October 4, 1994.
In the Pet Shop Boys' rehearsal
studio, musicians are playing old soul songs, as musicians
tend to do when they are left unsupervised. Occasionally
they are interrupted by samples from 'Absolutely
Fabulous": "Laeroix, sweaty! Lacroix!", in particular,
bellows over and over. Today is Chris's birthday, and a
Jarge bunch of flowers are lying on one of the speakers.
It is nearly the end of the second day of rehearsals for
the Discovery tour. Only a few weeks ago, they decided to
accept an offer to play around South America, and then
added dates in Australia and Singapore. They have just
begun to rehearse the music.
Neil and Chris sit in
the lounge next door. Neil drinks tea; Chris drinks
nothing. When we have finished talking, the two of them
will disappear in a taxi. They are off to see Shirley
Bassey. Before that, I ask some questions about the tour.
The answers given below subsequently appear in the
Discovery tour programed:
How do the last two Pet Shop Boys tours, in 1989 and 1991,
seem to you now?
Neil: I remember the first tour being
very enjoyable and exciting, because it was the first time
we had gone on tour. There were times when we were doing
it when we were disappointed with the sound. And the last
tour, t remember as being slightly more exhausting, and
the atmosphere being slightly more frenetic when you're in
the center of it, because there were so many people on the
tour. Because of that, it wasn't as much fun, but we were
very excited about the production.
What were you
trying to do with those two productions?
Neil: Well, before
the Derek Jarman tour we hadn't toured because we didn't
see any reason for us to tour in a naturalistic way. The
Derek Jarman tour was an attempt to get round that by
putting on a kind of film mufti-media show. And then the
second tour was the theatrical performance we'd always
wanted to do. We wanted to define a way the Pet Shop Boys
could perform live, without turning into a rock band.
Other groups who make their music using synthesizers and
sequences in the studio always tend to turn into rock
bands when they play live, and it never sounds as good.
Chris: [to Neil] Isn't that what you always try and get
its to do? [they laugh]
So do you turn into a rock band
on this tour?
Chris: No, we're still the same, but
the attitude of the performance is different. We're more
free-spirited on this tour, We do what we want. We party
on down. It's not a totally choreographed, staged and
rehearsed show. I suppose it is more rock'n'roll in its
attitude. You get to express yourself. [Laughs] And take
your clothes off.
Neil: It's still got pretentious
elements. But since the last tour, we've done four one-off
shows, and we decided we'd do something more like those.
So this show is much less structured in a performance way.
And we've quite enjoyed those because...
...You can drink before you go on, during, and after the
show. As opposed to just after the show with the
So when people look at you on stage, can
they safely assume that you are both slightly sizzled?
Neil: I most certainly won't be.
Chris: Neil's got to
perform. I can get away with it. Actually, even during the
last show I used to have a drink during my moments
Neil: During "Rent" you used to have a gin
and tonic, didn't you?
Chris: Yeah. So I used to start
then. This time I'll probably start before we go on.
Neil: [with mock disapproval] Oh, I think I'm going to be
locked in my bedroom when we're not traveling or on stage.
I don't want to know anything that's happening. I'm going
to take War And Peace with me, 10 read, because I imagine
I'm going to have a lot of time to myself.
different is this new show?
Neil: On the first and
second tours we'd had so little experience of being on
stage that one of the rationales of what we did was to
have performers around us, to take the heat of us.
Chris: And [laughs] we've still got those. And obviously
there's films and back projections, as always.
As we're going to places we're never been before, we're
using again the Derek Jarman films, because they've only
ever been seen in Hong Kong, Japan and Britain. And Howard
Greenhalgh has been making some films as well, based
around the imagesry of our last few singles. The starting
point of using film this time was that we were going to
play "Absolutely Fabulous", because during "Absolutely
Fabulous" the lead vocals - which are from the television
show - are on the screen.
Were you always seared
before now to go on stage without...?
knowing exactly what to do every single moment of the
show. Yes, I was scared about that. I loved the last show
because you just did it, like a job: sit down, sing "So
Sorry I Said", get in the cage... You knew what you were
doing. This time I will personally find it exhausting,
because all moments of the show I will be thinking "oh,
Cod, what do I do now? I can't walk over there again - I
just did it about one minute ago.
