The Festival of Voice played host this week to a rare UK outing of the Tiger Lillies’ The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a 45-minute live musical epic inspired by the deeply personal photographic narrative created by the American photographer Nan Golding, of the LGBT+ communities of Boston, New York and Berlin.
Taken between 1983-2006, the images capture the most intimate of moments: women first, their bodies intertwined in social, domestic and carnal poses; eyes sometimes challenging the camera’s gaze, at others gazing softly at their mirrored reflection; bodies on display at moments of ecstasy, the private knowingly made public; snap shots of love, longing and sensuality alongside those of brutality, bruised breasts and defiant faces, an angry caesarean scar above a full vulva, the marks of self-harm; laughing women holding rifles (how vicious women can be in defence I think) and then the same for the men: tender illustrations of couples embracing, kissing, proudly pleasuring themselves in big American cars; post-coital snoozes on damp sheets, and then violence, the accusatory stare, the brandishing of weapons (how vicious men can be in attack I think then).
Golding captured friends and family and was gifted with more imagery as her collection was publicised, beginning its life on the New York pub circuit, before it hit museums and film festivals the world over. Many of her subjects died in the 90’s, victims of the opioid crisis and the AIDS pandemic and this was her way of keeping their memory alive, of affirming the validity of the LGBT+ community in a post-punk, post-Stonewall era.
And for Tiger Lillies frontman Martyn Jaques (vocals, piano, accordion and ukulele), Golding’s images of an urban subculture reminded him of his own youth fuelled by drugs, sex, night clubs and fetishism. He, along with Adrian Stout(on double bass, saw and theremin), and Jonas Golland (beautifully deadpan on drums, percussion and backing vocals), presents “one continuous piece of music that evolves and underscores the beauty, pain, joy, tragedy and sorrow of relationships”.
Plastered in their trademark skull-like makeup, the trio hold the Sherman auditorium in a state of quiet reverence, acrid lyrics delivered in Jaques’ distinctive falsetto – “and so we drink for fear of death…death to the junky, death to the fool…death to the workman, the addict on crack…death to the whore who’s on her back…well death to you and death to me” – a plaintive piano refrain, a soaring warble from the theremin.
It is serious, moving stuff. Yet this is a show of two halves and after the interval, those more accustomed to the quirky and darkly humorous themes usually presented by these Godfathers of Brechtian punk cabaret, are treated to I Could Have Danced All Night, the beguilingly blasphemous Go, Rosa With Three Hearts, the rather sombre Bank Robber Blues, the poignantSend In The Clowns, with the bawdy Lobotomyproviding laughs twice over when it’s later requested by an audience member (“We’ve played it already! Have you had one sir?”).
It’s not until the encore that the real belly-aching goods are delivered, with rousing renditions of Gin,Snip Snipand Banging in the Nails. It is all delightfully perverse.
“I think I’m going to hell” Jaque gleefully exclaims.
“Yes.” Stout retorts, “We’re the support act for the Rolling Stones”
I am sure that the thousands packing the Principality Stadium will be no more as moved and entertained than we are by what is undoubtedly an ingenious bit of programming by the curators of the Festival of Voice.