Live review: McFall's Chamber/Michael Marra


ALTHOUGH plenty of 18th-century Scots emigrated to Jamaica, celebration of their ancestry is hardly prominent in Scotland's Homecoming festivities, even though Robert Burns himself was very nearly aboard a West Indies-bound ship, off to manage a slave plantation.

Linking the two at the Bongo Club on Saturday, Mr McFall's Chamber and singer/songwriter Michael Marra's performances of the moving Burns song The Slave's Lament, and the more well known Green Grow the Rashes, O were typical of how their musical collaboration works.

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The core string quartet, with the addition of bass and harmonium/melodica, were a pretty high-class backing group for Marra's lead. In arrangements of his own songs, made by members of the ensemble, violin interchanged with mandolin, and cello with the otherworldly sounds of musical saw. Funny songs, family-inspired songs, and lyrics about people, places and animals are all stock-in-trade for Marra. He sings them with an honest directness that sets up immediate engagement with his audience.

Drawing from a range of musical traditions, the purely instrumental numbers were a classic McFall's mix of Cuban, Finnish and Argentine origin – Piazzolla is a favourite – and, as the combination was right for it, a bagatelle by Dvork.

Although amplification generally worked well, straight classical music fares better without it, so string tone came over as tinny rather than warm. Not so, however, in a Piazzolla tango, where the extended opening cello solo accompanied by pizzicato double bass was one of the highlights of the evening.