April 20, 1993.
The Pet Shop Boys’ London office. For the release of their new single, “Can You Forgive Her?”, Neil and Chris have decided to present themselves rather differently from the way they have in the past. Sitting on a Beidermicier cabinet is a model made by David Fielding, of their 1991 tour.It shows a stage with a backdrop of stars and a large egg. There are two small orange figures wearing pointy hats. One of them is sitting at the top of a ladder. These are the Pet Shop Boys.
On the other side of the room, the real, full-size Pet Shop Boys are still debating the details of if – and when – they will actually wear such clothes, With them are David Fielding, the photographer Chris Nash, a clothes maker and a stylist. A specimen orange suit – made out of the same sort of spongy material from which ski trousers are often fashioned – lies on the sofa. A cardboard pointy hat sits on the floor. Unfortunately the only person with a sufficiently large head to fill it is the observer from Literally, and so ram intermittently called upon to model it. The resulting spectacle seems to cause some amusement.
The meeting’s principal bone of contention seems to be shoes. David Fielding has suggested that they resemble loaves of bread. Neil and Chris are worried that this may he just one strange accessory too many.
“Maybe they could have lights on them,” suggests Chris.
“It’s the way it feels,” says Neil, explaining the problem. “It feels as though you’ve got fluffy slippers on.
“Maybe we could use fluffy slippers?” suggests Chris, logically. Lie is not being serious.
“Shall we come up with some options for shoes?” suggests David Fielding diplomatically.
“Yes,” nods Neil. Lie thinks for a moment. ‘I know what would look really good. Platforms.”
As they talk, a tape of the second “Can You Forgive Her?” CD single is playing. When Jolnany Marr’s mix of “I Want To Wake Up”
plays, there is some consternation. The instrumental mix has been used; they would prefer to use the vocal mix. A quick discussion ensues, and Chris descends the arching stairway to the other side of the office, and arranges for the new version to be substituted.
Meanwhile talk has turned to how happy -or otherwise – Neil and Chris will actually be to wear these clothes. They are to be featured not just in photos but in the song’s video, and on forthcoming TV appearances. They discuss Top Of The Pops.
“The worst moment is walking from the dressing room to the stage, “says Chris.
“No,” Neil disagrees, “the worst moment is when you’re standing on the stage, waiting to start.”
There is an idea that, for the video, they might walk around London – perhaps across Waterloo Bridge – wearing the clothes.
“I won’t do that,” insists Chris. “No way am I going to do that.”
“We’ll get stand-ins,” suggests Neil.
“I didn’t like it when we went up the escalator for ‘West End Girls’,” Chris expands. “There was a crowd when you got to the top.
We weren’t even famous then,” agrees Neil.
The photo session is set for the following week. The meeting is halted. Luke Goss is appearing on London Tonight to discuss his hook, and Neil and Chris don’t want to miss a moment.
April 29th, 1993.
The Wore photo studio, North London. In the dressing room Lynne Easton is applying make-up and the Pet Shop Boys are once more discussing Luke Goss. Neil has now read his hook – fairly gripping, he says. They also exchange gossip about Noel Coward, £17 and George Michael. Chris tries on his pointy hat.
“Guess who wears a hat like this?” he says. “That guy at the end of the Nirvana video, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.”
“Did he?” mutters Neil, a little bit anxiously.
“Yes,” says Chris, “but it’s not striped.”
They wriggle into their orange body suits.
“They’re very ballroom dancing,” says Neil.
“Very ice-skating.” Nods Chris. “john Curry.”
It takes some time for the clothes to be adjusted. Chris’s trouser legs are too long, and there is much fishing around his ankles with pins. Neil’s hat doesn’t quite balance right. In the end both hats are held in place by double-sided sticky tape. They have simple black shoes, spray-painted orange to match the clothes. They wear gloves: orange on their left hands, and white on their right.
Chris surveys his reflection.
“I’ve got a tummy,” he sighs. “Isn’t that terrible?”
“Do you know who’s got the biggest waist measurement in the Pet Shop Boys?” Neil asks me. “Clue: it’s not me.”
“It’s because I’m not vain,” Chris retorts, “You wouldn’t get a topless picture of me in Literally.
They chat with Lynne.
