It’s Not the Time you have ...’
Notes and Memories of Music Making with
Martyn Bennett

Margaret Bennett
ISBN 978-0-9552326-1-9; June 2006

‘This is by no means an attempt to write a life story, but merely to record a few anecdotes shared by some of the folk who have been part of Martyn’s world of music-making. While a number of them arrived by letter or email, most were recorded in conversations. They’re simply put together for the enjoyment of those who knew Martyn, his music, his sense of humour, delight in the ridiculous, his intense perception, profound sensitivity and his warm compassion.’

This work includes topics such as: a short biography and discussion of ethnomusicology of the Scottish music composed and performed by Martyn Bennett. Compiled by folklorist and singer Margaret Bennett (Martyn’s mother), the book is a collection of evocative, informative and amusing anecdotes from a wide range of contributors including Brian McNeill, Cathal McConnel, Sheila Stewart, Martyn’s piping teacher, fellow musicians and friends.

Margaret Bennett January 2006.

Review:

... Scottishness was a springboard for Martyn Bennett, a firm rock beneath his foot to launch himself elsewhere… he fused and galvanised and created new forms out of old ones … as a matter of course. He did what we have to do in our national life generally. Start out from our unique Scots soil—rich, moist mixture of Gaelic and Irish and Asian and Norse—and launch ourselves outwards. There’s something fearless in the art of Martyn Bennett … confidence… faith… lacking in our intellectual and political arenas ...

What’s the point in having our artists … if we don’t look to them for inspiration? Bennett was inspired by writing and many writers are, in turn, inspired by him. In his music there’s a glimpse of a Scotland we can find in depth… His is a Scotland I’d like one day to wake up in.

Chris Dolan, The Herald, Feb. 5, 2005


Preamble
Kingussie—first set of pipes,first gig…
David Taylor, Martyn’s first bagpipe teacher, 2006
Dolly Wallace, storyteller
Joe McAtamney13, notes from a conversation, 2006
Peigi (Stewart) Bennett, Martyn’s grandmother,  2006:
Content

PREAMBLE

“Think o’ him through your heart…
He’s not far away, nor ever is…”

—Sheila Stewart, 2006

It’s January, Celtic Connections again and this year Colin Hynd has programmed ‘Martyn Bennett Day’ for the first Saturday of the festival1. Everyone I meet, who knew Martyn or his music, seems to have a ‘Martyn story’. He himself loved listening to, and telling, stories—except perhaps ‘Martyn stories’. There were, of course, exceptions when he’d tell one that usually began, “you won’t believe this…” and he’d laugh helplessly at some sit-com that seemed to have unfolded around him, creating the satirical humour that turns a situation into a story.

Whether invited or not, Martyn could give serious advice, and if you didn’t seem to heed it the first time, you might get it again. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with one advisory comment offered me more often than was comfortable: “You must carry on doing what you do— it’s important.”

“Like what?”

“Recording people, folklore, writing, singing, passing on all that stuff you do—”

“Of course, I’ll do that—what else would I do?” And I’d change the subject.

Recording other folk has been an integral part of my life—and of Martyn’s. It all seems so ordinary to reach for a tape recorder, ask a few questions, listen to songs, music, tradition of any kind, or opinions about life in general, then transcribe the reels, cassettes, DATS or mini-discs of many voices. That’s what a folklorist does. When you grow up with ‘all this stuff’ there’s no need to analyse the process—you just take it for granted that ‘everybody knows’ you record these traditions so that they can be preserved for future generations, so that children and children’s children will pass them on, sing the songs, play the tunes, or just enjoy the language, the way of expression, the poetry, the people, the characters, the culture…

This is by no means an attempt to write a life story, but merely to record a few anecdotes shared by some of the folk who have been part of Martyn’s world of music-making. While a number of them arrived by letter or email, most were recorded in conversations. They’re simply put together for the enjoyment of those who knew Martyn, his music, his sense of humour, delight in the ridiculous, his intense perception, profound sensitivity and his warm compassion.

