IT WAS, at times, a sound that might have levelled the walls of Jericho, as something approaching 80 classical, folk and jazz musicians pounded along, driven by big drums and a bass rumble suggesting the presence of an invisible giant didgeridoo.
Nae Regrets: Martyn Bennett’s Grit - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
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There were moments of unexpected beauty – Fiona Hunter’s vernacular Scots singing in uncanny concurrence with plainchanting choristers; and also of sublime weirdness, as actor David Hayman adopted the persona of a tinker storyteller to narrate a sanguinary folk tale against a pulsating, North-African sounding backdrop.
If anyone had ever told me that there would be a live, orchestral recreation of Martyn Bennett’s final album, Grit, a spectacularly individualistic studio concoction of archive recordings spliced ferociously with electronic beats and samples, I would have roundly declared it impossible. Yet here was the opening night of Celtic Connections, ten years on from Bennett’s untimely passing, and violinist Greg Lawson’s mightily ambitious recreation sweeping us jubilantly along.
By and large it met the challenge of an orchestra having to replicate essentially non-orchestral sounds – or, for that matter, singers such as Rab Noakes, in Rant, vocalising the turntable flicker which in the original had its way with Scots traveller Jimmy McBeath’s Macpherson’s Lament.
With Lawson conducting and Donald Grant leading the strings, the orchestration, bolstered by lower-register brass and double basses to give the required beefy bottom, conveyed the questing nature of Bennett’s musical imagination.
Spot-on sound balance allowed singers to deliver with surprising clarity against this seething instrumental swirl. Hunter opened impressively, echoing the no-holds-barred holler of the late Sheila Stewart in Move, while Annie Grace did the honours in Nae Regrets (although its Piaf-esque chorus seemed a bit lost in the mix).
The wonderful Liberation saw Hayman declaiming the words of Psalm 118 from the balcony with gravelly relish as Isobel Ann Martin and Catherine Joan MacDonald sang the Gaelic version in spine-tingling Gaelic heterophony, while Chanter was a hell-for leather mash-up of shrilling pipe reeds, pounding dance beats and Calum MacCrimmon’s canntaireachd mouth music.
Finally – or at least before two encores and standing ovations – they closed with Bennett’s Paisley Spin, its rumbustious beats giving way to Noakes voicing lines from his one-time band mate Gerry Rafferty’s To Each and Every One of You, the audience joining in a poignant leave-taking of those who have gone but left us so much.
Seen on 15.01.15