It's a poor, pale substitute for his still being here, but as the years pass since Martyn's untimely death, his seminal, seismic impact on our contemporary cultural landscape grows progressively more apparent.
If he were still here, on the one hand Martyn might well have laughed at such lofty language; on the other he'd have seen it as no more than his due. He relished puncturing pretension just as he espoused the grandest artistic ideals; was as capable of deep humility as he was of audacious ambition.
Schooled from childhood in both traditional and classical music, before diving head-first into rave culture, Martyn was the right man, in the right place and time, to make the quantum creative leap his music represents. His twin gifts of rigorous, restless intellect and profound spiritual consciousness, allied to his musical mastery – and his brilliantly mischievous sense of humour – enabled him to achieve a radical new synthesis of ancient and modern, local and global, rural and urban, that both embodied and advanced the fast-evolving culture he inhabited. Keenly media-savvy, in pursuit of often unworldly objectives, he crossed and transcended boundaries at many different levels, from that of image – as 'the dreadlocked piper' – to those of genre, art-form and audience.
Martyn's facility for encompassing such dualities resonates tellingly with that of another great Scottish artist and thinker, the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who famously declared, in his 1926 magnum opus The Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle: "I'll hae nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur extremes meet." Like MacDiarmid, Martyn delighted in marrying traditional forms and idioms with untrammelled imaginative flights, the sacred with the profane, the raw with the rarefied, all in pursuit of rejuvenating Scotland's rich past heritage amid the exigencies of the present.
Like MacDiarmid's, too, Martyn's perspective was at once staunchly Scottish and all-embracingly international, simultaneously splicing the cultural with the political, not least through his passionate commitment to the principle of 'cultural equity' – the term coined by celebrated US musicologist Alan Lomax (and later adopted by the UN), to assert the value of marginalised communities' own modes of creative expression. "Practical men," Lomax wrote, "often regard these expressive systems as doomed and valueless. Yet, wherever the principle of cultural equity comes into play, these creative wellsprings begin to flow again - even in this industrial age, folk traditions can come vigorously back to life, can raise community morale, and give birth to new forms if they have time and room to grow in their own communities." As a précis of Martyn's creative practice and aspirations, this could hardly be bettered.
The groundbreaking influence of Martyn's work as both a Scottish and a world music artist – an identity underlined by the release of his final masterwork, Grit, on Peter Gabriel's Real World label – is increasingly evident today. 21st century Scotland is an undisputed world leader in the musical ethos Martyn pioneered: in music where traditional idioms flourish on a par alongside any other sound currently extant, where fruitful cross-fertilisation is merrily rife, and where technical and artistic standards are fiercely but inspiringly high. And where Scotland's cultural equity, too, has never been valued higher, both at home and abroad.