|Ian Write and Chris Lowe|
October 4, 1994.
In the Pet Shop Boys’ rehearsal studio, musicians are playing old soul songs, as musicians tend to do when they are left unsupervised. Occasionally they are interrupted by samples from ‘Absolutely Fabulous”: “Laeroix, sweaty! Lacroix!”, in particular, bellows over and over. Today is Chris’s birthday, and a Jarge bunch of flowers are lying on one of the speakers. It is nearly the end of the second day of rehearsals for the Discovery tour. Only a few weeks ago, they decided to accept an offer to play around South America, and then added dates in Australia and Singapore. They have just begun to rehearse the music.
Neil and Chris sit in the lounge next door. Neil drinks tea; Chris drinks nothing. When we have finished talking, the two of them will disappear in a taxi. They are off to see Shirley Bassey. Before that, I ask some questions about the tour. The answers given below subsequently appear in the Discovery tour programed:
How do the last two Pet Shop Boys tours, in 1989 and 1991, seem to you now?
Neil: I remember the first tour being very enjoyable and exciting, because it was the first time we had gone on tour. There were times when we were doing it when we were disappointed with the sound. And the last tour, t remember as being slightly more exhausting, and the atmosphere being slightly more frenetic when you’re in the center of it, because there were so many people on the tour. Because of that, it wasn’t as much fun, but we were very excited about the production.
What were you trying to do with those two productions?
Neil: Well, before the Derek Jarman tour we hadn’t toured because we didn’t see any reason for us to tour in a naturalistic way. The Derek Jarman tour was an attempt to get round that by putting on a kind of film mufti-media show. And then the second tour was the theatrical performance we’d always wanted to do. We wanted to define a way the Pet Shop Boys could perform live, without turning into a rock band. Other groups who make their music using synthesizers and sequences in the studio always tend to turn into rock bands when they play live, and it never sounds as good. Chris: [to Neil] Isn’t that what you always try and get its to do? [they laugh]
So do you turn into a rock band on this tour?
Chris: No, we’re still the same, but the attitude of the performance is different. We’re more free-spirited on this tour, We do what we want. We party on down. It’s not a totally choreographed, staged and rehearsed show. I suppose it is more rock’n’roll in its attitude. You get to express yourself. [Laughs] And take your clothes off.
Neil: It’s still got pretentious elements. But since the last tour, we’ve done four one-off shows, and we decided we’d do something more like those. So this show is much less structured in a performance way. And we’ve quite enjoyed those because…
Chris: …You can drink before you go on, during, and after the show. As opposed to just after the show with the theatrical performances.
So when people look at you on stage, can they safely assume that you are both slightly sizzled?
Neil: I most certainly won’t be.
Chris: Neil’s got to perform. I can get away with it. Actually, even during the last show I used to have a drink during my moments offstage.
Neil: During “Rent” you used to have a gin and tonic, didn’t you?
Chris: Yeah. So I used to start then. This time I’ll probably start before we go on.
Neil: [with mock disapproval] Oh, I think I’m going to be locked in my bedroom when we’re not traveling or on stage. I don’t want to know anything that’s happening. I’m going to take War And Peace with me, 10 read, because I imagine I’m going to have a lot of time to myself.
So how different is this new show?
Neil: On the first and second tours we’d had so little experience of being on stage that one of the rationales of what we did was to have performers around us, to take the heat of us.
Chris: And [laughs] we’ve still got those. And obviously there’s films and back projections, as always.
Neil: As we’re going to places we’re never been before, we’re using again the Derek Jarman films, because they’ve only ever been seen in Hong Kong, Japan and Britain. And Howard Greenhalgh has been making some films as well, based around the imagesry of our last few singles. The starting point of using film this time was that we were going to play “Absolutely Fabulous”, because during “Absolutely Fabulous” the lead vocals – which are from the television show – are on the screen.
Were you always seared before now to go on stage without…?
Neil: …Without knowing exactly what to do every single moment of the show. Yes, I was scared about that. I loved the last show because you just did it, like a job: sit down, sing “So Sorry I Said”, get in the cage… You knew what you were doing. This time I will personally find it exhausting, because all moments of the show I will be thinking “oh, Cod, what do I do now? I can’t walk over there again – I just did it about one minute ago.
