Martyn Bennett - Bothy Culture

Martyn Bennett: Bothy Culture 20th Anniversary

Remember the summer of 1997? Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ spared us all from another Britpop round of Oasis versus Blur, the population whistled The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and hummed along to ‘MMMBop’.

Meanwhile in Edinburgh... After six months of long, hard shifts (fourteen hours to perfect one particular bass sound!) Martyn emerged from his tiny TollX cupboard studio with his huge new album.

Bothy Culture was a revelation, a game changer.

Martyn modestly considered Bothy Culture to be more “complex” and “mature” album while critics and fans adored it.

“The effect is simply staggering. Simple tunes glisten amidst complex arrangements. Old melodies soar from towering new settings. Ancient jigs and reels are renewed for the modern dance floor. Bothy Culture is sheer musical alchemy.” – Boston Herald

“In the fullness of time, the classic hybrid Bothy Culture will, I feel sure be hailed as a landmark album. The resultant amalgam is quite wondrous. Against all the odds, Bennett has succeeded in neither betraying traditional folk music nor patronising modern dance music.” – Spin Out (Oz)

“After all, the most notable recent release in the genre have been a Scottish fiddle drum-and-bass album (Martyn Bennett’s Bothy Culture)…” – Rolling Stone

“An exhilarating achievement.” – The Wire

“A genuinely ground breaking album.” – MOJO

Martyn Bennett - Bothy Culture

Of course, not all reviewers were as glowing and some reviewers failed to understand how significant Martyn’s music was or was to become.

“The saviour of Scottish Traditional Music – or its nemesis?”

“Why the alarming metamorphosis from Dr Bennett to Mr Hyde?”

Another nice enough review doubted the longevity of Martyn’s music…

“This album won’t have an infinite shelf life.”

Time has proved those reviews wrong. Twenty years on and MB fans continually vote Bothy Culture their second favourite album, just a fraction behind GRIT. Listening again now the music has hardly dated - perhaps because it was so ahead of it’s time, 20 years ago.

More significantly the 20th anniversary of Bothy Culture and the 25th anniversary of Celtic Connections will be being marked in a showcase gig at Celtic Connections in January 2018. The Grit orchestra will perform Bothy Culture at the Hydro, Scotland’s largest music venue and guest starring Cycling sensation Danny MacAskill – seems like there’s still a massive appetite for it.

Stick that in yer pipe and smoke it!

Bothy Culture and Beyond

"Bothy Culture and Beyond"’" will be performed by the GRIT Orchestra at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow on January 27th at 19:30pm as part of Celtic Connections Festival 2018.

Martyn Bennett on Bothy Culture

"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.