Martyn Bennett was born in Newfoundland, Canada in 1971 to a family rooted in both the Island of Skye and Wales. He spent his formative years in the Cordroy Valley surrounded by Gaelic-speaking Scottish immigrants who had come from Canna and Moidart in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland in 1820. So it is ironic that the most concentrated source of his musical upbringing was absorbed some 2500 miles from its origin, which, for the most part, had become much diluted since the times of The Highland Clearances and the tragic aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings of 1690-1746.
When he was six years old, Martyn and his parents moved to Scotland where he heard first hand the music he had been exposed to in Newfoundland. At the age of 15, he enrolled in a specialist music school in Edinburgh, Scotland which led to his acceptance at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where Martyn began formal classical training for violin and piano.
Having learned the language of a new musical territory, and already well versed in the traditional folk of his family, Martyn played both in the pub session and in the symphony orchestra, learned both the Ceol Mor for the solo bagpipe (the oldest form of bagpipe music) and Ysaye's solo violin sonatas. Each world knew nothing of the other, and the prospect of taking either across the boundaries seemed equally possible and daunting. At age 19, he took to the peaking rave scene in Glasgow and began formulating what would become his signature hybrid of traditional Gaelic and modern house, hip-hop, and dance music.
Martyn fused rural and urban music (rurban, urbal?), mixing classical styles with contemporary rhythms and technologies, and emerged with a sound which was unique yet familiar, and in high demand throughout Glasgow. After finding his niche in the Gaelic/dance arena, Martyn began garnering attention by composing for European theatrical productions. Beginning with the score for 'The Haunting of Billy Marshall', Martyn composed for the Tom McGrath adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped' and David Harrower's 'Knives in Hens'. These works led to television and movie scores and eventually on to solo performances, highlights of which include performing as personal piper for the Tanzanian President on his visit to Edinburgh, a three month tour of the U.S. with Green Linnet recording artist Wolfstone, consecutive appearances (in 1995 and 1996) at the Edinburgh Hogmanay for crowds of over 90,000 people (and a couple of sheep), and a gig as entertainer for the Braveheart premiere at Stirling Castle.
He has appeared as a guest musician on numerous albums, and in 1996, the independent Scottish label, Eclectic Records released his first solo recording, a self-titled full length CD. The album brought the urban folk sounds of Martyn's music to an ever widening European audience. In 1997, Rykodisc's release of "Bothy Culture" extended Martyn's musical reach across the pond and beyond. In 1999 Martyn released a collaboration with Martin Low entitled Hardland to rave reviews.
In November 2000 Martyn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Unfortunately, after having gone through a year of chemo and radio-therapy the cancer returned. In the beginning of January 2002 he underwent a major operation to remove his spleen which was found to have a tumour. 2002 involved having a radical course of chemotherapy followed by stem-cell transplant.
Last year, whilst Martyn was receiving treatment, he kept as active as he could and managed to finish a "gentle" album of songs in the Gaelic language. Titled Glen Lyon and sung entirely by his mother Margaret Bennett, this song-cycle is an exploration of Martyn's own family's history as passed down from generations of aural tradition. It is a step away from most of Martyn's work and very unlike the "fusion world music" (whatever that means!).
He has also been working on his hardest, most beatiest project yet. Entitled GRIT, it features samples of various Scottish travellers (Romany gypsies) and Gaelic west coast singers that Martyn knew personally, or grew up hearing at the folk festivals around Scotland in the 1980s. The samples are taken from original vinyl recordings, dating from the 1950s to the 1970s, recorded by the archives of Alan Lomax, School of Scottish Studies, and a few small Scottish labels. GRIT offers an alternative to those who think that traditional music is being spread thin amongst urban trendiness or to those of you who have noticed that "world-beat" music is just a load of arbitrary fantasy.
Maryn Bennett died on 30th January 2005. Read the tributes.