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Celtic ConnectionsOpening Concert: Martyn Bennett's Grit

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Review: Nae Regrets, Celtic Connections opening concert, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Friday 16 January 2015

Our verdict: five stars

Back in the early days of Celtic Connections there seemed every possibility that, one day, Martyn Bennett might provide the festival's opening concert and do so triumphantly. And 10 years after his tragically early death, his music delivered the way he might have intended.

Even in these days when eclecticism is commonplace, Bennett's final album, Grit, is an unlikely comingling. It takes quite some imagination to put a Dundee street song, Gregorian chant, Gaelic psalm singing, the soundtrack of a souk and a traveller's storytelling into the same musical recipe.

That, though, is just a fraction of the detail that Bennett stirred into Grit and if it gave sleepless nights to the man, Greg Lawson, who orchestrated these ingredients with the massive grooves and sweeps that Bennett produced electronically, Lawson can now rest easy.

He pulled off this spectacular undertaking and did it entirely in the spirit of Bennett's questing ethos. The double bass section will quite likely never have to put as much elbow grease into another piece - ever - and in among the throbbing landscapes there were passages, as was Bennett's way, of gorgeously affecting beauty.

The tender string playing that gave The Wedding such a sense of Hebridean place was a masterstroke and Rab Noakes did a terrific job of another, altogether more cheeky brainwave when he followed MacPherson's Rant in traditional singer, Jimmy MacBeath mode by turning this great, now long departed Portsoy character into a stratch deejay.

Typical Bennett. But then, the whole piece reeked of the daring, enterprise and mischief that Bennett brought to his art. We can only wonder where he might have been, musically, today. Tonight, though, he was here.

Rob Adams

Catriona McKay 2015