TV Times & Entertainment,
a local magazine he’s just bought because they’re on the cover ‘The article – a straightforward band history – is funny but Neil is more impressed. Thrilled even, by a piece about the pinhole of mounting hysteria at Hong Kong concerts because it suggests that security will have to be especially good to cope with the response to the Pet Shop Boys.
He reflects that the group’s management and publishing contracts expire soon and that they arc undecided as to what to do, and mentions how pleased he is that a German group arc recording a Pet Shop Boys B-side “Do I Have To?”. He says that the other day he made a tape of all their slushy ballads and hopes that one day they will put cut “The Slush Album”.
That evening Andrew Bull lakes the whole entourage out to dinner, We are told that we are to cat on a boat floating in the harbor and indeed we do though the boats – three. About ten people each, pulled together – only move about 20 yards from our embarkation point down a narrow avenue of moored boats. The sea has a stagnant smell. As we sit there smaller boats pull alongside and we arc offered a choice of as yet uncooked loads. Paraded before our eyes in full gory biological horror- We indicate our choices and a succession of squashed ducks, slued, sea shells and noodles are cooked then handed up, When we have finished and pushed our paper plates piled with empty shells and bones to the center of the table a waitress daintily stacks them, lifts them off the table and then. With a deft flick of the wrist tosses them into the water behind us. S(H)n we arc surrounded by a’ flotilla of plates and prawn shells.
To go to the toilet you simply climb through a ennui to the back of the boat where some timber has been removed and pee into the water. Chris. Alone. Decides that he doesn’t like the sound of this and clambers onto a moored boat and disappears to find some greater privacy. The dancers, getting restless, start tipping one of our boats from side to side, Don’t rock the boat,” titters Neil. Then a music boat arrives. Musicians , a singer and a list of songs that is handed up to us as if it were the pudding menu Someone plumps for “Sealed With A Kiss” – number one in the Britain for Jason Donovan as we left – and a sweet Cantonese version follows, chased by an impenetrable distant relation of The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Then Pinkie, one of the wardrobe department, jumps up, as She is dressed as she will be on every day of the tour – in amazing pink finery and is immaculately made up: when she arrived in Loss Angeles she was on an agency’s books as a Betty Garble look-alike, On this tour she will he forever stared at and often assumed to be the star of the party. The Pet Shop Boys take a strange pride in the attention she attracts though once, when Murray. Their British press officer suggests that they are photographed with her Neil. Only half-jokingly snaps “we’re not in the business of making Pinkie a star. You know?” Tonight. Hearing it is someone’s birthday. She serenades the boat with a deliberately fragile and tremble Marilyn Monroe version of “Happy Birthday”
Afterwards we try one discos called Hot Gossips and floods, For everyone is drunk: everyone dances, Most people slink away from Boobs at about 3am but a few stay. One of the crew is enticed to take a girl back to the hotel despite warnings from a sober Dainton that she looks like trouble, He is woken at II o’clock the next morning by a call from the venue. Re had been due there hours before. The girl has gone. So has £400 in various currencies and £60 of spirits from the mini-bar in his room. Re suspects he was drugged and later it turns out that be isn’t the first to be similarly duped. ‘I don’t even remember what she looked like,” he sighs
Tuesday June27 The Pet Shop Boys don’t give press conferences as a rule They’re happier doing what interviews they do face to face with individual journalists aware that it’s the only way they can encourage articles about them to be more than general information and vague chatter. Press conferences are one of the great modern -media tools. By which, under the pretense of giving access and information, a lot of people learn Avery little. But at the start of their tour they arc keen to show willing, especially as the two Hong Kong concerts arc far from sold out, and so at II o’clock this morning about 50 journalists and a couple of TV crews gather in one of the hotel’s reception rooms. Many of them are from Chinese-language papers and speak little English but there is no interpreter. Some gold and platinum discs arc stacked in the corner but a few minutes Therefore the Pet Shop Boys appear they are mysteriously carried away again. The Pet Shop Boys are to sit at a table and speak through microphones. Connected to the sort of altered old speaker usually seen at school discos, hut for the first ten minutes of the conference it refuses to work, and as they talk an elderly man in overalls beavers away wearily trying to fix it There is lighting too – one intense yellow-white bulb but before they arrive there is a bold ker-puff and it blows. Neil and Chris appear about 20 minutes late – slightly outrageous rock’n’roll behavior to the punctual locals. Perhaps they arranger that the hectic business of being a celebrity has delayed them. Len fact Chris has been sorting out his dry clearing
After the photographer have been allowed a couple of minutes Andrew Bull introduces them On behalf of myself, EMI. – The list goes on and no- but they don’t pays much attrition.
The reaction is instantaneous Levi’s?” exclaims Chris, furiously. The Pet Shop Boys are deeply particular about sponsorship In principle they oppose it completely but like many artists outside their home country they relax their rules a little Nevertheless they are stilt painstaking about what they will or will not allow and Levi’s small-sale sponsorship of the advertising of the Hong Kong leg of the tour has been very carefully negotiated – no direct or public endorsements, no banners at the concerts and so. On And most certainly no announcements like this at their press conference. They are livid. For the moment they merely fume and meaningfully exchange where’ll be hell to pay for this” looks want a retraction,” Chris spits afterwards Neil looks at Chris in utter disbelief. A retraction? They have just been publicly associated with Levies in front of a nation’s press and Chris wants ~a retraction”. ‘I want one thousand dollars,” says Neil. For the rest of their visit the promoter will bear of little else. He has almost certainly. They speculate, made promises he couldn’t keep”. don’t know why anyone wants to do sponsorship’: with us,” Neil says, ‘because you get not in return You get absolutely nothing. Literally nothing You’re not allowed to meet us or anything” It’s a policy that – in theory at least they take to extremes. Though Neil is wearing a pair of black Adidas training shoes that he was given by Adidas in Los Angeles, as a rule they say they’d rather not accept things Chris typically says that if they were sponsored by someone whose products he already used he’ll stop using them immediately ‘There’s no such thing as nothing for nothing,” sighs Neil.
‘I don’t like anyone to feel they’ve got a hold on me,” agrees Chris ‘They always want something’ The Pet Shop Boys,” announces Ricky Fang, head of ISMI records in Hong Kong, introducing them a second time, “are one of the biggest artist to emerge, after Madonna, in Hong Kong.” This is something that we will hear again and again during our stay, that in Hong Kong the Pet Shop Boys are ‘second only to Madonna Once Ricky Fueng sits down there is silence. Everyone waits for everyone else to ask the first question.
“Where’s Rick Sky then?” asks Chris Rick Sky is the main pop writer on The Sun and over the last couple of days they have been speculating whether he or one of his ilk, will turn up and begin hounding them in search of scuzzy stories. They are relieved that he isn’t, though I suspect they’re also slightly disappointed as if they expected they’d all be here anyway To begin with they are all obvious ones about the tour: why they chose Hong Kong to start in, how the show will be and soon. Neil plays his role as diplomat, patiently taking through the explanations that the two of them are already long bored with, while Chris fidgets and occasionally scowls as if to say ‘well, this is dull, isn’t it?” The press conference has been going less than ten minutes and Neil has just tried to explain their success in the Far East (an earnest account of the popularity of ‘European dance music” here followed by the observation ‘it’s always difficult to explain your own popularity. Someone told me that because our first alb m was called Please everyone thought we were very polite”) when Chris first says is that it then?”
He perks up when the questions get more interesting As the minutes pass one journalist with a Liverpool accent more or less commandeers the press conference as a private interview lie has read Annually, a photocopy of which seems to have been provided to all Hong Kong journalists as the press pack, and refers to an article where they list and comment on their ten favorite records as of the summer of 1988. He reads out part of Chris’ approving comments on Kyle Minogue’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky”: “1 like the bit where she goes I should be so lucky’ and I just love the line ”should be so lucky, lucky lucky lucky’. If that’s banal it’s a strength it’s just a mark of pure genius” Are you being serious,” he asks Chris, “or are you taking the Mickey?” He is cockily confident it is the latter “No, I’m being serious” answers Chris truthfully. It’s like my favorite line in that other record is ‘uh-uh-oh”‘ That other record, after some discussion is identified as Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” That’s a classic line as well because it’s a no-nonsense it’s just pure ecstasy”.
