MY FIRST memory of meeting Martyn was when I was in my 30s and part of a television crew making a documentary in South Uist.
Typically of Martyn, when I visited him in the hospice last year and reminded him of our meeting, he just dismissed it, crediting the older piper as creating the musical sparks. He didn't rate his talent as an amazing player of the pipes, fiddle, keyboards or whistle. Yet everyone else thinks of him as one of the great pipers. He had all these lights hidden under bushels and everyone is just realising that now he's gone. He was always regarded as having incredible potential and constantly experimented in looking for a voice. I think that is partly why I feel this sense of being robbed with Martyn's death due to cancer, because Grit, his final studio recording, was really only just the beginning.
That is partly the reason behind the two Celtic Connections concerts that are taking place next weekend. Grit was only one part of Martyn's output and it would be wrong to focus purely on the studio-centred albums such as Bothy Culture and Glen Lyon. He was obviously a talented traditional musician as well as a writer of classical compositions, which is why both Martyn's widow Kirsten and myself, as organisers, had very definite ideas of what shape the day should take.
We decided upon an afternoon concert that concentrates on Martyn's classical side, with material that is in manuscript form and therefore easier for musicians to take on. We have the Orchestra of Scottish Opera performing his powerful suite, Mackay's Memoirs, alongside violinist Greg Lawson's commissioned arrangement of Liberation plus Fraser Fifield and a series of new arrangements of material from the forthcoming Martyn Bennett Tunebook.
The evening concert is more of a club event and focuses on Cuillin Music, as recreated by his friends, family and guest performers, and which Martyn actually intended to operate without him. We'll have the first live performances of Grit with Michael Marra and Karen Casey on vocals, DJ sets and a very Martynesque 21st Century Massed Pipes and Drums with the Beltane drummers, regimental drummers and pipers.
In terms of the musicians working within the Scottish and international music scene, there has been a huge amount of talk of Martyn in the last year. I think everyone was always a bit in love with him and, likewise, he was a bit in love with everyone else. Yet he was always an intense experience. Even when Martyn first played with my cross-fusion band Mouth Music, he was the guy with a million ideas buzzing around, while everyone else scratched around for one.
He was a musical fidget, who constantly played ahead of the beat as if he had a total burn and possessed a headspace that was enormous. For that reason he was infuriating and demanding musically, purely because he could be so focused on the sound he wanted. He was uncompromising in the way he played, the sounds he used, where he wanted to be heard and by whom. That said, despite his lack of tact in the studio, all his relationships survived.
As for Martyn's musical legacy, he was just an incredible force in every way. I like to think of him as the polar explorer of music. From my point of view it is nice to know someone has been to the North Pole even if I wouldn't have gone there myself. Martyn took his music a long way out and therefore expanded his known universe of music. It is easier to see his legacy within his radical classical compositions and as a brilliant arranger of songs.
Then again his fusion of traditional and dance music culture can be witnessed at any eastern European street party where crushing house music is played to the accompaniment of a live traditional instrument. Martyn invented that style more than 10 years ago.
Essentially, the Martyn Bennett Day concerts are meant to be a celebration in themselves. It is not about mourning but rather celebrating Martyn through his music. He really loved the idea of ecstatic music being played to a group of people in one space and then pumping fantastic beats into their heads. I really hope that is what happens on Saturday.
• Martin Swan is an associate trust member of the Martyn Bennett Trust (www.martynbennet.com). Martyn Bennett Day concerts are at the Royal Concert Hall and Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, on Saturday, 1pm and 10pm. Call 0141-353 8000 for details