at Celtic or pop singer songwriters what is the 'real' difference between these routes into the music business. Often it is one of perceptions - and the Jools Holland and rock band routes appear to lead to a wider ranging and longer-term audience.
PS Sometimes in art the slate need to be swept clean, in order to make way for the new. Towards the end of the seventies we had 'over-stylized glam-rock' - and along came punk in the early eighties to strip things back to basics and renew things.
It's hard to explain in mere words the feelings this wide and encapsulating music generates - that reverberates and expands and contracts and ebbs, send shivers or vibrates you soul.
Yorke has a voice that grabs your attention as it surrounds the bass, drums, guitar, and piano. It's a fluid instrument that can be scary at times, exhilarating, escapist, mesmerising, unpredictable... In fact the opposite of your average MOR sounds! So beware! Their music is not for the weak of heart - but rather those who wish the journey to challenge, surprise and inform their senses.. If I feel full of unresolved conflicts or confusions - their music heals. I'll never forget how I felt at their gig in Edinburgh 2006 - and to appreciate this band you need to hear them live. It was a warm summer August night during the festival and it felt as if their music floated us upwards into the air, the way the wind might surge and groan... Well maybe it was simply the crowds all singing along to their songs - and jumping and waving their arms in the air or was it rather Colin Greenwood's bass thudding upwards through the grass under our feet.
In February they surprised us all, yet again, with a new album- with none of the usual pre-album build up or single releases (how wonderful!) - yet everyone wants to listen. It all reminded me of the Beatles in their day- when everyone simply couldn't wait to get their hands on their next album.
On watching the new 'Lotus flower' video - I was struck how closely photography, dance and music can be as one. One of the joys of Radiohead is knowing you'll discover more and enjoy the album more over time. Radiohead released their eighth album, The King of Limbs (2011) in a variety of formats.
I have been taking photos of 'Pearl and the Puppets' (aka Katie Sutherland from Kirkintolloch) the past 2 years at Glasgow venues King Tuts, Oran Mor, Classic Grande etc. She has such expressive eyes, that are full of mischief. I noticed immediately her soft engrossing vocals and catchy acoustic pop tunes. She is signed to the Universal Republic and her song 'Because I Do' was featured in a Vodafone ad in Australia, and 'Make Me Smile' in a ad in the USA.
And a PS - PLAN B! I heard this song on the radio today that sounded like 'Tamala Motown', and I wondered was it 'Smokey Robinson' - cool voice, those funky bass lines etc. - then I hear it is 'Plan B's' new single 'Writings on the Wall' - isn't it odd how sometimes straight imitating works!
Also ELBOW. I was just reading about 'Elbow''s new album 'Build a Rocket Boys'. I saw them supporting Snowpatrol in Edinburgh in 2006 - and thought it was hard for any band to follow them! After 20 years in the business Elbow won the Mercury Prize in 2008 for their album 'The Seldom Seen Kid' (ahead of Radiohead's In Rainbows)... 'Build a Rocket Boys' is released 7th March 2011.