Celtic Connections 2009

Mr McFalls Chamber: Queens Hall Edinburgh 2006


Mr McFall’s Chamber bring a programme of music by Martyn Bennett [featuring Fraser Fifield on small pipes, Tom Bancroft and James Mackintosh on percussion], as well as songs by Jacques Brel, Goldfrapp and Kurt Weill [featuring singer Taylor Wilson] and music from Cuba and Mexico [probably].

Four pieces by Martyn Bennett [ "Aye", "Cuillin", "Knives in Hens" and "Piece for String Quartet, percussion and Scottish Small pipes in C"]; "Metro Chabacano" by the Mexican Javier Álvarez; "Pequena Suite Cubana" by the Cuban composer Fabio Landa; songs by Brel, Weill, Jobim, Chico Buarque and Goldfrapp.

Piece for String Quartet, Percussion and Scottish Smallpipes in C - A Lost Decade

Mr McFall’s Chamber performed in a double bill alongside Martyn Bennett and Cuillin Music during the 1998 Highland Festival. We enjoyed each others’ sets [there was more or less no other audience than ourselves on that first evening in Wick!] and a major collaboration discussed over the next year or so. Unfortunately the rapid deterioration of Martyn’s health forced him more and more into solo projects in the studio during his final years, so that this planned collaboration never took place. However, early in these discussions Martyn pointed out that he had already written a piece for string quartet and pipes which he would love to perform again and which, he felt, would be ideal for himself and Mr McFall’s Chamber. The piece had been written in 1995 for the Edinburgh String Quartet. They had toured the piece on a short tour around the Highlands, with Martyn playing pipes and Tom Bancroft playing percussion. Unfortunately this happened to be at a time of confusion in the Edinburgh String Quartet, as it was precisely at the end of this tour that their one-time leader, Miles Baster [who also had been Martyn’s much loved violin teacher] disappeared without warning [it turned out he had travelled to Penzance to begin a new life there]. Heaps of music, which was left in Miles Baster's flat, went missing at this time. When Martyn and Robert McFall made enquiries it turned out that the music of Martyn’s quartet piece had been lost.

It was only about six months before Martyn died that a photocopy of Martyn’s original hand-written score of the piece turned up at the offices of the Scottish Arts Council, who had funded the original commission. Parts were quickly copied and Martyn was keen to produce a recording of the piece with Mr McFall’s Chamber – even though, by this stage, he was too ill to play the pipe part himself. After many discussions over the phone with Martyn, musicians were chosen and booked. As time went on it became more and more apparent that not only was Martyn too ill to play; he was by now also too ill to produce the recording. At his suggestion, Martin Swann, a friend and co-conspirator of Martyn’s from their days together in Martin Swann’s band Mouth Music in the early nineties, agreed to produce the recording. Finally in January 2005 the band was assembled – Fraser Fifield on pipes, Tom Bancroft [who had played the piece with the Edinburgh Quartet and Martyn in 1995] and James Mackintosh [of Shooglenifty] on percussion and drums. On the day before the recording session, half way through rehearsals, the news came through that Martyn had died the previous night. The recording session went ahead, even though Martin Swann had lost a night’s sleep sitting with Martyn at his death bed. The recording was, however, eventually put aside and not issued. All members of the group felt that the piece needed to be performed live a number of times before they could do justice to it in the studio. So it was that a major event was planned for the following year’s Celtic Connections to mark the anniversary of Martyn’s death with a Martyn Bennett day. On that day the “Piece for String Quartet, percussion and Scottish Smallpipes in C” was performed, along with re-arrangements of three other pieces of Martyn’s for the same line-up, in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – its first performance for more than ten years. The October 26th concert will be its second.

[Above content courtesy of Mr McFall's Chamber]