London 2017.5.6 The Kings Head Theatre

On my way to see the Kings Head Theatre Bar since I’m in the area, where Tiger Lillies used to play in their early years. When I was about 7, my designer parents dragged us to the Business Design Centre on Upper Street in Islington, for example to a chair festival called Sit, where we sat a lot, on all kinds of 80s and 90s chairs, and I made friends with a couple of drunks.

jonas sit 5.1988
Is that a meaningful hand gesture?

Around the same time (circa 1990), Tiger Lillies might have been performing a few blocks away on the stage I’m sitting on today, at the Kings Head Theatre, front bar. It’s an off-West-End theatre, with an old bar in the front where bands can play.


The stage is only about 4 feet squared, can almost not fit a regular drum set, is close to the tables, good for spitting at the audience, and being heard.


A promoter in Israel once asked Martyn why he started playing upbeat or raucous songs, since his ballads are so favoured by so many. His answer was that in places like the Kings Head, people wouldn’t listen to anything that wasn’t belted out or shouted, so he made songs to fit that scenario, and it seemed to force them to listen.

A lady has been squinting around the room at people for 20 minutes. All the tables are occupied, and at 18:45 on a saturday, numbers are doubling as they come in to see a new version of the Magic Flute by The Charles Court Opera. Apparently it’s ‘rewritten on acid’.

The staff have never heard of Tiger Lillies. Picture frames on the wall look old, showing actors and comedians among the most well-established in the country or London, that have all performed here: Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, John Sessions, Tom Stoppard, Joanna Lumley, Tom Conti, Helen Lederer, Mel Smith, Rupert Graves, Maureen Lipman, Steven Berkoff. All the big dahlings.

Kings Head (one of the most common pub names in Great Britain) has been here since 1543 as a Tavern, and became a theatre in 1970. You may have seen Catchpenny Twist, Let’s Murder Vivaldi, The Jockeys of Norfolk, Spokesong, Artist Descending a Staircase, Mr Cinders, Peter Pan.
Tiger Lillies always worked well in a ‘thespian’ context of course, maybe theatre audiences liked seeing them here where they can’t escape. I never went to the Trolley Stop in Dalston which is gone now, but a number of my friends saw them play there too. Why did someone call their own band the Shockheaded Peters? The Tiger Lillies show really made a name of it either way. Most English fans and other fans I talk to saw that, whether at West Yorkshire Playhouse, or in the West End at Piccadilly Theatre, or West London at Lyric Hammersmith… People usually can’t remember where or when but, that they liked it. I’m not going to pretend I’ve seen it. It was around the early Shockheaded Peter days that the interviewer from WFMU picked up on their story of getting banned from Union Chapel which I pictured on the bus as I was leaving.


This big church puts on bands and has become a bona fide venue. They were going to have Tiger Lillies play on Good Friday, but I don’t know what they were thinking or expecting. Maybe they wanted purgatory. Someone called the Lillies a rock band and the church must have felt open minded enough to fall for the trap. Somewhere out there is a flyer inviting people to dress as Jesus and Mary Magdalene and get a prize! But I don’t know where it is. But the stories in these links from around that time are below.

Back then I was getting bored with rock music lke Martyn, but still didn’t know, for example, what a bass drum was. While Tiger Lillies were releasing Farmyard Filth with songs about debasing animals, I was trying to understand why my cat had to die, dancing around his grave to get him back, but I’m still not sure if it worked. At the time I ran away in fear that I could actually see a paw raising from the grave.