Aberdeen playwright Mike Gibb was at The Lemon Tree on Thursday night to see Michael Marra.
There was a time not so long ago when Michael Marra could be described as Scotland’s best kept secret. Fortunately that is no longer the case as a packed Cafe Bar at the Lemon Tree last night (24 November) clearly displayed. It was obvious that the audience contained a fair sprinkling of aficionados who were keen to listen to Marra’s unbeatable blend of music and humour once again; you may know most of the stories but he delivers them with such warm, natural charm that you simply can’t help laughing along.
But it was clear from the number who had to “rehearse” communal singing of the like “Baps ‘n Paste” and “Hermless” that there were a lot of new faces there as well. And after witnessing Marra’s masterful performance they’ll be back the next time Dundee’s finest export ventures north even forgiving him for his jibes at the Aiberdeen in “I Don’t Like Methil” and “If Dundee Were Africa”.
The two sets contained many of Michael’s finest moments, and there are plenty of those in his vast and varied repertoire, and yet began with a inspired rendition of Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney's famous depression era anthem “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” showing a very relevant link with today's economic turmoil. What followed was a master class in writing, brilliant lyrics happily married to fascinating tunes perfectly performed on the piano, and occasionally, the guitar with sometimes hilarious introductions populated with characters from Michael's past. The Bothy Cat, The Angry Cat. The Man with No Nickname and the Singing Moth.
Devotee favourites abounded – the wonderful unaccompanied tribute to Dundee drunks “Muggie Sha”, the imaginative blending of a famous Mexican artist Freda Kahlo with one of Dundee’s less salubrious drinking establishments (“Freda Kahlo’s Visit To The Tay Bridge Bar”) and his tribute to a castrated and wayward cat “Pious Portious”. "Farlow", "The Lonesome Death of Francis Clarke"," Bob Dylan's Visit to Embra", "Big Wide World Beyond The Seedlies", a hilarious testament to the perils of Lonely Heart’s columns “He Said, She Said” and a new song on the setlist, the ravishing “Heaven’s Hound” (inspired by the Mississippi travels of long time Marra friends and supporters from Kintore).
Michael left the stage to a tumultuous, well deserved and heartfelt ovation returning to treat us a encore featuring a couple of songs from his own songwriter heroes. A beautuful tribute to the late Gerry Rafferty with his "Mary Skeffington" followed by a poignant treatment of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rocking Chair” before finishing with the Marra anthem “Hermless”, to my mind the saddest “comedy song” I’ve heard in many a long day.
The audience could have stayed all night so haste you back Michael. And when he does return I’m sure all who attended last night will be there once again bringing a few more friends with them. For Michael Marra is no longer Scotland’s best kept secret but is indeed one of Scotland’s greatest treasures.