A STAGE show inspired by the life and legacy of a groundbreaking musician whose life was cut short by cancer at the age of just 33 has been named event of the year at the annual Scots Trad Music Awards.
Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story was created by award-winning theatre-maker Cora Bissett, who had previously turned the story of “The Glasgow Girls”, the schoolgirl campaign about the treatment of asylum seekers in the city, into a hit musical for the National Theatre of Scotland.
Grit: The Martyn Bennett story was honoured at the awards ceremony just weeks before the 10th anniversary of Bennett’s death. A special tribute concert will open the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, where the accomplished piper and fiddler studied, at the then RSAMD.
The show, which featured live dance, drama, acrobatics and some of his own landmark recordings, won huge acclaim when it was premiered in Glasgow and Mull, where Bennett spent his final years living with his wife Kirsten, earlier this year.
Grit, one of the flagship projects of the Commonwealth Games cultural programme, saw Bissett join forces with leading playwright Kieran Hurley to tell the story of Bennett’s life after relocating with his mother, folk singer Margaret, from Canada to Scotland at the age of six.
Bennett is regarded as one of Scotland’s leading musical talents of the 1990s for the way he fused dance music and club culture with traditional melodies and instruments, and is cited as a major influence by many of today’s leading bands on the trad scene.
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He famously recorded his acclaimed debut album in just seven days and went on to win headline slots at Celtic Connections, perform at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party and the world premiere of Braveheart at Stirling Castle, and entertain Sir Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor at a World Cup party in Paris in 1998.
Despite being forced to give up live performances at the peak of his career after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time, he managed to release two more albums as he battled with illness.
Poignantly, the award for Cora Bissett’s live show came just days after the death of Sheila Stewart, one of the traditional singers whose voices that he sampled on his final album, also entitled Grit.
Re-released last year to coincide with the launch of Bissett’s stage show, it is hailed by many critics as his best work for the way he combined renditions of largely-forgotten traditional songs with his own ground-breaking sound.
Bissett told the audience how she had been inspired to make the show after listening to Grit.
She said: “I really felt that I wanted to tell Martyn’s life story and celebrate one of Scotland’s most visionary musicians and composers who we obviously lost so tragically.
“I wanted to respond to his music, but also celebrate the life and passion and innovation that just burst out of him.
“It was a huge honour to share his music with a whole new audience.” Martyn Bennett’s mother Margaret completed an emotional night for his family friends when she was honoured for her services to traditional music.
Other major winners at the awards, staged at Inverness Leisure Centre and broadcast live on BBC Alba, included the Julie Fowlis Band, who won group of the year just weeks after she became the first Gaelic singer to be honoured at the “Tartan Clefs” Scottish Music Awards.
Earlier this year the North Uist singer and her bandmates joined forces with Nicola Benedetti for the violinist’s debut at Celtic Connections and they also had a starring role together in the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.
Edinburgh-based writer and producer Jim Sutherland, who has worked with the likes of Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris, The Chieftains, Mumford & Sons, and Van Morrison, won the composer of the year award for a two-year project, Struileag, to celebrate the Scots Gaelic diaspora around the world.
It culminated in a 75-minute live show - performed by 25 singers, dancers and musicians - during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The Ceilidh Place, the Ullapool Hotel owned for many years by Highlands MSP Jean Urquhart, was named the country’s best venue for its championing of Scottish culture all year round, while the Summer Isles Festival, organised by local musician Mairearad Green in nearby Achiltibuie, was named community project of the year.
Lewis-born Mischa MacPherson completed a remarkable hat-trick of success when she was named best Gaelic singer. The trio she leads had won one of coveted best newcomer awards at Celtic Connections earlier this and then landed the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award for Britain’s best up-and-coming act.
Isles FM, the Lewis-based community station which has served the Western Isles for the last 20 years, won the “Trad Music in the Media” award just weeks after staving off the threat of closure and winning a new long-term licence.
One of Scotland’s most popular ceilidh bands, Skipinnish, fought off competition from festival regulars Peatbog Faeries and Skerryvore to claim the title of best live act, while Douglas Montgomery, fiddler with Orcadian party band The Chair, was named music tutor of the year.
The event, which ended with a performance reuniting all the members of ground-breaking “acid croft” outfit Shooglenifty, also featured Robyn Stapleton, the reigning BBC Scotland Young Musician of the Year and Shetland outfit Fiddlers Bid.
Long-tine Shetland Folk Festival stalwart Davie Henderson, who died earlier this year at the age of 63, was given the event’s most prestigious honour, the Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music.
More than 100,000 online votes for the award nominees were cast in recent weeks ahead of the event, which will be heading to Dundee for the first time next year in the latest boost to the city’s cultural credentials.
Simon Thoumire, the founder of the Scots Trad Music Awards, said: “Year upon year the awards get bigger and better and tonight was no exception.
“We’re proud to have been awarding Trad talent for the past 12 years and, thanks to the overwhelming support from the public, we will continue to do so.”
Inverness provost Alex Graham, said: “The awards an excellent showcase and platform for the whole traditional music industry, as was evident from the spectrum of talent which entertained the audience present in Inverness Leisure Centre and the many BBC ALBA viewers.
“Highland Council were delighted to have ‘The Trads’ in Inverness, especially in the Year of Homecoming, when we hosted a wide range of cultural and sporting events.
“The growth of traditional music and the development of the creative industries within the Highlands are real success stories for our area. I hope the event will return here again very soon.”
Full list of winners for 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards
Album of the Year: Live at Celtic Connections by Duncan Chisholm
Club of the Year - Tin Hut Sessions
Composer of the Year - Jim Sutherland
Community Project of the Year - Summer Isles Festival
Event of the Year - Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story
Gaelic Singer of the Year – Mischa Macpherson
Instrumentalist of the Year – Catriona McKay
Live Act of the Year - Skipinnish
Scots Singer of the Year – Emily Smith
Dance Band of the Year – Da Fustra
Scottish Folk Band of the Year – Julie Fowlis
Pipe Band of the Year – West Lothian Schools Pipe Band
Trad Music in the Media – Isles FM
Music Tutor of the Year – Douglas Montgomery
Up and Coming Artist of the Year – The Elephant Sessions
Venue of the Year Award – The Ceilidh Place
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