Martyn Bennett story should tour world - director

The creator of a major new stage show inspired by the life and legacy of groundbreaking musician Martyn Bennett wants to take it around the world after it launches in Scotland, she has 

Martyn Bennetts modern take on traditional Scottish music received acclaim around the world

Cora Bissett hopes Grit –which will see drama, dance and acrobatics deployed to recapture the spirit of Bennett’s recorded work and live performances – will eventually tour to Canada, where the acclaimed music-maker was born before relocating to Scotland at the age of six.

The award-winning director, whose show is one of the flagship projects in the Commonwealth Games culture programme, also believes it will help revive interest in Bennett, who famously fused club culture and dance music with traditional melodies and 

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The show, which opens later this month, has won the backing of music industry icon Peter Gabriel, who released Bennett’s final album and collaborated with him on the last piece of music he finished before dying of cancer at the age of just 33 in 2005.

The show, set to a soundtrack of some of his best-known material, will feature actor Sandy Grierson, a real-life friend of Bennett’s, taking the audience on his “incredible life journey”, from the highs of fame and critical acclaim to the lows of ill health and its impact on his life, career and family.

Bissett said she was hopeful Genesis-founder Gabriel – who performed at a tribute concert in Edinburgh for Bennett after his death – would take up an invitation to the Tramway arts centre, in Glasgow, where the show opens this month. It will then tour to the Isle of Mull, where Bennett spent the last years of his life.

The stage show – which features a mix of Scottish and Canadian performers – is being premiered months ahead of the tenth anniversary of Bennett’s death, set to be marked with the publication of a biography and a gala concert at the Celtic Connections music festival.

Gabriel, whose Real World Records label has just re-released that final album, also called Grit, to coincide with the stage show, said: “Martyn took the soul and passion of Scottish music, and planted them in a modern, electronic world. I loved how he created and handled his work. There was always a mix of intense emotion, compassion and pride, served on a bed of atmosphere and rhythm. I’m delighted that through this project we are all reminded of what an extraordinary talent we have lost, but can now continue to enjoy.”

Bennett, one of Scotland’s leading musical talents of the 1990s, was forced to give up live performances at the peak of his career after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time. He died in 2005 at the age of just 33.

He had been the first ever traditional musician to win a coveted place at the City of Edinburgh Music School and was a gifted student at the RSAMD, in Glasgow, but found academic life too restrictive and secretly visited traditional music sessions.

But it was only after moving back to Edinburgh and buying an electronic keyboard, sampler and mixing desk that Bennett began to make a name for himself.

He recorded his acclaimed debut in just seven days and within years had won headline slots at Celtic Connections, performed at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party and the world premiere of Braveheart at Stirling Castle and entertained the likes of Sir Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor at a World Cup party in Paris before Scotland faced Brazil in 1998.

Bennett was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2000, but managed to release two more critically-acclaimed albums as he battled with illness.

Fife-born Bissett has joined forces with Glasgow playwright Kieran Hurley, the writer of hit rave culture play Beats, and Montreal-based choreographer Dana Gingras, to create Grit, which will open at the Tramway on 30 May.

Bissett added: “At its core, this is a story about a man fighting mortality and trying to get out what he wants to leave to the world in a very short space of time knowing that it is running out for him.

“It all just seems very timely, in this Commonwealth year, with Martin having dual heritage, being both Canadian and Scottish, and it is now almost 10 years since his death. With the last album being re-released, it feels like a zeitgeist moment to really look at Martyn again and launch his music again to a new generation.

“Not only was he technically adept at all the instruments he could play, he had the imagination to write and produce his material. There’s not many people who could dance between all the different styles of music like he did. He really was a one-off but I do think he is slightly under-sung in Scotland.

“We’ve asked Peter Gabriel to come to the show. He’s got a pretty hectic schedule but he’s said he’ll definitely try.”

Bissett has spent more than a year working on the show, including lengthy discussions with Bennett’s widow, Kirsten, his parents Margaret and Iain, former bandmates and close friends. She said: “We really hope the show will have a long life. I would very much love to take it to Canada, but I would also love it to tour worldwide. I think it’s a very universal show.”