|Russia Part 1|
Earlier this year, the Pet Shop Boys went to Russia to perform four conceits. Anthea Eno, wife of musician and artist Brian Eno, had suggested to them on an earlier visit to St Petersburg that they might want to come and play there. They arranged two concerts in St Petersburg, and also two in Moscow (one in a large hall and one in a nightclub) so that the tour wouldn’t lose any money. Literally went with them.
Thursday, February 26th
The tour party are to rendezvous inside Heathrow’s Terminal 4 at 8.3Oam. The previous night, Chris, Neil and Janet Street-Porter have been to Elton John’s house for dinner, to celebrate his recent knighthood. As Elton John lives near Heathrow, they stayed overnight. “Elton’s on such good form,” says Neil. “Half past seven in the morning, he did a great impression of Chris as hilda Baker, waddling into the kitchen.”
“It was hilarious,” nods Chris.
As we walk through the airport, Chris comments on each floor. He’s been planning some home decoration, and he’s been preoccupied by floor materials and textures. “It’s the new catch phrase,” he explains. “‘What’s this floor?”‘
Neil and Chris are in club class; everyone else is in economy. Janet Street-Porter sits with her friend, Janet Cristea. “Spiritually,” Janet Street-Porter announces, “I should be in Club class. Look! I’ve got a Channel sweatshirt on -what am I doing in economy?” She sighs. “What about us being the two oldest rock groupies ever?” She details a Sunday times piece she has just done in which she talks about phoning Neil and the other Janet every morning, and in which she explains how she introduced Chris to the delights of taramasalata on crumpets.(You do use butter too, but just a little, to fill the holes.)
A couple of hours into the flight, Neil comes and visits us in the cheap seats, where – as the flight isn’t even half full – we are happily stretched out. “It’s a con, isn’t it?” he
complains. “These are exactly the same seats as we have.” He has a further, more important observation to make. “I’ll just like to point out,” he says, “‘love is a bird I she needs to fly”‘ He is quoting from the brand new Madonna single, “Frozen”. He thinks it is one of the worst lyrics he has ever heard.
JJanet Street-Porter has a question for him:
“Tell us rock chicks what we’re doing tonight.”
“When we get there,” Neil says, “we have to do some TV interviews. Then we have dinner. Then we do a radio interview live – we’ll be a bit pissed – and then, to be quite frank, we’ll be in bed by a quarter to twelve.” He has a policy announcement to make: “I’m not going to night clubs.”
“I thought you were playing in one,” Janet Street-Porter points out, sagely.
CChat’s the only one I’m going to’ he concedes, “dragged reluctantly.” He watches the TV monitor above our heads, which are showing an episode of Friends where Phoebe is playing the guitar. “Oh, she’s doing ‘Smelly Cat’!” says Neil. “A really good song, I think.”
The landing cards are handed out. They are issued by the USSR. “A country)’ Neil notes, “that hasn’t existed for six years.”
We walk off the plane, into the Moscow airport building. Chris looks down. “What kind of floor is this?” he asks. He sighs. “I’ve settled for slate, butt don’t know if I’m wrong.
They are led into some kind of VIP room, and about thirty Russian media people scrum in after them. Within ten minutes of arriving, the Pet Shop Boys must give a press conference. They sit down.
They are asked about the flight. “What did you eat?” the interpreter translates.
“Good…” sighs Dainton in the background.
“What did we eat?” Neil laughs.
“”Some stringy beef,” says Chris.
“British beef,” says Neil.
“British,” says Chris. “On the bone:”That’s why we’re a bit mad;’ says Neil.
They’re asked if it’s cold for them here. Neil says he’s pleased it’s cold because they’ve had a warm British winter. “We haven’t had any snow at all- So I want to see some snow.
They’re asked whether they have a special affinity with Russia.
“Personally,” says Neil, “I’ve always been interested in Russia since I was a child, in Russian history”
The press conference finishes and we wait for a car. “These glasses are such a shit design,” Chris complains, holding his Okays. “And yet I love them. But they’re crap. Like everything I like. Totally nonfunctional. But looks good.” He hands them to Neil. “Look. You can’t see through them. Annoying though. It happens when you’re snowboarding as welt. They steam up and you can’t see. I bought them on the way to New York to see Naseem. They’re really good because the wraparounds are so last year. I Just love them.”
“They’re really gorgeous,” says Neil.
“They’re my favorite sunglasses ever,” Chris says.. “The trouble is, they’re not very functional.” He laughs.
On the way out of the airport, they are rushed by more photographers and a few fans. There’s quite a scrum, but the scene is not so hectic as to prevent Chris from turning round and declaring, “We’re literally getting mobbed…”
We pile into a limousine, and admire the video player and karaoke machine.
“It’s pure Boogie Nigh At, this car,” Neil exclaims.
The music in the background is their “Suburbia”. They assume that, rather cheesy, their hosts have decided that they may want to hear their own music, but it soon changes to Side’s “Smooth Operator”. It’s the radio. In the hotel bar, only a few minutes after arriving, they have to do a TV interview with Russia’s Channel 4. (“It’s for Channel 4!” Neil exclaims.)
