|Video I’m with stupid|
|April 2, 2006.|
At midday on the stage of a
disused, half-wrecked theatre at the back of Alexandra Palace, next to the ice-skating rink, are two men who look very slightly like the Pet Shop Boys. They are dressed in one-piece orange body suits and appear to be attempting a clumsy recreation of the “Can you forgive her?” video. There is a giant fake ostrich egg with them, and they are pushed across the dry stage in a poorly-constructed boat, as cameras film them.
“It’s an absolute masterpiece,” declares Neil Tennant, when they stop.
He is standing halfway back on the theatre floor, close to the wall where a stack of mannequins have been
unceremoniously piled. “It’s already fantastic. That’s enough, really:’
The two men onstage wave. The shorter, in the Chris Lowe role, is Matt Lucas; the taller, in the Neil Tennant role, is David Walliams. The idea for the video is, Neil says, that, “They’ve kidnapped us and are forcing us to watch Pet Shop Boys: The Musical:’
Neil and Chris have known Matt and David
– now two of Britain’s most famous comedians and actors because of their show Little Britain
– for many years. Famously, when they performed the song “Liberation” on Top Of The Pops in 1993, they got chatting to this tall, strange man in the front row of the audience between takes. (Literally remembers well them talking about him when they went back to their dressing room.) In 1996 when they went on Ant and Dec’s TV show, they were surprised to find the same man working as a writer on the show – David Walliams, and from then on they kept bumping into him around town and became friends. They were later told that Matt had also been at Top Of The Pops –
he had enjoyed a separate early fame of his own on the Reeves & Mortimer spoof quiz show Shooting Stars, and had also appeared in the video for Fat Les’s “Vindaloo”. And they both were regulars at Pet Shop Boys events. David suggested a while back that they’d like them to be in one of the Pet Shop Boys videos, and they’d agreed that would be good, but were still a little surprised to read in The Sun towards the end of last year that they were going to be in the next Pet Shop Boys video. Still, says Neil, “We thought ‘I’m with Stupid’ would be the song for them, because it suggested humour. So after they’d announced that they were doing it, we asked them if they would like to do it.” Once that was agreed, they needed an idea. They considered having David and Matt play Tony Blair and George Bush at one point, in keeping with the song’s political satire, but they decided against it. This idea was Matt’s.
Matt and David film the scene a couple more times. As they do so the song that is playing, of course, is not “Can you forgive
her?” but “I’m with Stupid”.
“The important thing when you come to a video shoot,” says Neil, “is: what does the track sound like?” He’s pleased. “The track sounds great.” He remarks that he has also just been told that it is number 9 on the Croatian national radio chart. “We’re doing two Croatian interviews,” he says, “and our first ever Bulgarian interview:’
In the car park there is a caravan for Neil, Chris, Matt and David to relax in between shots and to change clothes. Chris is yet to arrive, but Neil, David and Matt retire to discuss pressing issues of the day.
“We saw the Will Young video today,” says Matt. “It’s very good.”
“What’s he done?” asks Neil.
“Blue Pete,<‘ says Matt.
“He’s camping it up a lot’ notes David.
“Did you see the Top Gun one?” says Neil. “I’m astonished how the record company spend so much money making them an event:’
“I just think they should have gone for a good lace wig, rather than an acrylic thing,” says Matt.
They discuss whether it’s strange that Will Young should be recreating Blue Peter eras which he is too young to have watched.
“People often have nostalgia for something they weren’t around for,” says David.
“I had an argument with a friend about whether John Noakes had a hairy chest,” says Neil. “I got the Blue Peter annual, and there he was, diving into a pool, and he did have a hairy chest:’ He nods. “But we never liked Peter Purves.”
“Did you ever go on Jim’ll Fix It?” Matt asks him. “Did anyone want to meet you?”
“No,” says Neil, answering the first question, if not the second.
They are called back into the theatre. A few minutes later, Chris sweeps in and takes in the scene.
“There’s a lot going on in here’ he says.
“Chris, it looks fantastic,” says Neil.
“Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it?” says Chris.
