Last summer the Pet Shop Boys performed a three-week residency at London’s Savoy Theater, each night performing the same set. They came on-stage to the first half of the extended version of “Somewhere”, then played “Yesterday when I Was Mad”, “The Truck-driver And His Mate”, “Se A Vida E”‘, “Some Speculation”, “Hello Spaceboy”, “To Step Aside”, and “Go West”. After the interval they played “The Theater”, “It’s A Sin”/ “I Will Survive’, ‘The Man Who Has Everything”, “Discoteca”, “Friendly Fire”, “Love Comes Quickly”, “Can You Forgive Her?” and “Somewhere
Each night they played two or three songs as an encore. These songs changed, though the most common were “Left To My Own Devices”, “Before”, “Being Boring”, “West End Girls” and the acoustic version of “Rent”. Shortly after the residency they made their first-ever festival appearances in Denmark and Finland (playing a set mostly made up of hit singles), and headlined Gay Pride in London. At the beginning of August, after a holiday, they played one final festival in Stockholm. Literally kept the following diary:
Monday, June 2nd.
At 5.30pm, when Literally arrives, Neil is rehearsing the song “Somewhere” on the Savoy Theater stage. Chris is upstairs, asleep, in his dressing room, a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. They have a run-through scheduled for 6.3Opm. Chris eventually appears, and looks at the films being projected on either side of the stage. These were filmed a few days ago by the conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and show some people from the London art world and their friends talking, sitting on sofas or dancing, getting progressively more drunk. The Pet Shop Boys drop in and out of these scenes – whenever they are off stage they are on the screen, and vice versa.
“It’s art,” Chris notes. “It’s not just a load of people getting drunk – it’s art.,’ He smiles wryly. “It’s amazing what passes for art now. You had to be able to paint in the old days.”
When the dress rehearsal begins, the Pet Shop Boys enter the stage through their respective doors. Chris’s won’t shut, and he starts giggling. Between songs, Neil talks. He has a script, which has been written by the TV writer David Williams after conversations with Neil, but already he is deviating from it. At the moment, Chris’s keyboard is turned way down. He is yet to work out what he’s going to play in most of the songs. “I don’t want anybody to hear me,” he says. “Even though I’m doing rather amazing stuff at times, a lot of the time I’m thinking: thank God no one can hear me”. Chris performs in a box at the back of the stage, though earlier in the rehearsals he was going to play further forward on the stage. “I’m much happier in that box,” he says. “I look like a keyboard wizard. Well, I don’t know what I look like, but I feel like a keyboard wizard. I feel secure.”
In the interval, they discuss the usual implant matters.
“Shall we go to dinner afterwards?” Chris asks.
“Of course,” says Neil.
“Alan Shearer’s favorite pastime is cresting,” says Chris. “I’m not saying he’s boring. That’s the kind of man we like. His major topic of conversation is different types of creosote.”
They run through the second half. Neil comes out for the encores with his acoustic guitar. He strums a couple of chords. “It’s a little bit funny…” he begins, then stops.
“That’s a good song, isn’t it?” says Chris.
They debate the fact that most artists have one really good song. “Let’s be honest,” says Neil, to the handful of people in the theater, “we haven’t got one. We don’t have a ‘Losing My Religion’. But we do have…”
He starts playing the chords to “Rent”. Before they play “Before”, Neil introduces Chris by saying, “he’s been doing something – but what? – on the keyboards …Mr Chris Lowe!” Then he says, “we’re going to play a song.. We like it, though the public don’t, apparently. Though that’s been true of most of the songs tonight, probably…”
Afterwards, they sit and discuss how it went. They’re not sure.
“It was all your idea,” Chris says to Neil.
Tuesday, June 3rd.
Another run-through. Tonight, Chris plays, and also, between songs, feverishly takes notes. The realization that the first night is only two days away seems to have hit him.
Afterwards, Chris complains that someone has been smoking in the corridor where Neil and Chris have separate dressing rooms. He hates smoking. ‘The trouble with people I like,” he reflects, “is that they all tend to smoke.”
They head out for dinner.
“I’m shattered beyond belief,” says Neil. As well as worrying about the show itself, there have been some ugly backstage arguments earlier today between people working on the show. “We’ll just have to sack everyone,” Chris suggests. But the run-
tthrough went well.
“Sam Taylor-Wood was very happy,” says Chris.
“What a nice person she is,” says Neil. “You wouldn’t think she was an artist.”
The conversation wanders onto the hot news from the world of pop music.
“Marti Pellow has disastrously dyed his hair blond,” sighs Neil.
“”I bet he doesn’t even have a skateboard,” snorts Chris, derisively.
Wednesday, June 4th.
Chris, who has been in his dressing room reading The Sun, appears at the side of the stage.
“Are we meant to be doing anything?” he nonchalantly asks Neil.
“We’re busy rehearsing, actually,” says Neil.
“Nobody told me,” Chris retorts.
“Well,” says Neil, “we’re not rehearsing your bits. We’re rehearsing choreography.”
Chris listens to the music from the
“You don’t think it’s all too loud?” he asks Neil.
“Quite possibly,” says Neil.
“We should turn it down,” says Chris. “Most of the audience are going to be over 40 anyway.” He enthuses with great gusto about a new children’s TV program with has just started. It’s Teletubbies. “Ten o’clock in the morning,” he tells Neil. “Set your video.”
‘That’s when I have breakfast,” says Neil. “I might watch it.”
They rehearse “Somewhere”. Neil’s voice booms out in the theater, which is only surprising because Neil is standing in the auditorium without a microphone in his hand. “Just in case anyone thinks I’m miming,” he says, “there’s the proof… that I am”. The truth is that for most of these songs Neil sings entirely live, but they have only just recorded “Somewhere” and it is difficult to sing, so he is planning to sing along over his own prerecorded voice. “If Madonna can do it,” he says, “I don’t see why I can’t.” He shout instructions to Robbie, the man behind the mixing desk.
“Favorer the double-track,” he says. “And me.. ~
“…Barely audible,” teases Chris.
“Not barely audible,” Neil corrects. “But… discretion.”
TThere is a camera crew following them around, led by the director Annie Griffin, making a mini-documentary as a video for the “Somewhere” single.
“It’s only one song,” Chris tells them. “He’s never been able to sing that song that well. It’s a singer’s song. That’s why Sylvia sings all the way through. We came out of the Eighties, where it was an advantage not to be a good singer and a good musician. It’s turned round in the Nineties. ..Unfortunately for us. Now everybody can do everything.. The musos have taken over.” As with many things that Chris Lowe says, this is a mishmash of truth, paranoia, lie and tomfoolery which is almost impossible to pick apart. The video director’s eyes light up when Chris says this (a chunk will appear in the video).
“Are you getting anything usably?” he asks, doubtfully.
“Every time you open your mouth,” she says.
Neil and Chris discuss what they should do at the very end of the concert. Should the curtain come down in front of them? Should they take a curtain call?
“I don’t imagine the applause will be very long,” says Neil.
“”Assuming there is any,” says Chris.
“Assuming that it’s not silent like Milan,” says Neil. In Milan, on the Performance tour, “Jealousy” finished, the Pet Shop Boys crushed beneath giant Oscars on-stage, and there was no applause whatsoever. “Eight thousand people silent after we did our dying scene.”
Chris starts laughing. “We did the encore anyway,” he says.
Upstairs, in his dressing room, Chris exclaims, “God, the lengths we have to go to
to keep Neil happy… two-and-a-half weeks at the Savoy.” The video crew ask if they can film him being made up. He refuses. “I never get filmed having make-up on,” he explains, “because I don’t wear make-up.”
Tonight’s rehearsal goes smoothly except for “Rent”, in which Chris loses his way. Afterwards, he is in a mood. “Chris has refused to do ‘Rent’,” Neil announces, “because he has forgotten the chords.” Neil gestures towards Chris’s sister, Vicki. “Go and talk to him. He’s a professional musician! He’s got music A level.”
IIn his dressing room, Chris has other things on his mind. He is admiring the tour program. “Not many groups have a naked picture of Kylie in the centrespread,” he says. “It’s not bad, is it?”
Outside the backstage entrance, there are some fans waiting. One of them complains that the ticket prices are too high.
“As long as you know that we’re losing a bloody fortune,” says Neil. “That’s why we’re playing a Danish rock festival.”
Off they go to dinner. They discuss Neil’s on-stage patter. Chris suggests that not all of the jokes work.
“”I’ 11 just do sincerity,” Neil finally decides.
“You can’t beat sincerity,” says Chris.
“My mother will like it,” Neil nods.
“Something funny will happen,” Chris promises.
“You’ll guffaw,” Neil sighs. “Don’t guffaw on stage. In ‘Se A Vida E~’ you nearly gave me the giggles.”
They head to their respective homes.
“Teletubbies is on tomorrow,” reminds Chris. “At least there’s something worth waking up for.”
Thursday, June 5th.
The first night. This morning Neil has watched – and, more significantly, listened to
– the video of yesterday’s rehearsal. He is horrified. The mix is catastrophically wrong.
CChris has other concerns. He was furious to discover, yesterday, that the merchandise displayed in the foyer was being hung on cheap plastic hangers. That is not the Pet Shop Boys way. Today he sweeps in carrying three of his own hangers, from his flat. “Have you ever seen a hanger like this?” he says, with pride. “These cost more than the garments.”
“Chris,” Neil notes, “is in charge of merchandise.”
