THE JIGANTICS: Llantrisant Folk Club, Pontyclun Institute Athletic Club, September 14, 2016
The Jigantics are an amazing phenomenon. The five musicians break every rule in the folk-police book as they deliver their interpretations of yee-haw country hits, Chuck Berry rock material and a welter of Americana, all richly ladled into exquisite guitar riffs, drum rolls, pounding bass and spectacular harmonies. It’s Folk, Jim, but not as we know it – and when the band powered to the end of their triumphant set, the delighted audience bellowed for more.
The Jigantics have impressive CVs as long as your arm. Gloucester-born blues singer and front man Mark Cole is a formidable player of cajun and piano accordions, mandolin and harmonica, and admirably proficient on guitar and lap-steel as well. He’s a member of several contrasting bands, and an in-demand international session player, too – he flew to Ottawa to collaborate with Canadian blues combo The Myers Brothers Band, and played on and produced their album Drive. Liverpool violinist and mesmerising vocalist Marion Fleetwood can look back on a 25-year career which has seen her play thrash metal, grand opera and many bands including ColvinQuarmby, Stratford folk-rockers Meet On The Ledge and a new duo with TRADarr colleague Gregg Cave. She also plays ‘cello, several guitars, an Ozark mandolin and what she describes as a Scouse viola. Rick Edwards’ impressive slide-guitar playing has enabled him to perform and record in Mississippi with some of the all-time blues greats, including Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters’ piano player; Welshman Lyndon Webb is equally at home on the double-bass and the bass guitar as he is on the mandolin; and percussionist Martin Fitzgibbon has played on stage with Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Lou Reed, but he confirms that The Jigantics are the most exciting project with which he has ever been involved.
The band jumped right in their first set with a cajun-flavoured version of Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘Swimming Song’, followed quickly by Bob Dylan’s ‘The Weight’; and we roared along with those incredible harmonies. But in case you thought that The Jigantics were just another covers band, you would be proved wrong – Mark, Marion, Rick, Lyndon and Martin conjured up a welter of dazzling arrangements and inspiring vocal lines to die for. Marion paraded her marvellous vibrant voice in a drinking-to-forget country tearjerker, ‘Bad Liver And A Broken Heart’ – not the Tom Waits version, but a composition by Texan guitarist Hayes Carll, the same songsmith who wrote ‘She Left Me For Jesus’ and ‘One Bed, Two Girls, Three Bottles Of Wine’. The mighty Mark strutted his stuff on the Chuck Berry rock’n’roller ’13 Questions’, his gritty, gravelly voice soaring to the high heavens – but the high spot came when Marty stepped down from the drum-kit and delivered that beautiful ballad ‘The Lakes Of Pontchartrain’ with his quiet, peaceful voice. The fact that Christy Moore, Paul Brady, Planxty and all Ireland have all sung the song has led many people to believe that it is Irish, but no – it’s American, and as deep south as they come. It probably originated in the 1860s, after the collapse of Confederate currency at the end of the Civil War. (By the way, ‘alligators’ do not inhabit the woods and are only found very close to water; it was probably a mishearing of ‘Atakapans’, the Louisana tribe who were wrongly believed to be cannibals, hence the slightly ludicrous verse.)
The Jigantics possess that special quality of ramping up the excitement and energy with consummate ease, and then suddenly catching and cradling the punters with one of those stunning, sparse ballads which are the jewels of Marion’s repertoire. The band switched from light to dark so many times that the audience was breathless, just trying to keep up. Even the most traditionally-minded of us agreed that it was a cracking good night – and the band drove away with the satisfaction of adding a roomful of new-found friends and fans to their credit. If they do return, it will be: By Popular Demand!