The Tiger Lillies


For those of you who know Tiger Lillies, they need no introduction. For those who don’t, well – how long have you got? For starters, there’s the painted faces, the vintage costumes and the unusual instruments (tonight including accordion, theramin, Jew’s harp and musical saw). Then there’s the falsetto singing, which, if you close your eyes, sounds like a plump 50-year-old high-society lady, who still dreams of being a prima donna (and who occasionally goes quite, quite mental).

Oh, and did I mention there’s only two of them? Normally, Tiger Lillies are a three piece, but the drummer has sat out tonight’s performance. This is probably due to the choice of material: a selection of Cole Porter songs, played in the Tiger Lillies distinctive style. Tonight’s programme has been chosen and tweaked to fit an over-arching theme of prostitution with lyrical “adjustments” and clever arrangements meaning that this is no ordinary retrospective of one of the more prolific hit-writers of the early 20th century.

For those of you who don’t realise quite how many classics Cole Porter wrote, tonight alone we’re treated to covers of ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love’, ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘I Get a Kick out of You’ and ‘Don’t Fence Me In’, among more than a dozen others.

As with the Tiger Lillies’ own extensive catalogue, singer Martin Jacques (whose biography states that he ‘spent much of his early years living above a brothel in London’s Soho’) brings more than a little darkness to proceedings. There’s also a few Tiger Lillies classics in there, so a bit of drugs, violence and blasphemy and more than a little alcohol abuse. Oh, and a hanging.

However, this evening is not a deliberate hatchet job on an innocent pop-song writer – the title song of this performance, ‘Love For Sale’ was originally written to be sung by the character of a prostitute. Cole Porter’s private life, too, was not without its own deviations from the social norms of the time. A married homosexual in inter-war Europe with a taste for lavish parties featuring copious amounts of recreational drugs and sex of all orientations, Porter had a wealth of experience from which to draw some of his more risqué material – which fell foul of the censors in the United States on numerous occasions.

So while some Tiger Lillies purists might not find this the ideal concert, especially with such mainstream songs forming the bulk of the set, it’s obvious that tonight’s audience appreciate the underlying cohesion of the source material with the twisted execution of the music and lyrics. Cole Porter purists (if there are any here – or anywhere) might be a bit shocked.

Despite the obvious careful preparation, there’s a certain haphazard element to tonight’s performance – partly rehearsed but also partly genuine. Although most of the Porter numbers go off without a hitch, there are false starts in a few other songs – with a verse missing from the cover of Shel Silverstein’s ’25 Minutes to Go’ and with Jacques temporarily misplacing the second verse of his own song ‘Another Glass of Wine’. It’s all handled with the aplomb of experienced professional performers and, like Jacques magnanimous “bless you” for the member of the audience who sneezes at the climax of one of the songs, it is all well received by the audience.

If you fit the description “have open mind, will travel”, then Tiger Lillies will be playing Love For Sale in Leeds on 31st October and Gateshead on 20th November.

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Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.