Punch, Judy and punk

The Tiger Lillies are back with a vengeance.

By Sergey Chernov

of The St. Petersburg Times

The Tiger Lillies are back with a vengeance.

Arts + Features

By Sergey Chernov
Staff Writer
Issue #1360 (24), Friday, March 28, 2008

Punk-cabaret favorites The Tiger Lillies, who performed in Russia in June, return with two new albums. ?Love and War,? an unlikely tribute to 16th century composer Claudio Monteverdi, was released last year, while ?7 Deadly Sins,? the band?s 21st album, with each song devoted to one particular vice, came out earlier this month. The band?s entire career has been covered in The Tiger Lillies Book that contains the lyrics to 282 songs and 340 photographs, mostly previously unpublished. Formed in 1989, The Tiger Lillies feature Martyn Jacques, the band?s falsetto singer and squeeze box player, double bass player Adrian Stout and drummer Adrian Huge. Jacques spoke to The St. Petersburg Times by phone from his home in London.

You are returning to Russia with two new albums, what kind of albums are they?

The first one [?Love and War?] was recorded for the Edinburgh [International] Festival last summer, and was an album based on works of Monteverdi, who was the person who was meant to have written the first opera [ever]. He used to write quite hard lyrics, hardcore lyrics, and so on.

The organizer of the Edinburgh Festival thought it might be quite nice if The Tiger Lillies would do a night as a tribute to Monteverdi, because he saw, in some way, a link between Monteverdi and The Tiger Lillies. [Monteverdi] was actually quite a controversial figure in his time. So that was the idea.

It was an unusual project for us. I wrote the songs, and recorded them, and they were all written specifically just for one show, for one concert. It is something I?ve never done before, you know, to actually write a whole album just for one concert.

How did the concert go?

It was in a very large venue in Edinburgh with 2,000 people. It was a big show, but it was very difficult, because we are talking about the Edinburgh International Festival. There?s the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but this was actually for the International Festival.

The International Festival is actually quite conservative. A lot of people would go to see events at the International Festival who are used to listening to Beethoven and Bach recitals, so there was basically a very large audience of people who were expecting something like Bach or Beethoven... Old people interested in classical music.

So it was quite a difficult show for us. It wasn?t actually much fun. The audience actually didn?t really like what we were doing, and quite a lot of them actually walked out. They didn?t even wait for the encore, they just walked out. It was quite a difficult concert.

So you have mixed impressions?

It was, I think, done on purpose by the artistic director of the festival, because he wanted to try to do something that was a bit more dangerous and a bit more avant-garde than the usual Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, that sort of thing. So he managed to cause a little bit of a shock by booking The Tiger Lillies, I guess. But it was a strange one, really. It was obviously not particularly nice to have people walking out of your show before you are finished.

That was ?Love and War,? and it?s quite a violent album. It has a very strong anti-war sentiment running through it. It?s actually critical of the soldiers who go off to war and attacks them for fighting for these powers, they?re just pawns in the game and things like that.

It?s a very anti-war album, I guess.

What about ?7 Deadly Sins??

?7 Deadly Sins? is the newest album that is going to be performed in Soho [in London] in April. It is like a new theater show, which is going to tour and, who knows, will come to Russia one day.

It?s quite small, a cabaret show. It has a puppeteer, it has puppets ? very famous puppets in England called Punch and Judy. Hand puppets, street puppet entertainment.

It?s been done for several hundred years now, and it was used quite a lot in the seaside resorts to entertain children. I?m quite obsessed with Punch and Judy. It?s very violent. The classical scene in the Punch and Judy show [is when] Punch kills his baby, then he kills his wife, then he kills several other puppets. He?s a kind of a psychopath who kills everybody, all the other puppets... He has a club and he beats them all to death with the club.

It?s a strange, kind of ambiguous thing, as I said, these puppets are used to entertain children, and yet it actually has a very horrible character, who actually kills ? a murderer!

I devised this show in which you have these two puppets and it tells of the seven deadly sins. [The album] ?7 Deadly Sins? takes its inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. He has a painting in Vienna, called ?The Last Judgment,? which is a triptych, where you have a picture of the Garden of Eden, and then a picture of the seven deadly sins, and then the third part of the triptych is Hell, where all the sinners performing the seven deadly sins will go.

It?s a narrative story, if you think about it. It starts off in the Garden of Eden, we get cast out of the Garden of Eden, you commit these sins, these seven sins, and then you end up in Hell. I used this narrative story and had the puppets tell the story through the eyes of Punch and Judy, and then I?ve written a series of songs on the seven sins and Hell and about Heaven.

Will you perform these new songs in Russia?

We will be performing songs from the album. Probably all the songs from ?7 Deadly Sins? album will be performed. So you?ll hear the songs, but obviously you won?t see the puppets, because the puppets won?t be there.

Will you perform songs from ?Love and War??

Not really, no. Because ?Love and War? was just written and performed for that one show. We don?t really perform songs from that album anymore...

The ?7 Deadly Sins? songs are ones that we?re playing at the moment, and that?s actually a living show.

You have a great number of songs now collected in ?The Tiger Lillies Book.?

Yes, a beautiful book... The graphic designer?s name is bLUE, but his real name is Klaus Pelzer. He?s actually been a fan of The Tiger Lillies now for 15 years, I guess. He?s been following us around. I think he came with us and photographed us on our first tour to America. He?s a real fan. He?s taken a lot of photographs for us through the years. He also designed most of our albums.

Yes, he made this book, which is really a labor of love for him. Because he?s never going to get ? he may, eventually ? get the money back. It?s a very expensive book, beautifully put together, beautifully bound. It?s cost him a lot of money to do it. It?s his money that he?s spent on it.

It has all the songs from nineteen Tiger Lillies albums or however many, I?ve lost count, with all the photographs stretching back over the last 15 years.

If you?re a real Tiger Lillies fan, it?s a nice present, a coffee-table book.

So what are the Seven Deadly Sins, according to The Tiger Lillies?

The Seven Deadly Sins according to The Tiger Lillies are the same as those suggested in the Fifth Century by a Catholic Pope. Basically I have written, one for each sin plus a prologue set in the Garden of Eden and several songs dealing with Hell. For me it?s a very interesting subject. I think we all experience the so-called seven sins in our day-to-day lives. I like becoming more aware of these so-called sins in my life. You can take it very metaphorically. Many of these sins do lead to ?Hell? even if only just in the sense of feeling discomfort or unpleasantness.

There are some other people taking part in the ?7 Deadly Sins? show in London. Who are they? What are they doing for the show?

There are only two, one is called Nathan Evans and he is a puppeteer who runs a gay cabaret club called Vauxhall Vile in a well-known gay pub in London called the Vauxhall Tavern. The other is a burlesque performer who has performed in his club, Ophelia Bitz.

What?s the band?s idea as applied to ?7 Deadly Sins? (and maybe ?Love and War?) ? do you approach serious, complex issues with some kind of humor and simplicity to reveal the simple truth behind it? Or what could be your own definition?

Well, I think there is a basic simplicity in most of what The Tiger Lillies do so when I approach a subject usually a simplification process takes place. I?m not a particularly well-read or intellectual person. I am more an entertainer and artist.

The Tiger Lillies, perform at 7 p.m. Port on Friday.