He says how nice North London seemed on his way up here. “Oooh, satellite navigation was a good buy,” he adds.
Matt and David come over to say hello.
“It’s very good of you to do this on your day off,” says Chris.
David holds out his hand. “Big fan,” he says, earnestly.
“Thirty quid is 30 quid,” shrugs Matt.
This leads them to discuss the things people say when you meet them. Neil mentions that he was recently introduced to the legendary – or perhaps even notorious – movie impresario Harvey Weinstein who said, “Loved your work on Crying Game”.
“Did you produce that for George?” asks Matt.
Neil nods. “That was the moment when I thought George had got over the bad review in Smash Hits in 1982. And for a while he did. But not for long.”
“What did you say?” asks Matt.
“I said he sounded a bit like David Sylvian,” says Neil. He explains that it wasn’t just that. “I hated their first album.”
When they go back outside, they are shown something quite remarkable about this Winnebago. In its boot it has a Smart car.
“We must have that on tour,” says Chris.
Back in the theatre, the Pet Shop Boys stand
by a stuffed ostrich and watch the proceedings.
It’s quite a production.
“Well, I see where the money’s gone,” says Chris. “I’ve never seen as many people at work on a video shoot. It’s a proper video, this.”
“It’s a video video’ says Neil. “They’re very good as us. I wonder if they’d like to do Top Of The Pops. It’d be great if they were us.” A pause. “Of course a certain proportion of people wouldn’t realise:’
“You know we’re going to be here till three in the morning,” Chris predicts.
“Absolutely,” says Neil.
“We can go ice-skating while we’re waiting,” says Chris.
Dave Dorrell suggests that they come into town with him and have lunch at The Ivy.
“We’ve time for that, and dinner at The Ivy, probably,” says Chris.
But of course they stay. There’s catering here, anyway. Chris orders the chicken, ham and leek pie, and Neil opts for the soy cod and stir-fry vegetables.
“This whole area,” says Neil, “reminds me of being at North London Polytechnic. My girlfriend Caroline lived close to here, on Alexandra Park Road.”
In the next scene, Matt stabs the keyboard with a single finger, but only after David – who is wearing ugly false teeth – has prompted him with a nudge.
“It’s too cruel,” laughs Chris.
“We’ll have to sue ourselves for libel,” Neil suggests.
“What’s great is;’ says Chris, “isn’t the orange jumpsuit what people wear in mental institutions? Or was it on chain gangs?”
David Walliams swans over.
“It’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?” he says in a camp voice.
“People are going to watch it and think, ‘oooh, Chris has put on weight’ ,” says Matt.
“Pet Shop Boys Gormiess, the new album,” says Neil. “Maybe that’ll be the new video compilation, Gormiess.”
Back in the Winnebago, David asks about
the summer touring plans and Neil says, “I was thinking of having a huge open air gig on the day of the World Cup Final for people who hate football:’ He tells David that the fashion designer Hedi Slimane has become a fan of Little Britain.
“When Imeethim;’ says David,”I just think he’s thinking, ‘you’re not thin enough for my clothes’
Meanwhile Chris asks the video production people if they can send someone to fetch some chocolate. More specifically, he wants an Easter Egg: “A proper Easter Egg with chocolate buttons on the inside.” He suggests that maybe they should get a few, just in case. A runner is sent in the Smart car.
Matt asks a question.
“Do you read your reviews?” he says.
“Yeah;’ says Chris. “I don’t go out of my way to:’
They discuss the debates that were had over the choice of first single from Fundamental. The British record company had decided that it should be “Minimal”, whereas Neil and Chris had always assumed it would probably be “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show”. It was the German record company who were immediately keen on “I’m with Stupid”.
“What’s the last single you had which crossed over?” asks David.
“‘Go West’;’ says Neil.
Someone comes to take pudding orders. Both Little Britainers plump for Bakewell tart, Chris selects the bread and butter pudding, and Neil wants nothing.
The discussion moves on to the faults of the contemporary musical.
“Oliver!;’ says Neil, by way of contrast, “every song is between excellence and genius. But when we went to see Les Mis is 1986 or 1987 we hated it. We left after 20 minutes. And we left because it was crap.”
