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Music: Beyond the edge – Tiger lillies

Admired by the great and good of comedy and always a hit with audiences, you might think the Tiger Lillies would be perfect for television. Chris McCall asks why their often-shocking material tends to be overlooked.

Posted by Chris McCall, Thu 15 Jul 2010 in Fest Magazine

In the past six months, British television has broadcast a shark being dissected, a man attempting to eat a seven pound sausage and Michael Winner being willingly invited into people’s homes.

Such are the depths it is prepared to sink to, you would be forgiven for thinking that the boundaries marking what is and is not acceptable viewing were abolished in TV land a long time ago.

But you would be wrong. We, the feeble viewing public, apparently must still be protected from the filth perpetuated by bands such as The Tiger Lillies.

Admired by the great and good of comedy and always a hit with audiences, you might think the Tiger Lillies would be perfect for television. Chris McCall asks why their often-shocking material tends to be overlooked.

Posted by Chris McCall, Thu 15 Jul 2010

in Fest Magazine, the Ultimate Edinburgh Festival Guide

In the past six months, British television has broadcast a shark being dissected, a man attempting to eat a seven pound sausage and Michael Winner being willingly invited into people’s homes.

Such are the depths it is prepared to sink to, you would be forgiven for thinking that the boundaries marking what is and is not acceptable viewing were abolished in TV land a long time ago.

But you would be wrong. We, the feeble viewing public, apparently must still be protected from the filth perpetuated by bands such as The Tiger Lillies.

The cabaret-punk trio are celebrated across the world, play several sold-out tours a year and have numerous celebrity fans. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, asked them personally to play at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival he curated in May. But TV bosses would seemingly rather eat their own heads than consider giving this frightful lot any screen time.

“They will not let us appear on television,” says Martyn Jacques, founder, leader and frontman of The Tiger Lillies.

“Anytime we appear on radio, they insist on taking us aside and giving us a talking-to. We worry people. It’s all about barriers and limits, and we obviously cross these barriers just a little too much.”

This is a shame, as television is the one medium that could fully capture the spectacle of this most beguiling of bands. They formed in 1989 in Soho, that spiritual home of English debauchery. The band’s name was borrowed from a local prostitute, who was fond of wearing striped fur.

Gradually they built a reputation based on their live performances, which are equally shocking and entertaining. They will return to the Fringe this year for a month-long residence at the Pleasance Courtyard, promising a show which will revisit their extensive back catalogue.

The Tiger Lillies proudly proclaim themselves as "The World’s Foremost Death Oompah band.” The Daily Telegraph called them “one of the weirdest and most disconcerting bands of all time, right up there with Captain Beefheart in his Trout Mask Replica days”.

Just how weird are we talking? Well, Jacques usually sings in an extraordinary high and penetrating falsetto whilst accompanying himself on accordion, piano or ukulele – while dressed as a sort of psychotic-looking clown.

But it’s the songs, or more accurately their subject matter, that make this band truly extraordinary. Subjects tackled in the typical Tiger Lillies show include incest, buggery, dildos, heroin addiction and infanticide. It goes without saying that it’s all done in the best possible taste.

I ask Jacques, what on earth does your mother make of all this?

“Oooh, that’s a good question,” he purrs. “She’s never heard any of the songs, or been to any of the shows, but she’s proud that I’m making a living and doing well for myself. She forgets the name of the band most of the time, which is a good thing as people can’t freak out in her company when she tells them.”

Why do The Tiger Lillies have numerous famous fans, yet lack fame themselves?

“I don’t know what Matt Groening would say. I think Matt, in the work he does, deals with a lot of life issues. But the one bit he doesn’t deal with is the bit we deal with.”

Jacques is keen to expand upon this theme. “One critic reviewed our shows and wrote that ‘The Tiger Lillies deal with the wrong kind of perversion’. I suppose that’s right. We deal with things that smell a bit. On TV there is so much sex and swearing, but they would still never dream of having us on. We worry them too much.”

This lack of mainstream exposure doesn’t rankle Jacques as such, it more perplexes him. He suddenly asks me what I think the reason for it is.

I mumble a reply about television working on precedents, and predict that The Tiger Lillies will appear on TV within 10 years.

Jacques sounds less than convinced. “Well, if you’re right, I promise I'll send you a fiver.”

For now at least, the revolution will not be televised.

SOURCE: Fest Magazine

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