Martyn Bennett – Grit (Real World Records)
19 May 2014
Grit, the final album from the late music maverick Martyn Bennett, is re-released. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
This is an album like no other, make no mistake. Originally released in 2003, Grit is re-released to coincide with the theatre production of the same name to celebrate the life of Martyn Bennett as part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Cultural Project.
Just over eleven years ago, Martyn lost his fierce fight with cancer of the lymphomas at the age of only 33. He left behind a memory of one of the most original artists to have graced these shores, his music both daring and exciting.
Sounding like Fat Boy Slim might have done if he hadn’t gone rubbish, Bennett goes the extra mile when he manages to make a mix of modern electronic music mixed with traditional Scottish songs sound like the perfect combination. It should be the recipe for disaster, but it ends up sounding like one of the most refreshing things you will ever hear.
The voices of traditional singers and travelers ooze with emotion over often powerful walls of sound which, it seems, were made for each other.
The lead track, Move, starts gentle enough with a lone guitar and voice but soon thunders into existence with samples and a fiercely crunching bass and percussion sound characteristic of the album. It’s a quite incredible beginning and sets the standard amazingly high.
Whilst Martyn found himself unable to play on the album it remains a truly unique vision which he was able to successfully transfer from mind to studio. The combination of old voices, new music, random soundbytes and shouts is perfectly displayed on Chanter, a powerhouse of a track as remorseless in its booming backbeat as it is in its refusal to lie-down. Nothing short of amazing.
Nae Regrets again fuses the incomprehensible blend with a rousing string accompaniment. Why slows the pace somewhat and allows a breath of fresh air to the otherwise manic proceedings as does Wedding which completes a sandwich between Ale House – clearly a pub that must be visited!
Rant is the sort of thing that the aforementioned Norman Cooke should (and could) really have been aiming for as more crashing, crunching and varied instruments combine with traditional Gaelic instrumentation and singing.
The close to the ‘original’ album is a strange affair and whilst it may have had special meaning to Martyn, Storyteller requires particularly patient listening. A man tells a tale in a broad accent with a simple backing. Unfortunately, to an outsider it’s often difficult to understand but is rescued slightly by a throbbing moon stomp of a beat. At almost ten minutes, it’s a little long.
This re-issue contains two extra tracks – a remix of Peter Gabriel’s Sky Blue from the album Up, the last thing Martyn worked on, and a truly beautiful piece Mackay’s Memoirs performed by The City Of Edinburgh Music School for whom it was written. The final recording was completed the day after Martyn died.
A quite superb album from an artist who was clearly at his peak, and is sorely missed.
Read The Guardian obituary here.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.