Margaret Bennett, Celtic Connections Festival, Glasgow, January 2006

Kingussie—first set of pipes,first gig…

DAVID TAYLOR,  HISTORY TEACHER AT KINGUSSIE HIGH SCHOOL, WAS MARTYN’S FIRST BAGPIPE TEACHER. HE LOOKS BACK IN THIS EMAIL, JANUARY, 2006:

I first remember Martyn as a very tiny, excited, desperately enthusiastic wee boy with wide shining eyes. I’ve never seen anyone learn the chanter so fast. In his first lesson (1980) he mastered everything I gave him first time round—I probably gave him a month’s worth of lessons in our first meeting. He was the most natural learner I’ve ever encountered—even making a practice chanter musical and playing grace note scales with perfect rhythm. It was only a few weeks before he was playing his first competition tunes on chanter. He had such light musical fingers when he played and even the hardest tunes flowed in such a natural, musical way. His impish sense of humour combined with his amazing talent meant he was always tremendous fun to teach. I think I looked forward to our lessons as much as he did.

Martyn was desperate to get on to the big pipes. I remember being asked by his Mum (in secret) to find a set—and nothing but the best would do, even though she had to save up for them! I went to my old piping teacher, Bert Barron in St. Andrews, who dealt in old sets of pipes.

I explained that I was looking for a special set for this wee boy I was teaching and came home with an old set of full ivory-mounted Henderson pipes—so good that I was loath to pass them on. Never did a wee boy’s eyes open so wide as when he got his first shot on them and, right from the start, Martyn played them as if he had been born with them under his arm, with that tone, control and flair which became a hallmark of his playing.

I often wondered about his natural—and uncanny—musicality, but it was ingrained in him. I remember the ceilidhs along at Margaret’s house in Kingussie. There were always singers and musicians and Martyn just absorbed everything that was going on around him. He grew up with song and rhythm in his bones—music was just a part of what he was. He also played instinctive harmonies on the chanter and then the ‘goose’ to accompany his mother’s singing. He loved playing tunes with the adults and used the goose for this first and then a lovely set of Colin Ross bellows pipes in C.

I also knew Martyn as one of my history pupils in Kingussie. He loved learning about the history of Scotland—always with a thirst for knowledge, always thinking about the people and their hardships. I took him on a school trip to Orkney to look at the old historical sites and again he loved seeing the old places and thinking about the people who had built them and lived there. It was there that I discovered another of Martyn’s talents as an artist. I remember him lying on the grass producing a remarkably detailed and accurate sketch of one of the houses at Skara Brae—quite oblivious to the other kids who were away off to play on the beach.

Many years later (1998, when he was playing a gig there) he sent me a postcard (still on my study wall) of the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, which starts “I thought I would drop you a line from the inspiration behind that lovely music you taught me so many years ago....” That was Martyn—the history, the landscape, the music were all one seamless entity for him. (He also refers to the writing of ‘MacKay’s Memoirs’ in that postcard.)

There is so much more I could say about Martyn, even though it is so many years ago that I first taught him. He is still the greatest talent I have ever had the privilege to teach. And yes, I do still have that card on my wall. It was very touching and one of my last memories of Martyn.

DOLLY WALLACE, STORYTELLER, PERTH, IN CONVERSATION, JAN. 2006:

Dolly: Martyn did what must have been his first ever gig for me—and I didn’t ever let him forget it. I always said that I launched him on the public scene for the first time! This was Dalwhinnie, when I was hosting Highland Nights in what used to be the Grampian Hotel, and he would be eleven at the time. That was 1982, and we did it for ’82, ’83 and ’84. It was brilliant—every Tuesday night, from May to the end of September, half past seven to half past ten or after. I actually had four pipers—I almost had a pipe band! There was Martyn and I had Drew Sinclair and Christopher Thompson—one of them opened the ceilidh and finished it off. Sometimes Christopher and Martyn would play pipe duets, with harmonies. And of course you sang, so did Joe, and I would do a recitation or two.