Then they talk about the photos in this week’s tabloids purporting to be of Whitney Houston’s private crack den.
“It was so sad, those pictures;’ says Chris.
“It was horrible,” Neil agrees.
“It was so untidy,” says Chris.
David and Matt go to film an interview about Neil and Chris for the forthcoming Channel 4 documentary.
“We’re going to go and slag you off;’ David assures them.
“How long have you been together?” Matt asks.
“Twenty-five years;’ says Neil.
“I might add ten years to that;’ says Matt.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
As they walk across the car park, David shouts back, “Don’t eat all the Easter Eggs when they come.”
Neil has calamitously lost his mobile phone in the week by leaving it in a taxi – losing not just numbers but loads of song ideas – and asks to go through Chris’s phone address book to copy out some numbers. Patiently, he begins to do so. “That’s a good trio, isn’t it?” he mutters when he reaches the Ds. “David Furnish, David Walker, David Walliams…” (Later Neil will tell David of how, over Christmas, his phone was stolen temporarily by his nieces specifically because they wanted to find David Walliams phone number.)
In the theatre, Literally walks by just as David and Matt are finishing their TV interview.
….. the greatest pop act of the last twenty years,” says David.
Matt pauses. “Almost as good as Erasure.” As he gets up he starts singing~ from “Electricity”~ “it’s the greatest show with the best effects…”
Back in the Winnebago Matt tells them what he has just said.
“You bitch’ says Neil.
“We’ll cut that ouC’ says Chris.
They need to change now into their yellow (Matt) and blue (David) “Go West” jumpsuits, though for a while David wanders between costumes in his black underwear. “Just wandering around in my pants, slightly enjoying it’ he says.
“Yours is more comfy than mine,” says Matt, once the outfits are eventually on. “Mine’s all sticky.”
As everyone walks out into the open air, a fan rushes up, breathless at the sight of Matt and David.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“We’re filming a pop video for them,” says Matt, gesturing at Neil and Chris.
“Erasure,” David explains.
Matt’s mother now turns up, along with a
journalist called Boyd Hilton who usually works for Heat magazine but is currently writing a book about David and Matt and has been following them on their mammoth Little Britain tour. Matt asks his mother about the idea Neil has just suggested which the Pet Shop Boys came up with in the studio the other day
– doing a World Cup record sung by all the Little Britain characters to the tune of “Go West”~ its chorus being the football chant “we’re shit and we know we are”. (They thought of it because they’d read in a tabloid that Matt and David were planning to do a World Cup song with them though, like so many things in such tabloids, this turns out to be another random fiction.)
“Is it too rude?” Matt asks his mother. “Is ‘shit’ too rude?” echoes David. “It’s a shame, but yeah,” says Matt’s mother.
“It’d be better doing ‘two-nil to the Arsenal’. That’d be much better. Why does it have to be when they’re doing badly? Why can’t it be when they’re doing well?”
“You wrote that,” Matt points out to Neil and Chris, talking about the specific melody on their version of “Go West”. “The Village People sang a different tune.” He sings the two versions.
“Did we?” asks Neil. “I only listened to it once.”
They discuss the surprising use of a swearword in the real non-radio version of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”. (When Matt’s mother says the word in question, Matt looks shocked and says that he has never heard her say it before.)
“We’ve never had a swearword in a song, I don’t think$’ says Neil. “One, Chris won’t let me.”
Matt asks about the swearing in Sex Pistols songs – Neil is able to quote the relevant texts in detail – and David mentions Philip Larkin and starts quoting some of his less restrained lines.
“It’s incredible,” he says, of the poetry rather than the obscenities.
“It’s all so bleak’ says Neil.
David mentions that he recently gave a friend some Philip Larkin poetry, and also some Bob Dylan lyrics with particular songs marked:
“Idiot Wind”, “You’re A Big Girl Now”, “Love Sick”, “Make You Feel My Love”. This prompts Chris to recall the trip he and Neil made to see Bob Dylan at the Brixton Academy late last year. “He sings on one note,” Chris complains. “But I think we stayed longer than we thought we would. He’s very charismatic.”
