Latest news »GRIT on BBC Two Scotland
Highlights from the Celtic Connections 2015 opening ceremony featuring the World Premiere of the Martyn Bennett's GRIT will be broadcast tonight on BBC 2 Scotland at 21:30 and subsequently available on BBC iPlayer. The album GRIT, originally release in October 2003, was to be Martyn's final masterpiece; a complex mixture of electronica, dance beats and samples offset by the voices of traditional singers whose music and words Martyn was raised on.
For this opening ceremony at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall the album was to undergo a radical re-imagining; Greg Lawson, a renowned musician in his own right and friend of Martyn Bennett, conducting his own new orchestral arrangement.
The idea of an orchestral arrangement of the GRIT album had been mooted even before Martyn's untimely death in 2005. "I talked briefly with him about the idea of my writing his music for orchestra, and he intimated that he was pleased about that, but that I probably wouldn't do as good a job as he would - to which I completely agreed!" said Greg Lawson in a recent interview with The Scotsman newspaper.
Bj Stewart custodian of the Martyn Bennett Trust concurs that it has been a long process realising the performance: "Over the years Greg's concept of performing GRIT as an orchestral piece had been discussed many times. He had in fact even discussed it with Martyn before that. Each year Celtic Connections came and went. it wasn't the right time or the trepidation of even attempting such a feat proved too overpowering that it was shelved till the next year. I mean, GRIT-Martyn Bennett-Live-Celtic Connections. No pressure!"
In the intervening years Greg had remained close to Bj and the Martyn Bennett Trust, performing at most, if not all, of the previous Tribute Concerts held annually by the Trust. It was a connection that had been cemented that fateful day 10 years ago when Greg performed on the recording of 'Mackay's Memoirs'; a piece performed at the opening ceremony of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999 but not recorded until early 2005. The planned recording date coinciding with the sad news of Martyn's passing. The news was kept back from the young musicians of City of Edinburgh School of Music who were to perform, but older and more experienced musicians such as Greg had to play already knowing what had happened.
For Bj, Greg's involvement in the plan to finally orchestrate GRIT for a performance at Celtic Connections was comforting; "there definitely was a warming element of 'keeping it in the family' with Greg leading this project and we were confident he was the man with the knowledge, passion, ability and integrity to pull this off."
For those not lucky enough to attend the performance itself you will see in the broadcast this evening that any fears that held back the idea of attempting to orchestrate GRIT have also driven Greg and the orchestra into creating and delivering something rather special. Bj Stewart again:
"I think now that the adrenalin has settled one of the most striking things for me about that night last week was the reaction from the crowd. That's not too detract at all from the brilliance of all of the musicians on stage, the months of sweat and tears put in by Greg nor the spectacle of the suitably eclectic hand picked orchestra in this beautiful venue. The atmosphere, even after the lovely first half 'warm up' ,was tense. There was a palpable sense of expectation, doubt, nervousness. Could this be done? From memory this almost tangible feeling changed after maybe 30 seconds, the nerves dissolved away and the end of the first track 'Move' was met by an enormous euphoric roar of relief, appreciation and excitement. There was an incredible warmth, an outpouring of love, respect and celebration for Martyn and what we were sharing with the performers in front of us."
A night that will live long in the memory of those that were there.
The Celtic Connections opening ceremony - Nae Regrets: Martyn Bennett's Grit will be broadcast on BBC 2 Scotland tonight (22 Jan) at 21:30 and available shortly after on BBC iPlayer.
Before that at 21:00 BBC 2 Scotland will also show the Martyn Bennett documentary about the recording of GRIT. It will also be in BBC iPlayer.
All photos courtesy of Sean Purser.