“When you are retired,” the interviewer asks, “do you think you will have your own Pet Shop Boys? No…pet shop.”
“Right first time,” Chris laughs.
“I’m planning to run a very beautiful old
people’s home,” says Neil, “with me as the oldest person in it, and all of the other old people looking after me.”
“I think it’d be quite nice to own chain of pet shops,” says Chris. “And do our own graphics and our own range of pets.”
“One of you is an architect,” she says. “What do you think about St Petersburg architecture?”
No one answers. The interviewer and Neil looks towards Chris, who is quietly eating his caviar.
“Me?” he says. “You’re asking the wrong person.
“You’re the architect, meaty,” Neil points out.
“So-called. It’s really good. It’s – what do they call it? – the Venice of Russia, or something like that. It’s really great. What I like is, well, particularly the view from the river, and I quite like the fact that the buildings look great and everything but on the outside they have these big chunky drainpipe things. It’s really strange. In England they would have sort of metal things – these look like they’ve been added afterwards. And the way it sort of crumbles around the edges, I like.”
“In’93,”she says,”you choose constructivist symbols. What would be the images of Russia now for you if you decide by any chance to make a video here? ‘On East’, probably.”
They laugh. “If we did ‘Go East’, I think for me it would be a Russian nightclub,” Neil says. “When I was here two years ago I was taken to a nightclub in Moscow where they had a nude underwater ballet, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. So maybe that would be one of them.” Pause. “That’s obviously a frivolous images.”
“Although not just frivolous, is it?” Chris chips in. “It’s a symbol of fun. And Russia seems to be quite a fun place, where our images of it before was pretty dour and miserable.”
She asks if they speak any Russian.
“We’re very good at saying ‘nyet’,” Neil says.
“We’re very good at saying nyet’,” Chris agrees.
Next is an interviewer from a financial paper, who asked them about quotes they’ve said in the past disparaging bands who tour to promote records.
“That’s not what I think now,” says Chris. “I think touring really good fun. I’m being positive.”
“We’ve never toured to promote,” says Neil.
“We fancied coming to Russia,” says Chris. “And when we fancied going to South America, we did a tour of South America. It’s basically a way of having a holiday that pays for itself.”
“We’ve always wanted to get the train from Moscow to St Petersburg…” says Neil and we’ve devised a cunning plan,” says Chris. “That’s what we’re going to do. We may be mad.”
Neil and interviewer chat for a while about record sales, and then she says, “Why, during the interview, you speak most and Chris stay silent?”
“Neil’s very erudite,” says Chris. Why don’t we ask him?” Neil suggests. “Why don’t we ask him this question, listeners?”
“It’s because you’re erudite, Neil, and me, on the other hand, I’m a stupid moron,” Chris says.
“Chris is actually much more talkative than me in private,” Neil says. “I mean, at two in the morning he’s like this.” He mimes extreme chattiness. “But in public he’s little bit shy,” Neil says. “Although not that shy.”
“I have dropped my pants in public before,” Chris points out.
Another interviewer asks if he can film the Pet Shop Boys’ hotel rooms.
“You can’t see my room, Chris exclaims. “It’s personal.”
“We’re not doing that,” says Neil. “No.”
“No, it’s not Through The Keyhole,” says Chris.
“Nyet, nyet,” says Lainton.
“It’s a big nyet to that)’ says Neil,
“It’s a huge nyet,” says Chris.
We go for dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant set up around a lit-up courtyard within which there is a totally contrived scene of pastoral life:
sheaf’s of wheat, barrels, real chickens and a real horse. Halfway through our meal, in the farmyard, we notice a fake “peasant” walking by. We are genuinely shocked.
“Imagine what Lenin would think,” says Neil.
“It’s poverty as a theme park,” says Janet Street-Porter.
“Somebody should come in and machine gun everyone,” Chris suggests.
Back inside the limousine, we discover the switch which turns the disco lights on. Neil and Chris have to do one more interview at a radio station before they’re allowed to bed. They are chatting in the radio station studio when they notice that the DJ is looking at them expectantly.
“I think we’re on the air,” says Chris. And he’s delighted “It’s a Zoo format,” he says.
“We’re live on the air, in the studios at Silver Rain radio,” says Neil into the microphone. “It’s fabulous. It really is a gas to be here.”
As they talk, playing behind them, is a ghastly version of “Go West” from a CD called The Music Of The Pet Shop Boys: 17 Instrumental Hiss.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” Neil says, and everyone shrieks, though Janet Street-Porter’s is, by some way, the loudest. “I must take this album away;’ Neil tells them, “so that we can sue the people who made it later.” While Silver Rain play “West End Girls”, Neil and Chris study the instrumental LP sleeve.
“‘Go West’ was a big hit, wasn’t it?” says Chris.
Afterwards, we briefly visit Red Square.
“There it is,” says Neil. “Red Square in many ways most famous for the filming of…” He means the “Go West” video.
We had to dress up in yellow and blue suits and wander round here,” remembers Chris.
