The Tiger Lillies: An Interview with Martyn Jacques
Martyn Jacques is the talented frontman of Olivier Award-winning cabaret act and musical threesome The Tiger Lillies. Their twisted sounds and controversial lyrics have earned them a dedicated cult following. They play in venues as varied as pubs and opera houses. The Upcoming spoke to Martyn about his new album, groupies and Edith Piaf’s insatiable libido.
I hear you were raised above a brothel in Soho. Were you aware at the time that it was a brothel?
That’s not strictly true. I lived above it when I was in my 20s and yes, I did know it was a brothel. Soho’s changed a lot now though. When I was living there I couldn’t get my flat insured. I remember very clearly calling an insurance company to get contents insurance and when I said I lived in Soho they just said no. I live in Germany now. We spend a lot of time in Berlin.
How has Soho changed?
When I was living there, there was a huge number of Chinese waiters living in the flat next door. The flats were only 40 square feet. Half of them would sleep in the day then go to work in the evening, then the waiters that worked in the day would sleep in the evenings. So many Chinese waiters in one flat!
There are 20 albums available to buy on your website: that’s an impressive output. Can you tell us about your writing process and whether you get writer’s block?
We’ve made even more that that. I think it’s up to 35 now. I’m lucky I’ve never had a problem with writing. I can sit down at a piano and just write without repeating myself, which I think is the problem most people have. I can write six or seven songs in one day. I mean, they’re not all good. Some might not come to anything. People ask me to write songs on different subjects for their shows all the time and I just sit down and get on with it. No, never had a problem there.
Tell me about the new album, Songs from the Gutter.
The new album is about Edith Piaf and her life. There was a film made about her recently. It was very good but it didn’t show how dark her life actually was. She was addicted to drink and addicted to men. And when I say addicted to men, I mean she was known to be very talented with her mouth. She was surrounded by gay men and was known to sometimes kneel down and “perform” on them. When they protested and told her they were gay, she’d say that it didn’t matter once the lights were out. I don’t think people know how dark it got. She was very troubled by the end, always desperate to be around people. We really wanted to write about her. She had such an interesting life.
Are your tours very rock ‘n’ roll or is it more like half a shandy and then bed once you’re off stage?
Yes, something like that I’m afraid. I mean it was different when we were younger, we used to stay up all night drinking and get up to that sort of stuff but I’m 55 now. I’m just trying to stay alive!
So do you still have groupies?
Oh yes, we do, but it’s just different now.
You just don’t have sex with them anymore?
Something like that!
You’ve used the Russian photographer, Andrey Kezzyn, to direct your new video Public Sin. Were you prescriptive about what you wanted or did you give him free reign?
He’s brilliant. We gave him free reign. We often don’t have a lot of money to pay the artists we use so we like them to be able to create what they like. We filmed in Prague and he found a group of incredibly interesting-looking old people with lots of wrinkles. Then he dressed them in wonderful costumes and had them play cards. The video isn’t actually finished yet, but it’s going to be good.
You’ve named Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday as personal favourites and musical influences, but do you have any guilty pleasures? I quite like the thought of you listening to One Direction under a blanket in the middle of the night.
Sadly not. I’m just not interested. I like Demis Roussos. That’s meant to be in pretty bad taste but that’s about it. I’ve never liked trash.
Have you had any disasters on stage?
No, nothing. We’ve never cancelled a gig. We’ve had some bad gigs where we were just too tired to really perform but no disasters.
So nothing like Madonna falling over on stage last week at the Brits? It was quite a “heart in mouth” moment but she just got up and carried on.
Did she? Good on her. No, nothing like that.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
A painter. I often think it would have suited my personality better, but I made the decision at 16 to be a musician and stuck with it so it’s too late now. A painter’s life is a lot more solitary; I think it might have suited my temperament better. I like the thought of studying the craft and constantly improving.
You’re touring the UK but we couldn’t see any London dates booked yet.
We do have London dates but they will be much later in the summer. We’ll be performing Lulu: A Murder Ballad at the Royal Opera House.
For further information about The Tiger Lillies visit here.
Watch the video for Living Hell here: