stage at the Manchester Apollo the
Pet Shop Boys rehearse their pieces for Electronics'
forthcoming concerts, Neil singing to an empty auditorium
over the sparse backing tracks. Johnny Marr and Bernard
Summer are skipping this run through. Instead they're
backstage, down below, in the hospitality room where
various friends and helpers are eating, playing pool and
They grab today's copy of the
Daily Mail and laugh at an article about 'The Manchester
scene" which has some ludicrously out-of-date advice about
how people dress here. 'Flares!" sneers Johnny Marr
derisively. He goes to make some tea and then he and
Bernard settle down at the end of one of the tables for
what, they mention midway through, is the first interview
they have given as Electronic...
when did you
first hear of the idea of Neil and Chris getting involved?
Johnny: About a year ago.
Bernard: Neil got in
touch with us through Mark Farrow (Pet Shop Boys
designer). I rung him up and he just said "I fancy being
on your LP" and I just thought "yeah. Great". Mark had
just said "can you ring Neil up?" and I thought it might
be that. Johnny:! particularly wanted to work with Pet
Shop Boys because I was a big fan of their music and also
it was a bit strange for. Say, Smiths fans, guitar muso
types. Which I thought was really brilliant. They thought
it was weird.
What would they say?
couple of the guitar dudes have been really nonplused.
Bernard: "Hey Johnny, that's a bit strange... (laughs) But
we got that in New Order when we changed from using
guitars to synthesizers, which we really did because I
couldn't play guitar anymore, because! was singing. We
didn't want to get any session musicians, so we started
using sequences - a session player without any ego
problems, you know. And it was so attractive we ended
up... going electric. We had enough problems with the band
itself (laughs) without getting any more egos involved.
How long have the two of you known each other?
Johnny: (to Bernard) When was the first time we met?
Bernard: Can't remember.
Johnny: Was it when you
were producing Mike Picking's group. Quango Quango?
Bernard: That's it.
Johnny: I went to play guitar on
the record. It was about 1983. Then Bernard wanted to do a
record on his own and asked me to get involved.
Bernard: In fact (to Johnny) we got together through a
mutual friend as well, didn't we? Andrew Berry. (Laughs)
The singing hairdresser. (Andrew Bersy is an
ex-hairdresser friend of theirs who has just ,released his
first single, "Kiss Me, I'm Cold", with some help from
Johnny: Mr Manchester
What did he
do to get you together?
Johnny: He just told me that
he (pointing at Bernard) was airtight. Really.
Bernard: He just said I should do something with Johnny.!
Started off doing it on my own in New Order's rehearsal
room, which is in one of the worst areas in Manchester.
It's got a graveyard at the back of it. I used to work all
day Sunday and sleep on the floor Sunday night because I
live miles away and then rehearse with New Order on
Monday. I just got sick of it because it got really
claustrophobic and I felt I needed someone else to write
with so I asked Johnny when he came to a concert in San
Francisco. Johnny: That's right. Then we started working
at weekends, really really long song writing sessions.
We'd finish at about five on Monday morning then Bernard
would go off and rehearse with New Order Then Bernard went
off to do Technique then I went to do Mind bomb so we've
been working in hurts.
Have you both always liked the
Pet Shop Boys?
Bernard: When we were doing the brotherhoods album in
Ireland we used to put on Pet Shop Boys Please every
morning for breakfast, so we used to go to work on it
People are more surprised with you, Johnny,
Johnny: Yeah, because people think the
idea with me is: this can of beer in one hand, guitar
toting' dude hanging out with the Rolling Stones. Which I
do sometimes (laughs). But the reason I liked working with
Bernard isn't because of New Order's acoustic stuff, the
stuff they do as a band, but the elector stuff. I'm a
really big fan of '7Os disco music, always have been: I
really love Technique because of it. That's what me and
Bernard met up over- that kind of Italian-melody
Bernard: Dance music with good melodies,
really. Johnny: The only reason people are surprised is
because of the dogmatic approach the press had towards The
Smiths, that whole antisynthesiser thing, which really got
to be a trap in the end. And it was the Eurodisco thing
that Bernard and I had in common that led us to both
liking the Pet Shop Boys as well.
Johnny: For a long time I thought
"Paninaro" was the best. "West End Girls" is my least
favorites actually. "Suburbia" is a really good pop tune.
Bernard: I like "Love Comes Quickly". Johnny: "Wake Up" is
brilliant. That's actually my favorite.
What's the slow one off Please? "Later Tonight". I like
that. (To Johnny) What was that one that guy played us on
holiday? We were on holiday in the Virgin Islands on a
Johnny: This guy rowed over to the boat and
he was a little mad.
Bernard: He said "I've got a tape
for you - it's Augusts Palo". And I put it on and someone
had taped over it with the Pet Shop Boys.
Was it "Heart"?
Johnny: It was the
twelve inch. Augusts Palo gone Euro. It's wild. They're
Before you'd met them what did you imagine
they'd be like?
Johnny: Exactly like they are. Some
people are surprised that Chris is so down to earth and
friendly because of his... mysterious persona. But they're
both really easygoing.
Bernard: (laughs) Just like
you and me. Johnny: (in daft American accent). Yeah!
That's why we're such a big happy family! (returning to
normal) Actually the first meeting where we got together
was, I think, an official Great Moment In Rock. We invited
them up to Manchester and got them down to the Hacienda
within about five minutes of them getting there, and they
experienced the delights of the Manchester scene. A great
How did you start actually working together?
Bernard: We put on the tape at Johnny's house and just
said, basically, "right, who's going to go first?" We had
already decided that what would be good was if we did one
song and they did one - the music. We'd done "Getting Away
With It" and Neil went (imitates Neil's voice, not too
well) "Ooh, I like that, very nice..." Then Chris started
"Patience Of A Saint".
Johnny: Bernard got a drumbeat
going, Chris had a couple of chords, I put a baseline on
and in about half an hour we had it. It was easy. We were
all just son of singing bits and putting ideas in.
you find you worked in sillier ways to them?
Bernard: No. Neil's very... he's a tactician. A
strategist. And he knows what he's doing. Whereas I
haven't got a clue and it's kind of inspired luck, what I
Johnny: The way Chris works is amazing. He's really
good at making records, throwing in hooks and ideas. He's
got really good ears for sonic little things that happen,
on disco records especially. Bernard: I think he dreams
the ideas up when he goes to sleep in the studio (laughs).
Does he go to sleep much?
Bernard: All the
Johnny: Chris has got a real instinct... Neil is
more methodical. Re knows a lot about pop music doesn't
he? Me and him are really into... Bernard: I don't know
anything about pop music... the past. Me and Chris have
got a pretty similar record collection, disco records no
one's heard of. For example? "Burn It Up, Mr DJ", "Take A
Chance, Mr Flagglo". Just Italian disco records.
Are you surprised by how obsessed they are by chart pop
Bernard: Not Neil, because he used to be a
writer for Smash Hits, didn't he?
Johnny: I really
like it, because I'm well into it, talking about Dusty
Springfield records and Sandy Shaw records and all that.
Moo (Morrisey is like that. Just the same.
also always keen to have heard the new George Michael or
Kyle Minogue single, aren't they?
Bernard: Yeah. I
find that a bit strange. I can't get a handle on that.
Johnny: They really love pop music, don't they? The whole
pop music culture. I don't bother watching Top Of The Pops
unless the Happy Mondays are on it or something like that,
but Thursdays is the Sabbath for Neil and Chris.
Bernard: For me when I get a break I want it to be a
break. I want to dump music.
What do you think
they're like as people?
Bernard: It's very difficult
to answer without sounding like a psychiatrist's report
How do they differ?
Bernard: Chris's hair's
shorten Neil eats more.
Johnny: Neil knows a lot about
history too, doesn't he? They're not like Mutt and Jeff,
or Laurel and Hardy - they're not complete opposites.
(Thinks) Neil obviously finds Chris really funny. They're
obviously really good friends. It's difficult to describe
Bernard: Neil's really your lofty
intellectual, isn't he? That's what you're trying to say,
Johnny. (They both laugh.) And Chris is your Blackpool
lad about town. That's what is difficult to say.
Johnny: Neil's a really good pop star,
in the nicest way. He's one of the few. People I've seen
pull it off. Bernard: Yeah, but what I think they are is
pop fans who've got into it to meet their idols (roars
How did this concert in Los Angeles
Johnny: Depeche Mode had asked Electronic
to do it. I thought, "oh, that's nice", not taking it
seriously, and then about a week later it was mentioned
again. The next thing I know Bernard and Chris and Neil
were talking about it like it's a seines proposition.
You thought it was just a joke?
Johnny: I thought
it was completely impossible. It still might be (laughs).
Then we released we might do it if we work hard and really
kill ourselves, which is what we've done.
Three months ago we only had two finished songs. We had
about 18 ideas...
Johnny: We want the show to be a
representation of the way we live, not musicians who want
to conquer the world but the son of people who can dance.
I've got to say - though it sounds pretentious - we are in
a unique position if we keep our integrity because there
are no rules.
Bernard: Electronic doesn't even have to
always be me and Johnny. We want to get away from the
constrictions of being in a group. If Johnny wanted to put
out a record with anyone... Gary Numan (laughs) ... he
Johnny: We're both of us bored with egos.
Bernard: And upsetting other people.. -
Do you mind it
when people refer to Electronic -usually rather snidely -
as "a supergroup"?
