Sin When You're Winning

Mr Punch, a fire-eating harpy and the haunt of Jack the Ripper ? a day in the life of enigmatic leader of The Tiger Lillies, Martyn Jacques. Zo? Parano? reveals all ?

Mr Punch, a fire-eating harpy and the haunt of Jack the Ripper ? a day in the life of enigmatic leader of The Tiger Lillies, Martyn Jacques. Zo? Parano? reveals all ?

?People don?t want me on their TV shows as they?re afraid I?ll start talking about fucking sheep. But how come it?s OK to slit a sheep?s throat, but not to make love to it? I?ve never fucked a sheep, and I have no intention of doing so. But it?s something to think about.?

This is just one of many salient points made by Martyn Jacques, frontman of the Tiger Lillies (noted for their legendary production of Shockheaded Peter) and all-round boundary-pusher.

Yes, we are in conversation with the bowler-sporting accordionist of soprano vocalisations and mad lyrics fame ? and who better to speak on the subject of the Seven Deadly Sins, the inspiration and title of the Tiger Lillies? latest project (and album) in collaboration with burlesque performer Ophelia Bitz and puppeteer Nathan Evans.

Jacques knows the Sins as if they are dubious old friends, and his time spent living in the dirty core of London provides an ever-flowing spring of inspiration.

But while anyone who knows the Tiger Lillies will be aware of how easy it is to laugh uproariously at their heavenly/hellish shows, Jacques?s concepts come from a place of very dark reality.

?That?s my life, my history,? he begins, ?I?m inspired by the people I meet. When I was 19 I used to live in Archway and Finsbury Park, my girlfriend was a junkie and I used to spend time with junkies ? I saw them cold turkey, sweating and withdrawing, and the crime. Then when I lived in Rupert Street, Soho, I would practise piano all day and then stay up all night in illegal drinking bars with prostitutes and pimps.

?I?ve been lucky I think. You?ve got to be a bit of a vampire in a way, when you?re an artist, you take things from life. I can write with authority, and when you?ve seen the dark side, the seven deadly sins, you?re very comfortable singing about them.

?I was nearly murdered, I?ve looked in the face of someone who wants to kill me, so I know what anger is, I know what addiction is, I write things which are real. Obviously a lot of the people I knew back then are dead now.?

The glittering theatricality of how this macabre threesome conjure themes of distinct nastiness will resonate with anyone who has felt a secret thrill whenever they read about Jack the Ripper or fellow Victorian terror Spring-Heeled Jack. (Must be something about the name Jack. Or Jacques?)
This serves them well, as the Seven Deadly Sins enjoys a London run throughout April at the New Players Theatre under the shadowy arches of Villiers Street, Embankment. The venue is an old music hall, and a place that, apparently, has connections to the Ripper too.

So what can we expect? In a nutshell, a gay Punch and Judy (Jude, actually), wry punk cabaret with an operatic twist and a nod to Hieronymous Bosch.

It?s no surprise Jacques harbours a fascination with Mr Punch ? it was a matter of time until the Tiger Lillies turned their attentions to the wooden wife-beater who has kids in raptures but simultaneously slips into our nightmares.

?I?ve had an ongoing obsession with Punch and Judy, so I decided to do something with that, and I was always interested in doing something on the Seven Deadly Sins,? explains Martyn.

?And the main inspiration comes from Hieronymus Bosch. The Last Judgement. Going from heaven down to earth, going through the seven sins on Earth and then going to hell.
?Then I had the idea of using that Punch and Judy man to tell the story. It?s actually Punch and Jude, it?s a gay couple. They?re telling this tale going from the Garden of Eden to Earth, then they commit their sins ?? Religious Education, Tiger Lillies-style.

?Then we?ve got a burlesque performer (Ophelia) who announces the sins and enacts them through dancing and breathing fire. And there?s this guy, Lukas Maximilian Huller, in Austria who?s built a set, he?s been working on a very large-scale work on the Seven Deadly Sins for the last few years, he?s made a back-drop based on the Bosch painting. He?s going to have an exhibition in the theatre too.

?It?s going to be more of a cabaret show than Shockheaded Peter. That had a budget, there were more people involved, directors, set designers, actors, puppeteers, it was a much bigger show and had a much more theatrical discipline to it, whereas this show is more in the spirit of music hall cabaret.? With such a show, in such a venue, who knows what will be invoked?

Yes, we did mention laughter at Tiger Lillies shows, and maybe those of you who haven?t had the louche pleasure of experiencing an evening with them might wonder what we mean by that. Well, you couldn?t devote your life to the dark side without a sizeable dollop of black humour.

?The music we make is quite balanced - there?s lots of humour in it, it?s very ironic,? says Jacques, ?And kids love us, they think we?re naughty and funny, not like normal grown-ups.

?Every night I go out on stage and some people say I become almost like a shaman ? I go a bit mad. I?m expressing anger and sadness and fury, all those emotions, it?s quite draining. A bit on the edge emotionally. I?ve survived for the past 20 years though, hopefully I?ll keep going for another 20 or 30.?

With the burlesque revival and hunger for all things cabaret, The Tiger Lillies are pleased to be de rigeur.

?It?s quite funny isn?t it?? ponders Jacques, ?I could have been doing something which was fashionable when I started and now is deeply unfashionable, and I?d be back on the dole or cleaning dishes. But as it is it worked out really well.
?When we started out it was unfashionable, nobody talked about cabaret, nobody wore bowler hats. Now it?s become fashionable, which is nice, we?ve been doing it for a long time.

?It?s good being ahead of the game - avant garde. I suppose that?s the true meaning of avant garde, as opposed to men in small pubs making squeaking noises on saxophones. Avant garde has been misappropriated to mean something atonal, but I think the real meaning is ahead of its time, and that?s something we?ve achieved, which is good.?

For those of us shell-shocked by the glut of reality TV and manufactured pop (much scarier than anything the Tiger Lillies sing about), Jacques has words for those aiming to take their inspirations and create an alchemy of uniqueness: ?If you?re inspired by unusual things then you can come up with something new. You have to listen and think and put things together.

?A lot of artists and musicians don?t get that the most important thing is originality ? I don?t think that?s explained enough. From the place of originality you can create things that are beautiful and interesting. I spent 15 years before I started the Tiger Lillies searching for that.?

The Tiger Lillies play the New Players Theatre from 7-26 April 2008.