David asks Neil about the outfit he wore at the Brits – a new Dior affair from the forthcoming season’s collection – and offers a very firm opinion about neckwear. He thinks that there should be bow ties and real ties, but nothing in between. Neil disagrees. “I like the fact that it looks like a puritan preacher thing. Because bow ties always look a bit waiter-y.”
Then he mentions the protests during Condeleeza Rice’s visit to northern England, and they discuss how muted such protests are these days. Neil notes how much the political environment has changed since he was a student in the seventies, when even the Labour party was considered some kind of right-wing sell-out. “When I was at North London Poly, if you voted Labour you were considered a Nazi.” He says that if someone had spoken to him in 1976 he would have seemed as though he fitted in with that kind of world view. “At the same time I used to read Evelyn Waugh’s books,” he says. “That was just a completely different part of my brain.”
Boyd Hilton asks what people thought of the April Fool’s story in The Guardian, making-believe at great length that Chris Martin had signed up to support David Cameron’s Conservative party.
“I know someone who believed it,” says Neil. (Chris says nothing now, though earlier he had been laughing about it.). “I put our new album cover art on our website, not realising it was April 1st,” says Neil, “and in the comments they said, ‘Come on, it’s obviously a joke, it’s April 1st.”‘
Matt and David argue about whose orange shoes are whose – they both get slightly insistent, even though the next shot is a close-up.
“That’s how groups break up,” Neil notes. “It isn’t over the royalties, it’s over the plimsolls.”
Matt and David are soon back, the shot done.
“We’re whizzing through the scenes now, aren’t we?” says Chris.
“Are you getting fed up?” Neil asks them.
“No, no, no, not at all’ says David. “We just don’t want to be here too late:’
“We don’t start getting filmed until you finish,” Neil points out.
“Our first video shoot lasted… what time?” asks Chris.
“Twenty-four hours,” says Neil.
“That’s illegal,” Matt points out.
David asks whether they have got lots of unreleased songs they can put on a boxed set in due course. They shake their heads. Pretty much everything has been used in their deluxe reissues.
“We could always write some,” Chris suggests. Some unreleased 1985 songs, some unreleased 1988 songs, and so on.
“I love the idea of that;’ says Neil. “Do some with Stephen Hague, some with Bobby
Back in the theatre, Matt and David are told that they have one more shot.
“Are they nearly done?” worries Chris. “They’re going to miss the dinner.”
“That’s probably not as much of a priority for them as it is for you, Chris’ says Neil.
At ten minutes past eight, the crew applaud. Matt and David are finished.
Nearly. One of the video crew runs up to David. “A slightly bizarre request,” he says. “I need to take a photo of the back of your hand.”
David acquiesces. “I get that a lot,” he says.
(Presumably, it’s for continuity purposes.)
“I wish we’d been in it with you somehow,” says David. (They have filmed no scenes together, though it will appear as though they are communicating with each other in the video.) “I’d have liked to have interacted with you.”
“Next video,” says Neil.
“‘Numb’?” suggests David.
“We shouldn’t really do ‘Numb’ as a comedy single, should we?” wonders Chris.
“‘Numb’ would be a good second single,” says David.
“I like ‘A Little Respect’ ,” says Matt.
“That nearly went over my head,” says Neil, projecting a slight edge into his voice. “But it didn’t.”
The Little Britain stars leave, the lamb curry
arrives and the Pet Shop Boys discuss fund-raising scandals in contemporary politics.
“They’re all a let down, the lot of them;’ says Neil. “That’s what bugs me.”
Time passes, and there is no sign of them being called to film their shot. A man from the video eventually comes to visit them.
“You’re not going to need us for a long time;’ says Chris.
“I don’t think so,” he says, uneasily.
“That wasn’t a question;’ Neil explains to him, “that was a statement.”
They watch a bit of Frasier on the TV and discuss the pros and cons of Zane Lowe, then flick over to VH2. The programme is called The Nation’s Greatest Lyricist.
