1.) You’re heading out on a best-of tour, ‘From the Circus to the Cemetery’. What can fans expect from this Tiger Lillies show?
We have put together a set that covers the whole 30+ years of the band’s catalog, along with more recent songs that we haven’t even played live before. Hopefully the fans will enjoy hearing some classic Tiger Lillies tunes like Bully Boys and Crack of Doom, mixed in some more obscure tracks like Heinrich from Farmyard Filth that our manager Tim likes, and our newest music.
So we are going to add some new songs to the set, to keep it fresh for us and the audience. We have a few Robert Johnson songs with our own arrangements, and some songs about the war in Ukraine that we are releasing soon. We hope the concerts will be a very mixed bag, from the sublime to the ridiculous and that people will be entertained, horrified, and moved to tears at some point. Please shout out for your favourite songs at the end of the night, the loudest shout will probably be heard and attempted.
2.) What made the band decide to release their first best-of album ‘The Worst of The Tiger Lillies’ this year?
It just seemed like the right time. We have avoided compilation albums for quite a while as we have so many new songs it seemed a bit pointless to put out a Best Of. Also, as we have made over 40 albums (or even 50, who knows by now!) that we didn’t know where to even start. But as we are going to tour a Best Of set now it seemed a good time to make a vinyl compilation. Eventually we will put out a volume 2 at some point and see how it goes.
3) How would you describe the band to someone who isn’t familiar with your music?
There are many descriptions of both the bands sound and image. I used to describe it as ‘Death Oompa’ for a while. Belgian street opera, criminal castrati, dark cabaret are all descriptions we have had applied to us over the years as people try and get their head around what we do, which is pretty indescribable, even for us. A mix of English music hall, blues, jazz torch songs, murder ballads, French chanson, Central European folk music. It’s a wild mix of musical influences plus usual instruments like musical saw, percussion and tiny ukulele. The Tiger Lillies onstage is an evening of dark stories, perverse characters and wild emotions.
4.) What are your favourite songs from your back catalogue to play live? Will you be performing any older songs that you haven’t performed for a while?
I always enjoyed Palace of St James, Murder and Gin. There are so many songs that are enjoyable to play, and because we take requests at the end of the night we often attempt to play some songs we haven’t played or even thought about for years. There is no guarantee we will be able to remember some of the more obscure ones, but we like to have a crack at it even if it falls apart. Which it frequently does.
5.) Which other musical artists excite you at the moment?
I’m partial to Sleaford Mods, Mogwai, Dry Cleaning, Yard Act, Crack Cloud, Richard Dawson, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs. Martyn is not very interested in living artists. The deader the better is his usual type of artist.
5.) ... and which artists were the biggest influence on you during the band’s formative years?
I think that the recording of The Three Penny Opera with Lotte Lenya is a primary source of inspiration for Martyn, as it had many of the elements he was searching for when he was putting his ideas together for the band in the late 80s, trying to find a sound and a world to inhabit. Jacques Brel and his emotional story ballads of the downtrodden in ports and brothels, his horror of war and violence was very important. Then it would be things like Bessie Smith, Louie Armstrong, Greek and German folk music, The Birthday Party…Myself, I like Captain Beefheart, Magazine, Monk, Mingus, The Fall, Art Ensemble of Chicago. Too many to count. I always liked unusual voices and angular sounds.
6.) What’s the craziest Tiger Lillies live show that you can remember? Are there particular cities that you always enjoy playing?
We used to play a lot of dangerous squats in the Czech Republic during the late 90s that were wild, the country was still very excited with the freedom that they now had, and anything would be allowed. I saw a few sights onstage in those days. It was very bohemian, we drank a lot and fights would break out in the audience. We once had a dog sleep in the bass drum because it was the quietest place in the venue. Our Czech managers were also insane and would frequently have to be carried out to the van at the end of the night along with the equipment.
We also played in Russia in early 2000 and that was like the wild west, police raids, drunken poets, vodka, guns, being mobbed after shows and getting into tiny Lada cars to escape. It’s a great shame how one country was able to create a better society and the other has been led into a dark present ruled by gangsters and thugs.
Our favourite cities are probably Athens, Mexico City, Prague, Vienna, London.
7.) You were nominated for a Grammy Award for your 2003 album, ‘The Gorey End’, How was that experience for the band?
Being nominated was gratifying, although the category of Best Classical Crossover Album was one I didn’t expect to be in ever. I really like the album The Gorey End, Kronos Quartet played fantastic strings and I hoped that the nomination would mean that it would reach more people than our self-released albums do. The Grammys, and all award ceremonies, are a strange concept, we didn’t win but I did appreciate the extra attention it gave our work, plus I have a Tiffany medal which I can flog on ebay eventually!
8.) What advice would you give to aspiring musicians today?
How to begin? I have seen plenty of young bands over the last few years and they seem to be doing just fine without any advice from us. To be a musician is more of a calling than profession, you should try and be as original as possible, be prepared to alienate the public and your friends and family. Not be disheartened by slow progress, enjoy the small early shows because those are the ones where you have the must fun. Brexit has been a disaster for young UK musicians, and I hope that they get the opportunities that we had when we started to tour abroad. It’s a crime how their freedom has been taken away by lying self-interested politicians. Don’t give up hope kids.
9.) How do the Tiger Lillies like to unwind on your days off on tour?
It depends how long the tour is, if it’s a short tour, then roaming a city exploring is always enjoyable. Museums and galleries are great ways to fill a day off. If a promoter is kind we sometimes get offered day trips out in the countryside or to unusual places. There are a lot of people to catch up with is we are playing somewhere we have friends, like Prague or Berlin. Drink may be taken.
We used to do a lot of second hand shopping back in the day to buy old hats and waistcoats, though those things are not so available or affordable since the internet.
If it’s a long tour, then just relaxing in a hotel for a night is the only thing you can manage. And washing socks in a sink is the most glamourous thing you can do on tour.
10.) Will you be playing any summer festivals this year?
We usually play theatre festivals, rather than music festivals, our songs are a bit strange for the uninitiated festival punter, so we fit more into the line-up of arts and theatre festivals like Adelaide or Edinburgh. We hope to play some UK music festivals such as End of the Road next year though as it would be good to see how we would be received. I think we are playing some festivals in Germany though this year. The Europeans are quite open to more unusual music I have found, especially if English is not their native language.
UK tour dates 2023 (tickets here)
4th May – Oxford Playhouse
5th May – Milton Keynes The Stables
6th May – Stockton The Arc
11th May – Bury St Edmunds Apex
12th May – Norwich Theatre
13th May – Cambridge Junction
18th May – Nottingham Playhouse
20th May – St Albans Arena
21st May – Taunton Brewhouse
26th May – Manchester Home
27th May – Leeds City Varieties
28th May – Liverpool Epstein Theatre
1st June – Brighton Old Market
2nd June – Brighton Old Market
3rd June – London Cadogan Hall
4th June – Wimborne Tivoli Theatre
9th June – Portsmouth New Theatre
10th June – Bristol Redgrave Theatre