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Michael Marra

Michael Marra

Remembering one of Dundee’s best-loved musicians

Singer-songwriter Michael Marra (1952-2012) was born in Lochee and his colourful song lyrics reflected the highs and lows of daily life in Dundee. He formed his first band, Hen’s Teeth, in 1971 and, later, he played in Skeets Boliver, alongside his brother Christopher. But he was best known as a solo artist. His first solo album was ‘The Midas Touch’, released in 1980, and on his final recording, ‘Houseroom’, he played alongside his children Alice and Matthew with their band, The Hazey Janes. This panel celebrates Michael’s song lyrics, his sense of humour, his paintings, and some of the people he loved or admired.

michael marra cartoon

1. If Dundee was Africa 

In Chris Rattray’s play, ‘The Mill Lavvies’, a character called Archie has heard about Africa but doesn’t know where or what it is. Michael Marra’s song, ‘If Dundee was Africa’, describes this mighty continent by comparing areas and landmarks in Dundee with Africa’s geography. This song appeared in the play, and it also inspired the layout of this panel.


2. Baffies & ironing board

Michael used to support his keyboard on an ironing board at gigs when he didn’t have access to a piano, and he often performed in ‘baffies’ (slippers).


3. Fiddle tree bench

Niel Gow’s Oak is located in Dunkeld, a Perthshire village on the River Tay, and it’s reputed to be where this much-loved fiddler (violin-player) composed his popular strathspeys and reels. Known locally as the ‘fiddle tree’, the bench below is dedicated to Niel Gow and bears a line from Michael Marra’s song, ‘Niel Gow’s Apprentice’ which reads: “I’ll sit beneath the fiddle tree, With the ghost of Niel Gow next to me.”


4.Tenement building

A wee home from home for a man born in Dundee.


5. On Stolen Stationery

Michael’s album, ‘On Stolen Stationery’, was released in 1991 and this image appeared on the cover – it portrays actor Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, and was illustrated by Michael himself.


6. Gaels Blue

Michael’s album ‘Gaels Blue’ was released in 1992.


7. Frida Kahlo

Michael Marra’s songs were mostly written from personal experience, but he was also inspired by stories people told him or things he read about. ‘Frida Kahlo’s Visit to the Taybridge Bar’ was a classic example where Michael imagined the artist’s ghost waiting in a popular Dundee pub until she could enter heaven.


8. Radio tower

This radio mast represents a song called ‘Schenectady calling Peerie Willie Johnson’ – a reminder of how some Scottish folk musicians in the 1920s learned how to build radios, then managed to tune in to early jazz broadcasts beamed live the USA.

9. General Grant

Michael wrote ‘General Grant’s Visit to Dundee’ to celebrate the former US President’s trip to the city in 1877.


10. Dog in shoes

An Alsatian wearing pointed shoes was a line from Michael’s song, ‘Baps & Paste’.


11. The Violin Lesson

The Dundee Tapestry’s designer, Andrew Crummy MBE, grew up in Craigmillar, in Edinburgh – a disadvantaged area at that time. When Andrew’s brother was denied violin lessons at school, his mother, Helen Crummy MBE, set up the Craigmillar Festival Society to enable all local children to enjoy art, music and drama tuition. Michael Marra wrote a song about that experience called ‘The Violin Lesson’.


12. Flax plant

Michael’s song, ‘The Lass Wi’ the Flax in her Hair’, mentions Balgay Hill and Magdalen Green.


13. Hamish McAlpine [goalkeeper]

Michael Marra was a big football fan and he supported Dundee FC from childhood. But he put aside local rivalry to write a song about Dundee United FC’s legendary goalkeeper, Hamish McAlpine, for the keeper’s testimonial match against Tottenham Hotspur on 17 August 1983.


14. Baps and paste

The song ‘Baps & Paste’ featured on Michael’s album, ‘High Sobriety’, which was recorded live at the Bonar Hall in Dundee, in 2000.


15. Gordon McLean

Michael painted a portrait of Gordon McLean, the former director of the An Tobar arts centre in Mull and a close friend of Michael. In 2008, the painting was exhibited at a gallery in Kirriemuir, alongside other portraits by Michael of people he admired.


16. The Sidlaws

‘Big Wide World Beyond the Seedlies’ also appeared on Michael’s album, ‘High Sobriety’, and refers to the Sidlaw Hills behind Dundee.

This panel was stitched by

Meg Bartram
Louise Laing
Valeen Lyons

Karolina Palugova
Ann Ross
Sheena Sigsworth

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