Celtic Connections 2009

Celtic Connections 2009


Last night saw a fitting tribute to Martyn Bennett with a performance of four new compositions inspired by the late multi-instrumentalist.

That’s not to say that all of it necessarily worked, but in pitching the electronic gizmos of DJ Dolphin Boy and the fabulous Tenori-On of Bill Wells against traditional instrumentation provided by the likes of Phil Bancroft and Mr McFall’s Chamber, those involved succeeded in carrying on the legacy of someone whose determination to forge together the old and the new was - during his lifetime - without precedent in the Scottish music scene.

Bennett mixed bagpipe and fiddle music with dance beats during the mid-90s which would in itself have been remarkable enough, without the brilliant song-writing that made 1998’s Bothy Culture such a remarkable album .

I’d personally grown disillusioned with the pipes - which I’d been taught since primary school - having played the same old tunes over and over again on them for half my life. To hear the possibilities of what could actually be achieved on the unwieldy instrument was amazing - though unfortunately my syrup-fingered manoeuvres on the instrument would never come close to matching it. Seeing Bennett at Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree soon after was a revelatory experience. A techno ceilidh; whoever could have thought that these two disparate musical cultures could make for such a marvellous musical marriage?

Anyway, enough rambling, here’s a link to the Martyn Bennett Trust, formed after the Bennett’s death in 2005 by his family and friends. Its aim is to encourage young musicians to make the most of their talents through teaching and through sharing his own vision of the possibilities of music. If the show at the Strathclyde Suite was anything to go by, it’s doing a wonderful job.

By Michael MacLennan


Jennie MacFie salutes a tribute to the memory of Martyn Bennett that came from the heart.

THE FIRST time I heard Martyn Bennett's Grit, some five years or so ago, it was the music I had been waiting for all my life. At once inspiringly danceable and deeply felt, full of musical vitamins, minerals and fibre, it was and still is a satisfying meal for the ears and the soul.

Very few albums since have come close. After his tragically early death, his friends formed the Martyn Bennett Trust to celebrate what he left them, and to encourage the making of music that continued the richness of his legacy, whether in Uist or Bolivia, Argentina or Edinburgh. The Trust commissions pieces from across all musical genres, and this celebration contained a jewelled handful of them.

The opening work was by the Princess of Kidsamonium, that very fine jazz saxophonist Laura Macdonald, who had composed a beautiful work featuring Fraser Fifield on uillean pipes, Phil Bancroft's smooth creamy sax playing, Greg Lawson playing at times almost beyond the range of human hearing, so far up the neck of the fiddle was he (“Greg doesn't have a dusty end to his fingerboard”, said Adam Sutherland in the interval), some superbly lyrical piano from David Milligan, and the composer herself playing elegaically over the drums, piano, and strings of Mr McFall's Chamber, augmented by some friends, including fiddler Anna-Wendy Stevenson.

The second piece was even lovelier, starting with an arrangement of 'Peewits', composed by Bennett for a stage production of Kidnapped. This was lump in the throat music that broke the heart with its poignant beauty, a delicate Scots riposte to Vaughan Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’. It led into two Fifield compositions, 'Kilchourn Ferry'and a piece for Highland pipes which, as yet untitled, is becoming known as 'The Beast', rich string layers cushioning the pipes' wail.

After a brief interval kilted DJ Dolphin Boy came on with a box of wires to add his synthesised sequences to a piece which he had made with Phil Bancroft, reflecting the Bothy Culture era when Bennett's fusion of electronic dance music and traditional instruments took Scotland's music scene by storm.

Next we were treated to a Bill Wells composition called 'The Howl', which opened with recorder balanced achingly against Kevin Mackenzie's pure and simple guitarwork. If that restless sprite had lived long enough to age as his friends have, his music might now be sounding like this, which is a large part of the Trust's aims, to keep that flame alive.

And then it was the final thrust, as compere and percussionist Tom Bancroft opened with extracts from interviews with Martyn Bennett shortly before his death. Tears were surreptitiously wiped from many a cheek. Another DJ Dolphin Boy/Phil Bancroft work being aired for the first time, it insinuated itself deep into the groove for total, surroundsound danceability.

This show, like A Highland Fiddler, was a shining example of what music can be when it is played from the uttermost depths of the heart with total commitment and passion; this is a much rarer phenomenon than you might think; it should not be confused with technique or professionalism, and is always, always worth seeking out.

© Jennie MacFie, 2009



IT WAS startling to hear the sampled voice of the late Martyn Bennett begin DJ Dolphin Boy and Tom Bancroft's final edgy composition for this exhilarating concert.

We heard Bennett speak about "shit hot" music and that is certainly what is being commissioned in his memory thanks to the Martyn Bennett Trust. The fact that the stage was full of top-notch innovative Scottish musicians of his generation playing daring, risk-taking music seemed so darned right. It was as if the precious instruments he destroyed in a wild fit of extreme pain before he died had been reincarnated along with his own spirit.

Directly inspired by Bennett recordings, manuscripts and jottings, what was offered touched every bit of the rich jigsaw that is Scottish music. Laura MacDonald's elegiac saxophone solo for her opening ensemble piece, a slow-building tapestry of sound infused with jazz sensibility, had a very appropriate Bennett pop feel.

An intensely emotional account by McFall's Chamber of Peewit, Bennett's composition for the play based on Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, was visionary, fired by Greg Lawson's zipping violin solo and Fraser Fifield's majestic pipes. Bill Wells's magnificently brooding yet quirky offering, meanwhile, embodied Bennett's tongue-in-cheek playfulness.

By Jan Fairley