Chris: I think Neil should be practicing in front of a mirror with a microphone. Neil: I think you might find I will be. Chris: Actually, isn’t that one of the reasons you re meant to want to became a rock singer – to do all that?
Neil: I don’t know. I’ve never quite seen the appeal.
You do have dancers, don’t you?
Neil: Yes. They’re Brazilian go-go dancers. They’ll come on and off stage, but they’re not acting out scenarios, or pretending to be In a street or lighting in a nightclub or anything. They’re dancing. So it doesn’t have any theatrical distance. In the past ‘we were always removed from the audience by theatrical convention. This time, we are us on stage. It was always very difficult on [he last tour when you’d see people in the crowd waving and going mad, and you had to pretend you didn’t notice them.
Chris: So this show is more interactive. (Laughs) It’s the Nineties.
Why go-go dancers?
Chris: We’d been to the Sound Factory bar in New York in July.
Neil: Oh, that’s right. We went to the Sound Factory bar in New York and we liked the fact that they bad live drummers playing along with the music, and they had these naked men go-go dancing with flags around them. In fact we totally took both ideas the percussion and the dancers – from that.
Chris: We didn’t want trained dancers, because they can’t dance naturally. When they try to dance naturally. They’re embarrassing. For this kind of dancing you need people used to dancing in clubs.
Neil: We wanted dancers who would encourage the audience to dance.
So this time there will be no qualms about offering the audience a cheery thumbs up whenever you feel like it?
Chris: Oh, far from it. There’ll be clapping going on, We’ll probably split the audience up into sections and make them sing along. It’s going to be more like a Wham! concert, I think. Neil is going to run from side to side,
Neil: I certainly am not. I’m not going to run from side to side.
Chris: Well, walk aloofly with your chin in the air.
What will the stage look like?
Chris: We have a flight of stairs which light up, and a platform at the back. So there will be lots of entrances.
Neil: As ever, it’s about entrances and exits. Some of the design is based around the pointy bats from ‘Can You Forgive Her?”. We’re selling pointy hats as merchandise, and we’re hoping the audience will wear them. I’d love to see 8,000 people in pointy hats. It’d be a great feeling.
NNeil: We’re wearing some of our costume greatest hits. Again. No-one where we are going has ever seen them.
Chris: It’s a very environmentally-friendly tour. We’re recycling bits and pieces from the past. Neil: We wear some of the costumes from our recent videos. Some of them you can’t really wear live – we wore the “Can You Forgive Her?” costumes on Top Of The Pops, and they’re very very difficult to move in. But we will certainly be doing some dressing op.
How did you choose which songs you wanted to play?
CChris: We wanted to do the four songs we did early this year at the London Palladium. And then we ‘vent through our records and chose uplifting songs with a party sort of vibe. Particularly as we knew we were going to have congas playing along, we decided we wanted a Latin dance vibe. It didn’t take long to choose the songs.
Neil: We made a tape of the ones we wanted to play. It got a bit boring in the middle, so we subsequently look out “The Theater” and the Hacienda version of “Violence”. The songs go right from when we started until now. We’re doing one slightly obscure B-side. But we’re also playing a lot of hits. I think it’s good if there’s an element of familiarity. It’s true, isn’t it, that a couple of your songs now slip into unexpected cover versions?.
Chris: Yes, but it’s meant to be a surprise. You don’t want to read it in the programed first.
Neil: Sometimes you have a song, and you realize that it has a chord change which is just like the chord change of another song, so you go into it.
CChris: It’s fun for us.
Neil: They’re songs we really like. When we played one of them before Boy George said ‘oh, you’re just taking the piss, aren’t you?’ but they are both songs we like.
Is everything live?
Neil: Yes, it’s all live in that there’s nothing on tape. Chris plays some keyboards, and the synthesizer sequences are triggered in real time. All my singing is live, although one or two backing vocals are sampled.
Are you looking forward to actually being on tour?
Neil: Yes. That’s why we’re doing it. Chris: Also, it’s going to be a very nice time of year where we’re going, so we’re going to extend our summer until Christmas.