We get out for a moment. It’s freezing. We take a few photos.
“It’s a great limo,” Chris sighs, looking at our car.
“It’s a great limo,” Neil agrees. “It’s one of the great limos of our career.
We drive back to the hotel with the heating on ,full blast, and the windows open.
“That’s what I’ve always done at home;’ says Neil. “It’s the Neil Tennant heating system. If it’s too hot, open the window.” He looks out of the window. “You know, it’s nothing like as grim. It’s just not grim, is it?” He sounds nostalgic. “The grim factor, which five years ago was 95%, is now about 15%.”
February 27th, 1998
The Pet Shop Boys each rise in the late morning. They are met at 12.45 in the hotel reception for a day’s promotion arranged by
Nadia, the Moscow promoter. They say that they don’t want so many security guards today and consequently discover that the beefy man who sat with us in the back of the limo isn’t a security guard at all. He is the limousine owner. He is asked to travel separately.
Mitch talks them through today’s schedule: a TV show question-and-answer program in front of an audience of journalists, then a trade show exhibition, then a record signing, then another radio station. She says that time is tight, and they’ll have to go straight from the radio station to the Bolshni Ballet where we are going to the ballet this evening. Chris shakes his head. He has to go back to the hotel. “I’m putting my suit on;’ he says-. “Let’s face it the number one priority is the Bolshni Ballet.”
At the TV studio they are sat opposite row upon row of earnest Russian journalists. The theme music – a hilarious mixture of chugging synthesizers and electric guitar – strikes up, and Chris gets the giggles.
“Hello, we’re the Pet Shop Boys;’ says Neil. “This is going to be our first ever concerts in Russia, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Russian press seem fascinated by the idea that Chris doesn’t talk very much. “To be honest,” the translator says, “there are legends circulating around about your adherence with the principles of silence. Do you want to make an exception this evening and talk to us a little bit:’
“Not really, 00,” he says, and everyone laughs. “I like the wall of silence. Chris Lowe, the wall of silence.”
A subsequent question begins: “I will make my very first attempt to break the wall of silence, Mr. Lowe…”
“Mr. Lowe;’ laughs Chris. “To you.
“…Who did you vote for during the most recent elections?”
“I didn’t vote;’ he says. “I just don’t like politicians very much.”
“If you’re not too fond of them, where is a way of expressing your attitude, and that is voting to somebody?”
“No, no.1 don’t think so. I’m more of an anarchist.”
Soon the questions get more intense: “Ever since 1993, observers started to note homoerotic elements in the performances, as well as song writing activities – take for example the concert in Rio. And a lot of people have been noticing that you began to accentuate this theme lately. Why is it that particularly since this moment on you begin to happily display your attitude to this issue?”
“I don’t think we’ve just begin to display this kind of thing;’ Neil says. “I think we’ve always in our presentation and videos had quite a lot of sexual elements. In the video we made in the Eighties for the song ‘Domino Dancing’ a lot of gay people thought the video was very gay, and a lot of straight people only noticed that the girl in it has very big breasts. We’ve always presented homosexuality as being a normal way of life. And a lot of the music we’ve written has been inspired – or in the Eighties was inspired – by music that was played in gay clubs. I don’t think nowadays, in England, there’s a gay subculture like there used to be, simply because to be gay is just part of life, really. It’s ordinary.”
The next question is: “You seem to be quite at ease with the concept of homosexuality, and you have made statements to the effect that you associate yourself with this phenomena. Yet many Russian showmen, even though they also belong to this population group, they try to make a secret out of this fact out of fear of public alienation and things like that. The question is, have you ever through the years of your stardom had problems with that or experienced any negative effects of making statements and formally displaying your attitude towards this phenomena?”
Neil draws a breath. “No,” he says. “Not really.” And everyone laughs.
“There is an opinion in this country,” the translator says, “to the effect that Western performers who come to Russia are on the downfall of their careers…
Neil and Chris collapse into hysterics your group has been around for 16 years -it’s difficult to assume that all throughout the 16 years of your existence you’ve always been at the pinnacle of your fame and your popularity. How do you reconcile with the concept of having been on-stage for quite bit of time, and is it not for you that the upcoming concerts in Moscow will be just for the sake of having this line in your biography or discography, saying ‘had shows in Moscow’?”
“I think you must be a very cynical person,” says Neil.
They are asked about their most unpleasant experience with the press.
“It’s not anything that really concerns us enormously,” Neil answers. “In England we don’t do very much press.
“Here,” Chris laughs, “we do press conferences.”
“We would never do this in England,” Neil says.
If my memory doesn’t fail me, you started out as a reporter, a journalist, yourself,” the translator relates to Neil. “Has your experience you gained during your work with Smash Hits has ever been of any use when you try to come to terms with your ex-colleagues?”
“I worked as a journalist for two years, but before that I worked as a book editor for eight years,” Neil points out. “No one’s ever asked me what the influence of being a book editor for eight years is. And in fact it’s had a big influence on the Pet Shop Boys, because I learned to edit, and in writing songs it’s very useful to be able to edit, to take out the bad bits and keep the good bits. But being a journalist hasn’t really any direct bearing on what we do now. Apart from it gave me some insight into how the music business in Britain worked.”
