The morning starts with images of water spilling from Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam, prompting mass evacuations and fears of large-scale devastation. It’s a reminder that the conflict is very much not over. But for one UK band at least, it’s not enough to put them off playing in the war-torn country. In a few weeks’ time, cult favourites The Tiger Lillies will become the first western act to play Ukraine since the Russian invasion, with dates in Kyiv and Lviv.
“I think it’s our duty to support Ukraine,” says Martyn Jacques – leader of the dark cabaret trio, currently on tour in England – when he catches up with The Big Issue just hours after the attack on the reservoir that provides water to Crimea and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
“We used to play there quite often. We’ve played in eastern European countries a lot through the years, so I’m quite attached to it, in a way which a lot of people in western Europe aren’t. I have very good friends in Ukraine,” Jacques adds. “We used to play in Russia a lot as well. We were popular there actually. But obviously we’re not going to be going back there now.”
Eluding easy explanation, The Tiger Lillies have been weaving dark, accordion-heavy tales from the fringes of society for more than three decades. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “play with music” The Threepenny Opera – very much including its critique of capitalism – as well as punk, music hall and gypsy music, Jacques says they “don’t fit into any particular genre, or any particular fashion. We’re the weirdos that don’t really fit in.”
It’s partly that outsider status that has motivated Jacques to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Having spent his younger years living in squats and hanging out “with prostitutes and junkies”, he feels a kinship with the underdog. “Weirdos get bullied quite a lot. And I think that’s kind of what’s happened: there’s a very big country attacking a much smaller country. This isn’t about politics. This is actually about bullying,” he says. “All these innocent people being murdered, children dying. I just felt, well I can’t do much – but I can at least try to express my anger.
“The Russian government are gangsters and bullies. I’m standing up against the horrible bullies, standing up against gangsters.”