April 20, 1993.
Shop Boys' London office. For the release of their new
single, "Can You Forgive Her?", Neil and Chris have
decided to present themselves rather differently from the
way they have in the past. Sitting on a Beidermicier
cabinet is a model made by David Fielding, of their 1991
tour.It shows a stage with a backdrop of stars and a large
egg. There are two small orange figures wearing pointy
hats. One of them is sitting at the top of a ladder. These
are the Pet Shop Boys.
On the other side of the
room, the real, full-size Pet Shop Boys are still debating
the details of if - and when - they will actually wear
such clothes, With them are David Fielding, the
photographer Chris Nash, a clothes maker and a stylist. A
specimen orange suit - made out of the same sort of spongy
material from which ski trousers are often fashioned -
lies on the sofa. A cardboard pointy hat sits on the
floor. Unfortunately the only person with a sufficiently
large head to fill it is the observer from Literally, and
so ram intermittently called upon to model it. The
resulting spectacle seems to cause some amusement.
meeting's principal bone of contention seems to be shoes.
David Fielding has suggested that they resemble loaves of
bread. Neil and Chris are worried that this may he just
one strange accessory too many.
"Maybe they could have
lights on them," suggests Chris.
"It's the way it
feels," says Neil, explaining the problem. "It feels as
though you've got fluffy slippers on.
"Maybe we could
use fluffy slippers?" suggests Chris, logically. Lie is
not being serious.
"Shall we come up with some options
for shoes?" suggests David Fielding diplomatically.
"Yes," nods Neil. Lie thinks for a moment. 'I know what
would look really good. Platforms."
As they talk, a
tape of the second "Can You Forgive Her?" CD single is
playing. When Jolnany Marr's mix of "I Want To Wake Up"
plays, there is some consternation. The instrumental mix
has been used; they would prefer to use the vocal mix. A
quick discussion ensues, and Chris descends the arching
stairway to the other side of the office, and arranges for
the new version to be substituted.
Meanwhile talk has
turned to how happy -or otherwise - Neil and Chris will
actually be to wear these clothes. They are to be featured
not just in photos but in the song's video, and on
forthcoming TV appearances. They discuss Top Of The Pops.
"The worst moment is walking from the dressing
room to the stage, "says Chris.
"No," Neil disagrees,
"the worst moment is when you're standing on the stage,
waiting to start."
There is an idea that, for the
video, they might walk around London - perhaps across
Waterloo Bridge - wearing the clothes.
"I won't do
that," insists Chris. "No way am I going to do that."
"We'll get stand-ins," suggests Neil.
"I didn't like
it when we went up the escalator for 'West End Girls',"
Chris expands. "There was a crowd when you got to the top.
We weren't even famous then," agrees Neil.
photo session is set for the following week. The meeting
is halted. Luke Goss is appearing on London Tonight to
discuss his hook, and Neil and Chris don't want to miss a
April 29th, 1993.
The Wore photo studio,
North London. In the dressing room Lynne Easton is
applying make-up and the Pet Shop Boys are once more
discussing Luke Goss. Neil has now read his hook - fairly
gripping, he says. They also exchange gossip about Noel
Coward, £17 and George Michael. Chris tries on his pointy
"Guess who wears a hat like this?" he says. "That
guy at the end of the Nirvana video, 'Smells Like Teen
"Did he?" mutters Neil, a little bit
"Yes," says Chris, "but it's not striped."
They wriggle into their orange body suits.
"They're very ballroom dancing," says Neil.
ice-skating." Nods Chris. "john Curry."
It takes some
time for the clothes to be adjusted. Chris's trouser legs
are too long, and there is much fishing around his ankles
with pins. Neil's hat doesn't quite balance right. In the
end both hats are held in place by double-sided sticky
tape. They have simple black shoes, spray-painted orange
to match the clothes. They wear gloves: orange on their
left hands, and white on their right.
"I've got a tummy," he sighs. "Isn't
"Do you know who's got the biggest
waist measurement in the Pet Shop Boys?" Neil asks me.
"Clue: it's not me."
"It's because I'm not vain,"
Chris retorts, "You wouldn't get a topless picture of me
They chat with Lynne.
"The point of
this," Neil explains, "is to give us some sort of images,
and we're fed up with the way we've done things in the
past. We want to intrigue people with the record and the
video." They discuss how they don't plan on doing any
interviews in America in the short terms, and Chris asks
Neil why they still pay an American press agent.
"You've got to have someone to say 'no',', Neil points
They wander out into the studio.
the orange-and-white minstrel show," quips Chris.
is to he photographed first, up a ladder. The photographs
are to be shot by Chris Nash against a white background: a
huge white curved surface which no-one else treads on
without removing their shoes, so that dark scuff marks
won't show up on film. These photos will then he combined
by computer with other still-life photographs he has
already shot to create David Fielding's original design.
They chose the photographer because lie is represented by
the same company as Eric Watson and they were shown his
portfolio of past work one day, and liked it. The
resulting images - the first proper photographs Neil and
Chris have posed for since shooting the sleeve of "DJ
Culture" -will be sent out by Parlophone records to
magazines and newspapers, to accompany any articles about
the Pet Shop Boys.
Neil sits on the ladder and
both Chris Nash and David Fielding shout out
instructions.' try both hands to your breast!. . hands
out, like Your're surprised. . . stick out your fingers,
like you're a witch.
"Oh, "sighs Neil, as be responds
to the latter instruction, "this is very Shakespeare's
"Have you been going to drama classes on the
sly?" teases Chris.
"Look dead straight!" shouts Chris
"You know," prompts Chris, "deadpan. Like
Next Neil points each index finger in
"He looks like an Italian traffic
director," says Chris.
After nearly an hour of Neil
solo, they do some photos together. Meanwhile lunch - two
plates of sandwiches - arrives. "Can We stop?" asks Chris.
Not yet. Neil explains that, under the strictures of his
rather complicated diet, he does not want to eat any
bread. The photographer's assistant telephones for a salad
instead. It's about another half an hour they do stop.
They remain in their orange body suits, but doff the hats.
Neil spends much of the Lunch break on the telephone to
Trevor from Ignorance, discussing ways to promote their
white label single (see News). Once he has finished, Neil
and Chris also explain to Literally why they're doing all
of this. For the last few years, Pet Shop Boys photo
sessions have usually consisted of them
new clothes they'd bought. Why the change?
to start with," says Chris, "there aren't any good clothes
in the shops, are there? And these clothes are all part of
the parcel. The starting point was the idea to work with
someone who could develop a look and a stage set for TV
performances, and see it through the video as well so that
it was one constant idea which wasn't just a fashion
statement. Something that carried on what we've been doing
with the last show. We called David Fielding and he
presented us with models."
"If you go on television,
it's boring just standing there doing a song." Says Neil,
"and we've done it so many times before that we wanted to
have a mini-production to take onto shows. David Fielding
brought about six different looks in to the office, and we
chose this one, because it was simple, and you can use it
in different kinds of ways. There are some crickets in the
whole concept as well - four girls dressed as space age
crickets who come on during the Top Of The Pops
production. Chris does a little dance with them. They have
chrome cricket bats."'
What's the rationale behind
looking like this?
"It was inspired - the dunces caps,
anyway -by the references to school in 'Can You Forgive
Her?'," Says Neil. "But, you know, we never really worry
about what anything means.
What are people supposed to
think when they see you?
"They're supposed to think
'oh, it's the Pet Shop Boys', "Says Neil, "but also that
we're doing something that is the opposite to what
everyone else is doing."
What is everyone else doing?
"Everyone's being 'real'," Says Neil.
and 'poor'," Says Chris. We're not about poverty."
"We're not about being 'real' either," Says Neil.
what is the opposite of being 'real'?
artificial," Says Neil. "All of this is being carried
through in the album packaging, but I actually can't talk
about it yet," Says Neil. "What we're doing is so
revolutionary - quite seriously - we haven't told anyone
"Well, almost revolutionary, "Says Chris.
"Yes, "agrees Neil. "When you see it, you will say
'that's almost revolutionary!"'
And that is all they
will say about that.
So what do the costumes feel like
"Very comfortable, but a bit tight, "Says
"A little bit restrictive," Says Neil.
the really important question are you naked underneath?
