Life of the Party

Tiger Lillies founder Martyn Jacques talks to Katalin Hanniker about his huge success and unhappy childhood in Maidenhead and Slough


Tiger Lillies founder Martyn Jacques talks to Katalin Hanniker about his huge success and unhappy childhood in Maidenhead and Slough

Lewd, grotesque, blasphemous, poetic, spellbinding? How to sum up the

Tiger Lillies? Outrageously original, they defy categorisation, yet

they attract a cult following around the globe.

So the

first surprise was just how courteous Martyn Jacques sounded. His

lilting pessimism was charming, yet I found myself trying to get the

measure of a man who, though disarmingly frank, somehow managed to give

little away. And this was the second surprise: "Oh hello," said Martyn

when I finally got through to him."I've got something you'll like: I

was born in Slough." "Really!? Does this explain why you once wrote a

song called 'Drop A Bomb on Slough'? Or do you have fond memories?"

He laughs: "Fond ?  no, that's not the right word. I was born in

Wexham and spent my childhood there. My parents were upwardly mobile,

before everyone started being upwardly mobile in the 1980s, then we

moved to Maidenhead and I lived there until I left for university."


was a very awkward child and adolescent. I was a lonely misfit. But

that was 30 years ago. I'm over it now, I'm 45 now. "It was a painful

time, but it probably explains my songs. All my friends went to

Maidenhead Grammar and I ended up at the secondary modern there, Gordon

School. It was really rough. There were knife-fights in the playground,

regularly, and loads of racism. "More recently, I've spent 25 years

battling as an artist. It has been incredibly difficult. We never ever

stop touring. We're travelling all the time and flying everywhere.

Every morning I wake up and think, 'where I am and which direction is

the bathroom?'

"Isn't that sweetened by your success?"

"Well yes. Now I have achieved a level of success and I make a good

living. But for years I was totally broke, surviving in various dodgy

ways. So mum was right. All mums of every species want their offspring

to survive."

Without any further prompting I get the A-Z history of the formation of the

Tiger Lillies. OK, so he's done this many times before, but it's still

fascinating. "I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do," he

continues. "I got an accordion when I was about 30 and that was the

trigger. I can sing well in a high voice. My Dad worked at Mars in

Slough for 25 years and then he bought a big launderette on the Slough

Trading Estate. I used to sing in there in front of the machines. It

had beautiful acoustics. "I thought to myself, 'I have a very original

style and sound'. So I put an ad in the paper for a double bass player

and a drummer with brushes, because I wanted a gentle sound. It was as

simple as that.

"That was 15 years ago. Adrian Huge and

Adrian Stout replied and we started playing together straight away. We

quickly had great success, but in a small way. "We played little folk

clubs and people loved it. People would cry at our performances because

our songs were very melancholic and quite emotional. "I thought we

needed to break out, so we started playing bars and pubs. And of course

they're noisy places and we had to contend with people shouting at each

other above the jukebox and the fruit machines. So we had to be much

more aggressive to get peoples' attention. That's when we developed our

hostile phase
"The next phase I call our theatre phase. Arts

producers would come along and then invite us to play in theatres. So

we went from a quiet folksy stage to a noisy, rowdy phase to the

theatre, which gave me a blank canvas of sound and I was able to use

the theatres' dynamics to deliver a combination of beautiful ballads

and rowdy, beer-swilling songs.

Now what we do is called

'cabaret'." "We do 300 concerts a year and we are constantly

travelling. It's the only way for us to make a living because unlike

bastard rock stars who sit around on their arses for six months we

don't sell records en masse. Artistically we may have merit, but we're

difficult to categorise. "We have a fabulous time. We had a standing

ovation from 1,000 people in New York. I'm very happy, but just very