Those nights were special—and Martyn was unique. He was young—very young for a piper—he was small, beautifully mannered, and always smiling. And we had a wee dancer, she was six, wee Nicky, and if Martyn wasn’t there, she was quite happy not to dance. She said to me one night, “Is Martyn coming?” And I said, “No,” and she said “I’m not dancing! If Martyn’s not playing, I’m not dancing—no way, just see if I am!” But I was only pulling her leg! And they must have been the most photographed pair in Britain at the time, because they were so small, so neat, and so sweet and pleasant. It was just all flashing lights round them! Oh, the tourists loved it.

Margaret: And did this cost a fortune?

Dolly: Huh! The hotel should have been paying all this, but I don’t suppose anybody ever got paid. I don’t think so— Hi-juice and crisps, and that was about it! But nobody seemed to be bothered; they were all enjoying themselves. So, I used to tease him I launched his career as a piper!

JOE MCATAMNEY13, GLASGOW, NOTES FROM A CONVERSATION, JANUARY 2006:

When we lived in Kingussie we used to go to Glasgow the odd weekend—me being a Glaswegian I’d need the occasional city fix. And I usually went to one of my old haunts, the car market in the Gallowgate, and Martyn always came with me—he just loved that, anything to do wi’ getting your hands dirty, that was for him! Now we had this arrangement when we went places, I’d drive there, and Margaret would drive home—a pretty good deal, I thought. So, this Sunday night, we’re driving up the old A9—this in the early 80s, before they did the bypass at Killiecrankie—and Martyn told his mum that he’d done his homework in Glasgow when he was at the car market wi’ me. Now that was news to me, so I goes, whit?

“Well,” he says, “I had to collect a poem about an animal for Mr Morris’s English class tomorrow, and I was really lucky because when we went to the toilets beside the car market, there it was, written on the wall.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Eh’m, can you say it?”

“Yes, only I’m changing one word in the last line. It’s got a word I don’t think Mr Morris will like—bastards. So, I’ve been thinking about it—I think I have to change that word to beggars.”

“Go on, then, say it.” So Martyn starts reciting—

No need to stand upon the seat
The crabs in here they jump ten feet
And if next door you want to try,
Don’t bother for the ‘beggars’ fly!

“You cannae say that, Martyn!” I says to him, trying to keep my face straight—and when she stopped laughing, I left Margaret to explain to him why no’!

Another late-night A9 drive north, early 80s, after some festival or other, Margaret was driving along playing a Bob Dylan cassette. I was probably nodding off, and Martyn was asleep on the back seat—or so we thought. There was virtually nothing on the road that time of night, bar these construction works. Anyway, the tape finished with Dylan singing ‘It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’—thon song we all used to sing in the sixties, whether or not we had a clue about the meaning—wi’ all those disconnected lines. The tape clicked off, and the voice from the back seat says, “Do you know what that line means—a highway of diamonds with nobody on it?” He used to listen so intently to the words of songs as well as tunes, and Margaret says to him, “No. Do you?” “Well,” he tell us, “what it really means is this: he’s singing about a jewel carriageway, just like this road—see all these cats eyes—diamonds—and not a single car to be seen.”

The world through Martyn’s eyes was full of surprises… He was probably on some amazing jewel carriageway and the rest of the world on an ordinary dual carriageway. And to think we used to tease him and tell him he only took up the bagpipes because he couldnae spell ukulele!

PEIGI (STEWART) BENNETT, MARTYN’S GRANDMOTHER (UIG, SKYE, AND LATER BALQUHIDDER), RECORDED IN GLASGOW, JANUARY 14, 2006:

Margaret: When we lived in Kingussie, did you not teach Martyn some Gaelic songs?

