A STAGE show inspired by the life and legacy of a groundbreaking musician whose life was cut short by cancer at the age of just 33 has been named event of the year at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards.
GRIT: The Martyn Bennett Story was created by award-winning theatre-maker Cora Bissett, who had previously turned the story of “The Glasgow Girls”, the schoolgirl campaign about the treatment of asylum seekers in the city, into a hit musical for the National Theatre of Scotland.
GRIT: The Martyn Bennett story was honoured at the awards ceremony just weeks before the 10th anniversary of Bennett’s death. A special tribute concert will open the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, where the accomplished piper and fiddler studied, at the then RSAMD.
The show, which featured live dance, drama, acrobatics and some of his own landmark recordings, won huge acclaim when it was premiered in Glasgow and Mull, where Bennett spent his final years living with his wife Kirsten, earlier this year.
GRIT, one of the flagship projects of the Commonwealth Games cultural programme, saw Bissett join forces with leading playwright Kieran Hurley to tell the story of Bennett’s life after relocating with his mother, folk singer Margaret, from Canada to Scotland at the age of six.
Bennett is regarded as one of Scotland’s leading musical talents of the 1990s for the way he fused dance music and club culture with traditional melodies and instruments, and is cited as a major influence by many of today’s leading bands on the trad scene.
This production told the painful yet inspiring story of a young man’s phenomenal musical imagination, and his fierce fight against the cancer which ultimately robbed him of his short life at 33. His passion, his fierce love of life, music, the country and people who inspired his ground breaking creations were evoked and explored visually, physically and immersively in this highly ambitious musical adventure.
He famously recorded his acclaimed debut album in just seven days and went on to win headline slots at Celtic Connections, perform at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party and the world premiere of Braveheart at Stirling Castle, and entertain Sir Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor at a World Cup party in Paris in 1998.
Despite being forced to give up live performances at the peak of his career after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time, he managed to release two more albums as he battled with illness.
Poignantly, the award for Cora Bissett’s live show came just days after the death of Sheila Stewart, one of the traditional singers whose voices that he sampled on his final album, also entitled GRIT.
Re-released last year to coincide with the launch of Bissett’s stage show, it is hailed by many critics as his best work for the way he combined renditions of largely-forgotten traditional songs with his own ground-breaking sound.
Bissett told the audience how she had been inspired to make the show after listening to GRIT.
She said: “I really felt that I wanted to tell Martyn’s life story and celebrate one of Scotland’s most visionary musicians and composers who we obviously lost so tragically.
“I wanted to respond to his music, but also celebrate the life and passion and innovation that just burst out of him.
“It was a huge honour to share his music with a whole new audience.” Martyn Bennett’s mother Margaret completed an emotional night for his family friends when she was honoured for her services to traditional music.