Martyn Bennett - Bothy Culture

Martyn Bennett: Glen Lyon: A Song Cycle

Glen Lyon is a song-cycle which takes its name from a remote area in the Central Highlands of Scotland. It is also the site of one of the most beautiful and haunting Gaelic laments known as Griogal Cridhe. Both the song and the place have long been a source of fascination for me. Like many areas of Gaelic Scotland, there was once a rich and vibrant culture that knew nothing of its own remoteness or the impending wave of change that would sadly and inevitably dissipate its seed across the globe.

I find it interesting that historically this has not actually been an experience unique to our own culture but one which is also found in the indigenous areas of Canada and America. It was that same wave that carried those seeds across the Atlantic where they would have an even larger impact.

It is my hope that this recording conveys an authentic look into those old ways without the use of nostalgia or over-bearing anthropology. Many of the sounds that are specific to these songs may have geological implications as well as seasonal ones and I spent several weeks making field recordings of elements such as wind, water, agricultural and maritime machinery, birds, and even insects (listen for the bee!). These are the sounds that pertain to a songs’ ambience or inner meaning.

In many ways my interpretation of these songs returns to the very first track - Gaelic song sung by my great-great-grandfather, Peter Stewart, who never saw an orchestra, but, as far as I'm concerned was surrounded by one in his daily life - birds, horses, harness, ploughs, and the grind of everyday work. Today the land he planted lies fallow; not a plough-share has turned it for more than twenty years. But his music and the music of his people lives on. It does not always sound the way it did, but has been carried on through each generation.

Margaret Bennett

Margaret Bennett comes from a long line of traditional Gaelic singers, pipers and storytellers from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. She has sung at festivals and concerts internationally and, as one of the world's foremost authorities on Scottish Folklore, she features in several films, TV documentaries and is regularly on BBC radio. She is also a prize-winning author.
The great Scottish poet and folklorist Hamish Henderson writes:

"There can be few on either side of the Atlantic who succeed in combining such a wide range of skills as Margaret Bennett. A folksinger of great sensitivity and versatility, she is undoubtedly one of the major figures of the modern Scottish Revival... Margaret embodies all that is best of the spirit of Scotland."

Notes on Glen Lyon tracks

In 1910 my Great-Great Grandfather Peter Stewart from Glenconon in Skye was first of the family to be recorded - his voice, on wax cylinder, sings the first of our songs from five generations.

In this light-hearted reaping song you can hear the rhythmical sound of the threshers and the swish of the sickle cutting the at harvest-time. "The other day harvesting the corn wasn't easy... Little seagull that swims the narrows, take my greetings to my sweetheart." A sample from an actual 1920s threshing machine was used to make the rhythm track, recorded at a reaping day in Quebec by Margaret in 1976.

In the darkness, by the window of her parents’ thatched house in the Isle of Lewis, a young woman reflects. "That's the way I spent the winter, always thinking of my love... He'd visit me on cold, frosty nights and with scarcely a stitch on, I'd get up and let him in... Little did I know he was pledged to another woman. My advice to you is to keep your own bed and your reason."

UAMH AN OIR (Cave of Gold)
An ancient Hebridean legend tells of a famous piper who goes into a cave to find out why it claims so many lives. From deep within, his pipe music echoes out, telling those listening that a green fairy-demon is attacking him. This surreal song imitates the pipes and begins "It's a pity I didn't have three hands, two for the pipes and one for the sword."
The chorus repeats his promise to return.

"Young man, I'd follow you... I'd go to meet you on my tip-toes, without shoes, even if stones would cut my bare feet... You often wanted my kisses even though you don't want to marry me... Even so, I'd go on land or sea for you, right across Europe."

Most of Margaret's songs were from her mother, Peigi, whose 1953 recording in Skye begins this track. A song of unrequited love (a touch of sour grapes) which says "You married the older woman who spoke English and had money, even though we were youthful sweethearts ... Others may dance at your wedding but I could only weep."

This Jacobite song, addressed to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, was composed in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden. Distraught by grief an unknown woman sings "They killed my father and my two brothers, they destroyed my kinsfolk and my country... they even stripped and raped my mother." These may be words of antiquity, but tragically they appear to be more relevant now than ever. The sounds of artillery were taken from field recordings made in Karabagh.

This lament for John MacLeod of Raasay who drowned at sea was composed by his grieving sister. Alone, reflecting on his heroic figure, she is unable to imagine how such a tragedy could happen. "The hunter lies stretched out in death..."

"Love will you return...this year, or ever? When I go to the moors my tears wet my shoes... I saw you in my sleep coming home from battle, but it wasn't me you wanted. When your letter arrives I will write back, not in ink but with my heart's blood which is warmer."

"I arose early on a May morning..." As the women "waulk" ("full" or "mill") their hand-woven cloth, they sing of the delights of early summer with the sun rising early, the birds singing, and dew glistening in the dawn. There are various field-recordings in this track, from halyard rigging, fish-bait barrels to bilge-pump motors, that were all recorded on local boats around Mull and sampled as instrumentation.

In this ancient song, a sister tells of her three brothers at sea on a long ship. Wherever they sail, they will delight in laughter and sport, in cards and in games of dice. (While in her early teens on the Isle of Lewis, Margaret was given this song by Finlay MacNeill. It mentions little white bone figures which always remind me of the magnificent Lewis chess-men dating to the 12th century.)

Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon of the famous Dunvegan pipers from Skye, who was killed at the Rout of Moy in 1746. From the swirling mists the eerie echoes of the banshee reminds us "No more, no more will MacCrimmon return, in war or in peace till the end of time." The sound of the "mist" (the low drone sound) was made on the summit of Speinne Mòr on Mull.

"The song of the moccasins" is from Allan MacArthur whose people emigrated from the Isle of Canna to to Newfoundland in the 1820s and farmed beside Micmac Indians. It was composed by Allan's brother, Murdoch after he tried (with little success) to make moccasins. The drum loop and American Indian song featured in this track were taken from "The Bad River Singers" during their "Honour The Earth Pow-wow" in Wisconsin summer 1991.

A heart-broken girl sings to her sweetheart, "young man with the smooth, curling locks, you have left me in utter misery." Disarmingly honest, she reveals most intimate details "your love is in a treasure-trove, in a locked room in my flesh..." and closes her song by confessing that her pregnancy is the cause of her tears.

GRIOGAL CRIDHE (Glen Lyon's Lament) [Click here to view FLYboy's Tribute]
This powerful, passionate lament was composed by the sorrowing wife of Gregor MacGregor (a relative of Rob Roy) who was beheaded in 1757. "Dearest beloved one, they spilled your blood yesterday. They put your head on an oak stob and left your body lying..." The violin weeps with the voice as she pours out her heart, beating her fists on his grave.