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. GRIT was to be the final album he released before his untimely death in 2005.
The album features two bonus tracks: Martyn’s remix of Peter Gabriel’s Sky Blue, and Mackay’s Memoirs, his final recorded work, a stunning piece featuring pipes, clarsach, voice and orchestra, first performed in 1999 at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament by the students of The City of Edinburgh Music School, for whom the piece was written.
“Martyn Bennett managed to straddle the roots of Scottish music with contemporary grooves, without losing any soul or passion. He was a wonderful person to work with, whose quiet determination led him on a totally original path. We will miss him.” Peter Gabriel, April 2005
Originally released in 2003.
Available on vinyl for the first time – 2LP, 180g yellow vinyl, with digital download card.Buy (Real World) Buy (Amazon)
04 Nae Regrets
03 Ale House
01 Sky Blue (Martin Bennett Remix)
02 Mackay’s Memoirs
All programming, samples, electronically derived sounds and string arrangements by Martyn Bennett
Additional instruments/vocals: Strings by Millennia Strings directed by Andrew Skeet (tracks 2,5); Chorus vocals by Petrea Cooney (track 4); Narration and drones by Michael Marra (track 5); Drums/guitar loop by Sorren Maclean and John Barlow of Speechless (track 5); Piano and cello by Kirsten Bennett (tracks 5, 8, 10); Double bass by Gordon Maclean (track 5); Overtone singing by John Purser (track 10); Guitar, strings, harmonium and smallpipes by Martyn Bennett.
Millennia Strings managed by Jonathan Brigden: Violins: Maya Bickell, Giles Broadbent, Katherine Chappell, Anna Giddey, Stephen Hussey, John Smart; Cellos: Ian Burdge, Chris Worsey.
Additional samples: ‘Move’ Ney flute played by Amir Shahzar from the track ‘Bandari’ on the album ‘Imaginary Ritual’ by East-West Ensemble (courtesy of Magda Records); ‘Blackbird’ contains an extract from the Gregorian Chants of the Monastery Abbey; Chanter includes a fragment of a narrative on bagpipes by David Munrow (courtesy of Gillian Munrow).
*’Liberation’, ‘Why’, ’Storyteller’ free uses courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives/Greentrax Recordings, with the permission of the performers and their heirs. ‘Storyteller contains a fragment from ‘Al-ward Al-foll’ from the album ‘Charcoal Gypsies’ by Musicians of The Nile (courtesy of Real World Records/Long Distance) and a fragment of ‘Invocation’ from ‘The Kilmartin Sessions’ (courtesy of Kilmartin House Trust www.kilmartin.org)
Produced by Martyn Bennett
All tracks recorded and mixed by Martyn Bennett with additional recording on ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Liberation’ by Marco Migliari at Real World Studios
‘Move’ published by Harmony Music Ltd/Copyright Control/WOMAD Music Ltd
‘Blackbird’ published by WOMAD Music Ltd/Isa Music
‘Chanter’ published by WOMAD Music Ltd/Global Jukebox Publishing (BMI)
‘Nae Regrets’ published by Peer Music (UK) Ltd/WOMAD Music Ltd/Springthyme Music
‘Liberation’, ‘Why’, ‘Ale House’, ‘Wedding’, ‘Rant’ published by WOMAD Music Ltd
‘Storyteller’ published by WOMAD Music Ltd/From A Distance/Real World Works Ltd
‘Sky Blue’ published by Real World Music Ltd/EMI Music Publishing Ltd
‘Mackay’s Memoirs’ published by Cuillin Music
Thanks to: Amanda, Sue, Annie and Rob and all at Real World, Peter Gabriel, Peter Hagen and Brian Burns at Argyll Management, Murray Buchanan, Maggie McKay, Ian Green, Tony Engle, Anna Lomax-Chairetakis, Jeffrey Greenberg, Iain MacKenzie, Michael Marra and Gordon Maclean, Margaret Bennett, Sheila Stewart, Ronnie Simpson, Ronald Cole, Gillian Munrow, Pete Shepherd, the Calum Martin family, Murdina and Effie MacDonald, Donald Murdo Smith, Ray Michie, Flora MacNeil, Sheena Walker and of course my beautiful wife Kirsten.
A Real World Design by Marc Bessant
Cover photograph by BJ Stewart
Sleeve notes and additional photography by Martyn Bennett
GRIT – the stories behind the music
Words by Martyn Bennett (1971-2005)
This is my story about triumph in the face of struggle. It is a story of the people and songs I grew up with, and most importantly, it is their voices,traditions and the inspiration they have given to be passed on to the next generation.
Split between the songs of travelling people (Roma) and the Gaelteachd traditions of the Hebrides it brings together by far the strongest links to the ‘real’ folk culture in Scotland. Virtually all the songs and narrative were sampled from vinyl records or from original quarter-inch tape recordings, the sources of which were mostly recorded from 1950 onwards.
The title means many things to me personally. However, it is tied up in my ideas of where my culture lies – a word seen by the roadside, it travels like an expression of determination; onomatopoeic, it reflects the contrasts of this music and topography and has an old intonation which, far from being ‘out-of-tune’, is the real flavour of these traditions.
Rhythmically and sonically I have gone to great effort in this recording. In recent years so many representations of Scotland have been misty-lensed and fanciful to the point that the word ‘Celtic’ has really become a cloudy pigeon-hole. This album was a chance for me to present a truthful picture, yet face my own reflection in the great mirror of all cultures.
