News interview

Amid accordions, drumkits fashioned from toys and cutlery.......Martyn talks to ITV.

Amid accordions, drumkits fashioned from toys and cutlery, a fearful falsetto frontman and a bevy of famous fans including Marilyn Manson, Franz Ferdinand and David Byrne, the fabulously surreal Tiger Lillies have been thrilling audiences for nearly 20 years, most notably for the West End / Broadway smash hit Shockheaded Peter.

This darkly theatrical trio consist of Martyn Jacques - on vocals and accordion, Adrian Huge, who is much more than just a drummer and Adrian Stout, on double bass and musical saw.

Frontman Jacques tells about conquering the world, burlesque-style...

Click to watch a Realplayer clip of the Tiger Lillies in action

What inspired you to form the Tiger Lillies?

Martyn Jacques (vocals, accordion): It was about 18 years ago and the main inspiration was an accordion. I was searching for a sound, a unique signature, and at that point I was going to start a group ? I was already 30 and I'd been searching for about 10 years, and one day, on a whim, I decided I'd go out and buy an old second-hand accordion.

I started to play it and I listened to it, and thought, ?I know, I'll sing in a high voice and play the accordion'. And that was it, and I thought this should be enough to catapult me to superstardom. And I was wrong!

But anyway I formed the Tiger Lillies within about six months. I couldn't really play the accordion, but I just liked the combination of the sound with my voice.

I thought about how I could get the fullest sound I could get with a small group of people, so I thought an acoustic double bass and a small drum-kit with a drummer who plays with brushes. I advertised, I think, in Loot and the only drummer that turned up was Adrian, so that wasn't difficult?

Shockheaded Peter is probably what, away from your main following, most people would know you for ? it was such a huge hit, is there any chance it will return to the London stage, or do you have plans for something else along those lines?

We're going to be doing a feature film of it, I think we might be doing it next year, so who knows, maybe if the feature film was to become a success it would stimulate a restaging of the theatre show.

The director's name is Frank Budgen and he's made some very interesting, award-winning adverts. He's talking about shooting it in South America in a very strange city that was built in the 19th century by a very odd millionaire.

Shockheaded Peter was of course based on cautionary children's tales, which are frightening in their own right, whose idea was it to pick up on these gory fables and fairytales and translate them into a show?

That was the concept of the producer, Michael Morris. He has a company called Cultural Industry. It was his idea to do the show.

Originally his idea was to take an artist from different mediums, people involved in dance, people involved in film, people involved in theatre, and music, and he was going to take each one of these people and have each one execute one of the songs or stories and then put it all together.

But he found when he got all these people together it was virtually impossible to get them to even have another meeting together let alone do a show ? they all had their other projects so it never worked, so he said to me, ?You might as well do them all'.

So I then went and wrote the songs and then we took it from there.

There's a lot happening for the TLs at the moment ? as well as your albums Live In Soho and Urine Palace, you have a book of lyrics and photographs which has just been released ? was that through popular demand?

Yes, it's available on It's by this funny man, he's German and he's been doing our album covers for most of our 18 years, and he's never charged us anything but he has complete artistic control, so we have absolutely no idea what the albums are going to look like before they're produced?

Some of the images he's created through the years are rather shocking.

We've had a few nasty shocks!

Even by Tiger Lillies standards?!

Even by Tiger Lillies standards, yes! He loves to create controversial images, and he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants, so yes.

He decided it was time to make a book , so he started putting things together, it's been a labour of love, it's taken about two years. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

You recorded Urine Palace with a 35-piece orchestra ? that must have been incredible.

Yes, we recorded it about a year ago. We turned up in a small town in northern Sweden on the Friday night and rehearsed with them once, and again on Saturday morning and then we recorded the album.

It's quite tense at times, with beautiful arrangements, and a beautiful live full orchestral sound. It's a bit like the way they would have recorded, say, an Edith Piaf album or something.

I'm very pleased with it. They're mainly Tiger Lillies songs, but there's also ?My Funny Valentine' which is by Hart and Rodgers I think, and there's also a song inspired by Alexander Vertinsky, who was a very famous Russian cabaret singer from the ?20s to the 40s, one of the few people who Stalin didn't kill, something about him being a poet.

