The Tiger Lillies, an award-winning alternative cabaret group, known for their dark and twisted sense of humour, as well as their provocative and genre-defying musical stylings, are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the band with the Devil’s Fairground UK Tour, which runs from 12th May until 23rd June 20th. Ahead of the dates we spoke to Adrian from the group about their career.
1. You’re touring the UK in a few weeks, what can fans expect from the show this time ?
“Well the songs are a collection of songs based on our experiences going to Prague in the mid-to-late Nineties, just after the Velvet Revolution, when we used to do a lot of concerts in the Czech Republic when things had kind of opened up over there so Martin has written a set of songs about things he saw and experienced and things that the band experienced in Prague in the Nineties. It looks back to our past as it’s our thirtieth anniversary. It looks very different over there now obviously but we still have a lot of friends who still live there. We’re looking back a bit and seeing where the world is and where we are. The songs are very strong, very like the band and have an echo of the way we used to perform which was a bit more anarchic and high energy back in the day. It’s not nostalgic as such but it looks more at the way we are now and where the world is.”
2. Like you said, it’s your thirtieth anniversary, how do you feel about celebrating such a monumental milestone?
“I think it’s something we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on. We just try and kind of always be moving forwards. We never wanted to spend a lot of time going over our back catalogue, we’ve always tried to write new albums. We’ve written over forty albums now and we’ve just written another one so we’re always moving forwards. We’re going to take this set of songs out now as we haven’t done a UK tour in about five years now so it will be good to get out on tour. Most of the time fans have to come to see us and we have fans who travel to see us when we play abroad and when we play in London so it will be nice to get out and travel around a bit more this time to some other places in England.”
3. What would you say have been the highlights of the last 30 years ?
“We’ve done a lot of great gigs in prestigious venues which, for a band who started out playing in tiny cabaret clubs, to play in somewhere like an Opera House or something like that really means something. We’ve played at the Royal Ballet a year or so ago, we’ve done a lot of the classical music halls around the world. We’ve had a Grammy nomination, we’ve won two Oliviers, we’ve been asked to record a version of The Simpsons theme songs, which is kind of a pop cultural reference most people would recognise as something. Just the fact that we’ve persisted and do what we do the same way we’ve been doing it the whole time is something we are proud of. The fact that we’re still here doing something original and new all the time is something.”
4. What would you put the longievity down to?
“I think I would put it down to the fact that we’re trying to be original and we were never referencing the immediate past, we were always looking back to something a bit more timeless really like the 1920’s or the Victorian era. Our reference points are not so obvious or close and I think the fact that we try to be not so obvious about what inspires us means that we have more of a timeless quality. Also, not using guitars and things like that and using more unusual instruments means that an album we record now sounds very similar to an album we recorded in 1991 so I think there is a continuity there which means we exist out of time in a way. Our secret is probably the fact that we’re out of time but contemporary in that we’re still dealing with things that are relevant today in our society.”
5. Going forward then, what are your plans for the future ?
“After this tour, I think we’ve got a trip to Poland to do a theatre show called The Last Days of Mankind with a cast of performers from all over Europe, Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Scotland, France. We’ve got a really big mix of people in this performance. We’re doing a production of Hamlet in Moscow this Summer and then we’ll hopefully be doing a run in the West End. We’ve just finished a run for a show called The One Penny Opera which we will hope will take off a bit more towards the end of this year or maybe next year based on the Kurt Weill, Bert Brecht Threepenny Opera. We did five shows of that in London and it went really well so we’re hoping that somewhere in the future we’ll get to do that.”
6. There must have been plenty of changes to the Cabaret / Theatre world over thirty years? What changes have you noticed ?
“When we first started out we used to play in a club called the Nux Vomica in London which I think of as one of the first alternative cabaret performance clubs in the early to mid nineties and, since then, I think you’ve seen an explosion of that kind of entertainment. Now we’ve got friends of ours running this Little Death club on the South Bank and it seems like every festival has to have a cabaret section. We’ve gone from being one of the only bands that was playing accordions and doing songs about these darker, twisted subjects to now where it is more mainstream. Well, maybe not mainstream but it is definitely all over the world now. There is a movement now like burlesque for example. Burlesque performers have more opportunities to perform in places they couldn’t do before. For us, we’ve gone from playing at the kind of places that people didn’t seem to play in to being more accepted for what we do as a legitimate kind of music.”
7. Are there any modern acts doing anything similar to what the Tiger Lillies do that stand out ?
“I can’t think of any because we do everything in a very specific way. There are various bands in Russia and places like that who have been inspired by us where there are people playing cellos and double basses and accordions and things like that. I think most of the people who do something that is similar to us come from Eastern and Central Europe. I think a lot of people are into the rock n’ roll style and we’re not a rock n’ roll band, we’ve always tried to avoid that kind of connection. I have lot of friends who are doing bands that have elements of theatricality like the Urban Voodoo Machine who are friends of ours and use a theatrical element to their stuff but they’re not really the same as us. There are probably more bands in places like Poland and Russia that take direct inspiration from us.”
8. What has feedback been like from fans about the anniversary ?
“We haven’t had much feedback from fans about the anniversary specifically, I think we’re just going on as we always have. Like I said we did this One Penny Opera show last month which went down very and we’ve been doing the Devil’s Fairground songs on a tour we did in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Serbia and it went down really well so we’re happy with the songs and we’re hoping we can take them out there. We also did those songs with an orchestra in the Czech Republic and the feedback has been really positive as people identify with the songs as they’re quite fun songs and they have a point to them. We always get people coming to see us who saw us when we were playing in really small places so hopefully they will still come and see us if they’re still around.”
9. If someone is undecided about seeing your show what would you say to them ?
“I’d say if you like stories and music where there is a narrative or you like Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave, someone who tells a story, then you’ll get a lot out of it. Visually it’s very interesting, we wear make-up, very interesting outfits and we’re doing interesting things while the songs are going on. We try to create an interesting world each time we play a song so if you like stories and songs and dark, dry humour then you’ll get a lot out of the band.”
10. Excellent, thanks for your time Adrian. Just to finish, how would you sum up the last thirty years in a few words ?
“Chaotic, hilarious, exhausting and disturbing!”
You can find a full list of dates and tickets here.