Last summer the Pet Shop Boys
performed a three-week residency at London's Savoy
Theater, each night performing the same set. They came
on-stage to the first half of the extended version of
"Somewhere", then played "Yesterday when I Was Mad", "The
Truck-driver And His Mate", "Se A Vida E"', "Some
Speculation", "Hello Spaceboy", "To Step Aside", and "Go
West". After the interval they played "The Theater", "It's
A Sin"/ "I Will Survive', 'The Man Who Has Everything",
"Discoteca", "Friendly Fire", "Love Comes Quickly", "Can
You Forgive Her?" and "Somewhere
Each night they
played two or three songs as an encore. These songs
changed, though the most common were "Left To My Own
Devices", "Before", "Being Boring", "West End Girls" and
the acoustic version of "Rent". Shortly after the
residency they made their first-ever festival appearances
in Denmark and Finland (playing a set mostly made up of
hit singles), and headlined Gay Pride in London. At the
beginning of August, after a holiday, they played one
final festival in Stockholm. Literally kept the following
Monday, June 2nd.
At 5.30pm, when
Literally arrives, Neil is rehearsing the song "Somewhere"
on the Savoy Theater stage. Chris is upstairs, asleep, in
his dressing room, a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. They
have a run-through scheduled for 6.3Opm. Chris eventually
appears, and looks at the films being projected on either
side of the stage. These were filmed a few days ago by the
conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and show some people
from the London art world and their friends talking,
sitting on sofas or dancing, getting progressively more
drunk. The Pet Shop Boys drop in and out of these scenes -
whenever they are off stage they are on the screen, and
"It's art," Chris notes. "It's not just a
load of people getting drunk - it's art.,' He smiles
wryly. "It's amazing what passes for art now. You had to
be able to paint in the old days."
When the dress
rehearsal begins, the Pet Shop Boys enter the stage
through their respective doors. Chris's won't shut, and he
starts giggling. Between songs, Neil talks. He has a
script, which has been written by the TV writer David
Williams after conversations with Neil, but already he is
deviating from it. At the moment, Chris's keyboard is
turned way down. He is yet to work out what he's going to
play in most of the songs. "I don't want anybody to hear
me," he says. "Even though I'm doing rather amazing stuff
at times, a lot of the time I'm thinking: thank God no one
can hear me". Chris performs in a box at the back of the
stage, though earlier in the rehearsals he was going to
play further forward on the stage. "I'm much happier in
that box," he says. "I look like a keyboard wizard. Well,
I don't know what I look like, but I feel like a keyboard
wizard. I feel secure."
In the interval, they discuss
the usual implant matters.
"Shall we go to dinner
afterwards?" Chris asks.
"Of course," says Neil.
"Alan Shearer's favorite pastime is cresting," says Chris.
"I'm not saying he's boring. That's the kind of man we
like. His major topic of conversation is different types
They run through the second half. Neil
comes out for the encores with his acoustic guitar. He
strums a couple of chords. "It's a little bit funny..." he
begins, then stops.
"That's a good song, isn't it?"
They debate the fact that most artists
have one really good song. "Let's be honest," says Neil,
to the handful of people in the theater, "we haven't got
one. We don't have a 'Losing My Religion'. But we do
He starts playing the chords to "Rent".
Before they play "Before", Neil introduces Chris by
saying, "he's been doing something - but what? - on the
keyboards ...Mr Chris Lowe!" Then he says, "we're going to
play a song.. We like it, though the public don't,
apparently. Though that's been true of most of the songs
Afterwards, they sit and discuss
how it went. They're not sure.
"It was all your idea,"
Chris says to Neil.
Tuesday, June 3rd.
run-through. Tonight, Chris plays, and also, between
songs, feverishly takes notes. The realization that the
first night is only two days away seems to have hit him.
Afterwards, Chris complains that someone has been
smoking in the corridor where Neil and Chris have separate
dressing rooms. He hates smoking. 'The trouble with people
I like," he reflects, "is that they all tend to smoke."
They head out for dinner.
