Jiggy's Album tribute to a deceased bandmate

When Dublin guitarist and producer Gavin Ralston lost his five-year battle against bowel cancer last September, he left behind not only bereaved family and friends but also numerous musical projects from his prolific career, writes Ellie O'Byrne

The late Gavin Ralston played on Jiggy’s latest album, ‘Hypernova’
The late Gavin Ralston played on Jiggy’s latest album, ‘Hypernova’

One of said projects was his contribution to trad fusion collective Jiggy’s, most recent album: Hypernova.

Ralston enjoyed playing with the loose collective of world musicians; he last appeared live with them at a music festival in Kazakhstan in the summer of 2018. By the time Hypernova was in production, his health had worsened. But he still contributed.

“Gavin played bass on one track on the album, ‘Séamaisín’, and we’re delighted to have it on the album,” Jiggy bodhrán player Robbie Harris says.

“We also recorded the title track in his studio in Wicklow. He was very sick at that session, but was in great spirits and full of his usual positivity.”

Jiggy are a world music fusion act that meld traditional Irish sounds —flute, uilleann pipes, bodhrán and fiddle — with Indian percussion, rock, rap and Persian influences.

Their debut album, Translate, hit number one in the World Music Charts not only in Ireland, but in EU countries including France and Poland, as well as the US and Australia. Months later, in 2018, their video for a track called Silent Place, featuring footage of dancers from all over the world, went viral; to date, it has generated 35 million views across different platforms.

They call themselves “more of a collective than a band”, which is the reason why guitarist Gary O’Brien, from Castlegregory in Co Kerry, never found himself sharing a stage with Ralston, who played bass and guitar, he explains.

“Myself and Gavin wouldn’t have shared the stage because if he was there, I wasn’t and vice versa,” O’Brien says.

Gavin was a powerhouse of a musician, so well-respected in Irish music. Losing him was a huge blow to the band, and to everyone who knew him.

O’Brien, who also plays in West Kerry trad group Pólca 4, says the sense of “community and camaraderie” that comes with playing live with Jiggy would appeal to any musician.

“It’s great craic,” he says. “It’s a mad bunch of musicians from different backgrounds; it’s exciting to be involved with.”

The technical challenges in collaborating with musicians of very different traditions are surprisingly few, he says. “It requires a bit of work, but generally someone will come up with a riff or a tune and then Robbie and [Indian percussionist] Koushik Chandra Shekar will come in; there’s a bit of back of forth, but it all seems to happen quite naturally. We’ve kind of found the Jiggy sound.”

It’s a sound very much inspired by the work of other world fusion acts like Afro-Celt Soundsystem, with whom Robbie Harris has toured, and the UK’s Imagined Village; a sound built on a belief in the universality and unifying force of music and dance.

Following the Irish launch of Hypernova, and before a packed summer calendar of international festival appearances kicks in, Jiggy are set to tour India in March, with gigs in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

It will be the band’s second time playing gigs in India.

“We were really well received last time, so we’re really looking forward to going back,” O’Brien says. “The Uilleann pipes seem to really catch people’s attention in India, because people won’t have seen the instrument before, so they think it’s quite unusual.

“But a lot of our music is embedded in Indian rhythms and beats, so it was great seeing people’s reactions to the music out there. It’s ingrained in Indian musical culture to respond to complex beats, and our audiences really seemed to get the melding of the Irish and Indian beats. We had an absolute blast last time.”

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