“One thing about the Pet Shop Boys that the public is aware of and always kind of expects are all sorts of surprises,” the translator says. “It’s well known that last year during your show at the Savoy one of you gentlemen bared one particular part of your body. Do you expect anything like that possibly happening in one of the Moscow shows?”
“Well, ~ don’t know,” Chris says, “because I like spontaneity. So probably not, now that it’s been brought up.”
“Are you familiar with the concept of jealousy?” they are asked. “Talking about the likes of Oasis and Spice Girls, it seems as if they have this endless row of invitations for tea parties with princes and the powerful of this world. Have you ever been jealous of that?”
Neil and Chris laugh quietly and collusively. “Actually,” Neil says, “the invitation you’re talking about is, Oasis were invited to go to meet the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at Downing Street. We were invited as well.”
“Newspapers wrote nothing about it,” the questioner retorts.
We avoided the press,” Chris points out.
“We avoided getting our photographs taken,” Neil says. “But also, Oasis is much bigger news in Britain than the Pet Shop Boys.”
Afterwards, Chris says, laughing, “So, Pet Shop Boys, you are only touring here because you are finished.”
Great question, that,” Neil laughs. “Absolute classic. You know why they ask that?” he says. “Because Samantha Fox is always here.”
They try to leave to go to the record shop signing, but there is a kerfuffle for a moment because their coats have been put away safely. (In Russia, it is possible to waste several hours a day in the giving and receiving of your coat.) It has been agreed that there is no longer time to visit the trade show exhibition, so Neil and Chris are somewhat surprised when, after a very long drive, the limousine pulls up. There is not a record shop in sight. There is, however, across the road, an exhibition center. It turns out that Nadia has totally disregarded the agreement to skip the exhibition. Everyone is on their mobile phones, and voices are raised.
“Oh, I love this kind of thing,” says Chris, gleefully. “It’s fantastic.”
On principle, they refuse to go in, and we drive off to the record signing, where they put their hands in some wet cement, and sign some autographs.
A teenage girl leans towards Neil. She has something desperately important to say. “Neil,” she asks, “why do you drink so much alcohol?”
“For fun, “he says.
“Please,” she says, almost in tears, “don’t do it so much.”
“I’ve been told off now,” he says.
The owner says they can look around and choose some CDs.
“Do we really want to look around a record shop?” Chris wonders. “I hate them at the best of time.” He soon changes his mind, picking up a handful of Fl ins CDs and the Boogie Nights soundtrack.
They have agreed to miss the first pan of the ballet (which is, in fact, an opera anyway) so that they can go to the radio station. The DJ suggests that with current technology any person can make a hit.
“Well, actually, any person can’t make a hit,” Neil says.
“For a dance track,” the DI argues.
“Ooooh,” says Chris, then adds, sarcastically, “I agree”.
“Anyone can make any old dance track,” says Neil. “But not anyone can make a good dance track. Anyone can make a film with a video camera, but it doesn’t mean they can make a really fantastic movie. Technology liberates people to do things, but they have to learn how to do them well.”
“What are the new sounds going to be for the Millennium?” the DI wonders.
“Well, we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?” says Chris. “As soon as we find out what they are, we’ll copy them.”
“What is your advice,” the DI asks, “to people who are shy and don’t go out and dance?”
“Go out and dance,” Chris suggests, logically.
“Do you like dancing yourselves?” he asks.
“Yep,” says Chris.
“Where do you dance?”
“I’m being very literal:’ Chris warns. “A nightclub. In discos. No, I dance at home as well, before I’m having a bath. I work up a bit of a sweat. I’ve got a nice long room and I can run up and down. Normally in the nude, as well. Waggling all over the place.”
We get to the Bolting in plenty of time for a drink, a little caviar and the second-half ballet. Over dinner, one of the men from EMI Russia says, “If an ordinary person in Russia thinks about England, two things come up – the Tower Bridge and the Pet Shop Boys.”
Why the Tower Bridge? Literally asks.
“They always show the parliament and the Tower Bridge on television, at the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes movie…
And why the Pet Shop Boys?
“Because we always heard them since you are little boy. And you don’t also listen to the music, you listen to the lyrics. They capture your attention, always. They have such visual effects. A little story about something. Pet Shop Boys were the first mass pop group whose videos were shown on Soviet television at the time. We had special program’s on New Year’s Eve, and they always showed Pet Shop Boys. You couldn’t imagine a program about Western music at that time without Pet Shop Boys.”
Saturday, February 28
Neil spends the morning at Russian art galleries. Chris sleeps. At sound check, they inspect the stage. “I thought the screen was going to be bigger,” says Chris. For reasons of cost, this is not a complicated show, visually. The Pet Shop Boys will be wearing the outfits from their 1997 Somewhere shows (this time with Issey Miyake, rather than Buffalo, footwear), but they are not using Sam Taylor-Wood’s film, nor the stage set; instead they are performing in front of projected colored backdrops, one for each song.