"I'm shattered beyond
belief," says Neil. As well as worrying about the show
itself, there have been some ugly backstage arguments
earlier today between people working on the show. "We'll
just have to sack everyone," Chris suggests. But the run-
tthrough went well.
"Sam Taylor-Wood was very
happy," says Chris.
"What a nice person she is," says
Neil. "You wouldn't think she was an artist."
conversation wanders onto the hot news from the world of
"Marti Pellow has disastrously dyed his
hair blond," sighs Neil.
""I bet he doesn't even have a
skateboard," snorts Chris, derisively.
Chris, who has been in his dressing room
reading The Sun, appears at the side of the stage.
meant to be doing anything?" he nonchalantly asks Neil.
"We're busy rehearsing, actually," says Neil.
"Nobody told me," Chris retorts.
"Well," says Neil,
"we're not rehearsing your bits. We're rehearsing
Chris listens to the music from the
"You don't think it's all too
loud?" he asks Neil.
"Quite possibly," says Neil.
should turn it down," says Chris. "Most of the audience
are going to be over 40 anyway." He enthuses with great
gusto about a new children's TV program with has just
started. It's Teletubbies. "Ten o'clock in the morning,"
he tells Neil. "Set your video."
'That's when I have
breakfast," says Neil. "I might watch it."
rehearse "Somewhere". Neil's voice booms out in the
theater, which is only surprising because Neil is standing
in the auditorium without a microphone in his hand. "Just
in case anyone thinks I'm miming," he says, "there's the
proof... that I am". The truth is that for most of these
songs Neil sings entirely live, but they have only just
recorded "Somewhere" and it is difficult to sing, so he is
planning to sing along over his own prerecorded voice. "If
Madonna can do it," he says, "I don't see why I can't." He
shout instructions to Robbie, the man behind the mixing
"Favorer the double-track," he says. "And me.. ~
"...Barely audible," teases Chris.
audible," Neil corrects. "But... discretion."
a camera crew following them around, led by the director
Annie Griffin, making a mini-documentary as a video for
the "Somewhere" single.
"It's only one song,"
Chris tells them. "He's never been able to sing that song
that well. It's a singer's song. That's why Sylvia sings
all the way through. We came out of the Eighties, where it
was an advantage not to be a good singer and a good
musician. It's turned round in the Nineties.
..Unfortunately for us. Now everybody can do everything..
The musos have taken over." As with many things that Chris
Lowe says, this is a mishmash of truth, paranoia, lie and
tomfoolery which is almost impossible to pick apart. The
video director's eyes light up when Chris says this (a
chunk will appear in the video).
"Are you getting
anything usably?" he asks, doubtfully.
"Every time you open your mouth," she
Neil and Chris discuss what they should do at
the very end of the concert. Should the curtain come down
in front of them? Should they take a curtain call?
don't imagine the applause will be very long," says Neil.
""Assuming there is any," says Chris.
that it's not silent like Milan," says Neil. In Milan, on
the Performance tour, "Jealousy" finished, the Pet Shop
Boys crushed beneath giant Oscars on-stage, and there was
no applause whatsoever. "Eight thousand people silent
after we did our dying scene."
Chris starts laughing.
"We did the encore anyway," he says.
Upstairs, in his
dressing room, Chris exclaims, "God, the lengths we have
to go to
to keep Neil happy... two-and-a-half weeks at
the Savoy." The video crew ask if they can film him being
made up. He refuses. "I never get filmed having make-up
on," he explains, "because I don't wear make-up."
Tonight's rehearsal goes smoothly except for "Rent", in
which Chris loses his way. Afterwards, he is in a mood.
"Chris has refused to do 'Rent'," Neil announces, "because
he has forgotten the chords." Neil gestures towards
Chris's sister, Vicki. "Go and talk to him. He's a
professional musician! He's got music A level."
dressing room, Chris has other things on his mind. He is
admiring the tour program. "Not many groups have a naked
picture of Kylie in the centrespread," he says. "It's not
bad, is it?"
Outside the backstage entrance, there
are some fans waiting. One of them complains that the
ticket prices are too high.
"As long as you know that
we're losing a bloody fortune," says Neil. "That's why
we're playing a Danish rock festival."
