The world still needs the Tiger Lilies and in case you don’t know who they are …they are a trio of deviant folk who have been celebrating their 30th-anniversary tour which is titled The Devils Fairground. They’ve been performing in an array of Playhouses, Theatres and Music venues across country, they follow this up with a number of gigs in Russia before commencing on another tour starting late October, of the Continent ( which sounds more exotic and enticing than the sceptics sneer of “ Mainland Europe” ) to go boldly beyond a Brexit deadline where no band has gone before.
I say Band but really the Tiger Lilies are more akin to Musical Theatre. Accordionist Martyn Jaques plays the role of a storyteller who has fallen into the gutter of life. He either sings or narrates in falsetto voice to an array of raucous and delicately crafted tunes accompanied on bass and various other instruments by Adrian Stout a villainous-looking spiv who is also a dab hand at the musical saw and Theremin, on percussion a tumble down looking Jonas Golland looks like he’s been up to no good in the back of the warehouse. Together they provide a blend of genre’s, part Berlin Cabaret part Macabre Chanson with a just dash of the Day of The Dead, punky with an air of broken down decadence and lashings of face paint to match. Their evocation of numerous dark and sordid tales may not be to everyone’s taste but the cultural fodder of mass popularism was never an indicator of much anyway.
It’s here where I have to confess that I had not seen the Tiger Lilies perform before, so I arrive at Bath Komedia a Grade 2 listed building, with its former cinema décor still intact filled with anticipation and one slight concern. What if that unique vocalisation of Martyn Jaques turns out to be a novelty act of Sunday entertainment for the worried well of Bath? Such qualms are quickly dispelled with the opening number from their Devils Fairground album which has the audience hooked, we are listening, hanging on to every word and sound, cue applause cue the next song and more tales of low life. Jaques voice feels like an act of defiance, it’s not difficult to imagine songs like Dead Souls Day or Tombstones being covered by the likes of Nick Cave or John Cale (They Should) but the high vocals add a fragility that is fey, tender and uniquely haunting. “Free” is a tale of sponsorship by the KGB to Siberia and a chorus of Do you know what it’s like not to be free? And I’m thinking, are they really going to play this when they get to tour Russia! Oh if only I had the money to book a flight to Moscow and see them play there.
When I arrived at this gig I did wonder how the Tiger Lilies and their songs would fare against the seemingly ever-present backdrop of a digital world with its dark web and app chatbots. As the evening proceeded there was no mention of sordid online misdemeanours, instead something far more tangible and human was occurring, something akin to being off grid. The Devils Fairground is a healthy reminder of the material that can’t be simply packaged into byte size pieces. The songs draw you in but the face paint and falsetto voice prevents you from getting lost completely in some kind of twilight narrative, it’s a gap gap gap that keeps you on your toes. Bertolt Brecht described it as The Verfremdungseffekt in the 1930s, a distancing that makes you a conscious and critical observer and in touch with reality. We may be having a good time inside but are still aware of the homeless bedding down in doorways for the night just a few meters away, we know where we are.
Is That All There is? Jaques tauntingly asks the audience This song written by Lieber and Stroller and a hit for Peggy Lee in the 60s bring familiarity to this particular Sunday congregation as we murmur along Then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have a ball. And so we do, the warmth of the audience begins to come through and more songs follow, concerning drugs, death and life in the gutter, its wonderful stuff, full of relish and its oh so refreshing, this shining a light on the dark materials of life and death. It is much appreciated. As the band draw the evening to a close they are met with a standing ovation and much applause with an encore of chosen by requests from the audience.
PS. I am one of those people who has never understood the need for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or even the necessity of star ratings for reviews but I know that two people that I was with that evening thought that this particular gig ranked in their top ten gigs ever and that they had seen a lot of gigs between them . Songs of Praise indeed.
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