Unfortunately, Chris now discovers that there are two display areas. “It’s a disaster,” he says. Somebody is sent back to his flat to collect more.
Neil has been trying to persuade Chris that they still should perform “Rent”. Chris says that if they can rehearse it five times through without a mistake, he will consider it. On the stage, they run through it, until Chris is happy. (Secretly, Neil is sympathetic. “That song,” he says, “it just goes round in a circle. You drift off. I do have a terrible tendency to drift off and be deep in thought and forget where I am.”)
TTheir two dressings rooms are filling up with gifts and cards, which have been arriving at the backstage entrance throughout the day.
“It’s like a first night,” says Neil. “It’s just like it is in the films. The artists are hysterical, the flowers are arriving.”
Chris is interviewed by the video crew.
“Neil is a…” He struggles for the right phrase. “Universal man?” he says. It’s clearly not what he wanted to say. “What do you call it?
“Renaissance man,” suggests Literally.
“That’s it!” says Chris. Then his brow furrows. “What were Renaissance men called before the Renaissance?”
When they’re done, Chris eats the meal Dainton has fetched from McDonalds. The crew moves onto Neil’s room. They ask him to describe Chris. “He’s indescribable,” Neil says. “He’s unique. He’s totally unfettered -when he wants to do something – by any practical or personal considerations. His
private life is the same…if he wants to do something, he does it. Nothing stands in his way. It’s quite impressive.. Whereas I’ll prevaricate, or be more diplomatic.. .Or take into account other people’s wishes.”
A voice booms over the backstage intercom. “One hour to showtime.”
Chris and Neil sit in Neil’s room.
“We must be mad doing this,” says Chris. “I can’t wait for it to get into a really boring routine.”
“Neither can I,” nods Neil.
Lynne Easton does Neil’s make-up, then Chris’s. “I need surgery, not make-up,” says Chris, and there is much laughter.
“That’s not the first time you’ve said that,” Neil points out.
“It still applies though,” Chris sighs.
Murray Lachlan Young, the poet who is supporting them, is halfway through his set. They must be on-stage in twelve minutes. “What,” wonders Chris, “if I forget to go on?”
The first half seems to go well enough, though the sound is bad. During the interval, they change upstairs from their white suits to their blue ones.
“It was great when we came on,” says Neil.
“It died down quite quickly,” says Chris.
“They’re singing along with all the words,” says Annie, the video director.
“Oh, are they?” says Neil, pleased.
“It’s a good job there’s a lot of words,” notes Chris.
The second half goes smoothly. “Rent”, the first encore, works perfectly. Over the introduction of “Left To My Own Devices”, the second encore, Neil introduces the cast. It’s only “Before”, the third encore, which goes a little wrong, as both Neil and Sylvia lose their place in the song and start extemporizing in a soulful, but rather nervous, fashion. (“We had the new experience of me vibing out on vocals,” Neil laughs afterwards, “trying to find out where I was. I hadn’t the faintest idea.”) During the curtain call, Chris drops his trousers so that the entire audience can see his boxer shorts.
“It’s a great moment in pop,” says Neil, afterwards.
Chris explains that Les Childs, the choreography and dancer, had said Chris wouldn’t dare.
“So, Neil,” Chris teases. “You blundered tonight. It was one blunder after another. I was shocked at your lack of professionalism.”
They drink a little champagne with close friends in the dressing room, then Ivan, the tour manager, tells them that it’s time to put in an appearance downstairs in the hospitality area.
“Actually, I don’t fancy going into a crowded room,” says Chris. “I don’t think we should go to hospitality. I don’t think we should let them see us. It’ll spoil the illusion.”
Ivan looks incredulous. “Spoil the illusion! You had your trousers down ten minutes ago!”
So they go, standing on a back street out the back of the theater – it’s too hot inside -with a flock of family members and friends.
“Do you know,” says Neil, “it’s quite good being in the Pet Shop Boys. It’s like a community.”
Friday, June 6th.
Neil arrives early to edit the backing track of “Left To My Own Devices” orchestral opening onto the beginning of tonight’s new encore, “West End Girls”. There are a couple of a good reviews in today’s papers, and the London Evening Standard gossip page reports on Chris’s dropped trousers.
Neil does a TV interview on the empty stage. “I think in the last few years it has only been the Pet Shop Boys and U2 who have tried to do new things with live performance,” he says. “It’s crucial to reinvent yourself to keep your audience interested and to keep yourself interested.”
Chris arrives. Dainton tells him that there’s a fire drill. “I’m not moving,” he says. It’s ridiculous. “What do you do if
there’s a fire?” he scoffs. “You dart out of the building as fast as you can.” Then he mutters to himself, “one of the things we had to study at university was the famous fire in the Isle Of Man.” He reads some quotes by U2 in Select magazine, suggesting that the Pet Shop Boys care too much about pop music and have treated it as too important. “No, we haven’t,” he retorts. “We’ve tried to denigrate rock’ n’ roll. Completely different.”
Just before they go on, the two Pet Shop Boys sit in the production manager’s office. Chris announces that he is turning up the cuffs of his white uniform.
“Huh,” warns Neil. “It’s not like that on film.” Chris won’t match when he walks between the film and the stage.
“No one can see,” says Chris, unrepentant.
The show runs smoothly, and the crowd is far more upbeat and expressive, though Neil comes in at the wrong time during “Love Comes Quickly”. During the curtain call, a carrot is thrown on-stage.
“It felt better tonight,” Chris says afterwards. “More exciting.”
“What’s happened to my official contact lens towel?” asks Neil.
“I’m not a father,” says Chris. “I don’t like to make a drama out of things.”
“You!” exclaims Neil, incredulous.
“You only wear contact lenses because it’s a drama,” Chris insists. “The number of dramas that’s caused.”
Saturday, June 7th.
Chris has now got a fourteen-inch TV in his dressing room. One of the backstage staff says that one time Erasure toured, Vince Clarke got so bored that he had a TV amidst his keyboards on-stage. One night he announced, happily, “the reception was good tonight”. Eventually, they released that he didn’t mean the crowd. He meant the TV.
Arma Andon, their American manager, is here tonight.
“We’ve decided we like touring,” Neil
tells him. “I’m already sad that this is finishing in two weeks.”
“How does it feel to be referred to as a national asset?” Arma asks Neil.
“It’s not the first time, Arma,” Neil replies.
Neil has ordered afternoon tea from the Savoy’s room service, and it arrives – a plate of cakes, a plate of sandwiches, four scones -accompanied by a waiter and a waitress. “Elton’s coming tonight,” he says. “Janet’s in charge of it. It’s like the Queen coming. Janet’s got the canapes at her house. The diet cokes are all in. There’s a little room set aside for the interval.”
Arma asks him why they decided to do this residency. In its way it is a good question. “This started off as a one-off gig,” Neil says. “We approached Harvey…” – Harvey Goldsmith, the promoter – …. to do a one-off gig at the London Palladium. Mind you, he told me that Elton once met him and said he had to play a one-off concert for Polygram, and the tour ended eighteen months later.”
Chris and Neil are pulled away to do an interview for a Dutch newspaper. The interviewer asks if they are dance fans.
“You mean ballet?” Chris asks.
“Chris likes dance music,” says Neil.
“That’s no secret,” says Chris. “I’m prepared to be quite open about that. That’s the one thing I’ll admit to. There are other things I enjoy more, but I’ll not admit them.. Actually…” – by now they are both laughing – “…It’s another kind of dancing.”
The interviewer struggles on. He asks about their future.
Chris steps in, helpfully. “We’ve got no future,” he says, “we’ve got no past…” After about twenty minutes, Neil and Chris realize that the public are about to be let into the theater.
“Mitch!” says Neil. “They’re going to open the doors.”
Chris looks panicked. “We can’t be seen as real people,” he says.
They have to do one more interview backstage, for a Dutch gay magazine.
“We’ve got to do this quickly,” Chris explains to the interviewer. “Dale Winton’s new show is on in a moment.”
“This is like doing a tour,” Neil explains, when the interview starts, “but people come to us, rather than us come to them.. .1 quite like the way they sit down.”
“They’re like sheep,” says Chris.
“They come to the show and do as they are told,” Neil laughs. “I am the Mrs Thatcher of pop.”
“What’s better,” the interviewer asks. “Being in the studio or being on-stage?”
“Being in bed,” says Chris. “Beats everything.”
The Dutchman takes his leave, Chris retires to watch TV, and Neil cleans his teeth. “I’ve finally got where I wanted to be,” he says. “I’ve finally got to be the creature I meant to be. In a theater in the West End.”
Chris pops his head back in. “Is Elton here?”
“He should be sat down,” says Neil.
“Will he stay?” says Chris with mock melodrama. “Will he storm out?”
He stays. During the half-time break, Chris watches Lily Savage on TV. Tonight, as a special treat for the audience, there is an extra act playing during the interval: a group of synchronized shouters from Northern Finland called The Screaming Men who Jay Jopling (the art dealer who lives with Sam Taylor-Wood and who appears in the Pet Shop Boys’ on-stage film) has brought over to London. “How long is it before they’re on one of our records?” Neil reflects.
In the second half, during “It’s A Sin”, I see Elton John dancing. Halfway through the second half, Neil changes a lyric in “Friendly Fire”. On most nights he sings the lyric “about me, the tabloids lied I so I sued them and survived”. Perhaps that seems inappropriate tonight, so instead he sings the occasional variation “about me, the critics lied 11 ignored them and survived”. Half an hour after the show finishes, Neil and Chris have a dinner date with Elton.
