tiger lillies: they're big in russia

Frenetic songs about deviant sex, murder and suicide, performed by a crazed trio driven by accordion and operatic vocals - what can be more appropriate for a Russian club-goer?

by Sergey Chernov


Frenetic songs about deviant sex, murder and suicide, performed by a

crazed trio driven by accordion and operatic vocals - what can be more

appropriate for a Russian club-goer?

The U.K. band The Tiger Lillies, which caused a stir in Moscow last

year, has returned, but this time it is set to conquer St. Petersburg.

The Lillies' early Russian fan Sergei Shnurov of Leningrad admitted he was influenced by the band's recordings.

"Before recording [the album] 'Mat (Bez Elektrichestva)' I listened to

The Tiger Lillies during the whole summer [1999]," said Shnurov. "'Mat'

was mainly recorded under the influence of [the band] and it can be

heard on the album."

"It seemed very strange and quite anarchistic in a way - I really had a

fantastic time," said The Tiger Lillies' vocalist and accordion player

Martyn Jacques about his days in Moscow in a telephone interview last


Unlike with any other Western bands, the Moscow club public immediately felt a kindred spirit.

"I think perhaps the accordion is one thing," said Jacques who was a

long ago inspired by a video of a Russian singer playing accordion on a

bridge (he doesn't remember the name, though).

"As a matter of fact there's quite a lot of passion and emotion in

music and it's something which probably appeals to the Russians," said

Jacques. "I actually listen to some Russian songs and there's a

reference to Russian music in my music."

The band's name goes back to the time Jacques lived in London's Soho

and wrote numerous songs about lowlife populated with prostitutes and

drug dealers. Tiger Lilly is a name of both a mythical prostitute and a


"It's just a name - not really specifically named after anything," said Jacques.

The Tiger Lillies' passionate songs, one of which rhymes "waiter" and

"masturbator," immediately evoke Weimar Republic cabaret and such names

as Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill.

"All my life I have listened to various styles of music and styles and

whatever, and I just take different elements and put them all together

and hopefully create something that is unique," said Jacques.

"So Brecht and Weill are two people which I really admire among many others. There are many other influences as well."

Jacques also cites gypsy songs and the French tradition of chanson,

from Edith Piaf to Jacques Brel, but the "comic side of what we are

doing is probably English," he said.

The theatrical aspect of the band, which once took part in a drama performance, is strongly felt in its music and stage act.

"I pull a lot of faces and we use a few props and stuff when we perform, we wear makeup sometimes," said Jacques.

Although some articles say that David Byrne was impressed by the band

or even "discovered" it, Jacques dismissed it as an exaggeration.

"It's not really true. He saw a video clip of the band, and he agreed

to have us play on a bill [with Byrne's label Luaka Bop's artists] some

six or seven years ago. And he described the drummer as looking like

James Joyce."

The Tiger Lillies' gloomy subject matter probably scares away pop fans,

but as Jacques once said, the band's audience are "people who don't fit

in." He believes it is about the same as for David Lynch's and Jim

Jarmusch's films.

"I'm trying to sing about dark, murky, sinister things because it

interests me and I think it's more creative to me as an artist, it's

more interesting [to sing] about strange subjects than writing love

songs," said Jacques, who devoted one of The Tiger Lillies' albums to


"We're not really a rock and roll band at all, and we don't really get

any attention from that area - of the music press. Really we're very

much separate from that, we're actually quite far away from that

world," he said.

"I have no antagonism towards rock music as such. There's jazz, rock

and folk music - what we do isn't just really fit into any of those


Leningrad's Shnurov attributed The Tiger Lillies's phenomenal

popularity in Moscow to the tastes the club public there. "In Moscow

they are fans of 'hyper-live' music, when everything is not very

concise and it's live in a hypertrophied way - sort of doubly live," he


The Tiger Lillies in concert at the Manezh Exhibition Hall, 1

Issakevskaya Ploshchad, at 8 p.m. on May 16. Tel. 314-82-53. Tickets

cost 150 rubles.