Martyn Bennett: Hardland
A new brand of dance music created firmly in Scotland.
Hardland was composed and recorded at An Tobar (The Well) arts centre on the Isle of Mull between March and December of 1999 by myself and Dundonian musician Martin Low. It is an album which reflects a harsh rural environment, but is also strongly connected to modern urban culture. As a fashion statement Hardland does not follow current trends. Dance music is evolving so rapidly, that it became our conscious decision not to try and emulate any particular dance genre and focus instead on making it sound 'Hard and Scottish'. This is not to say we wish to force any kind of stereotype or Nationalism: on the contrary, Hardland is simply about the language of rhythm and melody. It says:
"Try and find those things that make us Scottish. They are not necessarily Tartan, but are no less colourful. They are in the sound of the kick drum, the bass line, the distortion, the punk guitar, the break-beat. Try and see the old ways in new surroundings. The folk tune of long ago can be heard above the constant traffic of urban life: hear it in the roughness of the fiddle, hear it in the sweetness of the chanter. They are just as valid now as any of our technology, nae, they are more valid than any of it. Hardland calls from the depths of a hard-beat urban underground, but it does so through the heart and beauty of a high land."
Notes on Hardland tracks
LOVE IS HERE
This introduction harks back to my previous work containing a sample of a Kurdish singer from my very first album (Martyn Bennett) and the naked practise chanter from Bothy Culture. It is basically a bridge from the previous albums. The sample "Love is Here" is from an unknown source, but if anyone knows where its from I would be delighted to hear from them.
Contains a traditional tune I learned from the Skye fiddler Ronan Martin called "Kissing Is The Best Of All". It sits amongst a genuine Roland 101, 303 and 909 courtesy of Mr Low.
This is based on the "urlár" (theme) of a famous piobaireachd (pronounced "pibroch") called "An Daorach Bheag" or "The Little Spree". Although the word piobaireachd has come to mean the highly developed, or classical form it actually literally means "pipe music" and should in fact be known as Ceol Mór which means "big music". Although Ceol Mór is probably not the oldest form of pipe music it is considered the most important by pipers due to its highly developed structure. In many ways it is akin to Indian classical Rag in that it has a slow deliberate theme followed by many variations. Like the Rag, these variations will appear to gain tempo and complexity until they reach an emotional and technical climax before returning once again to the theme. It is very unusual to hear piobaireachd played on Irish pipes and as far as I know Ireland does not have this tradition. I think, however, that the sound is quite beautiful- almost vocal. It was performed by Rory Pierce from Derrygonnelly in Co.Fermanagh. The vocal "Evil, evil, etc..." is actually "Eubhal" - the Norse/Gaelic name of a small, inaccessible, but majestic hill in North Uist.
Loosely based on a tune by Fred Morrison of South Uist. If you compare it with the tune in Distortion Pipe you will notice that it is an isorhythmic version (a slowed down one) of the tune "Out of Bed" that he wrote for me in 1998.
HOW IT GOT THERE
This is based on a bawdy dance tune called "The Lasses Bushes Brawly" from an old manuscript that was recently discovered in a Perth library and compiled in a book called The Master Piper by Matt Seattle. It contains tunes from the border region between Scotland and Northumberland in the North of England and was written by William Dixon around 1733. Many of the tunes are in unusual time signatures (generally compound) with themes and florid variations. The voices in the background were recorded randomly on a vintage Robertson wireless that was sitting in the studio "...I know what the animal is, but I really don't know how it got there..." same could be said of a set of pipes I guess.
HARRY'S IN HEAVEN
when Martin Low heard the very first album I did he suggested we remix the track called "Deoch an Dorus" that contains the funky trad tune "Sleepy Maggie" and samples of the great Scottish mega-star comedian and entertainer Sir Harry Lauder from the 1930s. We think that the break-down section sounds like he's chugging on his wire so-to-speak.
The first track that Martin and I did together and I think in some ways the most successful one on the album. It has the tune "Handshaker" by Alan MacDonald of Glenuig and is a total jibe at fuck-wit cops (most of them are free-masons). This is also the rebel-rouser during live sets.
Based on "Saw Ye Never a Bonny Lass", another melody from the 1733 William Dixon manuscript. The poet, artist and boat-builder Ian Stephen of Lewis composed some words to it as he thought it reminded him of the old fashioned Scottish pastime - lying with a woman in nice field of barley-corn. The poem contains the names of various old types of grain-crops that were indigenous to Scotland that have basically died out in the last twenty years due to EU Registration policy: all grains that are now grown in Britain and Europe are subject to stringent rules that standardise their yield, shape and volume so that they can be processed by a standard mechanised system. Many of these "new" grains have also been genetically enhanced to resist harsher insecticides and poorer ground fertility. It is also not widely known that many wheat-types cause many health problems due to the fact that we, as a species, have not evolved enough to process their complex sugar carbohydrates. For example, many mental illnesses are caused by wheat intolerance because modern wheats inhibit VitB absorption essential for the release of seratonin in the brain (seratonin is the "happy" chemical released by the Pineal gland). Unfortunately you will be hard pressed to find a clinical psychiatrist that will acknowledge this. Whilst I was receiving chemo and radio-therapy, Kirsten and I did quite a bit of research on diet and found out that not only does modern wheat suppress the immune system but it was probably due to living on farms as a boy that I received much higher doses of insecticide and fertiliser exposure. These chemicals have been proven to cause rarer forms of cancer in farmers and their families because they damage the immune system.