Immediately afterwards, before that, the Lowe family come backstage. Mrs Lowe sees Literally taking notes.
“He writes down everything you say,” she notes.
It’s all approved, Literally points out.
“Ah, yes,” she says wisely, “but who approves it?”
Wednesday, June 11th.
[There is no show on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday Literally is Ill.
“Yesterday,” Neil reports, “the film didn’t start, rather annoyingly. It slightly threw me a bit.” They played “Being Boring” as an encore, as they did on Monday. There was one other innovation: “A man came on-stage and kissed me.” Last night’s celebrity guests were Bananarama who ended up watching Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing back at Chris’s flat. “Consequently,” Neil sighs, “Chris didn’t get to bed until six. So he’s going to be sacked…”
He isn’t, of course. They’ve got their momentum going now: tonight’s show is polished but low key. The only change is that “Love Comes Quickly” has been lowered in pitch by a tone. (“I’ve given in,” Neil explains.)
“Oh, it does get tedious…” Chris complains in the interval.
“I’m always pleased once the first half’s over,” says Neil. “I’m always pleased when ‘Some Speculation’ is over. I, of course, get more nervous the more the run gets over. It irritates me, It’s completely pointless.”
Once Chris has changed into the second half clothes, he sits in his dressing room, in the dark, watching Frankie Howerd on TV.
When they come offstage at the end, they have to pose for some photographs.
“Right,” says the photographer. “Fifteen photos. Two minutes.”
“It’s very Melody Maker,” says Chris. “It’s Q,” says Neil.
They discuss the leadership battle in the
Conservative party. “If William Hague becomes the leader,” says Chris, “all the Labour party have to do is to show on rotation that clip of him as 16-year-old and you couldn’t possibly vote for him. Saddo.”
Stuart Maconie from Q magazine is ushered into the dressing room to ask some questions about the show.
“It’s more about performing the songs,” Neil explains.
“There is a message in the songs, though, isn’t there?” says Chris, deadpan.
“One of the reasons for doing the theatrical shows,” says Neil, “was to hide behind them.”
“In some ways,” adds Chris, “it was very sensible.”
“I still miss it sometimes,” Neil agrees. “Where are the dancers? Where are the wigs?”
“It’s very much a game of two halves, Brian,” says Stuart Maconie.
“It’s all about creosote,” says Chris.
Neil has another point to make.
“It’s always important in a concert to have good entrances and exits,” he says,
“The exits are the most important,” says Chris.
Thursday, Wednesday 12th.
In the afternoon Neil and Chris meet at the BBC where they are to pre-record an interview for Steve Wright’s Saturday morning Radio 2 show. While he sets everything up, Steve Wright asks them how the show’s been going. “The best comment is in the Daily Express,” says Neil. “It says, ‘move over Miss Saigon!’.”
Steve Wright asks them to talk so he can set the microphone levels.
“I’m not planning to say anything anyway,” says Chris.
“This’ll be Saturday morning,” Wright advises them, so they remember not to say it’s Thursday.
“What time?” asks Chris.
“I see you’re a regular listener,” says
Wright. “It’s now the biggest radio show on the planet.”
“Why do you think we’re doing it?” Chris retorts. “We’re not doing it for nothing, you know.”
They begin the interview.
“He doesn’t say very much,” says Wright, about Chris, to Neil.
“He might say more than you think,” Neil warns him.
They talk about the show.
“I was worried me voice wouldn’t hold up,” says Neil.
“There wasn’t much to hold up,” says Chris.
“Oooh missus,” says Steve Wright.
The interview goes on a while. “Longer than we thought,” says Chris when they finish.
“We record quite a lot,” Wright explains, “and take all the crap out.”
The Pet Shop Boys catch a taxi down to the Savoy. On the way we pass the department store Dickins & Jones. Chris points. “Very underrated,” he says.
Neil nods. “I occasionally buy cosmetics there. And clothes. I’ve bought luggage there.”
“It’s just like a New York luggage store,” Neil enthuses. “It’s a secret.”
Going down Regent Street, stuck in traffic, a man spots them. “See you tonight!” he shouts, and pushes his video camera through the open window. “Say hello!” he instructs. He’s a bit pushy.
“Hello,” says Neil.
“No,” says Chris. “Go away.”
When they arrive, Neil pops out to see his parents, who are staying at the hotel tonight. Chris has a nap. Later, they begin to draw up a set list for the festival dates which follow this residency. They intend to add some more hit singles, and they will need to rehearse them during soundcheck over the next few days.
“We should do ‘Let’s Make Lots Of Money’,” Chris decides. “Do we have to?” says Neil.
“Well, I don’t like to do ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’,” Chris reasons, “so it’s only fair.”
Tonight, during “The Truck-driver And His Mate”, someone chucks a big Yorkie chocolate bar on-stage. During the interval Chris finds Absolutely Fabulous on TV. It’s the one about Edina’s fortieth birthday. They both sit and watch. Chris says he’d prefer the interval to be half an hour from now on, to fit in with the TV schedules.
During the second half, Chris walks off before – instead of after – “Discoteca”. Releasing his mistake too late, he simply stays backstage. Afterwards, in the hospitality area, the actor Richard Wilson comes up to Neil.
“It was wonderful,” he says. “A joy.”
“He’s dead ace, Richard Wilson,” says Chris once he’s out of earshot. “I remember him in Crown Court. I used to run home from school at lunch time and watch it.”
Friday, June 13th.
Neil is talking about his parents to Robbie, the sound engineer. “They enjoyed it,” Neil, clearly both pleased and relieved. “They’re usually appalled by the sex, violence and nudity.”
Jack, who is their manager’s young son, interrogates Neil about the absent Chris.
“He often goes to bed very very late, sometimes when it’s light,” Neil explains, and sleeps during the day.” Jack looks suitably disapproving. “That’s a funny way round, isn’t it?” says Neil.
“A bit tipsy Truvy,” Jack agrees.
“Jack thinks Chris is a bit tipsy Truvy,” Neil announces. “He’s probably right.”
In the dressing room, Neil looks at an article in the new issue of Vanity Fair about Keith Haring. It quotes a section of “Being Boring” at the beginning, but it gets the words wrong. I mention that a friend of mine has a Keith Haring drawing and dedication to her on her wall. “It’s like my Damien Hirst,” Neil says. “A Groucho matchbox. It’s a picture of
a stuffed dog, and it says something like ‘come to the fucking Soho House, pet’.”
Where do you keep it?
“It’s just sitting around, actually.”
There seem to be a few friend’s children coming to tonight’s show.
“I wonder what the under-tens will think,” says Chris.
“They’ll probably think it’s a bit boring,” says Neil. “No pointy hats. No cartoons. None of the things that our under-eight fans like.”
“You just get a boring film of your parents,” says Chris.
“Boring adults,” Neil agrees. “Talking, like they always do.”
They get ready.
“Halfway through the show,” Neil says, “we’ll be halfway through the whole thing. Not that I’m counting.”
Tonight, “Rent” goes wrong again, and they both start laughing on-stage. “What happened was,” Chris explains afterwards, “when I put my headphones down, it hit the WRITE button and it started to play all these bleeps. And then I sorted that out and I thought it was OK, and then I was in the wrong bit of the song. I can’t handle the stress.”
“You’re a musician!” Neil chides. “I’m not!” huffs Chris, outraged. “I’m
not a musician.
“You were in One Under The Eight.” “I used to mime then.”
“No you didn’t,” says Neil. “I used to mime in the brass band
Neil nods. “I used to mime the cello…”
Saturday, June 14th.
Chris looks a little bleary. He got to sleep at a thoroughly topsy Truvy lO.3Oam.
“Dainton’s getting me a McDonalds,” he says.
“Has he got my piece of cake?” Neil asks, concerned. “He was going to have it at 6 o’clock.”
“Your piece of cake?” Chris says.
“I’ve got to eat now or I’ll be burping on stage,” Neil explains.
“I took priority,” Chris teases.
“I should take priority,” Neil says. “I’m the singer.”
“I’m not even hungry,” Chris admits. “But if I don’t eat something I’ll collapse.”
Neil says that he has been called by Bernard Summer who is on his way down from Manchester. They had tickets booked for the next Saturday, but they got the day wrong. A few minutes later Bernard turns up with his girlfriend, Sarah, and the producer Arthur Baker. (Years ago, Arthur Baker was involved in a Pet Shop Boys feud which also involved Belinda Carlisle, Sandra Bernhard and a disputed restaurant bill, but they have made up. “We got over that,” Neil says. “He apologized.”)
“Doesn’t Bernard look well and tanned?” says Chris, once Bernard has gone.
“He’s lost a lot of weight,” says Neil. “It’s all those holidays.”
“He’s very funny,” Chris says.
Neil nods. “You don’t get that in his work. In fact, frankly, the reverse. He’s seen as a manic depressive in Joy Division and in New Order, whereas really he’s a standup comedian.”
Chris returns to his dressing room, where he opens a Lucozade. In the alley, just outside the window, there’s a crashing sound. “Oooh,” he says. “Broken glass everywhere…” Before drinking he checks the Lucozade’s sell-by date. March 1996. “I’m not drinking that!” he exclaims. “Who has blundered? They’re sacked!” The drink is sent away. A few minutes later, Ivan returns with it. He gently points out that the label actually says March 1998.