Chris: I think Neil
should be practicing in front of a mirror with a
microphone. Neil: I think you might find I will be. Chris:
Actually, isn't that one of the reasons you re meant to
want to became a rock singer - to do all that?
don't know. I've never quite seen the appeal.
do have dancers, don't you?
Neil: Yes. They're Brazilian
go-go dancers. They'll come on and off stage, but they're
not acting out scenarios, or pretending to be In a street
or lighting in a nightclub or anything. They're dancing.
So it doesn't have any theatrical distance. In the past
'we were always removed from the audience by theatrical
convention. This time, we are us on stage. It was always
very difficult on [he last tour when you'd see people in
the crowd waving and going mad, and you had to pretend you
didn't notice them.
Chris: So this show is more
interactive. (Laughs) It's the Nineties.
Chris: We'd been to the Sound Factory bar in
New York in July.
Neil: Oh, that's right. We went to
the Sound Factory bar in New York and we liked the fact
that they bad live drummers playing along with the music,
and they had these naked men go-go dancing with flags
around them. In fact we totally took both ideas the
percussion and the dancers - from that.
didn't want trained dancers, because they can't dance
naturally. When they try to dance naturally. They're
embarrassing. For this kind of dancing you need people
used to dancing in clubs.
Neil: We wanted dancers who
would encourage the audience to dance.
time there will be no qualms about offering the audience a
cheery thumbs up whenever you feel like it?
far from it. There'll be clapping going on, We'll probably
split the audience up into sections and make them sing
along. It's going to be more like a Wham! concert, I
think. Neil is going to run from side to side,
certainly am not. I'm not going to run from side to side.
Chris: Well, walk aloofly with your chin in the air.
What will the stage look like?
Chris: We have a flight of stairs which light up, and
a platform at the back. So there will be lots of
Neil: As ever, it's about entrances and exits. Some of
the design is based around the pointy bats from 'Can You
Forgive Her?". We're selling pointy hats as merchandise,
and we're hoping the audience will wear them. I'd love to
see 8,000 people in pointy hats. It'd be a great feeling.
NNeil: We're wearing some of our
costume greatest hits. Again. No-one where we are going
has ever seen them.
Chris: It's a very
environmentally-friendly tour. We're recycling bits and
pieces from the past. Neil: We wear some of the
costumes from our recent videos. Some of them you can't
really wear live - we wore the "Can You Forgive Her?"
costumes on Top Of The Pops, and they're very very
difficult to move in. But we will certainly be doing some
How did you choose which songs you wanted
CChris: We wanted to do the four songs we did
early this year at the London Palladium. And then we 'vent
through our records and chose uplifting songs with a party
sort of vibe. Particularly as we knew we were going to
have congas playing along, we decided we wanted a Latin
dance vibe. It didn't take long to choose the songs.
Neil: We made a tape of the ones we wanted to play. It
got a bit boring in the middle, so we subsequently look
out "The Theater" and the Hacienda version of "Violence".
The songs go right from when we started until now. We're
doing one slightly obscure B-side. But we're also playing
a lot of hits. I think it's good if there's an element of
familiarity. It's true, isn't it, that a couple of
your songs now slip into unexpected cover versions?.
Chris: Yes, but it's meant to be a surprise. You don't
want to read it in the programed first.
Sometimes you have a song, and you realize that it has a
chord change which is just like the chord change of
another song, so you go into it.
CChris: It's fun for
Neil: They're songs we really like. When we
played one of them before Boy George said 'oh, you're just
taking the piss, aren't you?' but they are both songs we
Is everything live?
Neil: Yes, it's all live in
that there's nothing on tape. Chris plays some keyboards,
and the synthesizer sequences are triggered in real time.
All my singing is live, although one or two backing vocals
Are you looking forward to actually being
Neil: Yes. That's why
we're doing it. Chris: Also, it's going to be a very nice
time of year where we're going, so we're going to extend
our summer until Christmas.
Neil: Also, we're going to
places we haven't been before, so it will be really
exciting. It's all places we've never ever set foot in.