Peigi: Well he sang at the Mod, didn’t he? He’d be eleven or twelve. And he was taking piping lessons from David Taylor at that time—oh, the Kingussie days are very vivid. David used to come around and they used to play… I’d be there for weeks sometimes, and the funny thing is that he use to ask me to tell him a bedtime story and then he’d go to bed with a drawing board and a big pad of paper and he’d draw and draw every evening before he went to sleep! And then, he used to read the Kilberry Book of Pibroch in bed, he’d write music in bed… I believe I bought it for him, remember, when he was about twelve and he was competing somewhere, I think Newtonmore. And he got a first prize and when he came home and he handed you a maroon colour Parker pen and he handed me a white one. That was him, spending his prize money on presents for you and me. He was always so generous—he certainly was. He used to think about other people, when most children of that age are dying to spend the money on themselves, but he always thought about other people first. And not very long ago, Margaret, when they spent a lot of time travelling between Edinburgh and Mull, he would always stop and see me, and if he had made a new CD he’d bring me a copy. I have a few of these CDs, and think it was something from ‘Grit’ he was playing on my CD player and he put this on to listen [laughs] I can hear him talking to himself saying, “Oh I can’t hear the bass…”, passing comments, not to me, but to himself, about sounds he was annoyed about. And the next time he came around, I think he was on his own, he was carrying this box and he put it on the floor and started unpacking it and then he set up that CD player there, with a lovely sound, a much better sound—and then he put on the CD and I just could not believe the sound! And it was only after he set it all up, he said, “Granny, CD player is just rubbish!” [Laugh] I have a lot wonderful memories of Martyn —I spent a lot of time with him, especially when he was little. Of course we always have the habit of singing lullabies when we put the children to sleep—we had a rocking chair, so did you.

Margaret: You told me one time Granny thought it’d be unheard of not singing to a little one! And the old people had a rocking cradle in the kitchen so even if Granny was at the stove or knitting she could rock the baby with her foot. Did Martyn have any favourite song?

Peigi: Oh, he liked —if he was tired he’s say, “Granny sing …” But then he had his own little gramophone, didn’t he? He used to run around and put on a record and turn it over [laughs]. He’d be singing ‘Train on the Island’, that was the one he used to listen all the time—he used to play it over and over again! That was the record you bought him wasn’t it?

Margaret: Well, not exactly! It was actually record, a Folkways recording from the Smithsonian, sung by Joe Hickerson (he was the archivist there for years). I had this old record-player—I had before I was married, and he just wouldn’t stay away from it—wee mischief, you couldn’t turn your back to put the kettle on but he was off to the living room. I remember being wakened up one morning before six, to this blaring music—he’d gotten up, straight into the living room, but he’d turned it on full volume, so loud he frightened himself! He came running through the house crying for help—you couldn’t help laughing at him! What had happened was, this old-fashioned thing had an ON-switch which was also the volume, and he’d turned it round completely! He’d be about two or three—anyway, Ian and I bought another, better one for the living room and we put that old one in his room with a few children’s records. But it still didn’t stop him sneaking ones from our collections—my old Joan Baez ones, Tom Paxton, Library of congress records, classical music, and Na h-Oganaich, the MacDonald Sisters, Welsh Male Voice choirs, fiddle music—Ian had a quite a few. Anything! His other favourite was Dennis Brain playing Mozart Horn Concertos—he’d go round the house singing, “booom-bom-ba-bom-bom-babom”, being a French Horn! Funnily enough, I can’t remember either of us thinking this was unusual—Ian played the violin and he has a really good voice; friends played music, so there was always music in the house. We probably thought every child did this.

Peigi: Then, in the summer, your dad and I would sometimes go to the Codroy Valley to spend the weekend with you and Martyn. And we’d all go over to old Allan Macarthur’s house. There’d be pipes and accordions and fiddles going, and step-dancing. And Allan use to start talking about the old times. I was amazed at the old Gaelic songs he had, and the words he knew. I don’t believe he could read Gaelic. The whole family could play, sing, dance—all the children would be part of it—not just Martyn, but all of them. Yes, they were all part of it.

Then of course [in later years] he spent a lot of time with us in Balquhidder. He used to love to walk in the hills—and when he was younger, he’d go with us to Glenconon (Skye)—he loved Glenconon. I remember taking him to the end of the glen and then he went on by himself, around five miles. He loved climbing, he’d take a sandwich and be gone all day. And of course the Cuillins. Then, Kirsten would go to the hills with him too, and go camping. You can hear that in his music.

... see the book

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