Music review: Arrest This Moment: Celebrating the Life of Michael Marra

Karine Polwart was admirably clear in her delivery of The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke
Karine Polwart was admirably clear in her delivery of The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke
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WHEN was the last time you saw an ironing board at a concert, front of stage? Such incongruities made perfect sense in the frequently surreal but essentially practical and hugely compassionate world of Michael Marra. The late and much lamented Dundee singer-songwriter used an ironing board to support his keyboard when not playing piano, and in this eminently amiable tribute, based on the fine biography by James Robertson from which it took its title, this particular board was a way-marker into Marra’s world, bearing photographs of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who materialises improbably in one of Marra’s best loved songs, and the legendary midfielder Gianni Rivera, whom the fitba’ daft Marra met as a child.

The Pavilion, Glasgow ***

Having set the scene with some slo-mo terpsichorean swanning by choreographer Frank McConnell, who partnered Marra in their memorable show A Wee Home from Home, Robertson read from his conversations with Marra, and acted as chat show host, interviewing performers between their covers of Marra’s songs. This made the show necessarily something of a patchwork, if brimming with affection for a unique spirit who, as Robertson put it, could be “scabrously funny yet deeply compassionate at the same time”.

That ability to combine humanity with fantasy shone through in Karine Polwart’s admirably clear delivery of The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke (preceded by a recording of Marra’s own inimitable spoken intro), while it took a Fifer, Rab Noakes, to handle the sly drolleries of I Don’t Like Methil, Marra’s brother, Chris, on guitars, augmenting Polwart’s trio of guitarist 
Steven Polwart, Inge Thomson on support vocals and accordion.

Marra’s daughter Alice, an eident champion of her father’s music, led numerous songs, including the ecstatic The Beast and his swingy tribute to guitarist Peerie Willie Johnson, Schenectady Calling, with her singing of the widely covered Mother Glasgow, from Wee Home from Home, naturally going down a storm in these surroundings. 
The closing Lass Wi’ the Flax in Her Hair summed up the warmth, although, inevitably, one missed some quintessentially Marra repertoire – Hamish the Goalie, the aforementioned Frida Kahlo in the Tay Bridge Bar… everyone, of course, would have their own preferences.

Following the last number, it took a final film clip of the man himself, delivering General Grant’s Visit to Dundee in those unmistakably rough-hewn tones, to encapsulate just what we so palpably missed.

JIM GILCHRIST