“Marc!” exclaims Neil upon seeing Marc Bolan.
“Or is it Goldfrapp?” wonders Chris.
They watch on.
“How come our nation’s greatest lyricist, sitting in this room, is not nominated?” wonders Chris.
He sits in the make-up chair.
“I’m terrified Tony Blair is going to resign before ‘I’m with Stupid’ comes out;’ worries Neil. “Just like we were terrified Margaret Thatcher was going to lose the 1987 election just before Actually came out, ruining our album about Thatcherism, even while voting Labour.”
He mentions that they’ve just recorded over 50 ringtones.
“To my mind they’re the best ringtones ever done.”
“And we’ve written three of them;’ says Chris. (Three brand new pieces of music, he
means, rather than based on existing songs.)
“The ‘I’m with Stupid’ one, just with brass, it’s brilliant – it’s so annoying,” says Neil. “It could give you a nervous breakdown.”
Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2” comes on the TV and Chris insists on changing channel.
“Neil, it’s your video;’ he says. “You like this, don’t you?”
“Oh, I love it’ says Neil. It is Blink 182’s video for “All The Small Things”. “This is when they were good. I love it when they do the Backstreet Boys.”
“I don’t like this type of music though,” Chris objects. “It sounds like Busted.”
The waiting continues.
“This is what happens when you make a film, isn’t it?” says Neil. “You stay in the Winnebago and you get cosy and slightly hysterical and you get a slightly sleazy feeling because you’ve had make-up on all day…”
They are supposed to be tied up and bound with ropes: David and Matt’s prisoners. Worrying about that might pass the time.
“I might suffer from claustrophobia,” says Chris. “Have you thought of that, Neil?”
“Yes,” he says. “I’m already assuming I will be.”
Chris laughs. “After all this, we won’t be able to do it.”
Neil sighs. “Oh, it’s been a long day, hasn’t it?”
“It has;’ Chris agrees. “I feel like we’ve been here for days.”
“It’s always tiring, doing nothing,” Neil points out.
At ten minutes past ten they are told, not for the first time, they must wait 15 minutes more.
“They said that over 15 minutes ago,” Chris objects. “I’m leaving soon:’ He answers a phone call. “We’re still here… No, we haven’t done anything yet… I reckon we’ll be here till
“Eleven?” queries Neil. “More like midnight.”
Chris flicks through the channels some more until eventually – much more than 15 minutes later – they are called to the set. Neil
puts on his top hat and checks himself in the mirror. “You know what this hat is?” he realises. “It’s Marc Bolan on the cover of The Slider.”
They take their seats, and ropes are coiled around them – as loosely as possibly whilst still trying to give the impression that they are tightly-bound and completely constricted. The director tries to convince them that they should react in various animated ways to their predicament, but their intuition is otherwise.
“I sort of think the Pet Shop Boys, being captured, would be indifferent;’ says Neil. “We’d be nonchalant.”
The director asks whether, when asked, “Did you enjoy the show?”, they can look at each other and offer a reaction.
Neil looks at Chris. “That would be acting, wouldn’t it?” he says, as though there may be little they disapprove of more. “We can try it.”
It’s decided that after they look at each other, Neil will yawn. The first time they do it, he yawns exactly as he does in real life – the same kind of real yawn seen on the Actually sleeve.
“Smaller yawn next time;’ instructs the director.
“Is that not a small yawn?” Neil wonders. He does it a few times, and they still suggest the yawn could be reduced. He tries to accommodate them. Between takes he gives another huge, real yawn of his own and sings to himself some Kraftwerk: “we’re showroom dummies…”
“We give a lot, don’t we?” sighs Chris.
They want to try something else, so now Neil reacts by kind of shrugging with his face as he tips his head.
“I hope they don’t feel they have to keep us here to justify the cost;’ says Chris.
They are wrapped by 1130pm, after a long day’s hanging around and maybe 40 minutes on set.
“I notice we don’t get a round of applause;’ says Chris. He’s not too serious. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” he says in the Winnebago as he grabs one of the spare Easter Eggs to take home. “Can’t wait to see it, actually.”