Neil: Also, we’re going to places we haven’t been before, so it will be really exciting. It’s all places we’ve never ever set foot in.
CChris: I think this show reflects how we’ve changed. We’re more liberated. I think we’re more liberated as people.
Neil: [to Chris] Is that meant seriously? It’s quite nice if it is, actually. CChris: [shrugs] Well, we are more liberated.
Just over two weeks later, the preparations are nearly complete. This afternoon is the final dress rehearsal.Though the choreography isn’t quite complete, and there isn’t the right equipment here to show the films accompanying some songs at their full size, this is the last chance they will get to practice the whole show before Singapore.
When I arrive, Chris is standing on stage, filming anyone who passes with a video camera he bought in New York, and chatting about soap operas. He wanders back to the dressing room, where he continues on a similar theme, debating a recent aborted marriage on Brookside. “I don’t like her at all,” he says. “She pushed him into it too quick.”
Neil is sitting on the sofa, getting ready. “Here we are again in the Brixton Academy,” he sighs. “Welcome to the non- -theatrical tour. Only six costume changes.”
There is a knock on the door. It is an old friend of Neil’s called Rosemary. “Rosemary,” Neil explains, “used to be in Dust.” A handful of other friends will turn up as the afternoon progresses, including both Neil and Chris’s respective sisters: the total audience for what is more or less the only British performance of the Discovery tour is around twenty people.
The dress rehearsal is scheduled for three o’clock, but it’s quite clear that it won t be on time. At three o’clock the four dancers (Flavio Cecchetto, Mirelle Diaz, Nicole Nisiods and Paulo Henrique) are still on the stage in their everyday clothes, Practicing dance steps to a cassette of Pet Shop Boys songs. “The tour is a shambles,” moans Neil theatrically.
After a while, they start. The first thing you hear, with the stage bare, is Neil singing a slow version of “Tonight Is Forever”. Then, after the briefest snatch of “Absolutely Fabulous” dialogue (“Lights! Models! Guest List! Just do your best darling!”), Neil and Chris appear in their Sixties wigs to perform the rather splendid opening group of songs: “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing” (with Howard Greenhaigh’s video), “Always On My Mind”, “Domino Dancing” (with Derek Jarman’s film from the 1989 tour), “To Speak Is A Sin” and “One In A Million” (which, as at the 1993 London Palladium performance, includes snatches of Culture Beat’s “Mr Vain”). On the platform behind them are the two percussionists, Liliana Chachian and Oh Saville. Chris occasionally wanders away from his keyboard to video cast members, though afterwards he will discover he has pressed the wrong button and most of the footage hasn’t taped after all.
After “One In A Million” Neil leaves the stage, and Chris performs “Paninaro”, standing between the two male dancers. Then he walks off and Neil returns, wearing a gold jacket and carrying an acoustic guitar to sing “Rent”, accompanied by the tour’s female singer, Katie Kissoon. (Sylvia Mason-James, who sung on the 1991 tour, was unable to come because she is pregnant.) Still playing the acoustic guitar, Neil sings “To Face The Truth”, during which Chris returns and Pete Gleadall (who is handling all the computers which generate the backing tracks) briefly appears on-stage, also playing guitar. As the song continues, Chris refers to the chords printed in the Behavior songbook which he has on a music stand in front of his keyboard.
There are two more songs in the first half During “So Hard” the male go-go dancers dance behind wisps of material, apparently naked. (They are actually wearing tiny hard pouches over their genitals, though there will later be talk of removing these altogether for the actual shows.) Then, during “Where The Streets Have No Name” (which they perform in front a new film made by Howard Greenhagh), the two girl dancers mime
playing electric V-neck guitars. Neil catches Chris’s eye as they watch the girls’ ludicrous miming, and they both laugh.
AAfter the interval they play “Do I Have To?”, “Absolutely Fabulous?” (which today is rather spoiled by the way the video behind them is out of sync with the music), “Liberation” (during which two of the dancers undress in booths, with lights behind them so that the audience can see their shadows as they do so), “West End Girls”, and “King’s Cross” (which again uses Derek Jarman’s film of Chris wandering around King’s Cross station, albeit back to front, as it is today).
