| August 28th, 1999. The Pet Shop Boys and most of the touring party arrived here, at the Chester Grovesnor Hotel, yesterday, after traveling from London by coach. This morning Chris has been shopping and walking around Chester’s old wall; Neil has gone into Liverpool to see its Taste art gallery. This afternoon, in an stately hotel dining room with walls covered in old oil paintings, they do a roundtable interview with six European journalists.|
“There’s always been an element of disguise,” Neil tells them, “particularly with Chris…” “I couldn’t have done it without a computer to remember what I’d done,” says Chris. “I couldn’t write it down because I don’t have the patience…”
“It’s very important that pop music is sexy to look at or interesting,” says Neil. “So we went for interesting…” “Why did you start playing live?” they ask. Neil turns to Chris. “Why did we start playing live?” “Oh, so we didn’t have to do so many interviews,” Chris says. “Unfortunately, it doubled the number of interviews.”
“Do you have a demonic side?” they ask. “Demonic side?” says Neil, a little taken aback. “Have you got some skeletons in your cupboard, Neil?” says Chris. “I don’t like drama in my private life,” Neil says, “so maybe it gets it out of my system on-stage…” The final question is: “What is the essence of Pet Shop Boys music?” Neil thinks about this for a while. “Beautiful music,” he answers. “With wigs.” Mitch comes in at the end to say that “New York City Boy” is a record of the week on Radio One next week. They’re relieved; they don’t think it’s getting played enough. “That’s more like it,” says Neil.
“We’ve turned the corner,” Chris says. “Thank goodness for that,” says Neil. “The essence of the Pet Shop Boys,” says Chris, “is about survival. That’s the truth.” “Yes,” Neil agrees. “But we don’t say that.” Creamfields – an all-day and all-night dance festival which features six tents of famous DJs until 6am in the morning, with just one live band: the Pet Shop Boys – is on tomorrow. But today they must go to the site to inspect the stage and rehearse. They jump on the tour bus (which is the one usually used by Leicester City football club). Chris talks about the excellence of the new Supergrass single, “Moving”. “I need to hear it immediately,” Neil declares. “I need to have an opinion about it. I need to put it into my interview spiel.”
We drive underneath a bridge on top of which a herd of black-and-white cows are crossing in single file. “You don’t often see that, do you?” notes Neil.
“So,” says Chris, “the next time we do this journey…” He means that they will be just about to perform. “Oh, don’t say that, Chris,” Neil beseeches. “It makes me feel sick.” “I don’t know how you have the nerve to do this,” smiles Chris. Neil shakes his head in agreement. “Being bottled off by lots of scousers with Stanley knives who want Paul Oakenfold…”
We drive past a huge Ford car factory, all drab rectangular blocks, and imagine what it would be like to work there every weekday of your adult life. “It’s good to see this kind of thing,” murmurs Chris. “It gives you some perspective – that actually it isn’t that bad doing one roundtable interview for half an hour.” Soon we draw within sight of Creamfields. The large blue tent in front of us is where the Pet Shop Boys will be performing.
“It’s an International Priority Tent,” says Chris. “From their album International Priority Act,” says Neil. “Their new single, ‘A List’: We ‘re on the A-list/An International Prison Act/ We’re on the gay list/Its’ an established fact…”
Ivan, the tour manager, has a question. “Do we want our own toilet?” he asks. (Toilets at festivals are a sensitive subject this year after the Manic Street Preachers were pilloried for having their own toilet at Glastonbury.) “Yes!” says Chris.
“No,” says Neil.
Inside their tent, the sound engineer is testing the PA by playing Roxy Music’s Avalon. “They always play this kind of thing, don’t they?” says Chris. “Well-produced albums.”
One of the scaffolds strolls over to Neil. “Isn’t you?” he asks. “From Pet Shop Boys?” Neil shakes his hand. “I might find you later,” the scaffold says. “Get your autograph for my mother.” “It’s a classic,” Neil says. “A Neil Tennant classic: ‘my mother loves you’.”
