| On November 1st, 1996,|
The Pet Shop Boys appeared on British TV program TFI Friday.
They performed two songs, “Single” and “Se A Vida E” with Sheboom, a four piece brass section, guitarist J.J. Belle and the six man dance troupe from the “Single” video. (Neil was singing live, but, despite appearances and announcements to the contrary, everyone else was miming.) Between Neil and Chris were interviewed live by the host, Chris Evans. Literally shadowed their preparations: Wednesday, October 3oth.
They are at Nomis studios, supposedly rehearsing. Chris is complaining about the radio in his taxi on the way here (“I was listening to LBC – it was totally moronic, a bit like listening to us over dinner…”) and tucking into a plate of tomatoes, egg, beans and fried bread.
“That’s literally fried bread,” exclaims Neil, vaguely horrified.
“I like fried bread,” says Chris, defiantly.
The song plays, and the Sheboom! drummers boom loudly. (The dancers are rehearsing in a separate studio next door.) Neil sings along. ‘I can’t hear,” he complains. ‘This is meant to be a conversational vocal.”
Chris reads The Sun and The Mirror, occasionally laughing out loud. He doesn’t really need to rehearse because he’s miming. Mind you, he claims not to have a clue what he is going to mime. “I’ve forgotten all the chords,” he says. “I’d better find out from Pete Gleadall what the notes are.”
Thursday, October 31st.
They meet up at Riverside studios, Hammersmith, where TFI Friday is filmed. Chris is a little tired. He didn’t get to bed until 4.30am, after an evening which started at the Criterion Brasserie with Neil, and subsequently took in several venues and encounters with Steve from Pulp and Alex from Blur They sit in the cafe, eating, waiting to be called.
“So do you think children should be caned at school?” Neil asks Jill Wall, their manager. It’s a topic which is currently in the news. “When I was at primary school the whole school was once caned,” he says. “When I was about 5. The entire school was caned by the head mistress for making too much noise in the school playground.” Too much noise in the playground!” laughs Chris. “We all had to queue up,” Neil continues, “all the girls crying. It was like a concentration camp. Everybody put their hand out and thwack! It really hurts.”
“I’ve never been caned,” says Chris. Neil sings along to the cafe background music, George Michael’s “Jesus To A Child”, under his breath. “Oooh, it’s a long record, this, isn’t it?” he says. “I always think, can’t they speed it up a bit? Just as you think it’s going to finish it’s, oh no, he’s going round again.” Chris worries about what to give his brother, Tim, for his birthday tomorrow. He wants to get one of those Traffic Master computers for his car. Sill Wall gets them to sign various cheques and legal documents. Dainton fetches some magazines and chocolate bars from the shop across the road. Ivan hands out promo one-track CD copies of “Single-Bilingual” to Sheboom (they look like the commercial CDs except that the semitransparent paper is gray) and they queue up next to Neil and Chris to get them signed.
“I had very strange dreams last night,” Neil begins, “about Stephen Dairy. I was walking down the street in Actin. Action Central. It went on for hours. I couldn’t get a train, I couldn’t get a taxi, I was stuck in Action Central. It was sort of nightmlarish. There were dogs everywhere. It was a bit like ‘Suburbia’. I was scared I was going to get bitten.”
Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy walks past. (He’s singing his new single, “The Frog Princess”, on the program.)
“He’s the new you,” Chris says to Neil. “He’s the new, updated, better-looking version of you.”
“Is he not the new Jarvisr’ asks Neil. “He used to write me leners, Neil Hannon. He’s the son of a bishop. He wrote the music for Father Ted.” Neil reminisces about the Pet Shop Boys’ first live performance on TV, on the Old Grey Whistle Test. “We had two Fairlights, and at the dress rehearsal one Fairlight wouldn’t work, so we did the whole thing live without rehearsal. Like all of these situations, there was a loose lead. My hand was shaking while we were playing ‘Later Tonight’. Playing literally live on the television doesn’t happen very often, thank God. It sounded quite good, but a bit of a shambles as well.”
