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

St. Petersburg."

The Tiger Lillies play Red Club on April 19 and April 20. Both gigs start at 8 p.m.