Thursday, April 23, 2015

Martyn Bennett (Grit) & Treacherous Orchestra (Origins)

These albums, almost ten years apart, speak to the post-millennium rebirth of the Scottish sense of national identity which led to the 2014 Referendum, the disgraceful hijacking of which by the Westminster cadre will almost certainly lead to a form of independence before 2020.


It was Bennett's album which first caught my eye.  I found a performance of 'Chanter' on the BBC iPlayer, which led me to a documentary about the making of Grit.  Bennett's story - dead at 34 and making this definitive album in the knowledge of coming death - was a massive hook.  And boy is the album worth it.  It may well be the best album I have bought in twenty years or more.  I have played it some thirty times since it arrived in February.  I love it.

'Chanter' is magnificent, but I already knew that.  Everything here is magnificent.  My favourite, at the moment, is 'Liberation', a perfect example of what Bennett does.  The basis is an archival sung version of Psalm 118 in Gaelic from 1964.  Over this is Michael Marra, speaking the Psalm in English in what must surely be the voice of an Old Testament Prophet.  And over it all, Bennett's beats, electronic and traditional, like a Hebridean Moby.  It is truly a work of genius.  In other tracks traditional unaccompanied singing is mixed all the way up to an eldritch chant from the dawn of time - in 'Nae Regrets' worked in with Piaf, and in 'Chanter' backed by (unbelievable but true) funky bagpipes.

Grit came out in 2003 (Bennett died in 2005).  Origins came in 2012 and is surely influenced by Bennett as well as by the same upsurge of Scottish spirit that inspired Bennett.  Another inspiration was the piper Gordon Duncan, who also passed away in 2005, aged 41.  Indeed the personnel of Treacherous Orchestra have come together from all strands of contemporary Scottish folk, and the result is an album that combines the rock rhythms of the 'Sausages' medley with deeper, more contemplative mood pieces such as - my favourite - 'Sea of Clouds'.  All tracks are entirely instrumental, not normally an attraction for me, but I am really do revel in the Celtic Connection idea of setting the sounds of pre-history in 21st century mode.
Treacherous Orchestra have a new album out, their second.  It's called Grind.  It's a must for me, as is Bothy Culture (1997) by the magical Bennett.