Finally, TFI Friday are ready for them to rehearse. They run through “Single-Bilingual” on stage, over and over, while the camera crew work out their shots. Then they do the same with “Se A Vida t. Chris worries aloud that they’ll end up broadcasting some of the rehearsal. He wouldn’t be happy with that. His green Stussy T-shirt is creased. A technician asks Chris if his monitors are loud enough, and whether the balance in them is right, as though Chris is really playing live. Some of the staff here don’t know that the Pet Shop Boys performance is not totally live. Nonetheless, it’s quite a production. “We’re doing all this work,” sighs Neil, “I don’t know why we’re not doing a gig. Why don’t we do a PA at Heaven tomorrow night?” He is not entirely serious.
“Sheboom always look ace, don’t they?” says Chris.
“Fantastic,” Neil agrees. “I don’t know why they haven’t got a recording contract.”
“I’d like to be in Sheboom,” says Chris. “It looks like such good fun. They don’t let boys in, though, do they’re’
“What are you wearing tomorrow’ Jill asks Chris.
“I don’t know,” he says. “It depends who I want to be tomorrow.”
The rehearsal takes forever. “‘Single-
Bilingual’ I son of quite like doing,” says Neil, “but I don’t love it to pieces sort of thing, whereas ‘Se A Vida fl’ makes me feel like crying at the end.” Finally, it’s over. In the dressing room – “It’s not very big, is it?” says Chris, “and there’s not a bed for a start”
– Chris reads a multiple choke Pet Shop Boys quiz in a magazine called Bigger And Better. He tries to answer the questions. “It’s not too difficult,” he announces, though he stumbles over the question “who produced Very’ (eventually he gets it: “Oh ….. we did”), doesn’t know how many number one singles the Pet Shop Boys have had – “No idea,” he says, “three?’ (the answer is four) – and is irritated by the description of It Couldn’t Happen Here as “their cinematic flop”.
Neil absentmindedly browses through the rest of the magazine.
“Oh my goodness,” he says.
Friday, November 1st. Neil arrives, as scheduled, at 2pm. “I had a dream last night that I had three pairs of socks and I couldn’t find a matching pair, and Dainton ‘s banging on the door, saying ‘you’ve got to go’. It’s an anxiety dream. I’m worried about the interview.” He suddenly looks annoyed; it’s because he forgot to set his video at home to tape the show.
There’s no sign of Chris. Early reports, from those who have spoken to him by telephone, suggest that he is “grumpy” today. Perhaps he won’t come. But, at 2.57pm, he breezes merrily in. They are brought cheques. In Britain all performers must be paid a minimum performance fee for appearing on television. It’s about £280.
They go into the upstairs bar area to rehearse their interview with Chris Evans. Before the Pet Shop Boys are announced he has a good shout at the people who work on the show because they’re not applauding loud enough. Danny Baker, who CO-writes the script, prowls around looking serious. The Pet Shop Boys don’t actually run through the interview now, they simply take their seats and Chris Evans just gives them a pep talk about it. “We’ll talk for eight minutes about anything you damn well like…” – a cheeky laugh – “…Well, anything that I damn well like.” Quite.
Afterwards, in the dressing room, Neil says, “He thought it was all because of me we were doing it. I said, no, au contraries…”
“Well, isn’t that right?” Chris asks. “It wasn’t my idea to do the show. I was always dead against it from day one.”
“Were you?” says Neil.
“Yes. I was always the one who said, no way are we doing TFI Friday?”
“Why did we end up doing it?” asks Neil, clearly puzzled.
Chris leaves the appropriate comic pause before saying, “Poor record sales?”
“There you go,” says Neil. “There is that.” They begin to get nervous. “I have to have a drink before we do this,” says Neil. “I might have to have a valium.” He’s joking. “If we’re no good he’ll slag us off Neil worries. “He’ll slag us off on the radio.”
“Oh, I just hope we’re interesting enough,” mopes Chris.
“So do I,” says Neil.
