Review: The Tiger Lillies

tigerlilliesCategory     Cabaret
Genres     music
Group     Bound & Gagged Comedy by arrangement with Tim Whitehead Management
Venue     Underbelly, Bristo Square
Event Website
Date     6-17 August
Time     22:20
Duration     1 hour
Suitability     16+
Warnings     Age 16+
Country of Origin     England

The Tiger Lillies returned to the Edinburgh Festival for a limited run of just 11 performances, entitled the Either/Or Cabaret.  They performed a mix of songs from their most recent shows and albums along with some old favourites.  Often described as the forefathers of Brechtian Punk Cabaret, these three characters are a cult British musical trio formed in 1989 by singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques.
Theirs is a distinctive panache which hints of a macabre pre-war Berlin with a sardonic edge.  Current members included Martyn Jacques – vocals, accordion, and piano, Mike Pickering – drums, percussion and backing vocals, and Adrian Stout – double bass, backing vocals, musical saw and theremin.
Characterised as provocative and avant-garde, they combine cabaret or alt cabaret, vaudeville, music hall and street theatre.
The naughty little prankster Martyn Jacques is our mordant compere and main vox for this evening’s sacrilege.  His vocals range from falsetto screams to growls and seductive warbles as he mischievously winds his way through each number with a fiendish sneer and a snarl.

Martyn has stated in interviews that he has been influenced and inspired by the circus. He grew up with punk, and while they weren’t heroes when he was young, he feels he has been influenced by the attitude and the alienation of the genre.
Their album Circus Songs, romanticises the history of traveling and gypsies, and Jacques has alluded before to one of his primary influences being the ThreePenny Opera.  However, he recounts that the Tiger Lillies have always been considered an artier band who generally play to older crowds.
He believes in credibility and craves honour in the artistry and yet he has no illusions of grandeur and feels that the Tiger Lillies are not for mass consumption.  He feels that their audience has a kind of ‘specialist knowledge’ or distinct taste to even find them.
Upon further research into this delightfully wicked trio, I was quite amused to find out that the Tiger Lillies fan base consists of names such as Matt Groening, Edward Gorey and Jhonen Vasquez.
Gorey was such a fan of “Banging in the Nails”, that he and Martyn ended up collaborating together when Gorey sent him a box of unpublished work, which he went to work on turning into songs.  Unfortunately Edward Gorey died before they could see the project through to completion. Martyn made the album anyway, and it was nominated for a Grammy which he finds amusing.
Martyn’s unique vocal stylings and macabre song content mean that he has had difficulty in making the individuality successful due to the industries need to categorise music neatly.
The Tiger Lillies have a bit of a cult following and Martyn finds a ‘subversive delight’ by shocking his audiences who sometimes find it all a bit much for their oh so delicate palates.
The Tiger Lillies are certainly not for the easily offended and I took great delight in watching the audience around me titter nervously as the threesome cavorted through scandalous tunes comprising themes of bestiality, prostitution, desecration and many other depravities.
Their musical style is mainly influenced by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill’s masterpiece The Threepenny Opera and pre-war Berlin cabaret and circus.
Adrian Stout, smart in his tartan suit has a bit of a Victorian air about him, and this most endearing character unassumingly steals a bit of the show from our morbid compere with his well-placed vocal embellishments, strolling double bass, weeping saw and poignant and haunting theremin.
Regulars at the Fringe, this year the trio stand on a simple almost empty stage.  This show has been described as “an hour of swirling melancholy and beautiful grotesquerie.” To see them live is a tremendously unsettling and fabulous carnival of horrors.

Reviewed by Michelle Harrington


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