Grit The Orchestra - Bothy Culture

Grit Orchestra - Martyn Bennett's Bothy Culture

21 August 2018
The Edinburgh Playhouse (View Map)

Event: Light on the Shore

A unique performance of an epic orchestration of Martyn Bennett’s second album, Bothy Culture.

Part of Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside.

The GRIT Orchestra performed one of the most memorable and moving opening nights of Celtic Connections’ entire 25 year history when they performed GRIT, Martyn Bennett’s final album, in 2015 to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

Light on the Shore with Edinburgh Gin Seaside travels uptown to the Edinburgh Playhouse for one night to revisit Celtic fusion artist Martyn Bennett’s kaleidoscopically rich 1996 album Bothy Culture in truly epic style, following the huge success of Grit at the 2016 International Festival. Bothy Culture fuses together Islamic and Gaelic cultures, drawing inspiration from Punjabi, Turkish, Scandinavian and Irish music.

Composer and violinist Greg Lawson has written another monumental orchestration for The GRIT Orchestra for this vibrant and energetic musical exploration of  Scotland’s bothy culture - the network of stone built shelters which can be found on old Drovers’ routes criss-crossing some of the most remote parts of the Scottish Highlands.

This performance will carry on in the spirit of Bennett’s love of ‘musical alchemy’, creating new hybrids of ceilidh music, rave and techno culture and traditional folk instrumentation from around the world.

Bothy Culture was the centrepiece of the 2018 Celtic Connections Festival.

"There is a dichotomy in this music, a gentle old tradition of the land and the sea against the neon technology of our growing Urban culture. The tunes are of an old style: Scottish, Irish, Swedish even Islamic. The beats and mixes are of a new style: Garage Breakbeat, Trippy, Hip, Drum and Bass. I hope when you listen or dance to these tunes you get a sense of your own roots. If you push back the pressure of Urban development for a second you might remember where you came from. Go climb a mountain and see."

Many people ask what "Bothy" means. A bothy, in the Highlands at least, is a small stone built shelter constructed on Drovers routes, which criss-cross the most remote parts of Scotland. Now you ask what is a "Drover" ?. Well, a Drover is a shepherd, of sorts, that drives cattle and sheep from outlying rural areas to the bigger market towns. This almost always involved a lengthy and, often, treacherous route over high, mountain passes. It is on these passes that bothies can be found, and although it is generally more than a century since any Drovers have used them they are still maintained by the estates in order to give stalkers and hill-walkers some refuge.

Obviously, being a man of the mountains myself, I have spent many happy weeks trekking from one bothy to another across some of the most breathtaking scenery in Scotland. I've also met some great characters along the way and played many a wild tune to a bottle of Lagavullin (or something else if I was lucky). I should add that bothies have no electricity, heating, baths, sinks, or running water and in the winter time can be pretty grim places if there is no fire-wood to be found.

Of course, most of the time God's grace leads you to that piece of dead wood, and in no time a cold, forbidding night can be transformed into a blazing, cosy, room that smells of smoke and coffee. It has to be one of my favourite things.

Folklore and traditions attached to the life of the Drovers, "na drobhairean" as they are known in Gaelic, or "Bothy Lads" as they were known in the North East has survived well and I even knew a couple of old shepherds (two hardy, radge bastards by the way - now sadly deceased) who had hundreds of bothy songs and tunes that were composed over generations. Of course, you can see the same types of tradition and way of life in many mountainous regions of the world - Spain has a bothy (refugio) tradition as does Scandinavia, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, China etc.

Finally, I would say that in some ways bothies have the same, familiar atmosphere to urban nightclubs - arriving for the sound-check when they are merely cold, empty shells is always a spooky experience. Perhaps the same spirits of so many fire/spot-lit, whisky/drug charged nights have somehow imparted a memory of the ghosts of those people you have never met and can only imagine. Although the music and songs that have been played in them are totally contrasting it is this same sense of excitement that can transform four bare walls into a chamber of sheer sensual delight.