CChris: I think this show reflects how we've changed.
We're more liberated. I think we're more liberated as
Neil: [to Chris] Is that meant seriously?
It's quite nice if it is, actually. CChris: [shrugs] Well,
we are more liberated.
Just over two weeks later,
the preparations are nearly complete. This afternoon is
the final dress rehearsal.Though the choreography isn't
quite complete, and there isn't the right equipment here
to show the films accompanying some songs at their full
size, this is the last chance they will get to practice
the whole show before Singapore.
When I arrive, Chris is standing on stage, filming anyone
who passes with a video camera he bought in New York, and
chatting about soap operas. He wanders back to the
dressing room, where he continues on a similar theme,
debating a recent aborted marriage on Brookside. "I don't
like her at all," he says. "She pushed him into it too
Neil is sitting on the sofa, getting
ready. "Here we are again in the Brixton Academy," he
sighs. "Welcome to the non- -theatrical tour. Only six
There is a knock on the door. It is an old
friend of Neil's called Rosemary. "Rosemary," Neil
explains, "used to be in Dust." A handful of other friends
will turn up as the afternoon progresses, including both
Neil and Chris's respective sisters: the total audience
for what is more or less the only British performance of
the Discovery tour is around twenty people.
rehearsal is scheduled for three o'clock, but it's quite
clear that it won t be on time. At three o'clock the four
dancers (Flavio Cecchetto, Mirelle Diaz, Nicole Nisiods
and Paulo Henrique) are still on the stage in their
everyday clothes, Practicing dance steps to a cassette of
Pet Shop Boys songs. "The tour is a shambles," moans Neil
After a while, they start. The first
thing you hear, with the stage bare, is Neil singing a
slow version of "Tonight Is Forever". Then, after the
briefest snatch of "Absolutely Fabulous" dialogue
("Lights! Models! Guest List! Just do your best
darling!"), Neil and Chris appear in their Sixties wigs to
perform the rather splendid opening group of songs: "I
Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing" (with Howard
Greenhaigh's video), "Always On My Mind", "Domino Dancing"
(with Derek Jarman's film from the 1989 tour), "To Speak
Is A Sin" and "One In A Million" (which, as at the 1993
London Palladium performance, includes snatches of Culture
Beat's "Mr Vain"). On the platform behind them are the two
percussionists, Liliana Chachian and Oh Saville. Chris
occasionally wanders away from his keyboard to video cast
members, though afterwards he will discover he has pressed
the wrong button and most of the footage hasn't taped
After "One In A Million" Neil leaves
the stage, and Chris performs "Paninaro", standing between
the two male dancers. Then he walks off and Neil returns,
wearing a gold jacket and carrying an acoustic guitar to
sing "Rent", accompanied by the tour's female singer,
Katie Kissoon. (Sylvia Mason-James, who sung on the 1991
tour, was unable to come because she is pregnant.) Still
playing the acoustic guitar, Neil sings "To Face The
Truth", during which Chris returns and Pete Gleadall (who
is handling all the computers which generate the backing
tracks) briefly appears on-stage, also playing guitar. As
the song continues, Chris refers to the chords printed in
the Behavior songbook which he has on a music stand in
front of his keyboard.
There are two more songs in
the first half During "So Hard" the male go-go dancers
dance behind wisps of material, apparently naked. (They
are actually wearing tiny hard pouches over their
genitals, though there will later be talk of removing
these altogether for the actual shows.) Then, during
"Where The Streets Have No Name" (which they perform in
front a new film made by Howard Greenhagh), the two girl
playing electric V-neck guitars. Neil catches Chris's
eye as they watch the girls' ludicrous miming, and they
AAfter the interval they play "Do I Have
To?", "Absolutely Fabulous?" (which today is rather
spoiled by the way the video behind them is out of sync
with the music), "Liberation" (during which two of the
dancers undress in booths, with lights behind them so that
the audience can see their shadows as they do so), "West
End Girls", and "King's Cross" (which again uses Derek
Jarman's film of Chris wandering around King's Cross
station, albeit back to front, as it is today).