At this point there is a long break in the rehearsal whilst some problems are ironed out, then they return to play “Can You Forgive Her?” (in front of Howard Greenhaigh’s video). After that Neil announces to the slender gathering: “this is a song we didn’t write”. It is Blur’s “Guls And Boys”, the single they recently remixed and which they now perform in their remix’s full hi-energy glory, as the male dancers frolic around dressed as footballers. It sounds quilt marvelous. “It’s A Sin” begins with Kane Kissoon singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as Neil and Chris enter in the ‘red robes which they wore on the 1989 tour, though this afternoon, after three or four lines, the music cuts off and there is a long pause before they start up again, successfully this time. TThis is the end of the main part of the concert, but they return to play “Go west’. Everyone is wearing thick, bulky black belts and shiny silver suits and pointy hats – at a climactic moment near the end of the song they all reach for a switch on the belts (which are actually battery packs) and lights flash up and down the hats. When the song finishes, everyone takes a bow. “This is the bit where I say who’s on stage,” says Neil, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Always a favorite bit, if I can remember their names.” Today, he does, and then they sing one final song. “Being Boring”.
The Pet Shop Boys’ day is far from over. After saying good-bye to their friends, they must pose for photographs for their Christmas card (a makeshift studio has been set up in the auditorium). As they sit there, being photographed, a fuse goes and all the lights go out. “It’s going to be like this on tour,” groans Chris. “The fuses are going to go everywhere”. After the photographs, they are filmed by MTV, setting a question for an MTV Europe competition to send some people to see them play in Rio de Janeiro. Their text is fairly simple: Chris says “Hello, we’re the Pet Shop Boys”, then Neil says “Go west with us and discover Rio”. They try it with Chris in profile and Neil facing the camera. The first time Neil aborts the filming -“Sorty. licked my lips” – but the second time they get it. The MTV person asks them to swap round.
“So Neil’s in profile?” asks Chris doubtfully.
“I’m sorry,” says Neil. “I don’t do profile. I look terrible in profile.”
Next they are filmed asked the quiz question;
“”The question is…” begins Chris.
“…Who recorded the original version of ‘Go West’?” concludes Neil. “The Village People,” adds Chris, and everyone laughs.
They carry on shooting different versions. At one point Chris tries to walk off. At another Neil frets that his hat is drooping down: “I’m getting that Mike and Bernie Winters look again.”
Back up the dressing room, it is time for the part of the day they have been dreading. A doctor is here to give them their injections: the vaccinations they need for the countries they will be visiting. Lynne Easton mops at Neil’s face as a needle goes into his arm. “It’s unusual having jabs and
make-up at the same rime,” he observes evenly.
EEventually, it is over. The next time they will see the rest of the cast will be at the airport on Monday. Right now, we head out to a Spanish restaurant to sort out this issue of Literally fly before they leave, and they discuss the tour a little more.
“You’re singing better than ever,” Chris comments to Neil. “1 know it sounds like a pisstake, but it’s true. All the music sounds really good.” “The dress rehearsal was under-rehearsed,” worries Neil.
“But half of the appeal of this show,” argues Chris, “is that it’s under-rehearsed. That’s the whole point of it. One of the things we’ve always liked about the charity things that we’ve done at the Hacienda and Heaven is that it’s kind of the shortfalls of the show that actually make the show good
— when things go wrong and the computer breaks down. Because it’s only when that sort of thing happens that any of our personality ever comes across. Because with a sleek show you never actually get any of me and Neil.”
“This show relies on the audience,” Neil agrees. “The audience have got to make us react.” “”And they’ve got to make us feel good,” says Chris, “so we feel like reacting, because it’s a spontaneous show…”
He is interrupted by a young boy, asking for their autographs. They write their names on the back of a menu, and Chris adds, at the top “Pet Shop Boys”. “In case,” he whispers, “he doesn’t know whose autograph he’s asked for.” At the bottom he also writes “Because it’s the Nineties, right” and, next to it, today’s date. “Is that the right date, the twentieth?” he asks aloud.
“That’s good,” he says, “because the milk goes off tomorrow
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1994: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1994 Issue 13