Off they go to
dinner. They discuss Neil's on-stage patter. Chris
suggests that not all of the jokes work.
""I' 11 just
do sincerity," Neil finally decides.
beat sincerity," says Chris.
"My mother will like it,"
"Something funny will happen," Chris promises.
"You'll guffaw," Neil sighs. "Don't guffaw on stage.
In 'Se A Vida E~' you nearly gave me the giggles."
They head to their respective homes.
on tomorrow," reminds Chris. "At least there's something
worth waking up for."
Thursday, June 5th.
first night. This morning Neil has watched - and, more
significantly, listened to
- the video of yesterday's
rehearsal. He is horrified. The mix is catastrophically
CChris has other concerns. He was furious to
discover, yesterday, that the merchandise displayed in the
foyer was being hung on cheap plastic hangers. That is not
the Pet Shop Boys way. Today he sweeps in carrying three
of his own hangers, from his flat. "Have you ever seen a
hanger like this?" he says, with pride. "These cost more
than the garments."
"Chris," Neil notes, "is in
charge of merchandise."
Unfortunately, Chris now
discovers that there are two display areas. "It's a
disaster," he says. Somebody is sent back to his flat to
Neil has been trying to persuade Chris that they still
should perform "Rent". Chris says that if they can
rehearse it five times through without a mistake, he will
consider it. On the stage, they run through it, until
Chris is happy. (Secretly, Neil is sympathetic. "That
song," he says, "it just goes round in a circle. You drift
off. I do have a terrible tendency to drift off and be
deep in thought and forget where I am.")
dressings rooms are filling up with gifts and cards, which
have been arriving at the backstage entrance throughout
"It's like a first night," says Neil.
"It's just like it is in the films. The artists are
hysterical, the flowers are arriving."
interviewed by the video crew.
"Neil is a..." He struggles for the right
phrase. "Universal man?" he says. It's clearly not what he
wanted to say. "What do you call it?
man," suggests Literally.
"That's it!" says Chris.
Then his brow furrows. "What were Renaissance men called
before the Renaissance?"
When they're done, Chris eats
the meal Dainton has fetched from McDonalds. The crew
moves onto Neil's room. They ask him to describe Chris.
"He's indescribable," Neil says. "He's unique. He's
totally unfettered -when he wants to do something - by any
practical or personal considerations. His
is the same...if he wants to do something, he does it.
Nothing stands in his way. It's quite impressive.. Whereas
I'll prevaricate, or be more diplomatic.. .Or take into
account other people's wishes."
A voice booms over the
backstage intercom. "One hour to showtime."
Neil sit in Neil's room.
"We must be mad doing this,"
says Chris. "I can't wait for it to get into a really
"Neither can I," nods Neil.
Easton does Neil's make-up, then Chris's. "I need surgery,
not make-up," says Chris, and there is much laughter.
"That's not the first time you've said that," Neil points
"It still applies though," Chris sighs.
Murray Lachlan Young, the poet who is supporting them, is
halfway through his set. They must be on-stage in twelve
minutes. "What," wonders Chris, "if I forget to go on?"
The first half seems to go well enough, though the
sound is bad. During the interval, they change upstairs
from their white suits to their blue ones.
great when we came on," says Neil.
"It died down quite
quickly," says Chris.
"They're singing along with all
the words," says Annie, the video director.
they?" says Neil, pleased.
"It's a good job there's a
lot of words," notes Chris.
The second half goes
smoothly. "Rent", the first encore, works perfectly. Over
the introduction of "Left To My Own Devices", the second
encore, Neil introduces the cast. It's only "Before", the
third encore, which goes a little wrong, as both Neil and
Sylvia lose their place in the song and start
extemporizing in a soulful, but rather nervous, fashion.
("We had the new experience of me vibing out on vocals,"
Neil laughs afterwards, "trying to find out where I was. I
hadn't the faintest idea.") During the curtain call, Chris
drops his trousers so that the entire audience can see his
"It's a great moment in pop," says Neil,
Chris explains that Les Childs, the
choreography and dancer, had said Chris wouldn't dare.
