For the centenary year of the birth of Edith Piaf (1915–1963), the French cabaret singer and songwriter, it was only right that the Tiger Lillies paid her a visit.
And so Martyn Jaques, the band’s own songwriter and singer in his individual cabaret style, opened up the songbook of France’s “little sparrow” to see what he might find with a view to marking Piaf’s somewhat less-than-happy life and career in a stage show. It was rich material, and the resulting production “Songs from the Gutter” has now appeared to much acclaim at a number of venues in France. Early on, Martyn had this to say:
Edith Piaf is the central character of these songs, walking the dark, disreputable streets of Paris. The show does not tell you a story, it is history. Ordinary people understood, and that’s why they loved her. It is this popular Piaf this show wants to revive.
The multimedia concert, with stage set and video supporting the Tiger Lillies in performance, presents Edith Piaf’s everyday life, her loves and losses, in the bohemian byways of the French capital after the Second World War. It is a sincere, if pitiless tribute to the celebrated chanteuse, and the show moves on to London’s South Bank in mid-June after a successful outing in Brighton. Martyn again:
I’ve met girls like Edith Piaf. They’re usually described as having borderline personality disorder. They’re alcoholics, drug addicts and often prostitutes. Funny that she is today a symbol of French national pride, an icon. It’s interesting that when asked about her mother, also a singer (and “part-time” prostitute), Piaf said she could have made it but was simply unlucky. So I suppose that makes Piaf a lucky alcoholic drug and man addict. But who cares — France didn’t, nor do I. She was great, electric. She came from the gutter but is one of the best singers ever.
The album, released on 1 June, collects the songs that appear in the stage show, a mixture of original new songs written by Martyn together with half a dozen cover versions of Piaf’s own songs, sung in English and including her two most well-known tracks, “La Vie en Rose” and of course, “No Regrets (Non, Je ne Regrette Rien)”. As such, this latest title from the Tiger Lillies very much fits in with earlier albums whose inspiration was drawn from particular musical, or literary sources, as well as looking ahead to the forthcoming release based on the songs of Cole Porter.
As ever, Martyn’s singing and performance on accordion, piano, guitar or string synthesiser is sensitively accompanied by Adrian Stout’s multi-instrument playing, whether bass, theremin or musical saw, plus backing vocals; drum service is capably supplied by either Mike Pickering or Timothy Remfrey, and Timm Brockmann, expert mixer and masterer, contributes synthesiser on several of the tracks.