The humid room gradually fills up with an assortment of bohemian hipsters, gothic teenagers and plain-old weirdos. The venue, a small circus tent on London’s Southbank, perfectly fits this most eclectic of audiences. A low, gravelly murmur breaks out as old hands simper knowingly at the uninitiated, of which I am worryingly a part. The whispers grow into a loud chatter as well-worn ragdolls are brought out of handbags and the stage curtain begins to twitch. Then, without a word of introduction, The Tiger Lillies strut onto the platform. What followed was by far the strangest, funniest, most unnerving and, finally, most offensive gig of my life. Here they are in action:
The Tiger Lillies have been around for a long time. First formed in 1989, the band’s name was rumoured to have been inspired by a murdered animal print-wearing Soho prostituted called, you guessed it, Lillie. This wouldn’t be a surprise, as the The Tiger Lillies have made a living from London’s underbelly. LUNKHEAD spoke to their lead singer, Martyn Jacques, about war, theatre and Edith Piaf.
Having been called everything uncomplimentary under the sun over the past decade, how would you define your look and sound in 2015?
“Don’t think we’ve changed much visually. Just a bunch of weirdos with hats and makeup. I don’t sing with a low voice anymore and our drummer is different. I hope we’ve changed I hope we’re better. We always try to do different things play different instruments.”
Your album A Dream Turns Sour was a melancholic departure from your previous material. What is it about the First World War, and in particular the poetry of the conflict, that so captures the popular imagination? Was it futile in your opinion?
War futile? Of course it’s always futile – ultimate act of human negativity. The politicians are usually safe of course. It’s powerful when young men write poetry about their impending death. Sad and moving.
What do you think of the contemporary alternative music scene. Have things mellowed or become blander since the early 1990s? Or is that just a well-worn cliche?
“I have no idea about the contemporary music scene. I never have. I rejected contemporary years ago. We’re playing a rock festival this summer. I thought I’d check out the headline acts. I can honestly say I was appalled! But the audience loved them!”
Your work for the stage has proved very popular. How different/difficult is the process of setting an often well-known story (Hamlet, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) to music? Have you ever experienced anger from people wanting to ‘defend’ the texts?
“Oh yes I think classical music and culture journalists have been appalled by us just like rock music people are. It’s mutual I’m appalled by them so what should I expect.”
Finally, what can you tell us about the sound and content of your forthcoming album Songs from the Gutter?
“It’s a tribute to a great artist Edith Piaf. If an artist is successful in their lifetime it is usually a sure sign they’re shit. Look at figurative artists from the 60’s now they’re being recognised at the time they were vilified. Piaf was one of the few who achieved and deserved both fame and respect.”
WORDS: MAX FIGGETT
For more information and concert dates, head to tigerlillies.com (if you dare)