“The point of this,” Neil explains, “is to give us some sort of images, and we’re fed up with the way we’ve done things in the past. We want to intrigue people with the record and the video.” They discuss how they don’t plan on doing any interviews in America in the short terms, and Chris asks Neil why they still pay an American press agent.
“You’ve got to have someone to say ‘no’,’, Neil points out.
They wander out into the studio.
“It’s the orange-and-white minstrel show,” quips Chris.
Neil is to he photographed first, up a ladder. The photographs are to be shot by Chris Nash against a white background: a huge white curved surface which no-one else treads on without removing their shoes, so that dark scuff marks won’t show up on film. These photos will then he combined by computer with other still-life photographs he has already shot to create David Fielding’s original design. They chose the photographer because lie is represented by the same company as Eric Watson and they were shown his portfolio of past work one day, and liked it. The resulting images – the first proper photographs Neil and Chris have posed for since shooting the sleeve of “DJ Culture” -will be sent out by Parlophone records to magazines and newspapers, to accompany any articles about the Pet Shop Boys.
Neil sits on the ladder and both Chris Nash and David Fielding shout out instructions.’ try both hands to your breast!. . hands out, like Your’re surprised. . . stick out your fingers, like you’re a witch.
“Oh, “sighs Neil, as be responds to the latter instruction, “this is very Shakespeare’s Sister.”
“Have you been going to drama classes on the sly?” teases Chris.
“Look dead straight!” shouts Chris Nash.
“You know,” prompts Chris, “deadpan. Like your vocals.”
Next Neil points each index finger in different direction.
“He looks like an Italian traffic director,” says Chris.
After nearly an hour of Neil solo, they do some photos together. Meanwhile lunch – two plates of sandwiches – arrives. “Can We stop?” asks Chris. Not yet. Neil explains that, under the strictures of his rather complicated diet, he does not want to eat any bread. The photographer’s assistant telephones for a salad instead. It’s about another half an hour they do stop. They remain in their orange body suits, but doff the hats. Neil spends much of the Lunch break on the telephone to Trevor from Ignorance, discussing ways to promote their white label single (see News). Once he has finished, Neil and Chris also explain to Literally why they’re doing all of this. For the last few years, Pet Shop Boys photo sessions have usually consisted of them
wearing some new clothes they’d bought. Why the change?
“Well, to start with,” says Chris, “there aren’t any good clothes in the shops, are there? And these clothes are all part of the parcel. The starting point was the idea to work with someone who could develop a look and a stage set for TV performances, and see it through the video as well so that it was one constant idea which wasn’t just a fashion statement. Something that carried on what we’ve been doing with the last show. We called David Fielding and he presented us with models.”
“If you go on television, it’s boring just standing there doing a song.” Says Neil, “and we’ve done it so many times before that we wanted to have a mini-production to take onto shows. David Fielding brought about six different looks in to the office, and we chose this one, because it was simple, and you can use it in different kinds of ways. There are some crickets in the whole concept as well – four girls dressed as space age crickets who come on during the Top Of The Pops production. Chris does a little dance with them. They have chrome cricket bats.”‘
What’s the rationale behind looking like this?
“It was inspired – the dunces caps, anyway -by the references to school in ‘Can You Forgive Her?’,” Says Neil. “But, you know, we never really worry about what anything means.
What are people supposed to think when they see you?
“They’re supposed to think ‘oh, it’s the Pet Shop Boys’, “Says Neil, “but also that we’re doing something that is the opposite to what everyone else is doing.”
What is everyone else doing?
“Everyone’s being ‘real’,” Says Neil.
‘Real’ and ‘poor’,” Says Chris. We’re not about poverty.”
“We’re not about being ‘real’ either,” Says Neil.
So what is the opposite of being ‘real’?
“Being artificial,” Says Neil. “All of this is being carried through in the album packaging, but I actually can’t talk about it yet,” Says Neil. “What we’re doing is so revolutionary – quite seriously – we haven’t told anyone about it.”
“Well, almost revolutionary, “Says Chris.
“Yes, “agrees Neil. “When you see it, you will say ‘that’s almost revolutionary!”‘
And that is all they will say about that.
So what do the costumes feel like to wear?
“Very comfortable, but a bit tight, “Says Chris.
“A little bit restrictive,” Says Neil.
And the really important question are you naked underneath?
“No, “Says Neil. “I’m wearing underpants.”