“Why does it look like 1996?” asks Chris, annoyed.
“Because you didn’t read it properly,” Ivan points out.
Tonight two cabbages are thrown onto the stage. (Sylvia throws one of them back.)
“You never know what vegetable you’re going to get,” Chris observes. Afterwards, some fans present Chris with two books: The Richard & Judy Story (“Got it,” he says, a little ungraciously) and the Supermarket Sweep Quiz Book. The latter perks him up. “This is more like it,” he hoots.
The Bernard Summer posse joins them backstage again. “My kids love ‘Red Letter Day’,” Bernard says. “And it’s not just that bit ‘Christmas morning, when you’re a kid…”‘
Tuesday, June 17th.
Literally misses Monday’s show, which is the one filmed for video release. Each night, during the encores, the on-stage screens broadcast footage from fixed cameras of members of the audience dancing in their seats, about ten rows back from the front. Last night, one of the faces which the camera, by chance, was on was that of Julian Clary. “He shrank back and back,” says Neil, “and then he left”.
This next afternoon, Neil is feeling ill. “I’ve got an infection and a dodgy stomach,” he says. “I’ve got a doctor coming.”
When Chris arrives, they debate the set list for the rock festivals. They have arrived early today to film a special version of “Somewhere” for Top Of The Pops.
“Do they know I don’t want any shots of me playing?” Chris asks.
“We’re going to hand out a card outside the theater,” says Neil. “‘Please do not look at Chris during the show’.”
They are briefed about the progress of the “Somewhere” single, which is not yet released, but which is being played a lot on Radio One, but not very much at all on Capital Radio. Neil has a theory.” ‘Somewhere’ is a bit Northern,” he reasons, “whereas ‘Se A Vida E’ is fundamentally Southern. ‘Red Letter Day’ – Northern. ‘Bilingual’ – Northern. ‘West End Girls’ -Southern. We haven’t got any Southern tracks at the moment, so we might as well forget it. We’ll have to write something Southern: something mellow and a bit full of shit.”
They run through the song, over and over, for Top Of The Pops. Each time, as the end, Chris says, hopefully, “is that it?” When they begin to film close-ups he says, “there better not be too many close-ups of me. I don’t want to look like a wizard”. After a couple more run through, his stance hardens.
“I don’t want my face,” he announces.
“Can’t they film his shoes?” suggests Neil, not entirely seriously.
“Film my shoes!” repeats Chris, who seems to think this a marvelous idea. “I’ll tap them. That’s the most movement they’ll get out of me.”
“He is,” says Neil, “literally the Victor Meldrew of pop.”
We retire to Chris’s dressing room to see the results of the Conservative Leadership ballot: Ken Clarke 64 votes, William Hague 62 and John Redwood 39. Hague appears on TV immediately, looking pleased.
“Oh, isn’t he vile?” says Chris.
“He’s quite camp,” Neil says.
Neil goes to rest for a while. Chris is finally given his fire safety lecture from the fire safety officer, an obligation for anyone appearing at the theater. “As far as I am concerned,” the fire safety officer tells him,
“you are a responsible person”. They’re told that if there is a fire, they will hear it on the backstage tangy but that they should carry on performing until the fire curtain comes down. If they hear “will Mr Sams come to the stage door?” it means there’s a fire. If they bear “will a friend of Mr Sams come to the stage door?” it means there’s a bomb. After the man has gone, Chris mentions that when he worked in Harrods there were two bomb scares. “I went searching for bombs,” he recalls. “The first time I heard the coded message I went ‘oh my God’. It was in the toy department. I was in luggage, but at Christmas I was in toys. Luggage was really boring. I had good fun in toys. You could play with all the toys. Though you’re probably not allowed to nowadays…”
Meanwhile, Neil has seen the doctor. “He’s given me antibiotic drops,” Neil says. “He said, ‘oh yes, you’ve got a huge lump of puss on your eardrum’. He told me that I have slight exceed on my eardrums .~,. My stomach’s made a miracle recovery.
He sits back and reads about Tony Blair in the New Yorker.
“It’s funny how I spend most of the show dying for it to be over,” he says, “and then when it is I feel quite sad.”
A bit like life really, Literally observes.
“A bit like life. Exactly.”
In the Royal box tonight are Martin Fry from ABC and some of M People. The Pet Shop Boys go off at the end, as usual, to a piece of bombastic classical music. “No one writes about this music,” Chris complains. “It’s almost the Battle of Britain. It’s the Spitfire Theme by William Walton from one of those beat-the-Krauts movies. It’s Neil’s choice, not mine.” (Each night their performance is preceded by the brass band version of the slow movement of Rodrigo’s Concerto D’Aranjuez from the soundtrack to the film Brassed Off)
“They were a bit hard work tonight,” says Neil. “I don’t mind it, myself. I actually quite like it when they’re a bit hard work.” Dainton
hands him his post-show glass of champagne. “Only four shows to go,” he says. “It’ll soon be over.”
“Yeah,” says Chris. “It’s great, isn’t it?”
Wednesday, June 18th.
Neil arrives early to rehearse “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”. In a break, Ivan discusses the end of tour party. They had decided to have a small party for 150 people, but it’s already getting out of hand.
“There’s already 200 people on the list,” Neil frets. “It’ll get too crowded and there’ll be 300 people pissed off. Why spend eight grand on not having a nice time and causing a lot of grief? I just want to have a drink. I don’t really want to go raving mad.”
“It is too late to cancel the party?” Ivan asks.
“No,” says Neil, firmly.
“Do we need to speak to Chris?” says Ivan.
“Yes, we do. I want to go through the whole thing with him. I don’t want to go at the moment. It is impossible, it seems, for the Pet Shop Boys to have a small party for their friends.”
There is a story in the newspapers, and on the radio, that tickets for these shows are now changing hands at £600 each. It was the Pet Shop Boys who originally heard this and told their record company, who have spread the story. Now Susan, Neil’s sister, asks him about it.
He nods. “I don’t suppose it’s true,” he says.
“So are you going to feel sad on Saturday when it’s the last one?” she asks.
“Probably,” he says, a little wistfully.
Neil has a TV interview to do. Dainton comes to fetch him,
“What’s the interview?” he asks.
“International,” Dainton says.
“That covers a large area,” Neil says.
When he returns to the backstage area, Chris is there, talking about the youth
football team from Yeading which he sponsors, who are all coming tonight. They talk about the party. “The fact of the matter,” says Neil, “is that it’s not possible to have a small party.” They go through the guest list, trying to pare it down. It’s hard. Just about everyone has a good reason to be invited.”
They get dressed.
“These suits are actually Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman,” Neil says. “Do you remember?”
“Yeah,” nods Chris.
“Let’s go and kick ass,” Neil suggests.
“Have you talked about the party?” Ivan asks them as they wait behind the stage.
“We have,” says Chris. “We haven’t come to any conclusions.”
When Neil talks after the second song, he can’t remember what day it is. “Is it Wednesday?” he asks the crowd.
At half-time, Lynne Easton has a question for Neil. “Is it true that you might not have a party at all?”
“Might not,” he confirms. “Too many people. We just want to have a quiet cosy drink-up, and for some reason that involves 219 people.”
Chris watches Roseanne on TV. “It’s Chris’s mate,” says Dainton. “They bonded.” (Chris and Roseanne Barr met at the Tyson- Bruno fight in Las Vegas.)
“Mind you,” says Chris, “that was when the programed was good. I wouldn’t have bonded now.”
After the encores, Neil is joined in his dressing room by his brother Simon and his three children. For the youngest, who is four, it is her first concert.
“I’ll tell you,” says her father, “it’s better than the first concert I went to – a group called Uriah Heap.”
“That’s worse that John Hiseman’ S Coliseum,” says Neil. John Hiseman’s Colosseum played keyboard-based progressive rock nodding, and one of their concerts was, as it happens, Neil’s first.
Thursday, June 19th~
Neil turns up this afternoon in a suit. “I’m having dinner with Neil Hannon,” he says (Neil Hannon is The Divine Comedy), “so I’ve decided to come as him. I’ve decided to out-suit him. Also, I’ve run out of casual clothes.”
They’ve decided the party will go ahead. “I, of course, would rather not have it,” he says, “but no doubt it will be aright on the night.” He tells Pete Gleadall that they’ll play the same encores as last night. “I quite enjoyed ‘Before’ last night,” he says. “It sounded like a hit. It doesn’t always. Sometimes I think, ‘what is this I’m playing?”‘ He picks up a fan letter. “It’s a rant,” he sighs. “‘I don’t love you for your body’.” He laughs. “I’d prefer it if you did, to be honest. If they could all love me for my body and not my mind they’d all get a lot further.”
Jill Carrington, their manager, talks to Neil about the possibility of taking the show to New York.
“If they can put us in a theater. with one thousand seats for a week in New York, and in a hotel…” says Neil.
“You’d go?” says Jill.
“You’d have to ask Chris. I’d go.”
He does two interviews, then requests some peace and quiet. “I need to rest for ten
minutes,” he explains, “after these two intensely irritating interviews.”
“You know you’re rehearsing Monday?” Ivan tells Chris. There’s a rehearsal planned of the festival set.
“I am?” says Chris.
“You are,” says Ivan, “as one of the Pet Shop Boys.”
