lillies not flower power
Next week, for the third year in a row, the eccentric London trio returns to St. Petersburg...
by Sergey Chernov
The Tiger Lillies are a shining example of a band that people either love or hate.
Next week, for the third year in a row, the eccentric London trio
returns to St. Petersburg, where there is a strong cult following for
singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques' songs about the London underworld,
prostitution, murder and just about every sex act imaginable -
including with sheep, flies and almost anything else that comes to
The Tiger Lillies - described on their Web site as "the Criminal
Castrati's Anarchic Brechtian Blues Trio," a reference to Jacques
operatic falsetto voice - made its debut in the city in May 2001, a
year after it first played in Moscow, where it met with great success.
The group's Russian agent is the Moscow-based label Bad Taste, which
promotes its tours in the country and re-releases its CDs for the local
market. The first two years of the band's Russian exploits are
documented on the CD "Live in Russia 2000-2001," which was released
last year on Bad Taste.
"It's quite emotional music. It's quite wild music. It seems to talk to
people," Jacques said in a telephone interview last week, explaining
the trio's popularity in Russia.
"And Eastern people seem generally a little less conditioned by ...
capitalist ... market forces, so they can react at a slightly more
natural level to music if it's emotional [and] wild," Jacques said.
"And accordions are always quite big in Russia as well, so maybe that
has something to do with it."
Jacques, who sings and plays accordion, is backed by double-bass player
Adrian Stout and drummer Adrian Huge, whose appearance was once
described by David Byrne as "James Joyce on drums."
However, the penchant for weirdness is not a purely Russian prerogative, according to Jacques.
"We play in places like San Francisco, and you get all these kinds of
weird people coming out," he said. "Wild, weird people - they really
like it as well."
Apart from cabaret songs, German playwright Bertold Brecht and German
songwriter-composer Kurt Weill, Jacques' songwriting style is
influenced by gypsy songs and the French chanson tradition, from Edith
Piaf to Jacques Brel. The band, which started its career playing
concerts in small pubs, employs theatrics at its shows, augmenting its
music with makeup and stage props.
Jacques said the forthcoming concerts at Red Club will differ a lot
from its first local show, held at the unlikely venue of the Manege
Central Exhibition Hall, which he described as "a government town-hall
type of place, with pictures on the walls."
"I'll be doing more aggressive-type music, faster songs," Jacques said. "I try to adapt the way we play to the environment."
"If it's more a theater-type place, the people are sitting down, it's a
more cabaret-type show," he said. "And if it's people standing up, then
I tend to do more aggressive, faster music."
The Tiger Lillies, who have accumulated a vast, continually expanding
body of songs since starting out in 1989, will probably bring some new
ones on this visit to St. Petersburg, according to Jacques - although
even he sounded confused at having to select the material for the gigs.
"I write new songs all the time, so there will be new songs," he said. "I have a very large repertoire of songs."
"I never know what I'm really going to play, so I could be playing a
whole set of songs no one heard before," Jacques said. "Or I could be
playing quite a few songs that ... I don't work with lists, I don't
start from a list of songs. I just play what I feel is right. As we've
recorded ten albums, there's a lot of different songs to perform from."
"I just tend to play quite randomly what songs I feel like playing," he
said. "I've got about five or six songs I'm learning at the moment.
Probably we'll perform those ones. It'll be a mixture of new songs and
other songs - which I may or may not have performed last time I was in
The Tiger Lillies play Red Club on April 19 and April 20. Both gigs start at 8 p.m.