Friday, 16 January 2015

Celtic Connections , Gig

Nae Regrets

There are two things most people comment on when reviewing Martyn Bennett's album Grit. I deliberately didn't, but you need to know them to understand tonight's opening concert of the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. First, Grit is full of samples. The lazy description is to say it's Scotland's answer to Moby's Play. (Indeed some of the samples were collected by the same folklorist as Play: Alan Lomax.) Secondly, GRIT was Martyn Bennett's last record. He produced it while suffering from the advanced stages of Hodgkin's Lymphoma; it's said that he was too weak to play instruments himself, which led to the heavy use of samples and layered textures.

nae-regrets.jpgNow, almost exactly ten years after Bennett's death comes a bold idea: recreate the album live with a custom orchestra and no samples.

On a technical level Greg Lawson's arrangements succeeded. As the first bass notes of Move rumbled through the Royal Concert Hall my jaw dropped. I don't think I closed my mouth again until the standing ovation. There were a few rough edges, but the musicians did the work proud, highland pipes, plainchant choir, narrated stories, epic strings, brass, percussion and all. Of particular note was Fiona Hunter's forceful vocals riding high above the cacophony. Just about the only thing lost in the mix was the Piaf-esque chorus of Nae Regrets.

But this gig couldn't be judged on pure musicianship: something else was going on. It soon became apparent that this was a long awaited final goodbye to a much admired friend. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the audience or the performers.

At the back of the stage was a roadside GRIT bin. Part stage dressing, part percussion instrument it also served another purpose: in a BBC documentary about the making of the album, Martyn Bennett springs out from one of these bins. Tonight it remained symbolically shut.

The gig closed with Paisley Spin, a track that Bennett didn't get time to complete. Its sole vocal, sampled from an old Jerry Rafferty track, provided the sing-along cathartic moment to round out a remarkable evening: "To each and every one of you I say 'Goodbye, farewell, adieu.'"

Nae Regrets is being shown on BBC 2 Scotland later this week, and should be on iPlayer soon after. I highly recommend watching it (also check the documentary and the BBC Arts article), although suspect nothing can come close to the experience in the Hall. This was one of those times that you really had to be there.

Posted by pab at 09:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!