Music: Band that Jacques built

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The Independent Culture

THEY LOOKED like exhumations from a Twenties prop-box, but they sounded like nothing on earth: the three men who constitute the Tiger Lillies may claim kinship with Satchmo and Lotte Lenya, but what they did in the convivial confines of The Spitz this week owed nothing to anyone.

Belabouring the drums with dead chickens, giant bones and a variety of improbable mallets was Adrian Huge; extracting deep continuo from his amplified bass was Adrian Stout. Soul of the party - and only begetter of the band - was Martyn Jacques, the preposterous falsettist, built like a night-club bouncer and sounding like Dame Edna on speed. His instrument was the accordion, which spun an aural miasma around the startlingly gross ideas he had to purvey.

The evening had been billed as a launch for their new CD, Low-Life Lullabies, but much of the material in the first half was even newer. This prolific band uses gigs as test-beds for songs under construction, so we were roped in as part of their creative process. But given the consistency of Jacques's style and preoccupations, the shock of this "new" was not too great.

Jacques studied philosophy at a theological college (before being sent down for an act of terminal sacrilege), but his formative years were spent among pimps and prostitutes in Soho: this remains his preferred artistic terrain. And many of his songs are directly autobiographical: the tenant burnt out of his flat by a gangster landlord, the clipper-girl found stabbed to death on the doorstep. The final song surveyed a whole landscape of the dead, many destroyed by their own hand, some violently destroyed by others.

Yet, paradoxically, the effect was one of peace, and it's interesting to try to analyse why. For a start, his pacing is a perfect blend of furious rage and spaced-out dreaminess, and his songs are seamlessly joined. Second, the beauty of presentation grows with the outrageousness of what he has to say. Third - and most important - he's a natural musical raconteur. From the moment he played his first chord, the whole crowded club fell silent. Though these were, of course, Jacques devotees.

He and his band are now poised for stardom, thanks to their huge followings in Paris, Hamburg, and New York. I suspect this is due to their quintessential Englishness: sweetly illogical, and mad as hatters in the Lear-Carroll mode.