Chris walks up to Neil’s microphone stand. “God, Neil’s tall, isn’t he?” Chris says. “I never released he was that height.”
Sylvia Mason-James says something to Neil.
He looks suitably horrified. “We haven’t got a
tambourine!” he exclaims. “We need a
tambourine! A green tambourine!”
“Green?” queries Sylvia, puzzled.
“No,” he says, “it doesn’t have to be green, actually.”
Neil, Sylvia and Less rehearse their new dance steps for “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”, “Can You Forgive Her?” and “Opportunities”. “Oh, it’s the sexy bit,” sighs Neil during the latter. “Oh God…”
“We’ll do ‘Rent’:’ Neil suggests to Chris. This they must perform entirely live.
“Five or six times,” says Chris. “Blasted bane of my life.”
“In its new arrangement,” says Neil.
They follow that with an acoustic beginning to “Always On My Mind”. Neil starts, then stops. “I’m playing the wrong key,” he says. “Sorry.”
In the limo back to the hotel, Neil asks the translator, Denis, for some language lessons in how to say “we are the Pet Shop Boys” in Russian to the crowd. Not long afterwards, they have to leave to go back to the venue. Chris decides to eat chicken wings on the way to the concert.
“People are seeing this limo go through Moscow,” Janet Street-Porter points out, “and little do they know it’s a McDonnell’s on wheels.”
“I wonder if you get M&Ms in Russia,” says Chris. “In a little glass bowl. They’re probably so used to rock groups demanding them. M&Ms are the only American chocolate that is better than the English equivalent.”
The limo drives into the venue’s grounds, and we promptly get completely lost, and start backtracking.
“We’re lost!” says Neil, clearly delighted. “It’s a Spinal Tap moment! We’ve never really had one before. And now we’re stuck in a traffic jam.
“The shame of not even getting to our own gig:’ Chris giggles.
“Spinal Tapski:’ says Neil.
We drive through a park of tall, straight trees.
“We’re lost,” laughs Chris, “in a forest.” They find it eventually. Their set concentrates on hits.. The first seven songs are “It’s A Sin”, “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”, “Se A Vida IE”, “Domino Dancing”, “Hello Spaceboy”, “Before” and “Left To My Own Devices”. The introduction to “Left To My Own Devices” takes its time arriving, and Neil has already thanked the crowd – “spacebar balshoi” – so he gestures across the stage, and says “this is Chris Lowe”. Chris shrugs, seemingly flummoxed by this. I hump into Neil backstage during the next song, “The Man Who Has Everything”, and he says he did it because he figured Chris would make a funny face and do something spontaneous. “Which,” Neil says, “he did.”
After the next song, “Rent”, Neil says “Thank you – we love you”, and Chris makes another face.
The Russian crowd is pretty keen – there’s nothing that unusual about them at all – but not everything is as normal. On the left side of the stage, almost surrounded by the audience, there is a man in a glassed-in office, in full view of the stage. He is wearing a gray suit and reading glasses. Behind him is a topless calendar. His head is down, oblivious to the fact that he is in the middle of a pop concert. He is doing a crossword.
They play “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “Can You Forgive Her?” (some of the Russian fans put on homemade pointy hats), “Love Comes Quickly”, and “Opportunities”, then Neil says.”The guitar is returning! Which can only mean one thing…I’m going to play it.” After “Always On My Mind”, “West End Girls” and “Somewhere”, they go off. After encores of “Being Boring” and “Go West”, they’re finished.
“We’ve got the exciting songs to do,” says Chris in the limo, looking forward to the nightclub concert. “We do the Elton John song. And ‘It’s Not Unusual’.”
Fans surround the limo, but they’re in a hurry.
“We’ll do a Lisa, ‘says Neil. “Three autographs.” They do more than that, then drive oft’. “Well ,” he sighs, “that was our first connect in Russia. It was a laugh.” He sits hack. “Did anyone notice my new lyric to ‘Go West’?” Neil asks. “‘We’ll go to foreign lands’.”
“What should it be?” Chris asks.
~I can’t remember.”
They eat at the hotel restaurant, then head for Utopia, the nightclub, at 12.50. In a cramped dressing room, they do a quick radio interview.
“What is your general feeling about this whole pop danced techno boom all over Eastern Europe and Russia?” they are asked.
“Pop dance techno boom,” says Chris.
‘That’s a good album title.”
‘What is the future of this whole dance music?” the interviewer persists. “Is it going to survive?”
“The future is,” Neil says, “it’s all become fantastically formulaic, and something new has got to happen pretty quickly.”
“For all our sakes)’ Chris says. “We’re all getting desperate.”
“Are you going to continue through the night after this gig…?” the interviewer asks.
“We’re knackered, actually;’ Chris says. Our second gig of the night, which we
don’t normally do?’ Neil says. “We have never ever done this before. And, fascinatingly, we’ll never do it again.”
There is also a competition winner, who has won a competition where fans have to send in pictures of their pets, either posing with Pet Shop Boys posters or with their photos inscribed with testaments to their Pet Shop Boy devotion. The winner, Timothy, had a funny dog.