Chris settles down to watch an episode of the The Bill in which a young kid kicks open a lockup in which some counterfeit money has been stashed. But who has the money now? Chris is summoned downstairs to begin the show.. .But he refuses to leave the dressing room without knowing how the episode ends. In the end, Literally is ordered to stay in his room, and to report back to him the last ten minutes.
Neil is jittery and UN-relaxed tonight on-stage. Some of Madness are here, and for some reason this unnerves him. “The other people who put me off were Bananarama,” he reflects afterwards. “It’s all the old Eighties chums.”
In the hospitality area a fan gallops up to Neil with indecent keenness. “I promised myself that I wasn’t going to pester you,” she says, and Neil nods his head in agreement, “…But I’ve changed my mind.”
Friday, June 20th.
Neil has just heard the new Oasis single, “Do ‘You Know What I Mean”, for the first time. “The word we’re using,” he says, “is ‘disappointing’.” Earlier this afternoon Neil and Chris did a radio interview, and were asked a question via e-mail by long term fans the Putney Posse about the various vegetables which have been thrown on-stage most nights:
the Putney Posse are apparently responsible. Chris watches Top Of The Pops. “Oh my
God! Eternal singing live!” he exclaims. “Oh, the shame of it.” Blur come on next. “That guitarist tries too hard to do the nerd thing,” he says. He prefers Alex: “Alex is a work of art. Everyone who goes to the Groucho, they’re all a work of art. Or they make it.”
Neil comes in just as Top Of The Pops show a thirty-second preview of the specially-shot performance of “Somewhere”.
“How did it look?” Neil asks.
“I looked ugly, but that goes without saying,” Chris replies.
“What did I look like, more to the point?” asks Neil.
“You looked great,” says Chris.
Chris goes to the bathroom which is between their two dressing rooms. The door is locked. “Is someone in the bathroom?” he shouts. It’s Dainton, who promptly gets told off. “That’s for stars only,” Chris informs him. “Yours is down the corridor.”
The show starts strangely tonight. Before they come on-stage, the strings at the beginning of “Somewhere” – which shouldn’t be heard until later in the show in this version
– start up and then stop. Pete Gleadall has been working on the festival set earlier today, and the machine is playing up.
“That was most exciting,” laughs Chris, backstage. “Who can we blame?”
The music starts again, and the mistake recurs. From the audience, you can hear a loud, confused cheer. When crises actually arrive, rather than when they are merely anticipated, the Pet Shop Boys can be surprisingly lighthearted. While an anxious Pete Gleadall frowns over his computer, Neil and Chris laugh themselves silly.
“Oh my God,” says Neil.
“It’s a technical hitch,” Chris sniggers.
When Neil introduces “Hello Spaceboy”, he usually talks about the legends they have worked with: “Liza Minelli!…” (big audience cheer)”… Dusty Springfield’ (big audience cheer)”… David Bowie!…” (big audience cheer). Tonight he changes the script slightly. “Liza Minelli!… Dusty Springfield!… Patsy Kensit!…”
The crowd is subdued tonight. “They probably got their tickets at the last moment,” Chris complains at the interval, “and they’re not true fans.”
“They’re not even standing up in ‘Go
West’,” Neil frets.
“They’re a crap audience,” Chris concludes. “We’ve ended up on a downer. Isn’t that typical? I hate having a middle-aged audience. We want youngsters. Neil, we’re going to have to reposition ourselves in the market. We’ll have to make a drum’n’bass album.”
The number of fans waiting outside has increased each night, as they get to know the Pet Shop Boys’ routine, and tonight Neil and Chris are mobbed as they climb into a black cab. “I wouldn’t be in one of those groups where they climb on the limo,” says Neil. “I’d get claustrophobic. I’d just tell them to drive over the fans.”
They go for dinner.
“Pop is so relentless,” Neil says. “Sometimes I think, can’t we just stop for a while?”
Instead, they talk some more about the Oasis single.
“This time, the critics are going to like it,” Chris predicts, “and get it wrong again.”
“Do a Supergrass on it,” says Neil. “I just
got the feeling of a bit of a nonevent when I
heard it today. The matter of fact is, it’s a
dreary, dingy tune. You didn’t want to rush
out and do a hi-energy cover version of it. I
though it would a sevell-minute journey.”
“A journey!” Chris sniggers.
“Do you know what I mean?” says Neil. “I know it’s a wanky thing to say. But ‘right here, right now – do you know what I mean ‘is the least interesting lyric in rock’n’roll.”
“And what happened to the question mark?” Chris queries.
“When I stop doing this,” Neil announces, “I’m going to probably devote my life to defending punctuation.”
Chris asks Neil the difference between a colon and a semicolon, and Neil explains at some length.
“I’ve got the Oxford Concise Book Of Grammar,” Chris says.
“You like rules, don’t you?” says Neil. “So you can break them.”
Tomorrow is the final night.
“I’ll probably feel a bit sad tomorrow when it’s over,” Neil predicts. “But I’ll get over it quite quickly, and get sensationally out of it.”
Saturday, June 21st.
Most days there are a few letters from fans which have been sent to the theater and which are placed in the Pet Shop Boys’ respective dressing rooms. Today, Neil has one from a research student at the University of Ulster. In part, it reads “Dear Mr. Tennant
.For my doctoral thesis I am looking at the kinship between theatre-as-ritual and performance in pop music. I strongly feel that Pet Shop Boys could represent a key case study in this ~
Before the show tonight, Neil and Chris pack up their rooms.
“Can Leonard come to the stage door, please?” asks Philip, the man who makes the announcements, over the intercom.
“I’m going to miss his announcements,” Chris says. “I think I’m going to get him to do the message for my answer machine.”
Flavio, who was a dancer on the Discovery tour, arrives to take a picture of the entire cast and crew. They all line up on the stage. “After three,” says Neil, “say ‘lesbian Back in the dressing room, Chris watches Dale Winton’s show. The background music is strangely familiar. “Bloody hell,” he says,
“we’re on.” They’re using “Single-Bilingual”. Time for the last show. The Pet Shop Boys sit backstage as the first half of the “Somewhere” twelve-inch booms out into the audience. “I mean,” comments Neil, “this is better than Oasis’s record. Chris sounds so like Liam Gallagher.” It’s a merry, triumphant performance.
Afterwards, they head to the Un-cancelled party at Holborn Studios. They are there quite some time.
Thursday, June 26th.
Neil and Chris meet at Heathrow airport.
Chris has only had two hours sleep. He
bumped into a variety of people in central
London last night, including Boy George.
“Boy George is nice,” he says.
“He’s a sweetie,” Neil concurs.
“Talk about karma karma karma karma chameleon,” says Chris. “He phoned the office this morning to say what a wonderful evening he’d had and how nice I was.”
“I think the Groucho Club should be shut down by law,” says Neil. “It should have pub licensing hours.”
It is pointed out to Neil that he is rarely to be found saying this when he is in the Groucho Club at one in the morning.
“Actually I think that then,” he insists. “But I can’t leave. I’m imprisoned by my own pathetic-ness.”
Today we head for Copenhagen, but it is our subsequent stop – Turku in Finland – which we’re thinking about more.
“I’ve brought thermal underwear,” says Chris.
Neil nods. “I’ve brought thermal underwear.”
They talk about yesterday’s accident on the MIR space station.
“Imagine it,” Neil says. “The Americans will all have been bullshitting and the Russians will all have been drunk.”
Leaving Copenhagen airport, an overexcited but under-informed Danish fan rushes up to Neil.
“Chris! Chris! Chris!” he shouts.
“It’s Neil, actually,” says Neil.
We meet in the hotel reception for dinner. Neil is a little irritated. He has had a problem with his Jacuzzi. He just put it on for the hell of it, and it wouldn’t turn off. He has left a Jacuzzi engineer in his room, struggling to sort it out.
We are filled in about the festival bill. On the Pet Shop Boys’ stage they are preceded by Suede, which pleases them. Also playing that night, elsewhere at the festival, are Daft Punk.
“I’d go and see that,” says Neil. “Let’s face it, all their songs sound the same. It’s one of their strengths.”
The restaurant, in converted underground cellars, is one of Copenhagen’s most expensive and most carnivorous. They both order the smoked salmon and the roast sirloin.
“You and me might as well have gone to a Berni Inn,” Neil says.
“Was Jesus a vegetarian?” Chris asks Neil.
“He certainly wasn’t,” Neil replies.
“I just asked,” says Chris.
“The Last Supper wasn’t,” Neil points out.
“I would have had a bowl of Cornflakes,” Chris mutters.
They eat on.
“Oh my God,” says Neil. “We’re playing a festival. What have we got in to?”
“It’s so exciting,” says Chris. “Neil, you’re going to turn into Freddie Mercury.”
“Thank you, Chris,” says Neil, dryly. “I really need an images fix.”
“You’ve got to stomp around the stage,” Chris encourages.
We want coffee. It turns out that we have to pay for our meal here at the table, and then pay for the coffee in the coffee-drinking salon upstairs. The Pet Shop Boys are not happy with this complicated, time-wasting arrangement.
“That’s bloody ridiculous,” Neil exclaims. “Right! I’m against the European Community.”
“I’ll never come to the Netherlands again,” Chris announces.
“We’re not in the Netherlands,” Neil points out.
Friday, June 27th.
We head off on foot through the Copenhagen streets to shop, explore and lunch.
“We need to look out for something dead nice to eat,” says Chris. “I want something Scandinavian. But not fish.”
“So you mean reindeer,” says Neil.
