Idle Tigers
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Idle Tigers

Band Jazz Cabaret


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"The Spirit Salon album review"

'The Spirit Salon'
Released on 19 May 2008 on Le Grand Magistery

‘The Spirit Salon’ is the debut release by Ross Hawkins, aka Idle Tigers. A peculiarly northern gothic masterpiece that recalls both Jake Thackray’s hilarious narratives, and Philip Jeays’s more comedic moments. There is also a healthy dose of Momus 's frequent explorations in analogue baroque scattered throughout. This is retro futurism meets vaudeville. A music that only ever existed in the supernatural imagination of Hawkins himself.
Aesthetically astute, and with a keen ear and an even keener eye for audio sartorialism ‘Prologue’ is a lovely opener, immediately placing this album a million miles apart from anything and everything else available in today’s contemporary pop music. Ross Hawkins is an intellectual and arch dandy of Noel Coward proportions, just look at that quite spectacular cover photo of him for a start!
‘The Shadow Falls Across The Fridge, Frank’ is a fine example of Hawkins supercalifragilisticexpialidocious vocal delivery. Whilst not a great singer, Hawkins makes up for his lack of golden tonsils by his sheer lyrical astuteness, and sonic craftsmanship.
‘Giving Up The Ghost’ is an exemplar of this, as is the next track, a quirky duet featuring the voice of Alaska Blue. ‘My Girlfriend Was Insulted By A Futurist artist’ is surely one of the best song titles ever. Hawkins and Blue’s duet is exquisite with some wonderful lyrical interplay such as ‘he was a modernist misogynist art star’ and ‘ the cock of the avant garde’, which is not a phrase that you hear very often in today’s popular fluff. It could almost be an outtake from Momus’s great ‘Ping Pong’ album.
‘Put Your Trousers On’ is Hawkins’s mandolin playing tribute to Thakray’s northern humour.
‘Treat Me Like A Fairy’ is bizarre Japanese electro pop, featuring the voice of Anne Marie Varrella, and sounding like a mutant Yellow Magic Orchestra at a séance.
‘Catfish’ is a perversely aquatically flavoured Spanish sea shanty, as performed by the BBC radiophonic workshop. Before breaking into an eighties type rave breakdown of techno inspired jiggery-pokery. Perverse and quite brilliant! Once more revealing that ‘The Spirit Salon’ is that all too rare example of an album that you can tell was made with love and attention to detail.
‘Jonah’ is another twisted narrative on one man’s own idiosyncratic preoccupations, and would not have been too out of place on Momus’s ‘Circus Maximus’ album. In fact, it appears as if Hawkins is determined to pick up where Momus left off in the early nineties, and by all accounts on this debut he’s actually succeeding.
‘The Wanderer’ is yet another menacing slice of spooky pop, before we get the simply brilliant ‘The Small Electrical Lieutenant’. This is an ace Lazarus like take on Philip K Dick’s dystopian sci-fi, which is simply stunning in its execution, and the sort of track that one wishes Gary Numan were making these days. Needless to say that it’s brilliant.
‘Every Young Lad Needs Mates’ sees Hawkins apparently reminiscing on the last of his lost boyish days before giving way to ‘Organ Grinders’ and ‘Barnaby’s Visit’, two slices of spooky concrete experimentalism, complete with poltergeist!
‘Unlace Me Behind The Hedge’ sees Hawkins plumy George Formby vocal being applied to a tale of lust and sexual frustration, as he sings ‘I couldn’t be any wetter then I am’ as he approaches the songs, er… climax?
Then we get another fabulously titled track in the shape of ‘Light Entertainer In Prison’. Hawkins once again depl0ying Atari like programming for his beats and bleeps. ‘The Spirit Salon’s finale is ‘Lord Byron’s Marriage’, which is a gorgeously sculptured piece of left field pop music, that ends proceedings in fine style. ‘The Spirit Salon’ is an esoteric album, in turns both literary and baroque, scattered throughout by intermittent blips and bleeps. Made with vintage analogue synths and Casio keyboards, its eccentric soundscapes and atmospheric collages are stunningly original in their execution. This is audio experimentalism for grown ups, a deeply absorbing album that will hold up to repeated listening, continuing to reveal itself in all its spooky left-field auterism.

Posted on 7 April 2008 by Keith Haworth

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"The Spirit Salon disc review"

Warning: picking up Toronto-?based Idle Tigers’ (aka expatriated Brit Ross Hawkins) debut without having first seen one of his cabaret-?style live shows might cause serious bewilderment.