He asks for a photo with them.
“Now we pose for pictures with the competition winners)’ says Neil.
To get onto the stage, they have to run through a narrow corridor in the audience. The stage, only a few feet across, is circular, in the middle of the club. They are entirely
surrounded and, should the crowd get out of hand, it could be horrible. It is also hilarious, and from the start they look like they’ve having fabulously surreal fun. After “It’s A Sin”, Neil says “this song is for people who like dancing…so it’s called ‘Domino Dancing’ …Good link, that.” Afterwards, he is handed a glass by Dainton – “champagne!” lie coos – then they play “Before”. During “Where The Streets Have No Name”, Dainton pushes Janet Street-Porter onto the stage, and she dances with them.
“Where’s my beer?” Chris shouts.
“This is also not written by the Pet Shop Boys – do they ever write anything?” introduces Neil. “This is by a very good friend of ours.. Mr. Elton. John.” And for the first time ever, live in conceit, they play the medley of “Believe” and “Song For Guy” which they played with Elton on his An Evening with… TV program. (Sylvia sings Elton’s part.) They rollick through “Go West”. “West End Girls”, “Left To My Own Devices” (“this song?’ says Neil, “has a very long orchestral introduction, during which I will drink some champagne”) and Tom Jones ‘”It’s Not Unusual”. The Janets stand at the lip of the stage and shriek “Neil! Neil! Neil! Neil!” And then everyone bounds back into the dressing room.
“Good fun, that,” says Chris. “Neil, I think we should do a club tour of England.”
“I’d like to apologize for my dance routine,” says Janet Street-Porter.
We rush to the limo. On the way, Neil passes a girl in a pointy hat who is clearly waiting for some acknowledgment. He kisses her on the cheek, and she burst into tears.
“You see what you’ve done)’ teases Chris. “You’ve traumatized hen”
Sunday, March 1st
The Janet’s, who are not going to St Petersburg, leave this morning. “Good-byes have been phoned through,” Neil says. In the bar there is a famous blond Olympic skater. None of us know her name, but she poses with Neil and Chris, and everyone seems happy enough about it.
As Neil and Chris sit in the limo, waiting to go to the train station, a waiter walks out of the hotel carrying a tray stacked with china, cutlery and food. He bends down to the limo’s front passenger side, and passes the food through the window. Dainton is having his breakfast delivered.
“I am,” says Chris, “literally speechless.”
Eventually we pull away. Chris looks out of the window. “Bonnie Tyler’s got posters all over, he says. “But she might not be selling tickets.”
On the train Neil stands up and makes an announcement to the rest of the touring party. “Hello, everyone. Can I welcome everyone on behalf of the British government to the 12.20 to St Petersburg, stopping nowhere?” He sighs. “St Petersburg. It’s one of our spiritual homes. For me, it’s like going home.”
The train pulls out.
“There’s no reason for us not to start eating, is there?” says Chris.
“I’m starving,” Neil agrees. “I had plain yogurt and black bread for breakfast.”
Bags of food are unpacked: lots of caviar, mostly, and red wine, The journey takes just under five hours. Neil and Chris doze, and then go through letters for this issue of Liberally. Some of the crew go to the train bar, where they are forced to skull huge quantities of vodka by Russians.
Driving into St Petersburg from the station, we see a huge video billboard playing Pet Shop Boys videos and advertising their concerts, and we pass a nightclub where the Pet Shop Boys, on their last social visit here, were crookedly advertised as performing. Neil points out where a politician was assassinated last year. “Don’t worry,” he says “Things have calmed down.”
That evening, they go out for dinner, but once we have changed restaurants (there are two restaurants with the same name on the same street) and been kept waiting in the
second, Chris gets in a mood and goes back to the hotel to have room service. Everyone else ends up in the hotel bar. Neil spots that it is snowing outside.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” he wails. He jumps up, energized. “We should go and have a snowball fight. It’s what we came to see, and we got it. It doesn’t often snow in February, the way it’s meant to do. Actually it’s March now.”
In the road outside the hotel, a couple of snowballs are lobbed under the street lights, then everyone retires to bed.
Monday, March 2nd
Neil does some sightseeing. In a snow-covered square near the hotel, we meet an old man with a balalaika. Neil pretends to play it for a moment and photographs are taken. As we skid around the ice-rink which has formed in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there is a loud boom. “That means it’s midday,” Neil says. We walk over to the Marble Palace, and end up in the famous Marble Hall, its windows looking out over the icy river. “This is one of the best views there is,” Neil says. “I always say I could live in this room as a studio flat.” He talks about how the remains of the last Star were buried in quicklime. “As in the Pet Shop Boys song ‘Up Against It’ ,” he adds. In another wing, we find a modern art exhibition.
One exhibit is a collection of photos of art scene parties. Neil is in the strange position of looking at an exhibit and finding both himself and Chris – pictured at an exhibition – in it.