"No, "Says Neil. "I'm wearing underpants."
wearing underpants," Says Chris.
underpants as well, y-fronts, from quite a while ago. And
a Stussy T-shirt. So there is still a fashion element to
what we do..
After lunch it is Chris's turn to be
photographed alone. "This is bloody hard work," he says
after a while. "Why don't we ever have simple ideas?" He
has to pose in a variety of poses with a large egg, except
that the egg is not here. It is one of the objects that
will be added on the computer.
Once he done this,
there are more photos of them together. "This is the sort
of thing I wake up in the middle of the night, worrying
about,"' says Neil, "thinking [can't possibly goon
television wearing this stupid costume we're designing.
But," he laughs, "I'm already starting to feel comfortable
Chris Nash shouts at Neil to look more
innocent. Neil does so, to his satisfaction. "That's my
new wide-eyed and innocent expression,"' Neil says between
rolls of film, "developed for this look I'm like Roger
- I only act with my eyebrows."'
pose on, David Fielding (who has been working on his own
mini-opera festival of five fifteen minute pieces at the
Donmar Warehouse in London, to be followed by some
theatrical readings in Edinburgh) explains these
shenanigans from his point of view.
done with the design for the set, which is where these
costumes have come from," he explains, "is we have created
a storyline about two characters who ate horn from an egg.
I wanted to create a metaphor about being horn, and being
brought up in what seems to he an alien landscape on the
Earth, and looking out beyond it, looking at the heavens,
and thinking 'why are we here?'. For the stage show Chris
will have a telescope for looking at the stars. And then
the stars suddenly become real flesh and blood as women
who arrive on Earth, who don't understand why they are
presented with the vision of Neil and Chris looking as
they do. And they find these cricket bats. And so some of
the other elements in the song, which are all about
growing up at school and finding the true sexuality during
that period of development behind bike bicycle sheds or
cricket pavilion, are reflected . . . so there are images
connected with school games. The umpire's ladder is
tennis, and the chrome bats are cricket, and of course the
women don't quite know how to use them so they do this
strange little dance routine. And the front curtain will
have arithmetic on it, which links into the idea for the
costume: a dunce cap images, but a witty, fantasy version
of it, something more distanced."
"No particular reason. The colors are just an emotional
response. Just wanted something that was a very strong
statement. When we do the video then hopefully what we
will actually be doing is putting them in these costumes
in every normal situations, so it just happens to be how
they dress.' they're still going to work, and feeding the
ducks in the park, and rowing on the lake, and maybe
bidding for shares at the Stock Exchange. It's just that
their outlook is far more colorful than some of the things
that surrounds them. I was trying to say some of the
things we were saying in the tour, which 'were to do with
growing up and so forth, but I wanted to do that slightly
more elliptically. I thought it would be nice if it had an
surrealistic quality to it, but that some of
that would subliminally come through to the audience."
What do you want people to think when they see it?
want them to think it's fun, but I want them to be
beguiled. It's meant to he diverting in a witty and
The Pet Shops Boys have now been
here for nearly six hours. "It's 5.25," Chris announces at
5.25. "The time is ticking away. I'm out of here at 6.
Regardless of whether we've got any more shots."
only work until six o'clock," agrees Neil.
o'clock watershed," says Chris.
"I'm going over the
headache threshold," says Neil.
"The novelty value has
worn off," smirks Chris. "I no longer find the outfits
At six, they finish, and begin to undress.
"I've been dying for a pee for about three hours,"
"Do you want to go now?" asks Lynne, who is
removing his make-up
"No," he says. "I have a massively
strong bladder. I'm like The Queen."
Chris, "is worth it for that feeling you get when you
finish. If you don't work, you don't get that buzz. When
[left Michael Aukett's I just used to run. definitely feel
like a large gin'n'tonic."
"Or," says Neil, "a large
glass of champagne."
" I think it's good making this
kind of effort," says Chris, just before they dive into
"The more you put in," Neil
pronounces, "the more you get out." He laughs. "That's the
kind of dreary aphorism I make when I'm in my schoolmaster
"The last time we put in so much effort,"
reflects Chris, "was for the first version of
"Yeah," says Neil, with a chuckle.
"Mind you, we only ever used one of the pictures.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1998: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1998 Issue 10