A little baffled, the journalist nods and turns to Neil. He reminds Neil that he likewise raved about the original cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Fair Lady ‘Shame on you,’ laughs Chris, turning to Neil ‘Rex Harrison speaks rather than sign’s,” says the journalist earnestly “I was wondering if you’d taken that singing style into your records.”
Neil looks pleased as punch by this question. ‘Actually no one’s ever picked upon that before but it’s true I’ve always liked stage musicals and I think you’ll see the influence of that on Thursday night Rex Harn’son does have a speaking singing voice and I think songs like ‘Opportunities’ have the same kind of recitative quality” He has earlier observed that the first three songs (“One More Chance”, “Opportunities and “Left To My Own Devices”) share this quality This isn’t entirely by chance. Though they are both appalled at the suggestions that their failure to tour before has been because of stage fright – the unwelcome implication being that their normal reticence isn’t for a reason but is just timidity it is true that Neil has been worried about his voice. As he had put it back in England he good thing about the first three songs is’ don’t really have to sing
Neil: We were always going to get another singer I was only singing as a holding operation in fact at one point we thought about asking Jimmy Somerville to sing with us, because we saw that video he was in, ha famous gay video
Chris: Revenge Or The Teenage Perverts.
Neil: He sang a song on it that ended upon bronki beat’s first album (“Screaming’) and we thought then, because Chris vagary knew him. Ha we might ask him to sing because we though’ he was so good.
Chris: flow fortunate we were
Neil: Exactly. That wouldn’t have lasted but I became the singer by default. We often used to discuss having a singer. When we went:’) see Sharon filed at the Embassy Club there were these two black girls singing along who were a real laugh and we nearly asked them, but we decided not to. When did you stop looking’?
Neil: When we started making records. Then it was too late But ~ never like my voice Did you change your mind when you beard it on record?
Neil: It just seemed too late.
The questions turn back to the show. Will they dance? “I do a bit of a dance routine,” nods Chris, which is dead good.” Neil explains once more about the Los Angeles dancers. [Just sway in front of them.” He says Someone asks how much of the show is programmed. Perhaps the majority of large pop shows these days have a lot of programmed material; the standard answer to this question is to mutter that a couple of things are but that it won’t affect the live feel.
‘Virtually all of it,” chirps Chris. He painstakingly explains how the music Is generated live on stage from preprogrammed linked sequences that trigger computer-memorised banks of samples, talks about how this means that the sounds are first-. Not secondgeneration sounds as they would be if they were on tape and how they could change an arrangement whenever they want to. And about how the best thing about this is that it brings onto the stage the very same technology that they used to make records in the studio. It’s an impressive. Coherent speech and one or which no one seems to take a blind bit of notice Later when they write review’: favorable or not, to a person they mention the Pet Shop boys’ backing tapes ‘-I can’t really think of anything like it,’ says Neil, asked once more to pontificate about the show “Maybe the Grace Jones One Man Show. Flu Andy warhol did things in the ’60s with the velvet Underground,” objects the journalist with the Liverpool accent. Neil takes this objection seriously. That was In a more experimental way, he counters.
So is it, the journalist responds, a show with much room for audience participation or Is it purely a spectacle for people to view? Neil turns to his side. ‘Chris’s?” He is perhaps unwilling to choose an answer to this as he knows that Chris has been declaring for weeks that if their concerts turn into chummy clinched participation affairs where people wave their hands or punch their fists or – the worst sin of all – hold up flickering lighters during slow songs he is to storm off stage. But his response is conciliatory.
“Do what you want to, I suppose. He grunts. Do they expect to see the stadium rocking’?, the journalist persists. Neil wrinkles his face, disturbed by the terms used. “I don’t know about ‘rocking, he says carefully pronouncing the offensive word as you would pick up something rather unpleasant and put it by the side of your plate, ‘lout hope they’ll be moving slightly.” Have they got any guitars on stage? they are asked. “Don’t be ridiculous,’ Chris huffs. Several weeks later after this response has been quoted in smash ;Hits, they print a letter from an Allison Taylor, objecting to this.’
