Martyn Jacques has rarely been one to shy away from provocative subjects in his two and a half decades as leader of ‘twisted cabaret’ band The Tiger Lillies.
Nonetheless it seems that there is one topic that the composer of the award-winning ‘junk opera’ Shockheaded Peter and last year’s Opera North/West Yorkshire Playhouse hit Lulu: A Murder Ballad deems completely off-limits.
“I would not talk about Muslims – I’ve always said that,” the 55-year-old says. “Look at what’s happened in Paris recently. I’ve always been quite clear about that: I will never write anything about Muslims. Apart from that, I’ll write about pretty much everything.”
After 25 years Jacques is the last man standing from the Tiger Lillies’ original line-up; former comrades Phil Butcher and Adrian Huge both left “for health reasons”, to be replaced by Adrian Stout on double bass and Mike Pickering on drums.
Jacques says of his founding intentions for the band: “I kind of wanted us to be huge stars – like rock stars or maybe more accurately music stars. I thought with original sounds and an original approach we had a chance.
“We even had a record company who wanted to do a £100,000 video for MTV. We were younger then as well.”
The dream might not have worked out quite as he might have envisaged back in 1989 but, says Jacques brightly: “We’re all still here – well, I am.”
One of the biggest influences on the band was the German Expressionist theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, whose Three Penny Opera was “hugely successful” in the 1920s.
“I’m a big fan of the German Expressionism genre, it’s very grotesque,” says Jacques. “I love Otto Dix, who was a wonderful painter in the 20s.”
Across 30 albums and numerous stage shows the Tiger Lillies have delved into many dark recesses of human behaviour. Jacques is generally unworried about those who may have taken offence.
“Some people have no sense of irony,” he says. “We’ve experienced it, people walking out complaining. It’s a small group. I think they’re pretty bonkers, really. We all like to have a bad guy, I suppose I fit it for them, their kind of demon.”
The band might not have become huge stars in their own right but their influence can be seen in everything from Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson to TV show The Simpsons – something Jacques takes it as “a compliment”.
“It’s a common thing that the innovator is not always the one that gets the credit but I do get some recognition that what I’vve done has been influential,” he says.
The Tiger Lillies’ greatest commercial success came with Shockheaded Peter, which played at West Yorkshire Playhouse and later won two Olivier Awards.
“It’s given us a stage which we’ve continued to use for the last 20 years,” Jacques reflects. “We continue to go and play all over the world. We’ve been in Chile this year, we were in Mexico at the beginning of last year, America, Australia, we play everywhere. We have an international fan base because of Shockheaded Peter. It was a great show for us.”
Last year the band staged Lulu: A Murder Ballad, a musical adaptation of two Frank Wedekind plays, at West Yorkshire Playhouse. A tragic tale of sexual abuse, its story continues to have uncomfortable relevance a century after Wedekind originally wrote it.
“I remember when we played at West Yorkshire Playhouse a woman came up to me; she worked at a refuge for battered women and she said, ‘I thought you got it spot-on’, which was very nice, I was very pleased. It’s very unpleasant a woman being abused by unscrupulous men, but that’s what the story was about, and I portrayed it as best I could. It was nice to get grass roots appreciation.
“I remember reading some people did not like it at all, but I think it’s a great play, I was perfectly happy to do it.”
This month the Tiger Lillies celebrate their 25th anniversary with a ‘Very Worst of’ tour. After that, Jacques says: “I’m doing a new theatre show in Frankfurt in the summer and a French theatre production about Edgar Allan Poe as well in the autumn. I’m doing the soundtrack for a Russian film as we speak and I’m writing the music for a show for a German theatre company. There’s lots of stuff going on.”
The Tiger Lillies play at Leeds City Varieties on March 17 and Wakefield Theatre Royal on June 3. For details visit https://www.tigerlillies.com/