Martyn Bennett

There have been few more thrilling sounds in the last decade than Martyn Bennett flattening the usual barriers of time, culture and genre that imprison music in boxes.

There have certainly been fewer images more compelling than Martyn Bennett on stage, hair flailing in all directions, playing a traditional tune on bagpipes or fiddle while a thunderous sound system pounded out beats and samples behind him. His Bothy Culture album is rightly regarded as a landmark meeting of traditional Scottish and electronic music, and subsequent albums – the explosive Hardland and the innovative Glen Lyon, featuring the Gaelic singing of his mother Margaret Bennett – pushed the envelope further, albeit in different directions.

Bennett’s most extraordinary work, however, was yet to come. He had been through hell and high water putting together his final project Grit, an astonishing, deeply emotional collection of traditional singers – largely “travellers” – showcased via an inventive avalanche of sounds and beats. It’s simultaneously rooted in the passionate purity of the past while glorying in modern dance culture. It’s a risky and dangerous balance, but far from being swamped by the swathes of electronica, it’s the amazing voices of the traditional singers like Jeannie Robertson, her daughter Lizzie Higgins, and the Gaelic singer Flora McNeil that ultimately dominate the attention.

These were the singers Martyn Bennett was raised on and for him Grit was a deeply personal and painful album. He battled with Hodgkins Lymphoma throughout the making of it, undergoing extensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy and even a bone marrow transplant. No longer able to play himself, Grit was his sole artistic outlet, albeit an incredibly difficult one.

The album was released in October 2003, but sadly Martyn died on 30th January 2005. He was 33 years old.

During his short but extraordinary career, Martyn Bennett was simply one of the most exciting, daring and innovative musicians working in Scotland, or anywhere, and he leaves a musical legacy of stunning brilliance.

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