Though they are here to rehearse, the stage isn’t ready. They go to catering to get some dinner instead. “My yoga teacher,” Neil begins, “has informed me that fizzy water is bad for you. Champagne is the only fizzy drink that isn’t bad for you.” Upon further questioning it turns out that Neil has been doing yoga for precisely one week. His teacher is the same one that Geri Halliwell and Sam Taylor-Wood use.
They linger a while in the evening sun, and then Neil gets up. “I’m going back,” he says. “We’re getting made up in quarter of an hour.”
“Really made up,” says Chris, “as we say in Liverpool.” They have now decided not to do a full dress rehearsal, but they still have to get into their wigs and clothes because they have agreed to do a Polish TV interview. “This is the last time we wear silly costumes and wigs,” Chris complains. “I’m sick to the back teeth of Neil making us dress up in silly costumes and wigs.”
There is no toilet at all in the backstage area at the moment. “We need a toilet!” Chris exclaims. “Why did we say no just because of the Manic Street Preachers? It’s the best thing they’ve ever done, having their own toilet.”
“Toilets are always an issue at festivals,” Neil says. “You’ve got to have your own toilet,” Chris reasons. “We’re making a toilet U-turn,” Neil says. “Maybe you should call it a toilet Unbend.” (In the end, toilets are provided for everyone in this backstage area, and the Pet Shop Boys are quite happy to use those.)
The Polish interview is rather strange. Before they start the interviewer instructs them, rather sternly, to limit their answers to fifteen or twenty seconds, and then asks lots of theoretical questions about pop music which don’t really draw answers. After a while they’re asked to name their favorite videos. Chris mentions David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” and Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy”; Neil says that of theirs it would be “Can You Forgive Her?” or “Being Boring”. Neil says his favorite Beatles song is “A Day In The Life” and, when they ask whether he can sing it, says “I can sing all of them, but I’m not going to.” The Poles don’t seem very pleased.
The stage still isn’t ready, so Neil and Chris watch from the middle of the tent. Les gyrates on-stage in his heavy quilt skirt. “He looks unbelievable,” Chris says.
“It’s unbelievably camp,” says Neil
. Finally they get on-stage themselves. Chris’s keyboard is set within an old wooden stand, to fit in with the Victorian drawing room set in which they find themselves, but it wobbles terribly. He can’t play it like this, and he asks for it to be replaced by a modern stand for tomorrow. Neil, Les and Sylvia run through their “Can You Forgive Her?” dance steps, all singing along – “it’s childish, so childish” – to keep time. Then they all run through “Young Offender”, “It’s A Sin”, “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing” and “New York City Boy”. There’s not much point doing too much more -all the lights aren’t even up yet, let alone programmed. There is a lamp on-stage which Chris is supposed to switch on during the set.
“Which song am I going to switch it on during?” he asks Lee, the production manager. “Just do it as you feel it,” Lee suggests.
Chris guffaws. “Oh well,” he says. “That’ll be a first. ‘Do it as you feel it’. We’re all about that…” There are also two TVs which silently play movies during the performance: Spartacus and Satyricon. (“I wanted to have The Elephant Man,” Neil says, “but Chris thought it was too grotesque. I thought Satyricon was too much of a clinch.”)
As they finish, Neil offers some advice to Les. “When in doubt,” he says, “either do nothing or groove.” On the bus, driving back to Chester, people can smell gas. There is a small flurry of concern until they realize that it’s coming from outside.
“I once called the gas board to my old house because I smelt gas,” Neil confesses, “and then I released I didn’t have gas.”
At dinner, they argue about the relative merits of the two “summer of love”s – the hippie one at the end of the Sixties and the rave one which Chris favorers at the end of the Eighties. “Their one didn’t last as long,” Chris argues. “Our summer of love lasted a decade. Our summer of love changed society.”
“Chris,” Neil chides, “that one changed society.” “I think our one was more fin, though,” Chris says. “I mean, they were all stoned the whole time – they couldn’t enjoy it, could they?”
August 28th, 1999
. After an midmorning interview with The Observer, Neil and Chris are asked to approve some new photographs. Those Chris really doesn’t like, he doesn’t simply reject, he rips them to pieces. When this is finished, everyone walks to an old pub in the back streets where we have been told the pub lunches are particularly fine. It is called The Albion. “Do you think it’s got a British theme?” asks Chris, mischievously. “Oh, I’m not sure. We’re going to a fascist pub.”
