Martyn Jacques on THE TIGER LILLIES

An interview with the cult cabaret artist

By Bradley Storer

Welcome back to Australia! Having toured here many times over the years in both theatrical shows and concerts, is there something about this country that keeps drawing you back to visit?

Yes I love it! I even have a dream about living here. It’s the history, the colonial buildings, the weather. It’s all weird and magical. Dark and cruel as well. I could imagine doing a project and writing about it. I lived and still spend time on the Mill bank estate in London. Used to be Mill bank prison where the convicts were sent over.

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Since Australia originally began as British penal colony, do you find Australian audiences react to the Tiger Lillies’ work in a massively different way to the audiences in your home country?

I think there’s something a bit different about Australians, yes. I’d like to understand it better. I suppose I’d need to spend more time here

After maintaining a career over nearly thirty years, has your general artistic approach to creating your work changed or evolved?

I’d like to think we’re like good wine. We were good at the beginning so it can evolve, change and become better

You’ve mentioned before that after writing so many songs inspiration now tends to come from external sources such as historical figures or events rather than internal, emotional sources – have recent political events (both in Britain and further abroad) and more contemporary social upheavals been an influence on your songwriting?

I’m more interested in history. Its dark side. But that’s the appeal – just the same thing but performed by dead people long gone.

Across your careers, you’ve composed extensively for theatre, with your latest album Cold Night in Soho being your first in ten years not linked to a theatrical show – do you approach writing for the theatre or a theatrical adaptation differently to composing an original album? Do you find the process for either more enjoyable?

I’m happy doing both. The difference is blurred. As long as it’s a good story and theme. The theatre-based albums are good albums as well.

Your music contains extremes of both lyrical beauty and joy as well as violence, death and apocalypse – in a world today that seems to be increasingly shifting towards the latter, what motivates you all to keep creating art? Is there a kind of catharsis or celebration inherent in creating and singing your particular style of music?

It’s like an addiction. I can’t stop. I record around 3 albums a year. I need to do it. It’s my reason to exist.

The Tiger Lillies have written about many dark topics in their work including rape, murder, drug abuse, paedophilia and religious hypocrisy. Do you feel that perhaps music can explore these darker aspects of the human experience in ways that other artforms can’t?

No I think other art forms do it a lot more and it’s far more acceptable than in music. But I think that’s one of the reasons we’re unusual and original. We take dark subjects – which in theatre and art and film is normal – and write songs.

You’ve previously talked about the influence of punk on the Tiger Lillies, with the willingness to push boundaries and offend along with a strong anti-establishment sentiment being a core part of the band – do you believe that with the move towards the conservative right happening in many Western countries that the punk spirit is now more important than ever?  

Yes, it’s perfect for the age in which we live!

To end on a lighter subject, when you’re not performing yourself who are some of the cabaret and musical acts that you love to watch onstage?

I’ve liked some of the things I’ve seen at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It’s nice to see there are people out there who have a similar sensibility

The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies was performed at Memo Music Hall, St Kilda on June 18, 2017.