I was given Martyn Bennett’s “Grit” album at the start of 2004 by my friend Jane Anderson. She told me that it was “something of an acquired taste, but I think you’ll love it”... or words to that effect!
Well, she was absolutely right and I have LOVED it ever since.What I hadn’t appreciated at that time was that Bennett dying of cancer (he’d struggled with cancer throughout his adult life)... and, in fact, he died in January 2005, aged just 32. He’d been a gifted piper and, in 1986, he became the first traditional musician enrolled into classical conservatoire of the City of Edinburgh Music School. In “Grit”, his final, remarkable work, he somewhat controversially (understatement!) mixed Scottish bagpipe and fiddle music with techno beats... plus the voices of Scottish travellers from the 1950s. This might sound completely bizarre, but the end result is truly remarkable. Believe me!
The album’s title came from his illness: "Cancer is a piece of grit inside your soul which you can't get out, so you have to try and make something of it. But grit is also rock salt, an old medicine. I also see it as representative of cultures trying to survive."
Then this morning – completely out of the blue – I noticed an iPlayer link my good friend Joe Heap (of Towersey Festival fame etc etc) on facebook to a television programme on iPlayer (Celtic Connections: Opening Concert: Martyn Bennett’s “Grit”). Thank you, thank you, Joe!! Greg Lawson (a friend of Bennett’s and a notable musician in his own right) had put together his own arrangement of the album at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – featuring 80 musicians and singers.
The result is TRULY exhilarating.
It’s very difficult to find the “right” words to describe the concert... uplifting, stunningly beautiful, spiritual... moving (I cried!). Inevitably, the concert rendering is very different from Bennett’s studio version (in latter the years of his illness, he became unable to play instruments and had to resort to mixing old vinyl recordings in his studio in Mull), but this wonderful, passionate concert performance was something to behold.
Clearly the audience thought it was pretty amazing too (the concert had been a sell-out as soon as tickets became available).
I just wish I could have been there.
PS: As you might have gathered, I REALLY think you need to see+listen to this concert on iPlayer! Watch it and be sure to turn up the volume!!