"So, Neil," Chris teases. "You blundered tonight. It was
one blunder after another. I was shocked at your lack of
They drink a little champagne with
close friends in the dressing room, then Ivan, the tour
manager, tells them that it's time to put in an appearance
downstairs in the hospitality area.
"Actually, I don't
fancy going into a crowded room," says Chris. "I don't
think we should go to hospitality. I don't think we should
let them see us. It'll spoil the illusion."
incredulous. "Spoil the illusion! You had your trousers
down ten minutes ago!"
So they go, standing on a back
street out the back of the theater - it's too hot inside
-with a flock of family members and friends.
know," says Neil, "it's quite good being in the Pet Shop
Boys. It's like a community."
Friday, June 6th.
Neil arrives early to edit the backing track of "Left To
My Own Devices" orchestral opening onto the beginning of
tonight's new encore, "West End Girls". There are a couple
of a good reviews in today's papers, and the London
Evening Standard gossip page reports on Chris's dropped
Neil does a TV interview on the empty stage.
"I think in the last few years it has only been the Pet
Shop Boys and U2 who have tried to do new things with live
performance," he says. "It's crucial to reinvent yourself
to keep your audience interested and to keep yourself
Chris arrives. Dainton tells him that
there's a fire drill. "I'm not moving," he says. It's
ridiculous. "What do you do if
there's a fire?" he
scoffs. "You dart out of the building as fast as you can."
Then he mutters to himself, "one of the things we had to
study at university was the famous fire in the Isle Of
Man." He reads some quotes by U2 in Select magazine,
suggesting that the Pet Shop Boys care too much about pop
music and have treated it as too important. "No, we
haven't," he retorts. "We've tried to denigrate rock' n'
roll. Completely different."
Just before they go on,
the two Pet Shop Boys sit in the production manager's
office. Chris announces that he is turning up the cuffs of
his white uniform.
"Huh," warns Neil. "It's not like
that on film." Chris won't match when he walks between the
film and the stage.
"No one can see," says Chris,
The show runs smoothly, and the crowd is
far more upbeat and expressive, though Neil comes in at
the wrong time during "Love Comes Quickly". During the
curtain call, a carrot is thrown on-stage.
better tonight," Chris says afterwards. "More exciting."
"What's happened to my official contact lens towel?"
"I'm not a father," says Chris. "I don't
like to make a drama out of things."
"You only wear contact lenses
because it's a drama," Chris insists. "The number of
dramas that's caused."
Saturday, June 7th.
has now got a fourteen-inch TV in his dressing room. One
of the backstage staff says that one time Erasure toured,
Vince Clarke got so bored that he had a TV amidst his
keyboards on-stage. One night he announced, happily, "the
reception was good tonight". Eventually, they released
that he didn't mean the crowd. He meant the TV.
Andon, their American manager, is here tonight.
decided we like touring," Neil
tells him. "I'm already
sad that this is finishing in two weeks."
"How does it
feel to be referred to as a national asset?" Arma asks
"It's not the first time, Arma," Neil replies.
Neil has ordered afternoon tea from the Savoy's room
service, and it arrives - a plate of cakes, a plate of
sandwiches, four scones -accompanied by a waiter and a
waitress. "Elton's coming tonight," he says. "Janet's in
charge of it. It's like the Queen coming. Janet's got the
canapes at her house. The diet cokes are all in. There's a
little room set aside for the interval."
Arma asks him
why they decided to do this residency. In its way it is a
good question. "This started off as a one-off gig," Neil
says. "We approached Harvey..." - Harvey Goldsmith, the
promoter - .... to do a one-off gig at the London
Palladium. Mind you, he told me that Elton once met him
and said he had to play a one-off concert for Polygram,
and the tour ended eighteen months later."
Neil are pulled away to do an interview for a Dutch
newspaper. The interviewer asks if they are dance fans.
"You mean ballet?" Chris asks.
"Chris likes dance
music," says Neil.
"That's no secret," says Chris.
"I'm prepared to be quite open about that. That's the one
thing I'll admit to. There are other things I enjoy more,
but I'll not admit them.. Actually..." - by now they are
both laughing - "...It's another kind of dancing."
interviewer struggles on. He asks about their future.