“I don’t think we will be,” Chris frets. “We’re crap at interviews.” He licks at a lollipop. “I haven’t had a lollipop in ages. They’re really nice.” They discuss how they’ll behave as they walk up the gangway to the bar, the crowd below them. They’ve been asked to wave.
“I wouldn’t wave,” says Chris. “OK,” says Neil. “I won’t wave.” “I’d just be snooty,” presses Chris. “It doesn’t look good, waving.”
“The look’ 11 be enough,” Dainton advises. “I don’t think we should come in looking all snooty,” worries Neil. “Snooty and Grumpy are in the building.”
It is suggested to them that they should just look natural.
“There’s nothing remotely natural,” says Neil, “about doing a live TV show.” He sighs. “I just don’t want to be too ingratiating. That’s my big worry.” Chris sniggers. “And I don’t want you,” he says to Chris, “to be too silent.”
“Well,” says Chris, “I’m not really in the mood for talking. Everyone’s dead funny that’s interviewed on this, aren’t they?”
“He’s funny,” Neil points out.
“We could answer the questions in the style of a footballer,” Chris suggests. “‘Well, that’s right, Chris
Chris tries to write his brother’s birthday card. (He’s bought him the Traffic Master.) “I can never think of anything else to say apart from ‘Happy Birthday’,” he says. He tries to think of something funny. “Maybe I could ask Danny Baker for a bit of help.”
Neil browses through the tabloids. “Well, I think Sting’s hair has finally gone, Chris, you’ll be pleased to know,” he says.
“It’ll be back,” mutters Chris. He has a look at the paper himself. “God, Sting looks just like Matt Goss in this photo.”
‘The spitting images,”Neil concurs. Neil helpfully now chooses to remember that the last time he went into a bar for an interview in the middle of a TV show – early in their career, for the Euro-Tube – they subsequently gave the worst performance in Pet Shop Boys history, singing “Tonight Is Forever”. “It was excruciating beyond belief,” he reminisces. Meanwhile Chris gets on the mobile phone to his parents. “Hi.. It’s very very nerve-wracking. You’re meant to be ninny, aren’t you? There’s not much chance of that… Put dad on quick, before I have to go…HI, dad. We’re just about to go on this TFI thing.. It’s very nerve wracking.. It wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t doing an interview.”
Chris slips into his speckled, silvery, glistening jumper. Neil approves. “Chris is reunited with his Issey Miyake,” he says. ‘The first time in exactly ten years.” Chris inspects his trousers. They have newsprint on them from the tabloids. “I can’t go on,” he bluffs. Lynne Easton applies Neil’s make-up and he worries that he’s getting a spot. She wants to know if he’s been plucking his
eyebrows. “I occasionally pull out the Dennis Healey one,” he concedes.
Chris reads out, from a newspaper TV pages, their TFI Friday billing. “‘Guests are Helen Mirren and Neil Tennant,”‘ he hoots. ‘Right! Well, in that case I’m not doing the interview.”
‘That won’t look very good on the television,” Neil warns. “You’ll look like a spoiled brat.”
A man comes in with some TFI contracts for them to sign. “We’ve got to read them first,” says Chris. He begins reading one. “Oh, I can’t be bothered…” He just signs it. A man walks past the dressing room door. “Ugly Bloke’s just walked past,” notes Chris.
“I don’t think the Ugly Bloke is that ugly,” says Neil, and returns to worrying. “I don’t think I’ll watch this later. I think it’s best not to see it.”
The show has now started. Eventually they are called through, and perform “Se A Vida t”‘, after which they are introduced in the bar by actress Helen Mirren: “Our next guests are probably the most famous duo since Adam and Eve. They stand, they frown, they sing, they play, but rarely do they talk. That’s why it’s such a TFI coup to welcome tonight the magnificent, the precise, the mighty.. Pet Shop Boys!” After which Neil and Chris make their entrance, and Neil knocks over one of Will’s pub genius tricks on the floor by Chris Evans’ desk. The interview begins with Neil and Chris both denying that it was them who was previously reluctant to come on the show, and then Chris explaining his desire to go on Richard and Judy’s show.