We are not, though we are going to one with very firm rules of its own: no chips, no big screens, no tomato sauce.
Inside, Neil writes down our food order and gives it to the waitress, to be helpful. “Can someone else write the drinks?” she requests. “I can’t read this handwriting.” The conversation is suitably surreal. “We’re turning Waiting For God into a musical,” Neil claims, somewhat implausibly. “It’s our new idea. It’s the musical we’ll be in.” He reconsiders this slightly. “Chris can play Godot, so he doesn’t have to be there.”
The bill comes to £64.96 for ten people. We query it, thinking that it’s too cheap. “You’re in the northwest now, you know,” the waitress says. Chris goes down to the festival site at 3.OOpm, to soak up the atmosphere, but everyone else goes on the bus at 6.3Opm. On the way, everyone watches the newly-finished “New York City Boy” video; there is applause when it finishes. Outside, the sun is slipping down the sky; it’s a gorgeous evening. “We’re so lucky,” Neil says.
Chris is waiting in the dressing room when everyone else arrives. He’s been round all the tents. “It’s firing,” he says. “It’s absolutely kicking.” He also says he’s tired. “At least we’ve got Sylvia with us,” Neil says, and turns to her. “Sylvia, keep it going -when they’re flagging, do a fabulous ad-lib.”
Chris worries than no one will care to hear them, and then tries to think of reasons why people should be there. “We’re larger than life,” he reasons. “Also, the music’s quite good. And it’s quite a good set. We’ve put quite a lot of effort into this.” He sighs. “We must be mad to do this.” Even from the dressing room they can hear the crowd roaring at huge volume as the DJs move up from one record to another. They are dragged outside to do a quick MTV interview with Donna Air. Afterwards, she and Neil discuss their common hometown of Newcastle. “Which school did you go to?” Neil asks. “Sosforth High,” she says.
“Same as Alan Sheerer,” he notes. “But I got expelled,” she points out.
Judge Jules finishes his set and on they go. “Young Offender” strikes up. They are supposed to enter amidst a blaze of white light through the door at the back of the stage, but the light doesn’t work, so they just walk on anyway. (The other big malfunction is of the lights illuminating the two dancers in front of the screens on either side of the stage who simply can’t be seen.) But the crowd are extraordinarily keen. In the first half they also play “Left To My Own Devices”, “Domino Dancing” (with new Ennio Morricone flourishes), “I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Take It Any More” and “It’s A Sin” (faster and more percussive, but still including snatches of “I Will Survive”) before – as at the Savoy shows – Sylvia performs “The Man Who Has Everything”. On the TV screens, Spartans and, strangely, The Elephant Man play.
Behind the stage, Neil and Chris change into white suits. Chris frets about the missing lights. “It was our grand entrance!” he protests.
The second half includes “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing”, “Can You Forgive Her?”, “Before”, “West End Girls”, “Being Boring” (which Neil, a song ahead of himself, introduces as “New York City Boy” to Chris’s obvious amusement), “New York City Boy” and “Go West”. They bound off stage, both looking fairly perky.
“It wasn’t a disaster by any stretch, that,” says Chris. “Well done, darlings,” says Neil in the dressing room to the dancers. “Yes, well done,” says Chris. “I didn’t see what you were doing, but well done.” They take off the wigs. “Actually, I think that was quite good,” Chris says. “I definitely got quite a good feeling off that.” He jumps up. “Right! I can’t wait to go and dance. I’m going to dance. For inspiration. For perspiration.”
Neil takes off his stage shirt. “Do I have a shirt?” he asks. “Shirt for Neil!” says Lee. “Shirt for Neil!” And a shirt appears. From the tent, they can hear dance music pumping once more. “Oh God,” says Neil, pretending to be annoyed. “Can’t they give this music a rest? I mean, don’t tell me they’re enjoying it.” The drinks begin to flow. The first bus shuttle leaves at 12pm, and Neil goes on it. Chris stays – he wants to dance to David Morales’ set. The second and final shuttle leaves at 2am, and most people catch that. Chris still stays. He will be several hours.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1998 Issue 21