I used to be kind of Rasta. I was very proud of my dreads. I did them for me only and not for fashion or anything else. I cut them off in 2000 because I started getting labelled as "the Dreadlocked Bagpiper". We also noticed that because of this unfortunate label loads of colourful crusties would turn up at gigs and I kept wanting to dish out the soap. Of course even crusties are good friends to the poor and I would rather live with them than the British Cabinet. Mind you - Celtic's Henrik Larsson, the man with the Golden Boots, also used to have dreads and you should look at a picture of him and me together - freaky.
THIS SKY THUNDERS
Another Dixon manuscript source - the musical riff that repeats over and over is taken from the first bar of his dance tune called "Over The Dyke & Till Her Laddie!" Like many of the titles by Dixon this has an obvious connection to the art of shagging. Must have been a bit of a lad, oor Willie - oh behave...
The aforementioned tune by Fred Morrison - also Deirdre, our fiddle player's husband. He is a true artist - perfecting his art by candle-light and is, in my opinion, one of the finest pipers the world has ever seen. They live in South Uist in the Outer Hebrides and have a son.
My favourite track on the album. The demonic pipe tune "Good Drying" I first heard played by Gordon Duncan and was written by Roddy S MacDonald. Unfortunately everyone I asked about it told me that it was a traditional tune and I received a nice email from the composer asking me politely for a credit so that he could collect his PRS royalties. My sincerest apologies to him for that. Anyway it is a fantastically mental tune you will agree. The lovely lyrical tune on guitar and strings was written by Martin Low for his daughter Ruby and his wife Sheena. Martin and I had wanted to call the album PLAY, but a certain you-know-who beat us to it. Ironically the sample sources on Moby's album came from the same archive of Alan Lomax which I have used for my album GRIT.
Hardland Live have enjoyed critical acclaim from the art houses and club fraternity, producing one of the most professional and euphoric sounds in Scotland. Previously known as Cuillin whilst touring the album Bothy Culture, their live setup involves a heavy mix of technology and acoustic instrumentation.
Kirsten Bennett (keys, sampled material, bass-lines),
Deirdre Morrison (violin, keys, vocals) and
Stewart Cattanach (decks and samples).
As anyone who has been to see them live will tell you: we’re pure class. See timeline for gig highlights.
SCOTLAND THE BRAVE?
Modern rural Scotland is rather schizophrenic. It contains an obvious connection to its past through the landscape but contains very little of that former identity by way of tradition or culture. This is a particularly relevant situation for the diminishing population of Gaels in the West Highlands and Islands. A once strong tradition is now drained by the fusion of in comers who are too often careless, or at least, unaware of the local traditions and community.
I recognise the inevitability of this reality, and although I strongly oppose the idea of narrow Nationalism, I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel a great sense of loss at the apparent dilution of such a rich culture by a global one. The sad reality lies not with colour, creed or accent but in understanding culture and its environment. It is a common misconception of urban-folk, that people in rural areas have a quaint way of life that's totally oblivious to the current globalisation. Unfortunately many local incomers, or "white settlers", also have these same cliched stereo-types in their head and so end up looking like twats themselves as they try to "blend-in".
Because of this the locals who were born in the place tend to bite their tongue a lot, because, perhaps the one thing that they have kept from their fathers is a tendency towards humility (admittedly this can sometimes be confused with apathy). Most of the changes that have taken place in rural areas have done so because young people no longer see any dynamics in their area and have already had a taste of "urban freedom".
At the same time those who have lived all their lives in urban sprawl (and have perhaps taken a trip up north) have thought, "What am I doing living in Chipping Sodbury?" when they could sell up, open a guest house in Tobermory with an easy Gaelic name, and take early retirement in the process.
Mull is a case in point where I believe the ratio of "real" locals to incomers is around 1:9. (By-the-way - I too am an "incomer" in the truest sense, as I was not born here.) Because of this influx house prices have risen dramatically in the last twenty years and of course this has exacerbated the problem further by forcing locals to either pay exorbitant prices or move on (I should add that in many instances it was the very locals themselves that sold their property for a handsome profit).
It is, of course, easy to make sweeping generalisations and there are plenty of examples to the contrary. It is for this reason that I have chosen to focus on the positive and hardcore element of rural Scotland in my work - those who understand and appreciate the land and its ways no matter whether they were born there or not - with the hope, that in time, the land itself will produce a generation that has come full circle.