Bernard: It's quite fair.
Johnny: It's just the late '7Os albatross thing, but it's
actually really creative that good musicians work together
It's not like a '6Os supergroup at all.
like it anyway. (Laughs) I think it's quite valid.
Bernard leaves-he must go to pickup his son James and
Johnny Marr chats on some more. He talks about his
appearance on two songs on the new Pet Shop Boys LP-"great
I'll be the anonymous session player as much
as I can" - and laughs about Neil's guitar playing. "I've
sussed he's a closet Ritchie Blackmore.. . actually the
lines I've heard are really good, really melodic:' He
chats for quite a while about his aim: "to rewrite the
rules, to make guitar playing cool again. I know why corny
guitar playing is corny." He says he'll be staying in The,
which he uses a his place "to concentrate on being a
really whizzo guitar player's
He reflects on how
constrained he felt in The Smiths. By the end he'd turn on
the Janice Long show on Radio One "and hear some whinny
Scotch girl with four guys in Brian Jones haircuts and
leather pants singing about skipping through the flowers.
I thought 'what have we done?"' When he used a
sequencer-hammering out a Morse code bleep-in one Smiths
song, "The Draize Train'; Morrissey refused to write any
words. Nevertheless he's quite defensive of his former
partner. Now, that the Morrissey backlash is in full swing
fans tell him it was him they always liked. "I think
they're pathetic. They owe Moz a lot more than that."
At first when he left, he says, he wanted to form "a
Manchurian Parliament" but thought people wouldn't accept
it so "kept my head down and did sessions for a while". He
was impressed when he first chatted to Bernard about music
that "he likes great rock music. It really surprised me.
Things like 'The Green Manalishi' and 'Dragonfly' by
Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green was with them. Good
Stooges. Good Velvet Underground. All the dark Stones
stuff like '19th Nervous Breakdown'. Then of course there
was the Italian and New York stuff... Freeze... Stank I...
Defunct, though they were a bit jazzy... Sharon .......
Princess records. 'Shame' by Evilly 'Champagne' King-that
was the first twelve-inch I ever bought, The Brothers
It's quite obvious that he'll mutter
on about old records he loves for years. He says the idea
of "Getting Away With It" was to write "Sister Sledge
stuff with the Pet Shop Boys as the backing band. I wanted
it to be like 'The Look Of Love' by ABC, so that DJs would
play it in five years time in their jingles. It's a
perfect pop song...
It's time for the final
rehearsal. Even now the Electronic songs - "Big Rouse",
"Try All You Want". "Sun", "Get The Message", "Gangster"
and "Donald" - aren't all completely finished. Some don't
have words at all and those that do, Bernard has yet to
memories ,so he sings clutching pieces of paper. Also on
stage are an extra keyboard player, Andy Robinson and, at
the back, two
percussionists. Kesta Martinez and
Donald Johnson (the latter, a member of A Certain Ratio,
is the person who does the "Liza with a Z. . :' rap on
"Twist In My Sobriety").
After four songs, Chris
and Neil wander on. Chris stands behind a keyboard and
Neil comes alongside Bernard. "Patience Of A Saint" is a
rather strange duet-Neil sings the first verse, Bernard
the second. During the middle of "Getting Away With It".
Neil and Bernard sit down at the back of the stage and
share a joke. The last two songs are without the Pet Shop
Boys so as "Getting Away With It" fades away Bernard snaps
- smirking just a little - "right! Get off!" And they do.
"A right laugh ~ is how Chris describes the two
concerts the following week. "All of Manchester was
there's The Happy Mondays lark about and Chris keeps
meeting Simply Red's Mick Ruckn all in the hotel lift.
On the first night Chris wean a Chevignon raincoat "or
flasher's Mac" (Chris and Johnny Marr "share a passion"
for Chevignon). Chevignon baggy white trousers, Timberland
boots, a Yohji Yamamoto hat and a pair of Montana
sunglasses. Neil shows off his Star Trek outfit"-A Theory
Mugler outfit which he also wears in the video for "So
Hard" On the second night Chris sports a Nike Air baseball
cap, a Gianfranco Fern rubberized Mac, blue Chevignon
jeans; Neil a long black coat.
"During the second
night Bernard came up to me says Neil, "in the middle of
the concert, because he was feeling sick and said 'This is
the worst experience of my life; but everyone said it was
better than the first night:'. Beforehand he chatted with
Bernard about the lyrics to one of Electronics songs
because it worried Neil that it talked about an angel
being like a brick wall. "I said 'how can an angel be like
a brick wail?' He said 'these things come out of your
subconscious and I don't think you can change them. That's
what! really like about Bernard: he doesn't get defensive
or shiny. He just says. Like it's fact, like saying 'it's
raining outside'. That it couldn't possibly be changed..?'
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