b. 17 February 1971, Newfoundland, Canada
d. 30 January 2005, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Multi-instrumentalist Bennett could trace his family back to the Isle of Skye and Wales, and he was raised among Scottish-speaking immigrants on the island of Newfoundland. He returned to Scotland when he was six, where he was brought up surrounded by the sound of traditional Celtic folk songs. He was enrolled in a specialist music school as a teenager, leading to a classical education in violin and piano at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow where he played in a symphony orchestra. At the same time Bennett continued to absorb traditional music structures, teaching himself the ancient Ceol Mor technique of bagpipe playing.
In the early 90s, Bennett was drawn to Glasgow's burgeoning rave scene, and began hatching the idea of mixing house and hip-hop beats with traditional folk tunes. He developed these ideas busking in Edinburgh, playing folk dance reels over house and hip-hop backing tapes for a joke. The ideas took more serious form when Bennett was commissioned to work on several European theatre productions, beginning with the score for Billy Marshall's 'The Haunting'. This in turn led to work on television and movie scores, and a bizarre one-off job as personal piper for the Tanzanian President when he visited Edinburgh.
Bennett, who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly before graduating in 1993, returned to more traditional live work supporting Wolfstone on a US tour and appearing at the Edinburgh Hogmanay in 1995 and 1996. The Scottish indie label Eclectic Records released his self-titled debut in 1996, with Bennett drawing praise for his bold fusion of modern dance rhythms with roots music from Celtic, Asian and Scandinavian sources. The album attracted the attention of Rykodisc Records, who released the follow-up, Bothy Culture, in 1997, a hugely impressive album which encompassed Bennett's multi-cultural approach to modern folk music.
Bennett's subsequent releases fine-tuned his working methods, establishing him at the forefront of the contemporary folk scene. In 1999, he collaborated with fellow musician Martin Low on the well-received Hardland, but the following October was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Despite receiving aggressive treatment to fight the disease, Bennett continued working from his home studio on the Isle of Mull and completed the Gaelic language suite Glen Lyon, which was sung entirely by his mother. He made his debut for the Real World Records label in 2003 with GRIT, on which he sampled the voices of Scottish travellers from the 50s to help create a stunning sound collage.
Bennett lost his fight with cancer in January 2005.
Martyn Bennett (Eclectic 1996)***,
Bothy Culture (Rykodisc 1997)****,
Hardland with Martin Low (Cuillin 1999)****,
Glen Lyon (Foot Stompin' 2002)***,
Grit (Real World 2003)****.
Encyclopedia of Popular Music
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