this point there is a long break in the rehearsal whilst
some problems are ironed out, then they return to play
"Can You Forgive Her?" (in front of Howard Greenhaigh's
video). After that Neil announces to the slender
gathering: "this is a song we didn't write". It is Blur's
"Guls And Boys", the single they recently remixed and
which they now perform in their remix's full hi-energy
glory, as the male dancers frolic around dressed as
footballers. It sounds quilt marvelous. "It's A Sin"
begins with Kane Kissoon singing Gloria Gaynor's "I Will
Survive" as Neil and Chris enter in the 'red robes which
they wore on the 1989 tour, though this afternoon, after
three or four lines, the music cuts off and there is a
long pause before they start up again, successfully this
time. TThis is the end of the main part of the concert,
but they return to play "Go west'. Everyone is wearing
thick, bulky black belts and shiny silver suits and pointy
hats - at a climactic moment near the end of the song they
all reach for a switch on the belts (which are actually
battery packs) and lights flash up and down the hats. When
the song finishes, everyone takes a bow. "This is the bit
where I say who's on stage," says Neil, perhaps a little
embarrassed. "Always a favorite bit, if I can remember
their names." Today, he does, and then they sing one final
song. "Being Boring".
The Pet Shop Boys' day is
far from over. After saying good-bye to their friends,
they must pose for photographs for their Christmas card (a
makeshift studio has been set up in the auditorium). As
they sit there, being photographed, a fuse goes and all
the lights go out. "It's going to be like this on tour,"
groans Chris. "The fuses are going to go everywhere".
After the photographs, they are filmed by MTV, setting a
question for an MTV Europe competition to send some people
to see them play in Rio de Janeiro. Their text is fairly
simple: Chris says "Hello, we're the Pet Shop Boys", then
Neil says "Go west with us and discover Rio". They try it
with Chris in profile and Neil facing the camera. The
first time Neil aborts the filming -"Sorty. licked my
lips" - but the second time they get it. The MTV person
asks them to swap round.
"So Neil's in profile?" asks
"I'm sorry," says Neil. "I don't do
profile. I look terrible in profile."
Next they are
filmed asked the quiz question;
""The question is..."
"...Who recorded the original
version of 'Go West'?" concludes Neil. "The Village People," adds
Chris, and everyone laughs.
They carry on shooting
different versions. At one point Chris tries to walk off.
At another Neil frets that his hat is drooping down: "I'm
getting that Mike and Bernie Winters look again."
up the dressing room, it is time for the part of the day
they have been dreading. A doctor is here to give them
their injections: the vaccinations they need for the
countries they will be visiting. Lynne Easton mops at
Neil's face as a needle goes into his arm. "It's unusual
having jabs and
make-up at the same rime," he observes
EEventually, it is over. The next time they
will see the rest of the cast will be at the airport on
Monday. Right now, we head out to a Spanish restaurant to
sort out this issue of Literally fly before they leave,
and they discuss the tour a little more.
singing better than ever," Chris comments to Neil. "1 know
it sounds like a pisstake, but it's true. All the music
sounds really good." "The dress rehearsal was
under-rehearsed," worries Neil.
"But half of the
appeal of this show," argues Chris, "is that it's
under-rehearsed. That's the whole point of it. One of the
things we've always liked about the charity things that
we've done at the Hacienda and Heaven is that it's kind of
the shortfalls of the show that actually make the show
-- when things go wrong and the computer breaks
down. Because it's only when that sort of thing happens
that any of our personality ever comes across. Because
with a sleek show you never actually get any of me and
"This show relies on the audience," Neil
agrees. "The audience have got to make us react." ""And
they've got to make us feel good," says Chris, "so we feel
like reacting, because it's a spontaneous show..."
He is interrupted by a young boy, asking for their
autographs. They write their names on the back of a menu,
and Chris adds, at the top "Pet Shop Boys". "In case," he
whispers, "he doesn't know whose autograph he's asked
for." At the bottom he also writes "Because it's the
Nineties, right" and, next to it, today's date. "Is
that the right date, the twentieth?" he asks aloud.
"That's good," he says, "because the
milk goes off tomorrow
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