An assortment of empty chamber pop and lo-?fi electronica made all the more niche by Hawkins’s penchant for humorous Victorian-?speak (“‘Where do you want me to touch you?’ she said. ‘Here, by the side of the road,’ I said,� he utters un-?erotically on Unlace Me Behind The Hedge), The Spirit Salon brings together a miscreant cast of fairies, fops and felons. In Hawkins’s words, light entertainment for highbrow ruffians. - Now Toronto

"Idle Tigers live review"

The Blue Anchor, London, 28th June 2008

Featured Artists: Idle Tigers
Idle Tigers are a one man band fronted by spiritualist vessel and sole member of the vaudevillian electro avant-garde - Ross Hawkins. Tonight’s show at The Blue Anchor is a low-key friends and associates only affair.

Hawkins is, by turns, both charming and slightly self-deprecating - a hesitant raconteur and remains somewhat awkward throughout the night’s performance of comedic fables of catfish, whales, ghost channelling mediums and Lord Byron infused esoterica. Dressed as a refugee from the sound of music, this evening's songs are drawn largely from his recently released debut album 'The Spirit Salon'. However, included are a couple of new songs that bode well for the future and suggest that Idle Tigers have been far from idle over the summer months.

Among the sets highlights were a thrilling version of 'Jonah', a dramatic reading of 'Light Entertainer In Prison' and the surprise guest appearance of Alaska Blue, who added her Sarah Nixey-esque vocal to a rather shambolic version of 'My Girlfriend Was Insulted By A Futurist Artist'. These retro electro pop experiments are indebted to the earlier sonic explorations of Nick Currie’s Momus' 'Stars Forever' album, surely no coincidence then that Currie was in the audience for tonight’s show? This was light entertainment for the séance fraternity, a leftfield pop thrill that was a refreshing alternative to the indie rock brigade. Idle Tigers are still burning bright in the urban jungle of the London night.

Posted on 30 June 2008 by Keith Haworth

"Appreciation of Idle Tigers by Scottish artist & singer, Momus, on his website"

Through the looking glass

One of the nicest things about ego-surfing is this paradox: when you go searching for yourself out there in etherspace, what you find is inevitably other people. The fact that they're other people who happen, for the moment, to be talking about you is important, though; a kind of affinity filter guaranteeing that you'll have something in common.

I first landed on Ross Hawkins' Ideal Tiger blog when Technorati alerted me to someone talking about me and Jake Thackray on the same page. Since I'm a huge Thackray fan, I was delighted to read Ross' appreciation of the darkly funny Anglo-chansonnier, which locates Thackray as much within the perimeters of Lord Whimsy's "affected provincialism" (thus neatly side-stepping tiresome questions of authenticity) as my own slapstick glitch vaudeville sketches (Hawkins compares Thackray's "Pass Milord The Rooster Juice" -- a song you can hear him covering on his MySpace page -- to my "Corkscrew King").

It was when I found myself mentioned again -- this time in the context of a splendid meditation on the English garden and its connections to Mark E. Smith, Brian Eno and Carsten Nicolai -- that I decided to take a listen to the mp3 files at the side of the page, recorded under the name The Idle Tigers.

The material intrigued me. It was gently deviant -- "delicate with a purpose," as Ross says of his friend Anne Marie Varella, "like all atmospheric art".

Hawkins seems to be a young man suffused with delicate, carefully-structured lust, a neo-Victorian from Bradford, England who's relocated -- possibly for the purpose of study -- to Toronto, Canada. The world of his songs, though, has stayed rooted in England, or rather, the imaginary, filtered England that rises up in the spirit of an exile, replacing the reality with something more mythical. Here Lewis Carroll meets Brian Eno, and music hall meets the avant garde. Listening to The Shadow Falls Across The Fridge, Frank I was reminded of my first listens to Toog or The Divine Comedy (if they'd listened to a lot more Pierre Schaeffer) or, much further back, The Passage. These songs seemed to come from the odd place where the breezy meets the zany, and it's there we can have adventures in wonderland.

Unlace Me Behind the Hedge is a touching, absurd account of a sexual encounter which somehow reminds me of Artery's mysterious song "Into the Garden" (a Peel favourite in the 80s, it concerns sibling sex). "I reckon that sex is just special effects," the fey-voiced Hawkins sings against piano arpeggios, "a rite, a performance by the fireworks department". His song Jonah could almost be something off my own first album, Circus Maximus.