In 1998 I was working on a follow-up to Bothy Culture when a disastrous computer crash wiped out the entire album and several theatre and commission projects I was working on. Kirsten and I decided, therefore, to take this opportunity to move away from Edinburgh and in the winter of '98 we moved to a remote and beautiful place on the Ardnamurchan peninsula called Kilchoan. Every day I would cross the Sound of Mull to work as musician in residence at the Tobermory Arts Centre, also known as An Tobar which means "The Well" (Tobermory is an anglisization of the Gaelic "Tobar Mhoiré" meaning St. Mary's Well).
It was whilst working in An Tobar that I met a Dundonian named Martin Low who had recently moved up with his own studio gear from London where he had been in advertising as a sound-designer. We agreed that it was a tad weird to have turned up at the same time on an Island with two recording studios and time to burn, so we decided we would combine forces with the intention of forging an unusual new dance sound - one that was intentionally Scottish, hardcore, and reflective of stuff going on in the rural and urban areas alike.
It was not an easy task coming together with our ideas. Our backgrounds are quite different musically and although we should have had an immediate common ground with technology it became quickly apparent that our studio setups and mixing concepts were not immediately compatible. Arrangement, therefore, became the main focus of our efforts with much of the sampled material already in place from my previous work on the album in Edinburgh. Martin did a great job of clarifying ideas by stripping back to perhaps one or two ideas. This was fantastically refreshing for me and I really took to his approach of "clearing a space for simplicity".
The folk tradition was also an education for Martin and I think it rekindled a lost bond with an old Gibson Les Paul. In many ways we swapped our conventional roles- I ended up doing most of the urban elements as he turned his focus to the rural elements. It was turning into quite a interesting meeting.
It was unfortunate that my US record company didn't take to this new sound as readily as we had hoped and towards the end of the project I found myself dropped as Rykodisc was bought over by Chris Blackwell's (Island Records founder) Palm Pictures. With big labels supposedly struggling with a narrowing, media driven music industry, they are much less likely to back a maverick horse such as Hardland. In the end I had to find the money and a distributor in order to release Hardland myself.
Luckily we were fortunate to have sell-out gigs at the time. Playing King Tut's and Barrowlands in Glasgow, the Liquid Rooms at the Edinburgh Festival, a couple of big outdoor gigs in Spain and a huge turn out of 15,000 at the Cambridge Folk Festival were enormously helpful in releasing the album independently. I presumed that with things appearing to heat up we would attract some real media backing. But in fact it proved difficult to generate support from any particular musical corner and especially the dance community. It was frustrating because this was where I had hoped to take our sound.
My previous album, Bothy Culture, was written for the sit-down aural experience. It is all about new melodies (non-traditional), clean mixes and exotic ideas. It is also a very positive sounding album, full of life and light. Hardland, on the other hand, is all about simplicity, bass, rhythm and power. I think it is also full of life, but I realise that it is quite dark in many ways.
Perhaps this is one of the "problems" people have with it - it is not a comfortable step away from the Bothy Culture experience, and to some it is frankly shocking. I would add, however, that if you listen to Hardland at breakfast time ( ie. quietly ) then perhaps you may have missed the point. Many reviewers have said, "Oh, I went to your live show and it was tremendous, but when I stuck the CD on at home I was a little disappointed." I would suggest, therefore, that Hardland is actually a studio "live album" and sounds best with bass and sub-bass capability at around 105 dB to the centre of the room!! ( this basically means have a party, set up the PA and crank it up if you please.)
Hardland, to some, may be "the difficult third album" but I believe it makes an important statement about how old traditions can survive. Fundamentally Hardland forces a relationship between two apparently opposing worlds, but their common ground is still that of personal expression - "the dance tune". At one end of this spectrum are the roughest elements of a very, very old folk tradition, whilst at the other there are the hardcore elements of an ultra modern club-culture.
I know that this, to many hard-line traditionalists, could be seen to serve no purpose other than the further dilution of that folk culture, and it really doesn't matter to the hard-line dance fraternity what type of tradition I'm punting as long as the sounds are right, but get this: when I was in my early teens there where perhaps a dozen kids my age who played traditional music (properly that is) in a music world that was seeing the demise of a so-called sixties "folk revival". Now as I hit the age of 30 there are literally thousands of top-notch folk musicians under the age of 25 who also work with cross-media, be it, jazz, rock, indie or electronica.
Surely this is argument enough for hybrid art forms, such as mine, to be given a platform of their own? I think that the next album Glen Lyon will soothe peoples ears again, delight traditionalists, and keep Bothy Culture lovers happy, however I hope that GRIT will clarify Hardland's mission to push traditional music into the 21 century. I hope it does so with enough force and "cultural equity" that it gives the younger generation further incentive to nurture their own traditions.