Sound: Atmosphere: Performance:
There are not enough stars available for this glorious Edinburgh Festival happening. This was one of those moments when you know you are watching history being made. Those who were there will never forget they were and it will be talked about for years to come.
This Grit Orchestra is made up of musicians from all musical walks of life, some reading music and some learning by ear. There are around 80 members in this group, led by Greg Lawson, the orchestrator of Martyn Bennett’s album. There is something beautiful about witnessing a group of people creating an overwhelming musical experience. This ‘Celtic’ music is by no means easy, in fact it is complex with dance beat undertones, flowing traditional melodies and polyphonic orchestral weavings. All of the technical finesse is underpinned by amazing energy, commitment and passion.
Bennett was born in Canada and moved to Scotland with his mother Margaret Bennett, a Gaelic singer and folklorist from Skye. His natural ability on the highland bagpipes led to him later studying violin, piano and composition at Broughton Music School and then the RSAMD.
His catalogue of output included pieces for bagpipes and string quartet, which led to Lawson’s belief that had Bennett lived longer, he would have finally written for orchestra, confirming that the orchestrated version of GRIT was the perfect progression for his music.
The original album was composed during Bennett’s struggle with cancer and as his ability to play his instruments began to waver, he used his electronic skills more and more, pulling together samples from many traditional songs, singers and storytellers including Sheila Stewart, Lizzie Higgins and Mairi Morrison. This is a celebration of Scotland’s past placed in the now.
Stand out movements included MOVE containing fragments from ‘Moving On Song’ (Ewan MacColl) and Blackbird containing parts of ‘What A Voice, What A Voice’ (sung by Lizzie Higgins on the original recording, daughter of Jeannie Robertson). The tradition packed into this music is immense and we left full of inspiration to listen to these original recordings and beyond. The personal hope is that these original folk geniuses are listened too and sought out by all those who hear this music The singers in the Grit Orchestra have huge boots to fill and they showed skill and power as they soared above and through the orchestra.
The result of Greg Lawson’s orchestration and Bennett’s original vision was a thrilling, modern Celtic, Scottish fusion that was quite breathtaking. Music crossing boundaries and borders, people coming together to create something very special indeed.
The full house audience was buzzing before a note was played and the evening certainly did not disappoint. An electric evening! There was a 10 minutes standing ovation, two encores and a moving audience singalong of Paisley Spin (which isn’t on the original album). The audience would happily have listened to the whole album again, one member of the audience requested exactly that! As we all sang the final encore the orchestra gentle left the stage, section by section, leaving the audience singing “To each and everyone of you, I say goodbye, farewell, adieu.” Perfect, poignant, a lasting memory.
Be part of this legacy. Go see GRIT wherever and whenever you can. Buy the album. Listen to the music of Bennett and all those who feature on his album.
Reviewed by Ali Bell and Denise Borland