Musical Margo’s love of Oban

Oban FM presenter Margo Marr

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Margo Marr is the soft-spoken presenter behind Margo Till Midnight, an eclectic late night show broadcast on Oban FM.

Every Thursday at 10pm in a studio in the centre of town, a red lightbulb goes live – drawing listeners from Scotland, England and even Australia.

Reporter Ellis Butcher meets the woman behind the voice.

‘I had always wanted to come back to Oban,’ says the unmissable Margo nursing a coffee at Roxy’s Tea and Coffee House.

‘My friend said that I got my braces caught in the door of Oban – and I did.’

Spending the first nine years of her life in Australia, Margo has a soft north east lilt betraying her years in County Durham.

The mum-of-three returned to Oban in 2010 at the age of 55, moving to Taynuilt first and now living on her beloved Isle of Seil.

Margo Marr has made her home on Seil.

She first fell in love with Oban in 1977 at the age of 23 when she ‘ran away’ and began working as a waitress. Not in a cocktail bar as a certain song goes, but at McTavish’s Kitchen.

She lived in a one-bed flat above what is now Roxy’s and during those three years she worked at the fruit and veg shop in Stevenson Street and a nearby bookmakers.

Oban worked its magic and ‘fixed her,’ she recalls.

For nightlife, she would visit The Mantrap near McTavish’s, revelling in what she hailed as ‘the best jukebox in town’.

‘People would come up from Glasgow and put new records on and when they chucked the old ones out, the boss used to let me have them. I’ve still got a lot those.’

Margo Marr at the mixing desk.

Musically, she was inspired by her ‘hero’ grandfather Arthur McKenzie who was blinded in the First World War and played the radio religiously down under.

Mum Betty, originally from Hartlepool, was into dance and band music. Father Fred enjoyed classical music and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Margo began collecting music from the age of 11. Her first full price new album was The Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road; paying a pre-decimalisation 37/6.

Her collection now runs to a ‘few hundred’ vinyl records and ‘thousands of CDs’.

Margo’s cassette tape collection alone was so vast that her beloved late father built her a 6ft tall, four-sided carousel to store them.

It was so heavy, it didn’t make the move to Oban.

Oban FM is broadcast on 103.3FM

Margo’s middle child Marcus, aged 23, presents Oban FM’s drive time show on Monday and her eldest James used to run a music shop.

Margo can play the piano and fondly remembers learning to play the ukulele with her daughter Mary.

Her show – running for 12 years now – is impossible to second guess.

Broadcast over two hours, it is often built around a unique theme such as ‘In My Wardrobe’.

Margo identifies tracks to underpin the proposition – raiding her own shelves, researching on YouTube, or taking recommendations from a Facebook group.

She can’t remember missing many Thursday nights – apart from health reasons or the time when the A85 was blocked by a tree fall.

Margo said: ‘Not everyone wants to do late nights on the radio but I am a night owl. At that time of night people tend to genuinely listen to the music, which I like.

‘I just love playing it. When do you ever sit and listen to two hours of your favourite music intensely?’ she asks.

Margo is a colourful character in every sense of the word!,

Months of lockdown won the show new admirers as people, especially those on their own or separated from families, tuned in to hear a very warm human voice.

Margo links her records with a winning mix of humour and pathos, and always has a surprise musical find up her sleeve.

Yet there’s several genres of music she won’t touch: Rap, hip hop, trance, garage, rave.

‘I know people love them but they don’t appeal to me. I’m 66 and I play new stuff all the time, but not that. I like what I like and nobody’s gonna tell me otherwise. If I like one song by The Backstreet Boys – which I do – then I do!’

One ‘overhyped’ artist, who shall remain nameless here, brought out a track that made Margo feel physically sick.

‘Three minutes of hell!’ she tuts, shaking her electric red hair.

Margo knows what music she does and absolutely does not like!

Her favourite artists are Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and The Pixies. She recommends an early Tom Waits song: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.

In a hint of the trademark honesty that is her presenting style, Margo admits the last line of that track makes her cry.

She explains: ‘Music takes you back to a time and a place. It will whisk you back there. I’ll hear a song from 1962 and remember hearing it when I was wee, sitting at my grandpa’s table.’

She was always a big fan of DJ John Peel and regularly listens to BBC Radio Six.

More than 20 years ago, Margo was lined up to enter broadcasting with her own folk programme on BBC Radio Cleveland but a last minute change of management saw that opportunity agonisingly fall through at the 11th hour.

Instead, it was Oban that gave her the big break in radio and she remains forever grateful for the chance.

Says Margo: ‘I’ve still got a tape of the first programme I did and I swear you can hear my knees knocking and my teeth chattering. But that show has got me through so much. That little two hours on a Thursday night has been my own beacon in the darkness.’