On the evening of the 22nd of Nov 2005 at the new Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway the third CD from the Salm Series, ‘Salm & Soul’ was launched, and what a special evening it turned out to be.
It was special for several reasons but one of the main reasons, was that the evening as well as this final CD was dedicated to the memory of one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this fundraising effort by the Bethesda Home and Hospice in Stornoway, and that special person was none other than the unforgettable Martyn Bennett.
Martyn visited the Hospice way back in Oct 2003 along with other musicians, during the time of the original recordings for Salm Vol 1 & 2 at Back Free Church on The Isle of Lewis, he never lost his enthusiasm for the project and his encouragement and his belief in what we were doing was very infectious.
In one of my last visits to see him at the Marie Curie Hospital in Edinburgh, [with a copy of Salm Vol 2 in hand] and despite his pain and suffering, he was still able to convey his love and appreciation of a job well done, and when I told him of how his input to the project had been so vital to its success, he refused to accept that he had done anything special; but that was Martyn!
When we were invited to take part at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow in Jan 2005 following a visit to Liverpool Cathedral in April of 2004 where we performed with a very polished Black Gospel Choir from London as part of their centenary celebrations, Martyn’s comment on hearing the recording of the Liverpool Concert was ‘they sound too white, you will need a more earthy black sound to compliment the Gaelic Psalm Singing if you are to make it a true Celtic Connection’. And that is exactly what we found in that small church in North Alabama on a sweltering hot day in August 2004, when we were filming a documentary about the links between Gospel Music and Gaelic Psalm Singing.
We all hoped and prayed that Martyn would be strong enough to attend this historic Concert at Glasgow Cathedral on Jan 20th 2005 [which had been organised by his mother Margaret], when Black and White would, for the first time in well over a hundred years come and sing together in a style and language first brought to North Carolina maybe three hundred years ago, and that in doing so, we, in our own small way would be fulfilling Martyn Luther King’s great dream of equality for black and white as well as adding a brand new chapter to the Salm Project.
But it was not to be, and when Martyn lost that great battle for survival shortly after that recording we were all devastated.
Back to the CD Launch, it was important that we would mark his passing in a special way and it was decided that some additional bonus tracks would be added to the live recording, these have turned out I believe, to be a fitting coda to the project as a whole, as well as a permanent reminder of how special Martyn was to us all.
The tracks consist of a Gaelic Song written in his memory, an instrumental version of Two of the Psalm tunes [which Martyn and myself had talked at length about doing], as well as an old recording of Martyn himself playing the pipes at age 16yrs to finish the album off.
For these recordings, as well as myself and my daughter Isobel Ann, I was very fortunate to be able to enlist the help of two special friends, the multi talented Malcolm Jones of Runrig and the equally gifted saxophonist and piper Fraser Fifield who, as well as being great musicians were also great friends and admirers of Martyn and his music.
For the launch itself I thought it would be a great idea to have a musical evening where an open invitation would be extended to everyone.
To a full house, the evening opened with a prayer by the minister of Back Free Church Rev Dr I D Campbell and all the subsequent artists performing had some connection to either the project or to Martyn, with such diverse artists as Thomas Freeman from Alabama who flew across specially to sing some great gospel songs, he was accompanied by Andrew Yearley on Keyboard [who was a fellow pupil with Martyn at Broughton] as well as Neil Johnstone on Cello, and myself on Guitar.
The Piping Maestro Fred Morrison [Martyn’s favourite piper] came up from Uist specially to play Martyn’s Tunes from the CD as well as some additional tunes of his own which had the audience buzzing.
Some of the other artists appearing included, Mary Smith, Kristine Kennedy as well as Iain [Costello] Maciver and Isobel Ann Martin and we also had some great Gaelic Psalm Singing from Rev James Maciver and John Murdo Martin with the audience being in great voice as the congregation.
The CD itself was launched by Dr Margaret Bennett who spoke movingly about what Bethesda as well as this project meant to her son Martyn, Margaret also presented a cheque to the Matron of Bethesda [hear audio extract] which had originally been kindly presented to myself by The Martyn Bennett Trust way back in Edinburgh at the first Concert in his memory in April 2005.
I wish the website well, and hope that many people will contribute, and in doing so, help to keep the memory of our dear friend and musical genius Martyn Bennett in our hearts and minds forever.