Chris steps in, helpfully. "We've got no future," he says,
"we've got no past..." After about twenty minutes, Neil
and Chris realize that the public are about to be let into
"Mitch!" says Neil. "They're going to
open the doors."
Chris looks panicked. "We can't be
seen as real people," he says.
They have to do one
more interview backstage, for a Dutch gay magazine.
"We've got to do this quickly," Chris explains to the
interviewer. "Dale Winton's new show is on in a moment."
"This is like doing a tour," Neil explains, when the
interview starts, "but people come to us, rather than us
come to them.. .1 quite like the way they sit down."
"They're like sheep," says Chris.
"They come to the
show and do as they are told," Neil laughs. "I am the Mrs
Thatcher of pop."
"What's better," the interviewer
asks. "Being in the studio or being on-stage?"
in bed," says Chris. "Beats everything."
takes his leave, Chris retires to watch TV, and Neil
cleans his teeth. "I've finally got where I wanted to be,"
he says. "I've finally got to be the creature I meant to
be. In a theater in the West End."
Chris pops his head
back in. "Is Elton here?"
"He should be sat down,"
"Will he stay?" says Chris with mock
melodrama. "Will he storm out?"
He stays. During the
half-time break, Chris watches Lily Savage on TV. Tonight,
as a special treat for the audience, there is an extra act
playing during the interval: a group of synchronized
shouters from Northern Finland called The Screaming Men
who Jay Jopling (the art dealer who lives with Sam
Taylor-Wood and who appears in the Pet Shop Boys' on-stage
film) has brought over to London. "How long is it before
they're on one of our records?" Neil reflects.
second half, during "It's A Sin", I see Elton John
dancing. Halfway through the second half, Neil changes a
lyric in "Friendly Fire". On most nights he sings the
lyric "about me, the tabloids lied I so I sued them and
survived". Perhaps that seems inappropriate tonight, so
instead he sings the occasional variation "about me, the
critics lied 11 ignored them and survived". Half an hour
after the show finishes, Neil and Chris have a dinner date
Immediately afterwards, before that, the
Lowe family come backstage. Mrs Lowe sees Literally taking
"He writes down everything you say," she notes.
It's all approved, Literally points out.
yes," she says wisely, "but who approves it?"
Wednesday, June 11th.
[There is no show on Sunday. On
Monday and Tuesday Literally is Ill.
reports, "the film didn't start, rather annoyingly. It
slightly threw me a bit." They played "Being Boring" as an
encore, as they did on Monday. There was one other
innovation: "A man came on-stage and kissed me." Last
night's celebrity guests were Bananarama who ended up
watching Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing back at Chris's
flat. "Consequently," Neil sighs, "Chris didn't get to bed
until six. So he's going to be sacked..."
He isn't, of
course. They've got their momentum going now: tonight's
show is polished but low key. The only change is that
"Love Comes Quickly" has been lowered in pitch by a tone.
("I've given in," Neil explains.)
"Oh, it does get
tedious..." Chris complains in the interval.
always pleased once the first half's over," says Neil.
"I'm always pleased when 'Some Speculation' is over. I, of
course, get more nervous the more the run gets over. It
irritates me, It's completely pointless."
has changed into the second half clothes, he sits in his
dressing room, in the dark, watching Frankie Howerd on TV.
When they come offstage at the end, they have to pose
for some photographs.
"Right," says the photographer.
"Fifteen photos. Two minutes."
"It's very Melody
Maker," says Chris. "It's Q," says Neil.
the leadership battle in the
Conservative party. "If
William Hague becomes the leader," says Chris, "all the
Labour party have to do is to show on rotation that clip
of him as 16-year-old and you couldn't possibly vote for
Stuart Maconie from Q magazine is ushered
into the dressing room to ask some questions about the
"It's more about performing the songs," Neil
"There is a message in the songs, though,
isn't there?" says Chris, deadpan.
"One of the reasons
for doing the theatrical shows," says Neil, "was to hide
"In some ways," adds Chris, "it was very
"I still miss it sometimes," Neil agrees.
