Martyn Bennett: Memorial Concert 2005

Martyn Bennett: Memorial Concert 2005


This was such a one-off occasion that it's possible no review can really do it justice; nor, indeed, is it clear that a review serves any purpose other than to record that it happened. But happen it did, and in spades.

The evening was designed as a celebration of the unique talent that was Martyn Bennett, taken from us at a cruelly young age; of his own achievements, and of a relatively small selection of some of those who influenced him and those whom he influenced during his all too short life and career.

The evening began with a performance by pupils of Broughton High School of McKay's Memoirs, the piece that he wrote for his old school's 100th anniversary celebrations, and which was played at the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Beginning with bird noises and the psalm text "I shall lift up mine eyes", this symmetrically structured piece builds from a gentle beginning to a central section replete with drum track, orchestra, percussion and bagpipes, before setting down to fade out as it began.

This was an impressive start to an evening of magical and moving moments. Each will have had their own favourites, but the audience responded warmly to unaccompanied songs from Sheila Stewart and Flora McNeill, both of whom appear as samples on Martyn's last CD Grit, and from Martyn's mother Margaret Bennett, who led the audience beautifully in Griogal Cridhe at what must have been her hardest gig ever. Martyn's immediate musical circle was represented by his pal Rory Pierce and by a reformed Mouth Music including Martyn's widow, Kirsten. Fred Morrison blew everyone away with his piping, including a heartrending pibroch, 'Lament for the Children' which ended the night; Peter Gabriel, on whose Real World label Grit was released, turned up unheralded and sang 'Here comes the Flood'; Donald Shaw led a performance of a piece Martyn had prepared for Gaelic television (and the last piece he worked on), from a tape of children's voices over artillery in Azerbaijan. Karen Matheson sang gorgeously; Gillian Thompson danced 'Small Street', a gallus piece set to 'Nae Regrets' from Grit; we had jazz from some of Scotland's best players in the AAB Trio, including Kevin McKenzie's piece for Martyn, 'The Missing Martian'; and Croft No 5 acknowledged their debt to Martyn by arranging two of his compositions for their driving pop-folk style.

Punctuating this we had an extract from the award-winning Grit documentary, and an airing of the promotional video for the album. There were also presentations from the proceeds, to the Marie Curie Centre and to the Bethesda Hospice on Lewis. The remainder of the takings was used to launch the Martyn Bennett Trust, which will be dedicated to the education of young musicians and composers, and to helping them achieve their potential, and "to celebrate the spirit, eloquence and beauty of marginalised cultures".

This was an evening entirely suffused with the spirit of a big musician and a big man. His love of practical jokes was recalled when the fire alarm went off at the interval, causing the hall's evacuation. But perhaps the most touching moment of all, and the most fitting tribute, was when the doctor who had treated Martyn at the Marie Curie Centre reported that while Martyn was not the most straightforward patient they ever had, because he'd been there, all those who followed would be better looked after. The sell-out audience must have been proud of whatever connections they had with Martyn, and it was a privilege to have witnessed it all.

Reviewed by Brian Miller for BBC Celtic Roots