They go into Donna Karan. George Michael’s “Star People” is playing.
“You don’t want blooming George Michael when you’re in a shopping mood,” Chris complains. He points out some Neil-style shirts. “Don’t you like these plain blue shirts? Or do you just have too many shirts?”
“I do,” says Neil. “I’m always in the market for socks.”
He tries a few things on. He buys no socks, just a tracksuit top and a blue shirt.
Chris is losing interest. “I’m not really in a shopping mood,” he says.
After some searching for a typical Danish restaurant, we settle into a bar.
“I’ll have a beer,” says Chris. “Have a beer for once,” he encourages Neil.
Neil doesn’t drink beer. It’s not allowed on his food-combining diet. “Actually,” he says, “I’m very tempted to have a beer. I’ll have a beer. This is why you go on tour and dump your diet.” Some food arrives too. “I am having fun in Denmark,” Neil announces. “Having potato salad and beer.. ..Right! I think next year we’ll spend the whole summer doing the festivals. Let’s turn into David Bowie.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Chris grins, “because I don’t know what I’m doing.” He is yet to work out the one part of the show he refused to rehearse – his keyboard part in “Domino Dancing”. “I don’t know what key it’s in,” he shrugs.
“It’s in A minor,” says Neil. We stay in the bar a long time. Eventually Neil leaves, but Chris stays. “It’s good to know some of us have got into the spirit of the festival,” Chris laughs, “while Neil’s looking round antique bookshops.” (In fact Neil has bought a book, Remembering Stalin ‘S Victims, about the Russian government and people come to terms with the massacres from the Satanist era. “A good airplane read,” he explains.) Chris adjourns to the hotel bar. “Tonight could be a huge disaster,” he says. “We’ve had one rehearsal.”
The record company want to take the Pet Shop Boys out for a pre-show dinner. Chris decides to sleep instead, but Neil goes. Various events conspire to put Neil, not unjustifiably, in a decidedly unhappy frame of mind. “The biggest ever concert I’ve ever done,” he fumes, “and I’m in such a bad mood that I could put a foot through a window.” He looks thoroughly upset. “It was obviously always a ridiculous idea for us to start playing rock festivals. It’s raining. It’s a sea of mud. We’re surrounded by maniacs.” We get on the bus, but then we have to wait for a van of competition winners. Neil’s mood darkens some more.
“What song are we doing second?” he mutters.
Someone tells him it’s “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”.
“Oh,” he says. “The song we wouldn’t
The bus driver turns on the radio. It’s Erasure. The final straw.
“Do they really have to play Erasure?” he says.
We drive off, past a beautiful big church.
“Do you know what that is?” Neil asks the Danish man who is supposed to be looking after them. Even in his black mood, Neil is interested in these things.
“It’s a big church,” the helpful Dane tells him.
“Even I can see that,” says Neil.
When we arrive on the site, all we can see is mud, though as we get of the bus the rain, miraculously, stops. David Byrne is playing on-stage. “I heard him on the radio earlier,” Neil reports. “I mean, even we do Brazilian music better than you do, love.”
“What do we do if the equipment breaks down?” wonders Chris.
“I’ll get out the acoustic guitar,” Neil suggests. “I can do loads of Bob Dylan. Beatles. ‘White Light, White Heat’. ‘Anarchy In The UK’.”
“You’d get such respect,” says Chris.
“People just don’t realize what I can do,” says Neil. “I can do ‘Imagine’. ‘Imagine there’s no heaven, ladies and gentleman!”‘
They do a couple of interviews. “I think it’s good that, after twelve years,” Neil tells one interviewer, “we’re sitting here about to do something for the first time.” He laughs. “I’m a nervous wreck.”
The interviewer asks about “Somewhere”.
“It was meant to be a duet,” Chris says, “but we couldn’t think of anyone to do it with.”
They do a third interview, this time with six journalists at once.
“We’re playing fifteen hit singles and one obscure song,” Neil tells them.
“We’re not taking any chances,” Chris explains.
“A lot of groups don’t like their hit singles,” Neil points out. “We, for better or worse, still like ours.” When the press have left, Simon from Suede, who has just come offstage, pops in to say hello. “Are we going to get electrocuted out there?” Neil asks. He shrugs. “Oh, I’ll die a legend.”
The realization that, for the first time in their life, they are about to stand in front of a rock festival crowd and perform is beginning to sink in.
“What are we doing?” Neil laughs.
“I don’t know how you’ve got the bottle, Neil,” says Chris.
“I’m from Gosforth,” Neil explains.
“We’re doing it for the money, don’t forget,” bluffs Chris.
“Given that we’re doing it for the money,” Neil says, “we’re not doing just doing it for the money. It’s quite exciting.”
“I don’t know how you’re doing this,” Chris reiterates.
“It’s not a problem,” fakes Neil. “It’s a dream come true, Chris. It’s that rock festival I always promised myself.” He has just one question. He’s not entirely sure what this festival is called. “It is Roskilde, isn’t it? Might as well get that right.”
“They’re going to laugh at us for wearing silly clothes,” says Chris.
“It’s good to wear silly clothes,” says Neil.
“This is how I felt when we went on the chute in Florida,” says Chris. “What makes it
scary is the inevitability.”
David Byrne comes to the dressing room door to say hello. He tells Neil, “I like your book”, which Neil decides is the greatest backhanded compliment the Pet Shop Boys have received since Joni Mitchell told him in 1991, “I like your videos”.
They head to the stage.
“Give it some elbow,” encourages Brett Anderson.
“It’s just like Bon Jovi, isn’t it?” Chris sniggers. “Oh, shame. What if they don’t like us?,’
Les sidles over. “Tear it up, children! Teach! Teach! Teach!”
“Teach,” says Neil, laughing. “It’s such a good word.”
Neil shouts out “good evening, Roskilde!” after the first song as though he has been playing festivals all his life. They loiter backstage, grinning, during the middle section of the set where Sylvia sings “The Man Who Has Everything”. At the end, Neil says, “You’ve been a fabulous audience, Roskilde -we love you!”
“We can rock’n’roll,” laughs Chris, as they hide behind the backdrop before the encores.
“I just do Dave Gahan,” says Neil.
Lynne rushes up. “Yes! You’re rock gods!”
They go back on. “This is the first
festival we’ve ever played,” Neil tells the crowd, “and we love it.”
“Well done, everyone,” sighs Neil, back in the dressing room.
“Well,” says Chris, “I think you coped with that very well. You almost got too carried
“‘Go West’ is a good song, isn’t it?” Neil reflects.
Chris nods. “I wish we’d written that one.” He begins to worry. “We didn’t look too keen, did we? It’s easy to get carried away at moments like that, and do things you regret later.”
“Didn’t you enjoy it though?” Lynne asks.
“I loved it,” says Neil. “Low moment, ‘Opportunities’.”
“It sounded terrible,” Chris agrees.
“I’ve never like ‘Opportunities’,” says Neil.
“You really went for it at the beginning,” Chris laughs.
“I was doing ‘Wham! The Final’,” Neil says.”! Was doing Depeche Mode. I’ve seen these shows.”
Brett Anderson joins them.
“Lollapalooza next year,” Neil says.
“‘Opportunities’ was great,” Brett tells them.
Neil begins worrying about Finland. “The next one will be a load of bored people having a picnic in the rain.”
Robbie appears. “Your music sounds good in a field,” he tells them.
“It’s punk rock, basically,” Neil says. “It always has been.”
Saturday, June 28th.
There is supposed to be a van taking us to the airport in the morning, but it doesn’t turn up.
“Once they’ve got what they want out of you. ..Dumped!” says Chris.
“Literally dumped,” nods Neil.
We hail cabs in the street. At the airport Chris explains to Ivan that we had no transport and so hailed taxis.
“Well improvised,” Ivan says.
“It’s only a matter of time before we go back to South America,” Chris says. “Now we realize it’s just so easy. If you don’t bother with costume changes and dance routines and all that, and just play the songs, it’s easy.”
We fly via Stockholm. Neil accidentally leaves a book, The Roy Strong Diaries, on the first plane. “They’re absolute rubbish,” he says. “Actually, it’s good for an airplane because it’s a load of drivel about having dinner with the Queen Mother.” In Stockholm airport Neil announces, “I might have to have a hot dog” and then, more definitively, “I’m going to have a beer and a hot dog”. He’s clearly on the slippery slope.
Neil decides to call Jill back in England on his mobile. “Just because we can,” he says.
“I just want to hear the chart position,” says Chris. (“Somewhere” came out the previous Monday.) “I don’t know why we bother. We’ve tried everything. We’ve tried being different. We’ve tried being the same.”
“We’ve tried being different but the same,” says Neil.
“And now we’re reduced to headlining rock festivals,” says Chris.
We arrive in Turku. They don’t play until tomorrow night. Tonight at the festival Sting is headlining, which interests neither of them much. Neil says he might go anyway, to see Nick Cave, but changes his mind fairly swiftly. First impressions of Turku are not terrifically enticing. The town seems rather Eastern European in an gray austere way, and it seems rather shut. The hotel seems like a deliberately surreal tribute to Seventies kitsch. Soon, however, we get into the swing of things. In the evening we have a drink with some famous Finnish porn stars who are staying in the hotel, then go to dinner. The weather is beautiful and so we sit outside. “Let’s hope it gets cold,” Neil complains. “We both brought thermal underwear.”
We are approached by some local club kids.