"Where are the dancers? Where are the wigs?"
very much a game of two halves, Brian," says Stuart
"It's all about creosote," says Chris.
Neil has another point to make.
"It's always important
in a concert to have good entrances and exits," he says,
"The exits are the most important," says Chris.
Thursday, Wednesday 12th.
In the afternoon Neil and
Chris meet at the BBC where they are to pre-record an
interview for Steve Wright's Saturday morning Radio 2
show. While he sets everything up, Steve Wright asks them
how the show's been going. "The best comment is in the
Daily Express," says Neil. "It says, 'move over Miss
Steve Wright asks them to talk so he can
set the microphone levels.
"I'm not planning to say
anything anyway," says Chris.
"This'll be Saturday
morning," Wright advises them, so they remember not to say
"What time?" asks Chris.
you're a regular listener," says
Wright. "It's now the
biggest radio show on the planet."
"Why do you think
we're doing it?" Chris retorts. "We're not doing it for
nothing, you know."
They begin the interview.
doesn't say very much," says Wright, about Chris, to Neil.
"He might say more than you think," Neil warns him.
They talk about the show.
"I was worried me voice
wouldn't hold up," says Neil.
"There wasn't much to
hold up," says Chris.
"Oooh missus," says Steve
The interview goes on a while. "Longer than we
thought," says Chris when they finish.
quite a lot," Wright explains, "and take all the crap
The Pet Shop Boys catch a taxi down to the
Savoy. On the way we pass the department store Dickins &
Jones. Chris points. "Very underrated," he says.
nods. "I occasionally buy cosmetics there. And clothes.
I've bought luggage there."
"It's just like a New York
luggage store," Neil enthuses. "It's a secret."
down Regent Street, stuck in traffic, a man spots them.
"See you tonight!" he shouts, and pushes his video camera
through the open window. "Say hello!" he instructs. He's a
"Hello," says Neil.
"No," says Chris.
When they arrive, Neil pops out to see his
parents, who are staying at the hotel tonight. Chris has a
nap. Later, they begin to draw up a set list for the
festival dates which follow this residency. They intend to
add some more hit singles, and they will need to rehearse
them during soundcheck over the next few days.
should do 'Let's Make Lots Of Money'," Chris decides. "Do
we have to?" says Neil.
"Well, I don't like to do 'I
Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing'," Chris reasons,
"so it's only fair."
Tonight, during "The Truck-driver
And His Mate", someone chucks a big Yorkie chocolate bar
on-stage. During the interval Chris finds Absolutely
Fabulous on TV. It's the one about Edina's fortieth
birthday. They both sit and watch. Chris says he'd prefer
the interval to be half an hour from now on, to fit in
with the TV schedules.
During the second half, Chris
walks off before - instead of after - "Discoteca".
Releasing his mistake too late, he simply stays backstage.
Afterwards, in the hospitality area, the actor Richard
Wilson comes up to Neil.
"It was wonderful," he says.
"He's dead ace, Richard Wilson," says Chris
once he's out of earshot. "I remember him in Crown Court.
I used to run home from school at lunch time and watch
Friday, June 13th.
Neil is talking about
his parents to Robbie, the sound engineer. "They enjoyed
it," Neil, clearly both pleased and relieved. "They're
usually appalled by the sex, violence and nudity."
Jack, who is their manager's young son, interrogates Neil
about the absent Chris.
"He often goes to bed very
very late, sometimes when it's light," Neil explains, and
sleeps during the day." Jack looks suitably disapproving.
"That's a funny way round, isn't it?" says Neil.
bit tipsy Truvy," Jack agrees.
"Jack thinks Chris is a
bit tipsy Truvy," Neil announces. "He's probably right."
In the dressing room, Neil looks at an article in the
new issue of Vanity Fair about Keith Haring. It quotes a
section of "Being Boring" at the beginning, but it gets
the words wrong. I mention that a friend of mine has a
Keith Haring drawing and dedication to her on her wall.
"It's like my Damien Hirst," Neil says. "A Groucho
matchbox. It's a picture of
a stuffed dog, and it says
something like 'come to the fucking Soho House, pet'."