Grit is dedicated to Hamish Henderson (1919-2002)
Contains fragments from ‘Moving On Song’ written by Ewan MacColl, sung by Sheila Stewart of Rattray (courtesy of Lismor Recordings)
I have known Sheila Stewart since I was a youngster. A powerful and passionate singer, she comes from a family of travellers famous for their music and songs. Here she sings of the struggle and persecution of the Roma, who are the oldest race of nomadic people in Europe – they have certainly been in Scotland for well over a thousand years.
Contains part of ‘What A Voice, What A Voice’ sung by Lizzie Higgins (courtesy of Lismor Recordings)
Lizzie, also a well-known traveller, learned most of her ballads from her mother Jeannie Robertson (see track 7). Although sadly no longer with us, I will never forget the first time I heard her sing this song. I was about 12 years of age and couldn’t believe that a person could make such an amazing sound.
Contains a fragment of ‘Mrs MacLeod Of Raasay’ sung by Mairi Morrison (courtesy of The Alan Lomax Archives)
The inspiration of this dance track is the popular pipe tune ‘Mrs MacLeod Of Raasay’ sung in the ‘puirt ceantaireachd’ or ‘piping song’ style of the Outer Hebrides and David Munrow’s narrative on the bagpipes.
A medley containing an excerpt of ‘No Regrets’ by Edith Piaf (courtesy of EMI Music France), ‘I’ll Awa Hame’ sung by Annie Watkins (courtesy of Springthyme Records) and original music by Martyn Bennett
Annie, from Dundee, was about 4′ 10″ with a voice, not of an angel, but the power of a small PA system. I often heard her unmistakable voice in noisy pubs enthusiastically accompanied by as many as thirty musicians. There was something about her that reminded me of Piaf.
Contains part of Psalm 118, in Gaelic, to the tune of ‘Coleshill’, sung by Murdina and Effie MacDonald and recorded by Thorkild Knudsen in 1964 (courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives/Greentrax Recordings*). The English translation of the psalm is recited by Michael Marra
I was initially very worried about my setting of this Psalm, as I was sure it would be offensive or misunderstood, so I decided to visit Murdina at her home in Balantrushal on the Isle of Lewis. Although now in her late eighties, Murdina is a most impressive woman. She reassured me that back in 1964 she too had been very apprehensive about recording religious material for inclusion with what she termed ‘the vain songs’. It had given her many sleepless nights but she was resolved by something that came to mind from the scriptures: “I will cast your bread upon the waters…”
This piece ‘wrote itself’ at the beginning and end of a most traumatic and life changing experience. I could not find any other way to express the profound feeling of losing faith, and the determination to find it again. Out of respect for Murdina’s and Effie’s wishes, proceeds from this recording will go to raise money for the Stornoway Bethesda Hospice in Lewis.
Contains fragments of narrative from ‘The Old Home’, a conversation with the great Skye bard Calum ‘Ruadh’ Nicholson recorded by Thorkild Knudsen (courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives/Greentrax Recordings*). Also contains fragments of ‘Mo Ruin Geal Og’ sung by Flora MacNeil (courtesy of The Alan Lomax Archives)
For the Gael, the subject of war and loss has produced more beautiful songs than any other. The fragments of this elegy, sung by the wonderful Flora MacNeil, come from the words of Christina Fergusson written for her love William Chissholm, killed at Culloden in 1746. The Jacobite Cause has had more effect on the Gael than perhaps even the Great Wars of which Calum Ruadh is referring to.
Contains the song ‘The Bonnie Wee Lassie Who Never Says No’ – sung by the late, great Jeannie Robertson (courtesy of Topic Records)
Jeannie was ‘discovered’ in the early 1950s by Hamish Henderson. Recorded many times over the last twenty years of her life, her heavy, passionate voice and huge repertoire of ballads made her an underground cult figure during the 1960s folk revival. Awarded the MBE in 1968, her singing style influenced a whole generation of singer songwriters including Ewan MacColl and Bob Dylan.
Improvisation on piano (Kirsten Bennett) and viola (Martyn Bennett). Contains extracts from the Gaelic Teachers Course compiled by Major Calum Iain McLeod. Also contains fragments of ‘An Treisamh’ by Miss Russell-Fergusson
This abstract ‘tone-poem’ describes a fictitious but ‘typical’ Highland wedding. Kirsten and I made the improvisation shortly after our wedding.
Contains fragments of ‘MacPherson’s Lament’ sung by the traveller Jimmie McBeath of Portsoy from a private archive recorded in 1959 by Hamish Henderson
MacPherson of Kingussie was an infamous ‘freebooter’ (whisky smuggler) condemned to death at Banff in 1700 for robbing the rich and giving to the poor. The story goes that MacPherson was a fine fiddle player, and before he was hanged he broke his fiddle over the gallows and threw it into the crowd. It is now kept in the MacPherson Museum in Newtonmore.
Contains the story ‘Daughter Doris’ told by Davie Stewart, recorded in Edinburgh in 1955 by Hamish Henderson (courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives/Greentrax Recordings*)
A tinker piper from Arrochar, Loch Fyne, recounts his version of this well known allegory also known as ‘The Maiden Without Hands’. It is a fairly sussed psychological analysis on internal family politics and their power struggles, covering deceit, victimisation, brutality, complicity, guilt, empowerment, reconciliation, and finally, genetic repetition.
“…perhaps the most powerful, defiant, deeply emotional album of the year.” Mojo (UK)
“Genre-defying genius from Scotland” Songlines (UK)
About the Artist
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 cancer of the lymphomes 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.Other Releases by this artist Official Website Facebook