Classical: Everything was music to her

After the critics will come an army of amateur psychologists, each pointing their own particular moral
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The Independent Culture
IT WAS predictable that Hilary and Jackie should divide its audience in Venice last Sunday. While some saw Anand Tucker's film as a tasteless travesty of the du Pre tragedy, others - including The Independent's reporter - were deeply moved. The response, in short, echoed that provoked by the book on which the film was based: those who assert the messiness of life must expect to be hated, and lives don't come much messier than these. But the crucial response is yet to come: what does Daniel Barenboim think? Since du Pre's former husband may have the power, by invoking France's privacy laws, to prevent its release in that country, the film- makers are not falling over themselves to contact him - though, as they rightly point out, they have presented him in a sympathetic light.

Barenboim's verdict matters, quite simply, because he was there. He had nothing to do with the family chronicle by Hilary and Piers, but since he has given his blessing to the musicologist Elizabeth Wilson's forthcoming book about du Pre, we may learn something from that quarter. In the meantime, we must be satisfied with obiter dicta such as the one I prised out of him during an interview in 1991. His complex relationship with the cellist was, he said with a cold stare, something that could "never be resolved", and it was, in any case, "not a public subject". Then, after a pause, he delivered this oracular judgement: "I have never come across anybody who was so completely music. Everything was music to her - brain, heart, intestines. It was the most natural form of expression for her. Added to that was her unique instrumental mastery. I'm so very happy that people can still hear her, and see her on video." I don't think he will try to ban this film in France; I guess he will just preserve a dignified silence.

Nobody else will: after the critics will come an army of amateur psychologists, each pointing their own particular moral as they did with Shine. But, as in Shine, some of the most interesting aspects of Hilary and Jackie are musical, as I discovered a few months ago on a visit to the set. Emily Watson was boldly confronting the challenge - which defeats most actors impersonating musicians - of convincing her audience that her fingers were really playing the notes. The notes themselves were being produced by a cellist who had in real life received du Pre's stamp of approval. Meanwhile, the film composer Barrington Pheloung was wrestling with the problem of how to create a score for a film chock-full of familiar musical masterpieces. On these counts at least, the result is a noble success.

NOW TO mayhem, rape, and murder, as purveyed by their jolliest musical exponent. Martyn Jacques, who is due to unveil his album Low-Life Lullabies next Wednesday at the Spitz (0171-392 9032), knows whereof he sings: seven years of playing in transvestite bars, pushing drugs and hanging out with prostitutes have furnished him with real-life material for scores of macabre lyrics. And this is no mere voyeur: he recalls the day a gangster burnt him out of his flat (reducing his accordions to piles of ash); and he bears the scars of the near-fatal knifing he got on a nocturnal prowl.

As he tells it, his life story comes across as almost conventionally unconventional; putting a pig's head on the altar at the Welsh theological college where he was a student was a timelessly subversive protest. He and his band the Tiger Lillies have won a devoted following with albums called Spit Bucket, Ad Nauseam, and Farmyard Filth (which really is filthy); these have been furtively released on the hard-to-find Misery Guts label. In a curious way, it all sounds rather cosy.

Gradually, you discover that he is not a stereotype. He is a born comedian, and once spent a happy day selling songs in the street alongside Arthur Smith - who was selling jokes - but he loathes "comedy" audiences. "I can't relate to them," he says, "nor they to me. My audience drinks, too, but unlike comedy people - who just want to be clones - mine are all misfits." There is a transparent sincerity in his horror of the mainstream, and a naive idealism in the way he views his art. "I use my face, my voice, my body, to create art. If people want to call that pretentious, let them.'

Nobody who saw his Grand Guignol extravaganza, Shock-Headed Peter, at the Lyric, Hammersmith would call him that. While the human marionettes did unspeakable things to each other, Jacques gave the spectacle a diabolical musical spin. He doesn't make a beautiful sound - his falsetto recalls Dame Edna - but, with sinister effects from his accordion, it chills the marrow in your bones. There is plenty of Weill in his singing, plus Satchmo's rasp, and every so often the band's harmonies degenerate into wild atonality.

This show is now catapulting the Tiger Lillies to stardom: they are touring three continents with it, taking it to Broadway, and, next winter, bringing it into the West End. This week, meanwhile, Jacques and his men have been performing in Paris and Hamburg, where their cult is huge. So hurry along to the Spitz.

DEPARTMENT OF piquant coincidences: while the Royal Opera was desperately ringing down the curtain on Wednesday, English National Opera was introducing its new boss to the press.

Step forward Nicholas Payne, late of the RO, who, in his own words, "just got out in time". He inherits a ship in fine shape, and with a passionately loyal following: tonight's new production of Otello is the first offering of his season. Nice to hear him reaffirm ENO's determination to stay at the Coliseum. The Royal is dead: long live the English National. And a pox on all schemes that are dreamed up by management consultants.

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