“I’m wearing underpants,” Says Chris.
And old underpants as well, y-fronts, from quite a while ago. And a Stussy T-shirt. So there is still a fashion element to what we do..
After lunch it is Chris’s turn to be photographed alone. “This is bloody hard work,” he says after a while. “Why don’t we ever have simple ideas?” He has to pose in a variety of poses with a large egg, except that the egg is not here. It is one of the objects that will be added on the computer.
Once he done this, there are more photos of them together. “This is the sort of thing I wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about,”‘ says Neil, “thinking [can’t possibly goon television wearing this stupid costume we’re designing. But,” he laughs, “I’m already starting to feel comfortable in it.”
Chris Nash shouts at Neil to look more innocent. Neil does so, to his satisfaction. “That’s my new wide-eyed and innocent expression,”‘ Neil says between rolls of film, “developed for this look I’m like Roger Moore
– I only act with my eyebrows.”‘
As they pose on, David Fielding (who has been working on his own mini-opera festival of five fifteen minute pieces at the Donmar Warehouse in London, to be followed by some theatrical readings in Edinburgh) explains these shenanigans from his point of view.
“What we’ve done with the design for the set, which is where these costumes have come from,” he explains, “is we have created a storyline about two characters who ate horn from an egg. I wanted to create a metaphor about being horn, and being brought up in what seems to he an alien landscape on the Earth, and looking out beyond it, looking at the heavens, and thinking ‘why are we here?’. For the stage show Chris will have a telescope for looking at the stars. And then the stars suddenly become real flesh and blood as women who arrive on Earth, who don’t understand why they are presented with the vision of Neil and Chris looking as they do. And they find these cricket bats. And so some of the other elements in the song, which are all about growing up at school and finding the true sexuality during that period of development behind bike bicycle sheds or cricket pavilion, are reflected . . . so there are images connected with school games. The umpire’s ladder is tennis, and the chrome bats are cricket, and of course the women don’t quite know how to use them so they do this strange little dance routine. And the front curtain will have arithmetic on it, which links into the idea for the costume: a dunce cap images, but a witty, fantasy version of it, something more distanced.”
“No particular reason. The colors are just an emotional response. Just wanted something that was a very strong statement. When we do the video then hopefully what we will actually be doing is putting them in these costumes in every normal situations, so it just happens to be how they dress.’ they’re still going to work, and feeding the ducks in the park, and rowing on the lake, and maybe bidding for shares at the Stock Exchange. It’s just that their outlook is far more colorful than some of the things that surrounds them. I was trying to say some of the things we were saying in the tour, which ‘were to do with growing up and so forth, but I wanted to do that slightly more elliptically. I thought it would be nice if it had an abstract
surrealistic quality to it, but that some of that would subliminally come through to the audience.”
What do you want people to think when they see it?
“I want them to think it’s fun, but I want them to be beguiled. It’s meant to he diverting in a witty and amusing manner”
The Pet Shops Boys have now been here for nearly six hours. “It’s 5.25,” Chris announces at 5.25. “The time is ticking away. I’m out of here at 6. Regardless of whether we’ve got any more shots.”
“We only work until six o’clock,” agrees Neil.
“Six o’clock watershed,” says Chris.
“I’m going over the headache threshold,” says Neil.
“The novelty value has worn off,” smirks Chris. “I no longer find the outfits amusing.”
At six, they finish, and begin to undress.
“I’ve been dying for a pee for about three hours,” says Neil.
“Do you want to go now?” asks Lynne, who is removing his make-up
“No,” he says. “I have a massively strong bladder. I’m like The Queen.”
“Working,” sighs Chris, “is worth it for that feeling you get when you finish. If you don’t work, you don’t get that buzz. When [left Michael Aukett’s I just used to run. definitely feel like a large gin’n’tonic.”
“Or,” says Neil, “a large glass of champagne.”
” I think it’s good making this kind of effort,” says Chris, just before they dive into separate taxis.
“The more you put in,” Neil pronounces, “the more you get out.” He laughs. “That’s the kind of dreary aphorism I make when I’m in my schoolmaster mode.”
“The last time we put in so much effort,” reflects Chris, “was for the first version of ‘Opportunities’.”
“Yeah,” says Neil, with a chuckle. “Mind you, we only ever used one of the pictures.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1998: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1998 Issue 10