Chris explains ‘don’t be ridiculous!’ Oh, very sorry, sir. What a ridiculous notion right enough. Guitars are dreadfully unfashionable, aren’t they? Best just stick to being a crap twinkling synth duo because it’s so very ‘8Os”. Early ’80s, to be precise. Plus you can’t play a guitar with one finger, can you? . . what a pillock!” When he reads this Chris is upset. At the time his comment about guitars gets a laugh and he is asked to explain further. “Just because of its rock’n’roll connotations. I don’t like the look of them either.” A lot of people, continues the Liverpool accent, have criticized lyrics like “we’re S.H.O.PP.I.N.G. . . , we’re shopping” for being too banal. Neil looks a little naked. “Shopping” is actually a relatively straightforward anti-privatisation song. “Well,” he sighs pointedly, ‘they’ve also been criticized for being too intellectual.”
Finally the Liverpool accent lunges at the conclusion he’s being edging towards throughout the press conference. “Is the whole thing tongue-in-cheek?” he asks. “A lot of it seems . . . you are perfectly aware that the pop business is a very one-dimensional one, that it’s very easy to influence people . . but on another level what you do does seem to verge on the pretentious. What is the Pet Shop Boys’ view on this?” In other words are the Pet Shop Boys, as is often assumed, more often by critics who like them than don’t,
just making pop music as some sort of superior, clever clever, ironic joke, forever secretively tapping their noses to those smart enough to be in the know? “Well,” says Neil, “firstly the Pet Shop Boys genuinely love pop music, which makes them quite rare in the music business. “He music business itself, particularly in Britain, tends to despise pop music. So if Chris says in an interview that he genuinely likes a Kylie Minogue record people assume that he’s taking the Mickey for some reason, whereas we appreciate the real ecstatic response that a really good pop or dance record can generate, and ‘think that’s probably our favorite thing about pop music, “Threes also a kind of assumption that if you re writing pop music it’s not an important kind of music, whereas rock music – you mentioned U2 earlier – is perceived as being an important kind of music. And I don’t really like the idea of people projecting themselves as being important humanitarian figures. Which is the tendency or rock personalities nowadays. At the same time it doesn’t mean that when you’re writing a pop son it can’t have some kind of serious meaning. And if people want to discover that for themselves that’s great. At the same time if they don’t want to . . if they don’t notice it
I think that’s great as well. Because they’re just responding to pop music in different ways. Having said that, I think there’s one of the reasons why the Pet Shop Boys have a strangely wide audience. In flatten for instance we get the whole spectrum front primary school children through to people parents and kind of – NME journalists and all the rest or it- So. Although we present ourselves in a kind of pretentious way sometimes I don’t think we’re really at all pretentious-I think were one of the few honest groups in our approach that there are nowadays. Because I don think many groups nowadays arc the remotest bit honest. I think there’s a lot of hypeonsy in the trick business which you don’t find in the POP business. . – in pop music. People now pose as hamanitanan figures – they’re all Mother rehires of Calcutta or someone and at the end of the day they’re only pop stars, normally singing fairly uninterestingly banal things This is an unusually straightforward and forthright explanation of sonic of the Pet Shop Boys central principals but there’s little obvious interest in what Neil has said from m his audience and none of the above is printed in the newspapers the next day.
This is the first generation for ages who wanes to be like their parents That, by the way. Invoices being quire a nice person it doesn’t necessarily involves liking ,Mrs Thatcher This girl who write to me say’s she going to university and she doesn’t want to go somewhere too far away from home. It’s a generation that isn’t rebelling. To be honest people coming to see he Pet Shop Boy aren’t making a rebellious statement, on any level Some of then might be a bit. Because there a side to us a lot of people don’t like: the notion that we never smile. The way we behave on television Though of course that’s also a large part of your commercial appeal
Neil: Yes It filter- through to the audience and once people knows that you’re like they want you to always be like that But we were all always under pressure at the start. From EMI and Tom. To be more – – – nice’ And we deliberately cook care to be the opposite’s
What do you think about all this Chris?
Chris: I like to do something that feel like if someone might want you to do something Ill automate do the opposite- Like. For our first video, ‘Opportunities EMI wanted a good time party piece and I didn’t feel like it- No matter how it affect the public they got to like it or lump it. Really Anyway If we were to connive. Looking you’ know. Bouncing up and down. Happy. Pop stars .It wouldn’t work.
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