“This is a really silly question,” a girl begins, “but we’ve wanted to know for months. What was Rick Mayall’s character called in The Young Ones?”
“He’s called Rick,” says Neil, helpfully.
She turns to the guy who is obviously her boyfriend. “I told you a thousand times,” she says.
“If we ever do another book,” Neil says, “we should quote that at the beginning. David Byrne to Neil Tennant: ‘I like your book’.”
“Who is David Byrne?” Dainton asks.
“Talking Heads,” says Neil.
“He’s the most pretentious man in the world,” says Chris.
“He makes David Bowie seem like Noddy Holder,” says Neil.
We notice that, though it is 10.30 at night, it is still light, and it is getting no darker. We are far enough north that, during the summer, the night never really comes. Somehow it’s rather exciting. It makes you feel that you can stay up as long as you like.
“By the way,” Neil says to Chris. “Ivan’s room is better than yours.”
“His always is,” Chris sulks. “Actually I haven’t got a problem with my room. But that isn’t the point.”
Another fan comes up.
“I love your London style, your club discoteque,” he says. “I love ‘King’s Cross’, I love the videos.”
“Are you coming tomorrow?” Neil asks.
“There’s no videos,” Neil says. “Just hits.”
“Taking no chances,” says Chris.
“We are very proud to have you here in Turku,” the fan says.
We go back to the hotel. Chris insists that we all go to Ivan’s room and confront him about the room-size discrepancy.
“I don’t know if I can bear to go,” says Neil, who follows anyway.
Chris pounds on the door. “Wake up! Ivan! Wake up!”
Eventually Ivan wakes up, though he still looks fast asleep.
“You’ve got a bigger room!” says Chris.
“Yeah,” says Ivan, blearily. “I noticed that.”
“I’ve got a poxy little room,” Chris says.
“You like that,” says Ivan.
Chris tries to insist that they call the promoter right now to complain. He says he wants some money by way of compensation.
“It’s an official atrocity,” says Neil.
Ivan is eventually allowed to go back to sleep. We head out under the night’s light sky, and end up in Marilyn’s disco. We walk in to the sound of “Wannabe”. “How brilliant!” Chris exclaims. “It’s a shameless night out.” Free champagne is solicited; friends are made; the dancefloor is used. (The night’s most regular and popular song seems to be Sash!’s “Ecuador”.)
After a couple of hours we head out into the street.
“We’re Finnish!” Neil shouts, a little drunkenly.
“We’re not finished,” says Chris.
We walk past a couple who are more or less having sex on the street. We are heading for one of the drinking boats moored to the river. On the bank, Neil gets the frankfurter he has been wanting.
We drink on the boat.
“How do you like it in Finland?” Neil is asked.
“It’s fantastic,” he says.
Sunday, June 29th.
“How many people at this festival?” Chris asks, nonchalantly.
“25,000,” says Ivan
“Is that all?” says Chris.
“How quickly we get used to it,” Neil sighs.
Still, they are in Finland. “We’ll be running through the woods, naked, later, hitting each other with birchwood, drinking vodka,” Neil says. “Finnish culture.
Lot going for it. It’s based around nudity and alcohol.” It’s a strange culture. He says that when he got in last night, he wanted to catch up on world news. “I was trying to get CNN,” he complains, “and all I could find was sex. But I wanted to see Margaret Thatcher on CNN. She was going on about human rights, which she’s obviously discovered an interest in a bit late in the day. She’s obviously worried about it.”
“Is this one of the festivals when people camp out?” Chris asks.
“There is camping,” nods Ivan.
“There will be when we get there,” says Neil.
When they arrive, everyone backstage is watching the weekend’s Formula One race (Finland has two drivers: Hakkinen and Salo), and on-stage are Apocalyptic, the string quartet who play Metallic songs. (“It is,” Neil judges, “absolutely nightmlarish.”) Neil asks what the Finnish word for “thank you” is
– “kutos,” he is told – and writes it on his hand. “It’s a fascinating language, Finnish,” he says. “It sounds like a techno record waiting to happen.”
David Bowie is on-stage after they are. “I hope he arrives after we’ve done ‘Hello Spaceboy’,” says Chris.
“We won’t see him,” Neil predicts.
“Famous last words,” says Chris.
They get ready. Chris looks at their suits. “Do these actually work in daytime,” he wonders, “or so we look like a pair of prize plums?”
“It’s a bit late to worry about that,” says Neil. He has a different, less relevant thought. “What are we going to wear at Pride?” he wonders. Soon after they return to Britain, they will headline London’s (;ay Pride festival.
“I was just going to be myself,” says Chris. “Wear a string vest and a pair of chaps.”
It’s a strange scene when they hit the stage. There are thousands of people spread over the grass in the center and to the right. To the left is a wide river, in which a few people are swimming. Others are dancing on the muddy beach. Some of them are naked. Before “Hello Spaceboy” Neil says, “this next song is not written by the Pet Shop Boys -it’s written by the man who is coming on-stage at 7 o’clock. It’s written by David Bowie.” When they play “West End Girls” and get to the line “from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station” there is a huge roar. (Never mind that the Finland Station is actually in Russia:
they said “Finland”.)
When they return for encores, Neil shouts “Turku! Kutos! It’s been a great afternoon for us!” During “Go West”, a preposterously huge ship comes down the river, by the side of the stage, looming over the audience, its foghorn booming, as though it has been choreographed. Neil is most impressed. “Hey,” he says, as they come offstage, “we’ve never used foghorns on a record. That’s one travel noise we haven’t had.”
“‘Nightboat To Cairo’ by Madness,” says Ivan.
“You’re right,” says Neil.
“‘Go West’s our best record, isn’t it?” says Chris.
· They sit in the dressing room. The door opens.
“Go away!” says the man who bursts in. “Wherever I go I see you.” It is David Bowie.
“Wherever we go we see you,” Neil replies.
“I just read about you in France,” he says. He read about the Savoy show. He sympathizes with the theatrical experience. “That was the worst mistake I ever made, when I signed that for The Elephant Man to do two matinees a week. I hated it.”
He asks what the crowd is like.
“There’s nude swimming,” says Chris.
“But what are the people like?” David Bowie asks.
“We’ve performed ‘Hello Spaceboy’
already,” Neil says.
“We’ll do the threatening side of it,” he smiles.
Lynne offers David Bowie some of the dressing room champagne.
“No,” he says politely. “I don’t drink.”
They talk about the theater. David Bowie says that they should set Joe Orton to music. (Regular readers will know that “Up Against It”, spookily, borrows its title from a Joe Orton screenplay.) Neil explains that they are working with Jonathan Harvey.
“Well, I was on the right track,” David Bowie says.
“It’s a soundbite,” Neil says. “‘Joe Orton to music
“To make it more now,” David Bowie suggests, “you do the Joe Orton story. That’s a great idea.”
“It’s set in a toilet,” Neil expands. “The curtain goes up and there’s nothing but a urinal and a single spotlight.”
David Bowie is inspired by this to sing a potential song: “‘That’s all you need’,” he croons. “‘One urinal!”‘
“I can see you on the soundtrack,” says Neil. “It’s a battle now – who does a urinal on stage first.”
An assistant has been standing over David Bowie for a while, looking worried, trying to tell him he should get ready. It is only now David Bowie realized that, having traveled from another time zone today, his watch is an hour wrong, and that he is due on-stage in a few minutes. “But you didn’t tell me!” he exclaims to his assistant, half-jokingly. “You’re paid to tell me!” He shares charming good-byes and then leaves.
“And there we were,” says Neil, shamefaced, “slanging him off…”
Chris is told that they have to meet some journalists. They come in and pose next to Neil and Chris for photos. Chris says little, and puts on his aloof face. Then one of them mentions the competition they have won. “Oh!” cries Chris, changing his manner
entirely. “You’re competition winners! I’ll treat you differently. I thought you were horrible journalists!”
“Can I just remind everyone,” says Neil, apropos very little, “that Actually in Finland outsold Thriller by Michael Jackson?”
One of the fans, clearly impressed by the unplugged version of “Rent”, asks “are you going to do an acoustic record?”
“Good God,” says Neil.
“Absolutely not,” says Chris.
“We just do that to show that we can,” says Neil.
David Bowie is about to go on. “Are you watching Bowie?” Neil asks Chris.
Chris nods. “See what a real performer’s like.”
They stand in the pit between the stage and the audience. After his first song, David Bowie says this: “We come in peace. We are your friends. This one’s for Neil Tennant.” And he launches into “Queen Bitch”.
After about six songs we go, even though he’s really good.
“I liked my dedication,” Neil says.
“I don’t think we need to read too much into it,” he says.
“Neil actually blushed,” Chris says.
“I did blush,” he agrees. “I only blushed because I was thrilled. I used to watch him at the Newcastle City Hall, and now he’s dedicating a song to me in Turku.
We head for a restaurant.
“Well,” Neil sighs, “it’s been a success. It’s not a bad way of earning a living. There’s worse ways of earning a living, I know. I’ve done most of them. It’s better than working in the British Museum. Or as a toilet attendant.”
“I always like the idea of being a toilet attendant,” says Chris.
For several hours they have been phoning England, trying to find out what position “Somewhere” entered the chart. Finally they have the answer.
“Chris,” says Neil. “It’s nine. That’s aright.”
“It’s not really,” says Chris. “Nine. It’s better than ten. It’s a million times better than ten.”
“It’s a trillion times better than 25,” says Neil. “At least we’re in the top ten.”
