Martyn Bennett: It's Not The Time You Have...

Martyn Bennett: It's Not The Time You Have...


It's January, Celtic Connections again and this year Colin Hynd has programmed 'Martyn Bennett Day' for the first Saturday of the festival1. Everyone I meet, who knew Martyn or his music, seems to have a 'Martyn story'. He himself loved listening to, and telling, stories - except perhaps 'Martyn stories'. There were of course, exceptions when he'd tell one that usually began, "You won't believe this..." and he'd laugh helplessly at some sit-com that seemed to have unfolded around him, creating the satirical humour that turns a situation into a story.

Whether invited or not, Martyn could give serious advice, and if you didn't seem to heed it the first time, you might get it again. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with one advisory comment offered me more often than was comfortable:

Martyn: "You must carry on doing what you do - It's important."
Margaret: "Like what?"
Martyn: "Recording people, folklore, writing, singing, passing all that stuff you do."
Margaret: "Of course, I'll do that - what else would I do?" And I'd change the subject.

Recording other folk has been an integral part of my life - and of Martyn's. It all seems so ordinary to reach for a tape recorder, ask a few questions, listen to songs, music, tradition of any kind, or opinions about life in general, then transcribe the reels, cassettes, DATS or mini-discs of many voices. That's what a folklorist does. When you grow up with 'all this stuff' there's no need to analyse the process - you just take it for granted that 'everybody knows' you record these traditions so that they can be preserved for future generations, so that children and children's children will pass them on, sing the songs, play the tunes, or just enjoy the language, the way of expression, the poetry, the people, the characters, the culture...

This is by no means an attempt to write a life story, but merely to record a few anecdotes shared by some of the folk who have been part of Martyn's world of music-making. While a number of them arrived by letter or email, most were recorded in conversations. They're simply put together for the enjoyment of those who knew Martyn, his music, his sense of humour, delight in the ridiculous, his intense perception, profound sensitivity and his warm compassion.

Copyright © Margaret Bennett 2006

The above extract is from the book "It's not the time you have..." compiled by Margaret Bennett.
Available from the following outlets:

It's Not The Time You Have...Coda Music
12 Bank Street, Edinburgh EH1 2LN
Tel: [+44] (0)131 622 7246 | Fax. [+44] (0)131 622 7245

Footstompin Records
17 Redford Drive, Edinburgh EH13 0BL
Tel: [+44] (0)131 441 3135 | Fax [+44] (0)131 441 3189

Grace Note Publications

All royalties from the sale of this book go to the Bethesda Care Home and Hospice. Web:


A CHEERFUL gathering at Edinburgh's Coda Music last week launched It's Not The Time You Have ..., a compilation of recollections about the late piper, fiddler, composer and manic mixer Martyn Bennett. The book is a lively, if inevitably poignant, insight into his no-holds-barred approach to music and to life in general.

Bennett died in January last year, aged just 33, following a long and valiant battle with cancer, but the emphasis of both book and gathering was on the slight, dreadlocked figure's larger-than-life-presence and indelible impact on those who knew and worked with him.

Compiled by his mother, the folklorist, singer and author Margaret Bennett, It's Not The Time You Have ... contains fond and often funny reminiscences from acquaintances, ranging from former piping teachers to Gaelic scholar John MacInnes and the traveller singer Sheila Stewart - who was among the traditional singers given an astonishing and uncompromisingly electronic setting in Grit, Bennett's final tour de force. All royalties go to the Bethesda Hospice on the Isle of Lewis, of which Martyn, as a cancer sufferer himself, was a supporter.

It includes the tale of how Martyn went busking in Edinburgh, dressed in full Highland rig-out, but didn't earn too much, so reverted to jeans and T-shirt plus a sign, "Saving up to buy kilt", and found he raked in much more cash. There's also an intriguing account of the working relationship between mother and son when he recorded her Gaelic song repertoire for the beautiful Glen Lyon CD. At the launch, glasses were raised to the much-missed mercurial genius, while Margaret recounted some less printable anecdotes. And that title? It comes from Martyn's own creative philosophy: "It's not about how much time you have, it's what you do with the time that matters." Few could have done more.


1 Martyn died on the last night of Celtic Connections 2005 - January 30.