Chris and Neil have lunch at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel. Chris reflects on his departure last night, and its moral. I’m not stupid,” he says. ‘One thing I know now is when to leave. I’ve got a new rule now. I don’t go out in groups of more than six.” He relaxes this a little. Eight, I know all the people,” he says Six otherwise.
Chris’s main course – crispy aromatic duck arrives, but he doesn’t like the way it is cut op, and won’t eat it. Dainton gives him one of his spring rolls and he is just about to eat it when he realists that it’ll have prawns in.
‘Are you trying to poison me?” be asks Dainton.
Chris Lowe and food,” Neil sighs. ‘It’s a problem.”
‘It is,” Chris agrees. “It’s a problem area.”
Neil returns to one of the tour’s most frequent topics of conversation: his electric toothbrush.
“I’m going to get one,” Chris says. ‘But I’m going to have to wait for my birthday. I can’t buy myself one.”
There has been a suggestion that their show Js too short for Russian audiences, though they don’t really agree.
Actually,” says Chris, “I thought the concert was a perfect length.”
Neil wonders whether he should talk for longer between songs. “The trouble is,” he says, ‘I don’t think they’d understand.”
‘No,” says Chris. “You haven’t really got anything to say, have you? The messages are in your songs.”
I like it peacely)’ Neil declares. “First role of showbusiness – leave them wanting more.”
“The Ramones used to play half an hour and do about fifty songs,” Chris points out.
“We should set a fashion for shorter shows,” Neil says. They decide to add “It’s Not Unusual” at the end anyway.
At the October Hall, for the soundcheck, Chris rehearses about half of ‘Rent”, with his keyboard playing only in his headphones, as Neil plays guitar. When “West End Girls” starts coming through the speakers he says, casually, “right – I’m going”.
Backstage, in the dressing room before the show, Neil reminisces about famous Pet Shop Boys concert disasters. “The first time we did ‘Go West’ at the Hacienda,” he recalls, “the wind machine blew the lyrics into the audience, and I had to do the whole song improvising the lyrics.” He laughs I remember doing improvising when I was young: You’re a lot of mentally handicapped people, you’re in a lift in a ship that’s sinking. What do you do?”
“That’s why you’re scared of lifts,” Chris says.
“That’s why I’ve got my phobia!” Neil exclaims. “That’s it! I should sue them.”
Neil sips his white wine and water, and makes a face. “I want flat water, not fizzy,” he says. “It’s a total disaster.”
Chris says that he’s hungry. “You know what?” he declares. “I don’t like balsamic vinegar. So, in other words, most poncy food I don’t like. I can’t wait for it to go out of fashion.”
Mitch enters with her CD player and selection. They want some music to go off too. She suggests “Mack The Knife”, but they’re not keen. Chris examines her collection. “Mitch!” he chides. “Supertramp!”
“Have you got anything more idealistic?”
Neil asks. (More idealistic than “Mack The
Knife”, that is, not more idealistic than
“How about Janet Jackson ‘Together Again’,” Chris says. “I like that.”
They decide on Peggy Lee’s “Kiss Today Good-bye”, though Chris asks to hear “Together Again” as getting-ready music.
“Oh,” he coos, “this is a great track.”
“We can’t have this in the show,” Neil says. ‘-It’ll sound better than us. Oh, this is a good song.” He turns to Chris. “Why can’t you write songs like this?”
“You have to be talented,” he shrugs.
Neil listens to “Together Again” some more. “You know,” he says, “ill wrote this song at home, I would probably think ‘it’s too corny to play to Chris’.”
“I like the lyrics,” Chris says. “You wouldn’t have written those lyrics. You’d have written something about the Russian Revolution.”
Tonight’s audience is quieter than in Moscow, and the only real drama takes place when Derek wanders on with the acoustic guitar – supposedly for “Always On My Mind” but he is one song early and Neil has to shoo him away. Before the encores, Dainton jumps onto the stage and cheer leads the crowd, rather effectively. Neil and Chris go back on. A girl jumps on stage and kisses them; Neil says “this is ‘Being Boring’.” Before “Go West”, Neil tries to introduce everyone in Russian.
Corning off stage, he looks at his watch again. “An hour and a half exactly,” he announces. “And we’re doing one more.”
“That’s rich people for you,” says Chris, underwhelmed by the crowd response. They return for a sprightly “It’s Not Unusual” but the crowd don’t seem to know the song at all and so it’s a bit of an anticlimax.
“We’re just too cool, that’s the problem,” says Neil in the dressing room.
“Oh, I don’t know why we bother,” Chris says.
They go to dinner at a restaurant over on another of St Petersburg’s islands. Last year, Neil came to this restaurant and had to wait for hours to cross back over because the bridge was up to let a ship through. He and Dainton had to sleep on the restaurant tables.
When the opening of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets Of Philadelphia” comes on, there is actual applause and approving nods from the Pet Shop Boys camp.
“This is one of the best records ever made,” Chris says. “Who’d have thought Bruce Springsteen could have done this?”
“This is one of the songs I wish we’d written,” Neil agrees. “And the other ‘Philadelphia’. One of the top five songs of the Nineties.”