“Anyway,” says Chris, “it’s the end of a project. We’re going to come back stronger than ever.”
“Let’s face it,” says Neil, “it’s the end of our career.” There are nervous laughs around the table. No one is sure whether he is being serious.
“We’re going to reposition our selves,” says Chris. “I’m looking forward to our resurrection.”
“What we’re doing,” Neil nods, “is sowing the seeds…”
After dinner, we take over a Turku club which is not expecting us. By the middle of the night the Pet Shop Boys and their entourage can be found, in the strange almost-daylight of Finnish summer nights, buying drinks from an open-air bar stall, drunkenly and happily practicing dance steps en masse by the river bank.
Saturday, July 5th.
The Pet Shop Boys have agreed to headline
Gay Pride, an all-day celebration on Clapham
Common in London.
Chris arrives in the afternoon. Neil isn’t here yet,” he says. “He isn’t savoring the unity, the bonding, the spirituality… Chris mobile phone rings. Wrong number. “It’s in the Yellow Pages as a furniture restorer,” he complains.
Neil walks into the dressing room. There is one chair only.
“Do you think we could get one more seat?” Neil wonders.
“I think it’s a bit bad giving a duo one seat,” says Chris. “I mean, who’s going to get the seat out of us two?”
They consider their performance. “Don’t make any statements,” Chris tells Neil.
“I’m jut going to announce the songs,” says Neil. Then he says “Chris, it’s all about unity.”
“It alienates me,” Chris replies. “I feel alienated when I hear cries of unity.”
Janet Street-Porter pops in. Then Chris Evans turns up.
“It’s a reunion,” says Chris.
“Ou est les garcons?” says Chris Evans. “Les garcons sont ici!”
Jonathan Harvey makes an entrance. He looks around. “Chris Evans,” he says. “He’s off the telly.”
“Ten minutes to stage,” shouts Ivan.
“Actually,” Chris says to Neil, “these Bjorn Borg pants are a bit on the tight side.”
“What size did you buy?” Neil asks.
“I bought small,” he replies, “because you said I should.”
“Well,” says Neil, “I bought medium and I should have bought large.”
Chris sighs. “I bought small and I should have bought medium.”
They stand on the back of the stage. Holly Johnson is singing “The Power Of Love”. “I love that,” Chris says. “It’s a scarf-waver.”
Acts have been running late. The Pet shop Boys had planned to play the acoustic version of “Rent” in their set, but now they’re told there’s only time for three songs, which they decide will be “Somewhere”, “It’s A Sin” and “Go West”. So they play them, a sea of people as far as you can see, their arms in the air.
Friday, August 15th.
Over the previous weeks there has been some talk of an extra festival date in Stockholm, Sweden. Finally, it has been confirmed. The Pet Shop Boys will perform on a floating stage on the final night of Stockholm’s Water festival.
‘~i5 is where I interviewed Squeeze in 1982,” says Neil. “My second interview for
Smash Hits. The first was Yazoo. Or was Squeeze the first? It was. That was why I was so nervous.”
This afternoon, Neil and Chris explore the shops. Literally takes some photographs.
“I’m nearly at the point where I won’t have pictures taken at all,” Chris says.
“Your new thing is,” says Neil, “that when fans ask if they can take a picture you say, ‘yes – of him’. That sums up a lot, really.”
We are joined at dinner by a teenage friend. He complains about the olives. He doesn’t like them.
“They’re nature’s way of telling you you’re thirty years old,” Neil explains.
“Cheese,” says Chris, “is nature’s way of telling you you’re twenty.”
“I love cheese,” objects the friend. “I don’t mean Dairy Lea Cheese Triangles,” says Chris.
Saturday, August 16th.
“You’re in the paper,” Jonas, the Pet Shop Boys Swedish chaperone, tells Neil. Neil asks for a translation.
“It says ‘intelligent music’,” Jonas says.
“How true,” Neil says. “So simple, but so true.”
They board the coach which will take them to the stage for a soundcheck.
“We don’t travel by coach, do we?” says Chris, happily hopping aboard. “Isn’t it in our contract? Don’t we have to travel by stretch limo?”
On Thursday night the Pet Shop Boys saw Blur perform here.
“Is Damon shortsighted?” Neil wonders.
“You mean in terms of his career?” Chris asks.
“No. In terms of ‘does he need glasses?”‘
We pull up at the stage.
“Look at it!” Chris shouts. “It’s a piddling little stage and a piddling little venue. We’re used to much bigger than that.”
“Have you been watching Spinal Tap
again?” Neil sighs. They begin to soundcheck.
“Shall we do ‘Rent’ first, then I can go,” Chris suggests.
“I don’t think that’ll be convenient,” says Neil.
“I’ve got to have my hair cut.”
“You can do that after.”
“I’ve got to have lunch first,” Chris grumbles. “In fact, this is all most inconvenient.”
Neil peers carefully over the lip of the stage. The stage is floating and there is a small gap of water before the dry land, where the audience will be. “Dainton,” he asks, “can you make sure that there’s white tape right along the front of the stage? I don’t want to fall in the sea, which is entirely likely.”
“Where has Neil gone?” says Pete Gleadall in a Teletubbies voice, imagining what might happen.
“It’s time for tubby-byebyes,” Chris sniggers.
They rehearse a few songs. After “Rent” Chris does leave. After “Before” Neil mutters, distractedly, into the microphone, “Oh yes. It’s happened before.” When they’re finished, Neil and Sylvia head off to a recording studio where he wants to run through a few songs in private. The van which brought us here disappears, so Neil sits at the studio grand piano and begins playing.
“…Will you love me?…” he sings under his breath, “…Party nights and chairs… we’ll go back…”
“It’s a tune I thought of the other day,” he says.
It is, Literally observes, not very cheerful.
“It’s supposed to be happy,” he says. “I’m just playing it that way.”
The van judders as we pull away from the Stockholm side street.
“Hand brake,” says Dainton to the driver.
“‘Hand Brake’ – their new single,” says Neil.
There is an early dinner hosted by the promoter. Chris, who had a long lunch, skips
it. Neil goes. There is some drama when a slug crawls out of Sylvia’s salad. Neil picks it up and poses for a photo with it balancing on his finger. Outside, in the street, a man comes up to Neil. It is Dr Alban, noted Swedish pop star, who is recording a few years away and who is coming to the concert. “I’ll be there, screaming,” he says. “You guys have made a lot of good songs, man. You’ve been in the business for a long time.”
“Not that long,” Neil replies.
Neil and Chris meet in the hotel before the concert.
“That’s the same shirt,” says Chris. “You’ve worn it for three days.”
“No, I haven’t,” says Neil, slapping Chris around the head, lightly but firmly. “Ooooh,” he says. “I hate doing concerts. It’s nerve-wracking, isn’t it?”
We drive to the other side of the bay, where we jump onto a launch which will take us to the side of the stage. Neil looks doubtful.
“Am I insured to go on this boat? It looks like it would easily sink. I’ll almost certainly be seasick.”
Soon we’re whizzing through the water.
“I say it’s the most fun festival we’ve been to,” says Chris.
“Time for Teletubbies,” says Neil.
They get dressed, talking about Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, whose romantic troubles are all over the paper.
“Are we doing ‘Always On My Mind’?” Chris asks. It is currently penciled into the set list as an optional encore.
“It’s a question mark,” says Neil.
Chris releases something relevant. “It’s Elvis’s death day!”
“Oh, we’ve got to do it,” Neil exclaims.
“It’s going to be such a genuine moment,” says Chris.
As they play, the man-made island which carries the stage noticeably sways. Neil is at his chattiest. “Right,” he says, introducing
“Before”. “This next song is a love song. And we’re going to dedicate it to Di and Dodi.” Before the next song, “Left To My Own Devices”, he says, “That was a song from last year. This next song takes us back to the evil Eighties…” Nonetheless, during the break halfway through when they come backstage, he’s unhappy – he could barely hear himself for the first three songs. “It was like it was coming by short-wave from Copenhagen,” he complains. But it gets better. “Twenty years ago today,” says Neil during the encores, “Elvis Presley died. So we’re going to do this next song, which he first recorded…”
“Right,” says Chris, backstage afterwards. “We need some bigger hits for the next year. We need to write some hits for the Nineties.”
“It’s too late now,” says Neil.
“For the millennium,” says Chris. “The Thrillennium.” He has a question. “I think we got a better reception than Blur, didn’t we?”
“Of course we did,” says Neil.
Chris nods, content. “thar’s all that matters.”
That night the Pet Shop Boys take over the back rooms of a club called Spy. Chris takes over the DJ CD player. “I’ve made a career out of not mixing the records,” he announces, “just like I’ve made a career out of not playing the keyboards.” We get Depeche Mode’s “It’s No Good”, DJ Quicksilver’s “Bellissima”, Imagination’s “Body Talk” (“the first twelve-inch I bought,” Chris points out), Donna Summer’s “McArthur Park” and “Bad Girls”, Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” (“Tupac was the best rapper ever,” Chris says. “His voice almost brings me to tears”), Faithlessness “Insomnia”, Sash£’s “Encore Une Fois”. It’s a good night. Everyone is dancing everywhere they can dance: on the floor, on the DJ platform, on sofas, on tables. One of the crew is dancing on a table – which earlier had five or six people on it, including Neil – with a Swedish girl when the table top breaks, and falls through the frame to the floor. He never stops dancing.