On my fantasy record label, Idle Tigers would record their debut album (if they haven't already) with prepared pianist Hauschka (see him live here). - Click Opera

"Idle Tigers interview with Wavelength, Toronto"


purveyor of: a hitch in your giddyup

Feel like rock music has lost its zazz? Hip hop has become a parody of itself? Pop music is amoral? Jazz sucks? Looking for something fresh to clean your palette? Look no further. Ross Hawkins, as Idle Tigers, makes music that sounds like an empty circus. Ryan McLaren sat down with him and found a man as endearing as his music. And he's got one of those accents that make you swoon.

You've got a really unique sound going on. It's kind of minimalist electro cabaret. Care to explain how you came to make this band?

Well, the tendency towards minimalism happened out of necessity, making bedroom recordings on cheap 4-tracks, but it's a habit that I intend to stick with. I like the idea of making music that has a little bit more empty space than feels quite comfortable on a pop record. If there's a cabaret element (and I do listen to lots of old European cabaret and English music hall recordings) then that's just the result of me being drawn to telling stories or playing roles -- thus teasing out a shy theatricality in me. This kind of honest role-playing and pretending seems preferable to rock music's insistence on "authenticity", whatever that's supposed to mean. And that's what the synths are doing -- producing fabricated sounds to suit my fabricated moods and personalities.

Are there specific influences that you draw from?

Lots! I'm often quite masochistically "influenced" by people who can do things that I could never do, so at the moment I'm perversely drawn to rich or extraordinary voices like Scott Walker, Klaus Nomi, Antony, Diamanda Galas... which are all, in their way, a million miles away from my little whisper of a voice. Then there are tale-tellers like Jacques Brel, Momus, George Formby; confusing entities like Bowie and Fad Gadget; and Idle Tigers began as an almost entirely instrumental project, following the example of Pauline Oliveros and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

What kind of gear do you use? I'm imagining some weird DAT tape loops and a few Casios.

A technical question! Yes, poorly circuit-bent Casios have served me well, and they're becoming nicely unpredictable with old age. When playing live, I prefer using chunky analog synths for the same reason. I like my technology to have a rusty/rustic sound. I also try to use a mandolin, mostly because I can't.

You have a couple other projects on the go that are mostly conceptual, correct? Can you explain a little bit about them?

How did you know that? Music-making began for me as part of a three-person alliance with two brilliant fellows, Jonny Opinion and Kieran Mitton. In a sense, Idle Tigers remains just a single shelf in that cabinet, otherwise known as The Shadow Cabinet.

The Exploding Myths is the barely-musical, transvestite, womandolin project of my shy female self, Rose. She's useless.

Do you approach Idle Tigers as a conceptual project?

That's a tricky one. The name is plural because although there's only one member, I want to remain open to the possibility of multiple versions of myself. I do approach individual shows conceptually. I have quite a lot of material at my disposal, so each set list is put together with a particular theme in mind. In that respect I'm influenced by radio DJs, actually.

Let's say you’re applying for a grant. What would the blurb to describe this band look like?

I beg your pardon but I'm going to be rather lazy and supply my favourite parts of the writing that Jonny made for me as suggested sleeve notes for the album I'm making at the moment: "Idle Tigers are deeply suspect" (which is true) and "the human race does not deserve something so pretentious".

You're originally from Britain, correct? How has that influenced what you do?

Firstly, nationality doesn't really mean anything, and I consider myself, if anything, European rather than British.

However, my songs are very dirty with local colour. I'm from Bradford, in Yorkshire, and I'm interested in a kind of Northern Gothic which is a camp or exaggerated type of provincialism, often leading towards the supernatural. It's in the novels of the Bronte sisters, it's in the famous hoaxed photographs of fairies made by young girls in Bradford in the 1910s, and it’s in the songs of Jake Thackray, my very favourite Yorkshireman.

My engagement with Englishness as a cultural identity is essentially nostalgic, since I'm living in Canada now. Luke Haines, another English songwriter who I've listened to a lot, coined the term "hostalgia" to describe his complicated obsession with the country's recent past, which combines hostility to the past with an unresolved longing for "home". I find that understandable.

Music: for love or money?

I'll turn to Luke Haines again--"I'm like an off-duty comedian at the end of bad night: / Easy to admire, difficult to love..." I wouldn't want people to love me for my music. Music is what the entire order of the universe i -


2008 -- The Spirit Salon LP COMING SOON (May 20th 2008)



Idle Tigers began as the work of a gentleman-amateur playing with machines in the grim north of England. The gentleman in question moved to Canada where he has since been under the impression that he is the womanly ghost of a neglected star of the Victorian music hall stage; an American record label, seeing some potential in his story-telling and all-round light entertainment, offered an outlet for his recorded works.