Tuesday, March 3
Out sightseeing by the Hermitage, Neil calls Chris on his mobile. (In St Petersburg they call each other fairly frequently like this, often only a few hundred yards apart, even though the calls have to be dallied via London.) Chris is having lunch a few minutes away: Neil orders a Chicken Kiev over the phone and says he’ll be there in ten minutes.
“Oh, it was a great night!” says Chris, about Dominica’s, the nightclub where Chris and most of the entourage ended up last night. “A brilliant night.”
In the afternoon, they head off to a radio station.
“Shall we play ‘Believe’ tonight?” Chris suggests.
“We could do it instead of ‘It’s Nut Unusual’,” Neil says.
“We could do them both,” Chris says.
“The problem i5$’ Neil says, “we do so many cover versions it’s unbelievable.”
“We make them our own, Chris chuckles. “We have a talent for making them our own.”
“We do them better, that’s why,” says Neil. They are told that last night the hall was officially 80% full, which in Russian terms given that nothing may ever be quite what it seems, and that various unaccounted-for tickets must be added to that – is considered a sell out. And they expect even more tonight.
“Maybe there’ll be fewer rich people,” Chris says, hopefully.
The radio station is out of town, in a beautiful, run-down old mansion.
“In order to uphold your popularity,” the DJ suggests. “Don’t you think it’s necessary to have some kind of scandal in the papers from time to time, in order to get the group back in the spotlight. Do you think that this is true?”
“Nyct)’ says Neil.
“Actually,” Chris says. “l think that works….”
“It does work)’ Neil agrees.
“…But we don’t want to do it,” Chris finishes.
“Pet Shop Boys have never tried to be in the
newspapers all the time Neil says We do lots of scandalous things
Don t get us wrong Chris interrupts laughing
but they’re not in the papers
On the way back into town we are pulled up at a police roadblock
“Don’t be cheeky to them, DJ’ says Neil as we slow down.
“Don’t even try to bribe them,” Chris says. “Yet.”
In the event, Dainton chats merrily with our interrogator, and Neil shakes his hand, and we are waved on our
What a charming man, Neil says .Doesn’t like the Pet Shop Boys likes the Beetles
We slow down so that Neil can take a photograph of the sea Chris complains We re not doing tourism he objects I m in a hurry
Suddenly, Neil panics. Disaster. He has lost a glove.
“I can’t believe it,” he says. “Those gloves Costa fortune. And, also, they’re rather useful.”
“You shouldn’t spend much money on gloves,” Chris tells him, perhaps a little unsympathetically.
Neil begins searching. “Somewhere here,” he says, “is a glove.”
“This,” says Chris, portentously, “is the story of a glove.”
A glove which, it turns out, Chris is sitting on.
At the October Hall, Neil runs through ‘Believe”, which begins with a sample of Elton John playing ‘A Song For Guy”. ~I think it’s a hit strange,” Neil says, Elton John playing piano on our show.”
I point out that, in ‘It’s Not Unusual”, they’ve also sampled Jimmy Page playing guitar.
“Yes)’ he says, “I felt a hit weird about that.”
“It’s not like Elton will ever hear it,” Pete Gleadall points out.
“I’ll probably tell him)’ Neil says.
Pete Gleadall has been talking to the Russians who work at the theater. “They told us,” Pete Gleadall says, “that it was the best reaction they’d seen.
Quite clearly, nominal concert behavior in Russia is even less enthusiastic.
“We thought it was ghastly,” Neil says “and they thought it was unbelievable.”
“They can’t believe you’re in the country,” Pete Gleadall tells him.
In the end, the audience is more lively tonight, and Neil is chattier. “It features Elton John on piano,” he tells a presumably-puzzled audience before “Believe”; he introduces “Opportunities” with “this next song is from those evil 1980s where all anybody ever cared about was making…money!”
“It all sounded very loud,” Chris says, before the encores.
“They turned it up,” Neil explains.
I’ve got earache,” Chris says.
When they go back on, two men and one woman rush the stage.
“We’ve been wanting to come here for a long time,” Neil says, “so this is a dream come true.”
After a dinner at which far too much vodka is drunk and far too many fried potatoes with sour cream and garlic are eaten, the Pet Shop Boys are bundled upstairs into the VIP balcony of a club called Luna. There is a kind of ballet sex show on stage. The Pet Shop Boys party gets excited when one sequence is acted out to The Original’s “I Love You Baby”. During a version of “Swan Lake”, the female dancer has car headlights over her breasts. A man appears with a two-and-a-half foot wooden prosthetic as a penis, which, at the end, is grabbed off by the woman. In me next performance, a woman has TV over her head, magnifying it.
“Talk about brilliant,” Chris says. “We’ve got our next show sorted out.”
The evening continues in an appropriate spirit. It is not long before Chris is standing on the sofa, dancing to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. “Do you know,” Chris says, ‘I feel like taking all my clothes off and dancing to The Rite Of Spring. And I wouldn’t normally do that kind of thing.”
The Pet Shop Boys Russian tour is over, but they will be here for several days more.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1998: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1998 Issue 19