“OK, what are your favorite daytime TV program’s, Chris?” Chris Evans asks, perhaps expecting to get a vague, halfhearted, uninformed reply. But, of course, Chris really does watch daytime TV.
“The day starts,” he says, “with Supermarket Sweep…” – much laughter from the studio audience ….. and what’s after that? There’s a boring thing after that. And then it kicks off again with Richard and Judy…”
After which Chris Evans asks about their fabled meeting at a Chelsea Road electrical shop in 1981.
“So who talked to who first?” he asks. “Well, it wouldn’t have been me,” says Chris.
“”I was going to say it was you,” says Neil. “Oh, was it?” says Chris. “Oh.” He proceeds to ask them about Chris’s advice that Neil should write sexier lyrics, and about their use of one word titles, and then Chris Evans says to Neil, “now, I know you’ve got a big house and you like very expensive paintings…”
“I haven’t got a big house,” Neil protests. “I’ve got a three-bedroom terraced house in Chelsea.” He smiles. “In Chelsea.” And they talk about art. “You don’t like anything…” Chris Evans says to Chris.
“I do. I like modern art”‘ Chris replies. “But not much of it.”
“…Because he said about your house once,” Chris Evans continues, “there’s no point in buying you housewarming presents because there’s nothing in your house.”
“”That’s true,” Chris agrees. Perhaps. Predictably, Chris Evans has some suggested housewarming presents: an ashtray, a desk diary – both refused – and, finally, a straw donkey: “Chris, for your house, in the middle of your minimalist floor. Do you want it?”
“Yeah, I’ll take that with me,” Chris says. He grabs the donkey and then says, a little dubiously, “it is for real, isn’t it?” “Of course it, it’s for real,” Chris Evans reassures him. And then asks them whether it’s true that they plan to set up Ant ‘n’ Dec as the new Pet Shop Boys.
“Well,” says Neil, not entirely sincerely, “it’s crossed our minds.” He points out that Dec went to the same school as him. They break for adverts. This is supposed to be the end of the interview – they have done their eight minutes – but after the ad break they are called back to the interview desk.
“”I forgot to show something,” Chris Evans explains. He plays Chris’s Neighbours clip, and then a snippet of Neil singing “Suburbia” a capella in the studio. (It was filmed on a video camera by Chris, and first broadcast on a BBC2 documentary in the Eighties.) Now the interview is over. They return to the dressing room before the final song. “I knew Neighbours was a good idea at the time,” says Neil. A few minutes later they perform “Single-Bilingual” and they are finished.
Chris Evans pops back into the dressing room. “We’ve faded you a bit, the end thirty seconds,” he apologies. “No!” shouts Chris melodramatically.
‘The best bit as well,” says Neil.
“Is that alight’ he asks.
“That was great, thank you,” says Neil.
“I know it’s a pig for you to promote…” he says.
“No…” Neil interjects. “…You don’t know whether to feel shameless or…” – Chris Evans continues, somewhat haphazardly ….. or moral-less.. .Or all these other things…
“”Moral-less?” says Chris.
Chris Evans takes his leave. “I’m just going to shag Helen,” he explains. Chris Lowe gives Tim his much-welcomed present. Champagne flows in the traditional manner. Chris thinks up a new TV show, where guests are hooked up to a lie detector machine and asked questions.
“No one would do it,” counsels Neil.
Other members of the Lowe and Tennant families turn up. Neil and Chris pose with the donkey Chris Evans gave Chris. They join the drinkers in the TFI Friday bar for a while -Neil has a quick chat with Neil Hannon – and then go out for a celebrate dinner at the restaurant, Julie’ 5. Afterwards, they will watch the show.
“”I thought I sounded dreadful in ‘Se A Vida says Neil. “I can’t watch it.” But he thought the interview went well enough. “It was marvelous,” says Chris. “It was another pinnacle.”
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1997:
All Articles have been TTaken From Literally 1997 Issue 17