Martyn Bennett died in 2005 at the age of 33.
Right now, in a small rehearsal space at Platform in Easterhouse, dancers, actors and one of Scotland's brightest theatrical talents, Cora Bissett, are furiously rehearsing a new production which tells the story of his short but extraordinarily talented life of the Scottish musician. "No-one has told his story," Bissett told me, "it is time to celebrate this visionary artist."
Grit: the Martyn Bennett story is part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme and will debut at the city's Tramway from June 3, before downsizing considerably - only in scale, not in content - for a stint at Mull Theatre from June 20. Bennett, of course, with his key albums Bothy Culture, Hardland and, most notably, Grit, mixed Gaelic and traditional music with thumping club beats. Rather like Moby, although perhaps with deeper roots in the music he was sampling, Bennett blended both the ages-old and the brand new. He was a trained violinist and pianist. Grit used more samples as his illness, cancer, made playing his instruments increasingly difficult.
Loading article content
Grit, incidentally, which Bissett blasts in her car most days to get herself energised, is being re-released by Real World to coincide with the production of the play. There are also very early recordings in the play, not heard before.
The show, conceived as a celebration of Bennett, focuses on his musical and artistic journey, rather than lingering on his death from Hodgkin's lymphoma. There will be dance, aerial artists from Canada (where, Bissett hopes, it can eventually tour - Bennett grew up in Canada to the age of six), much film and video, as well as, of course, Bennett's music. Sandy Grierson will play Martyn and the work has been conceived and directed by Bissett and written by Kieran Hurley. The acrobatic artistry includes the work of Andrew Watson, who spent more than a decade with Cirque du Soleil and other circuses.
Bissett met me for a coffee this week and she explained her vision for the show. She has talked extensively with Bennett's family, his mother Margaret, who is portrayed by Gerda Stevenson in the play, his widow Kirsten and his best friends.
"What I took very strongly from all those people was the incredible life force that he was, a ball of energy and enthusiasm for everything around him, not just with the music: he was a rock climber, a cyclist, and everything he did, he did with a 1000% focus," she said.
"In that very short life, those 33 years, before he tragically left us too early, look at what he achieved. That's what we focus on."
The play goes back to Bennett's childhood, his years in Gaelic speaking communities in Newfoundland there, his years in Mull and Speyside and then in Edinburgh and his time studying at the RSAMD in Glasgow.
Of course viewer know the ultimate end of the story. That is the challenge for Bissett. "We chart his journey, all the elements make a creative individual. And yes it's a man battling mortality because he had cancer for most of his adult life." Grit will be a celebration of Bennett's achievements. And it will be fascinating to see.