The Tiger Lillies and their ‘Circus’

A year after their last performance, they are back to present the same show in a new venue, featuring different artists and revamped music. That’s not the real story, however. What is more important is that cult London troupe the Tiger Lillies have already developed their own local diehard fan club. Beginning this Friday, January 30, the troupe, led by the sensational Martyn Jacques, will perform at the Big Top Theater. Jacques spoke to Kathimerini a few days before the troupe’s 10 scheduled Athens performances. «A cursed circus. A mythical story taking place in another era,» is how the Tiger Lillies founder described the «Circus» production. While being generous, eccentric, extreme and genuine every single moment he appears on stage, off stage, Jacques appears serious and careful with words. Made up in clown colors and carrying his accordion, Jacques sings with his unique counter tenor voice (in castrati style) in a performance that incorporates everything: a Felliniesque atmosphere, the Berlin cabaret, the Parisian music hall, Gypsy music, flamenco, opera, blues, theatrical and acrobatic acts, dances, clowns, prostitutes, sailors and marginal characters… «I lived in London’s Soho district for seven years, that’s where I met prostitutes, drug addicts and homeless people. My work tends to focus on those who live on the edge, those living the hard life, those who have come face to face with violence and harshness,» said Jacques, who is responsible for almost all of the Tiger Lillies’ songs. Who are the other leading characters of «Circus»? Andrew Huge (on drums, percussion and toys) has worked in a butcher shop, a baker’s, in banks and motorcycle outlets and as a car mechanic before collaborating in the establishment of «Uncle Lumpy and the Fish Doctors,» Dover’s unique surreal comedy ensemble. His arrival in London in 1989 coincided with the foundation of the Tiger Lillies. Adrian Stout (double bass player and vocals) has played the blues, jazz and country music in Britain, Europe and India. He is responsible for designing and updating the Tiger Lillies and Shockheaded Peter websites. Also on stage, among others, is Vita Radionova, a body with no boundaries; Tim Harling and Jen, two professional dancers/acrobats in a sensual, risktaking number in midair, and Yuri and Anton, a celebrated acrobatic duo, recipients of the gold medal at the Monaco Circus Festival. At the age of 15 Jacques played the piano and moved to London when he was 20. «It was hard for me to find a suitable style. I was looking for something uncommon. I bought an accordion when I was 29. What’s more, I have the ability to sing in a high voice. I decided to establish a band, based on the accordion and my voice. That’s how the Tiger Lillies were founded in 1989,» said Jacques. «I was rather naive when I begun… I believed that by coming up with something different from the rest, I would be successful. I was wrong. For many years, I appeared in small clubs – it never got me anywhere. My big break came five years ago, when we presented a show called ‘Shockheaded Peter’ with the Tiger Lillies.» The production, which was presented in London’s West End as well as major theaters around the globe, earned Jacques the highly prestigious Laurence Olivier Theater Award. «We won our greatest recognition from theater and art people, in contrast to the music industry, which couldn’t find a category for us! There is a certain conservatism in record companies. What really matters to them is selling albums and making money. They don’t know what to do with us… That’s why we sell our own CDs after our performances,» said Jacques. How does he feel about the Greek audience? «There is such enthusiasm. All of us artists want to be loved and earn our public’s applause – no matter what happens. It makes us really happy!» This is a different kind of circus: A young woman tending bar dreams of becoming a great acrobat. She is in love with her teacher but he turns out to be a pimp. He abuses her and treats her badly, yet she still loves him. A sailor remembers his numerous, strange journeys. He has traveled around the world only to discover that it is a strange place. A homeless man sings his wife a sad song. A clown remembers. He remembers the good old days with lots of ice cream. Lilly the prostitute shows off her charms to the men while pickpockets are at work and Jimmy sells crack. These are just a few of the Tiger Lillies’ stories, all written by Martyn Jacques. Dreams and desires «And so your life’s been a success And you have pleasure in excess Don’t worry it will all end soon The crack of doom is coming soon And so your future’s looking bright And you’ve reached the giddy heights Don’t worry it will soon end It is all shallow and pretend… With the above lyrics from «Crack of Doom,» the Tiger Lillies’ show comes to an end. How does Jacques describe his work? «My works are not political. This song is about the superficial element of life. Our dreams, hopes and desires will reach an end. We are all equal when facing death. I would say that the song’s lyrics are more intellectual and metaphysical – perhaps political as well, in the sense that materialism in all its forms, money and all that we are and live in the consumer West, are very superficial and will never bring us any happiness,» said Jacques. Is there any hope out there? «If you take a look at your life in a very direct, realistic way…» What are the Tiger Lillies up to next? «Two new productions and recording a series of new albums. Our basic aim, however, is to keep entertaining the public,» said Jacques. «That’s our job!» For more information on the CDs as well as bookings, call 210.490.6300. (This interview was translated from the Greek text.)

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