As a celebrated drawer of saucy postcards, Donald McGill seemed to sense that there is something inherently bawdy about British seaside towns. Where better than Brighton, then, to see the Brechtian cabaret act Tiger Lillies, a trio whose material – much more graphic than McGill's – knows few, if any, boundaries. Prostitution, gonorrhoea, cancer, matricide and incontinence – these are just some of the subjects that their frontman, Martyn Jacques, explores. If it festers, is unlawful, makes people uneasy or was seen by the butler, Jacques has addressed it.
Switching between piano and accordion, Jacques sings from behind grease paint in a warbling falsetto that makes his band's music more unnerving. His able foils are Adrian Huge (drums and percussion) and Adrian Stout (double bass). As "Freak Show" underlines, the Lillies' songs house a motley crew of outsiders, libertines, murderers and schizophrenics. Their lives are closely scrutinised by the band, but rarely judged. The Lillies' touchstones include Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera, circus music, klezmer, gypsy jazz and Monteverdi's madrigals, all blended to create wonderful, colourful music with sublime dynamics.
The trio's sense of humour is unremittingly black. On "Kick a Baby", Jacques' falsetto and half parlando approach make him sound like Dame Edna Everage, but this is darker stuff, possums: Jacques' portrayal of a man whose greatest joy is to boot infants down staircases elicits uneasy laughter.
In 2004, the Tiger Lillies released Punch and Judy, and Jacques' persona recalls the violent and anarchic Mr Punch, who would surely approve of the characters in songs such as "Hardest Bastard" and "Banging in the Nails", folks who do exactly as they please, and to hell with the consequences.
Still, to paraphrase Kenny Everett, it's all done in the best possible bad taste. And whatever Mary Whitehouse would have made of tonight's performance of "Masturbating Jimmy", replete with graphic sound effects, there's no denying that the Tiger Lillies' theatre of the absurd can be tender and beautiful as well as sordid.Reuse content