He wrote a beautiful song called ?Yellow Angel', and I adapted the lyrics with the help of some Russian friends.

You also worked with the Kronos on (the Grammy-nominated) Gorey End - how did that collaboration come about?

I got a letter from Edward Gorey, who was quite a famous underground illustrator, and he wrote me this strange letter and said he was a big fan of the Tiger Lillies and that he would love to work with us.
I was very pleased to work with him, I am a big fan of his books , they were very much a similar sort of thing to the Tiger Lillies, he worked independently, produced most of his books himself.

He said he'd like us to make a show together so I was very excited and I was just about to fly over to see him, I wrote him some songs - and then he died two days before. He was quite old. I was very upset about that and I decided I certainly wanted to do something with these songs.
Then the Kronos Quartet came to see us play in San Francisco and they said they were big fans and that they wanted to do an album with us, so I thought about the story of Edward Gorey ? we collaborated on that and made an album, and it was a surprising success, really, nominated for a Grammy and stuff like that.

Got signed up by EMI who released it, so it was a nice project to do.

Your other album, Live In Soho, is also out now, Soho seems a perfect place to see the band, and you lived in Soho yourself ? do you still draw a lot of inspiration from the area?

Yes, I lived here from 1989 through most of the ?90s, and I lived upstairs from a clip-joint, a topless bar. I got to know the people who lived in Soho, there was a sort of Soho underculture? it was good, an interesting time for writing and I drew a lot of inspiration from that time.

Despite the darkness in your music, there is obviously plenty of humour ? do you ever find you have fans who take it all a bit seriously and are generally just quite scary?

It's quite interesting, people come to gigs and you hear them laughing in inexplicable places, they start laughing and you sometimes wonder?even I wonder sometimes, well, I used to, I've got used to it now.

I think it's nervous, you are making people feel uncomfortable and a lot of the laughter is uncomfortable ? and I think the most interesting comedy, clowning, for example, is usually most interesting when it's on the edge, where you're not quite sure whether you should laugh or not ? so that's what we tend to do ? make people a little uncomfortable?but then that takes you into another world and then you have relief after the tension.
I can imagine the TLs must be popular in places like Berlin where there seems to be such an appreciation for Cabaret and the macabre ? do you find your audiences differ wherever you go? Where would you say you prefer to perform?

Generally speaking when we're playing in big cities we have the most fun. Places like Berlin, New York, Moscow, San Francisco, London or Paris, you know, those are the places where we are the most appreciated.
They are certainly the sort of places where artists congregate and the audiences tend to be more artistic and intellectual, people who are at least into the arts?we're not very big in middle America, for instance (laughs).

If you're in the rock business, when you fill a stadium in middle America that's when you've made it. We certainly haven't! We don't do a lot of gigs in middle America and when we do 100 people dressed in black turn up.

You collaborated with Alexander Hacke from Einsturzende Neubauten on Mountains of Madness ? tell us a little about that.

Yes, it's an interesting collaboration based on the works of HP Lovecraft who was a very obscure writer of horror, a little bit like Edgar Allan Poe, Gothic style short stories.

It wasn't something which, for me, was immediately obvious to do, I'm not that into the horror genre.

But I wrote these songs and they came out in a sort of psychological way, sort of fear and the subconscious mind and Alexander wrote this very nice electronic soundscape for them, and it worked really well.

It's a great show, we're doing a tour of it around Europe and there was a DVD made of it as well.

You have a lot of famous fans, Marilyn Manson being one of them ? who wanted to get married to one of your music ? which song do you think you would have recommended had he gone ahead and booked you?
Banging in the Nails, I think. That's a popular one. There's lots of funny, dark, sinister songs ? they're mixed with a lot of humour, you know. I think the style of music we make is pretty unusual, I don't think there's a lot of other people doing it.

Find out more about the Tiger Lillies at New albums Urine Palace and Live In Soho are out now on Misery Guts Music.