Where do you keep it?
"It's just sitting around,
There seem to be a few friend's children
coming to tonight's show.
"I wonder what the
under-tens will think," says Chris.
think it's a bit boring," says Neil. "No pointy hats. No
cartoons. None of the things that our under-eight fans
"You just get a boring film of your parents,"
"Boring adults," Neil agrees. "Talking,
like they always do."
They get ready.
through the show," Neil says, "we'll be halfway through
the whole thing. Not that I'm counting."
"Rent" goes wrong again, and they both start laughing
on-stage. "What happened was," Chris explains afterwards,
"when I put my headphones down, it hit the WRITE button
and it started to play all these bleeps. And then I sorted
that out and I thought it was OK, and then I was in the
wrong bit of the song. I can't handle the stress."
"You're a musician!" Neil chides. "I'm not!" huffs Chris,
not a musician.
"You were in One
Under The Eight." "I used to mime then."
didn't," says Neil. "I used to mime in the brass band
Neil nods. "I used to mime the cello..."
Saturday, June 14th.
Chris looks a little bleary.
He got to sleep at a thoroughly topsy Truvy lO.3Oam.
"Dainton's getting me a McDonalds," he says.
got my piece of cake?" Neil asks, concerned. "He was going
to have it at 6 o'clock."
"Your piece of cake?" Chris
"I've got to eat now or I'll be burping on
stage," Neil explains.
"I took priority," Chris
"I should take priority," Neil says. "I'm the
"I'm not even hungry," Chris admits. "But if
I don't eat something I'll collapse."
Neil says that
he has been called by Bernard Summer who is on his way
down from Manchester. They had tickets booked for the next
Saturday, but they got the day wrong. A few minutes later
Bernard turns up with his girlfriend, Sarah, and the
producer Arthur Baker. (Years ago, Arthur Baker was
involved in a Pet Shop Boys feud which also involved
Belinda Carlisle, Sandra Bernhard and a disputed
restaurant bill, but they have made up. "We got over
that," Neil says. "He apologized.")
look well and tanned?" says Chris, once Bernard has gone.
"He's lost a lot of weight," says Neil. "It's all
"He's very funny," Chris says.
Neil nods. "You don't get that in his work. In fact,
frankly, the reverse. He's seen as a manic depressive in
Joy Division and in New Order, whereas really he's a
Chris returns to his dressing room,
where he opens a Lucozade. In the alley, just outside the
window, there's a crashing sound. "Oooh," he says. "Broken
glass everywhere..." Before drinking he checks the
Lucozade's sell-by date. March 1996. "I'm not drinking
that!" he exclaims. "Who has blundered? They're sacked!"
The drink is sent away. A few minutes later, Ivan returns
with it. He gently points out that the label actually says
"Why does it look like 1996?" asks Chris,
"Because you didn't read it properly," Ivan
Tonight two cabbages are thrown onto the
stage. (Sylvia throws one of them back.)
know what vegetable you're going to get," Chris observes.
Afterwards, some fans present Chris with two books: The
Richard & Judy Story ("Got it," he says, a little
ungraciously) and the Supermarket Sweep Quiz Book. The
latter perks him up. "This is more like it," he hoots.
The Bernard Summer posse joins them backstage again. "My
kids love 'Red Letter Day'," Bernard says. "And it's not
just that bit 'Christmas morning, when you're a kid..."'
Tuesday, June 17th.
Literally misses Monday's
show, which is the one filmed for video release. Each
night, during the encores, the on-stage screens broadcast
footage from fixed cameras of members of the audience
dancing in their seats, about ten rows back from the
front. Last night, one of the faces which the camera, by
chance, was on was that of Julian Clary. "He shrank back
and back," says Neil, "and then he left".
afternoon, Neil is feeling ill. "I've got an infection and
a dodgy stomach," he says. "I've got a doctor coming."
When Chris arrives, they debate the set list for the rock
festivals. They have arrived early today to film a special
version of "Somewhere" for Top Of The Pops.
know I don't want any shots of me playing?" Chris asks.
"We're going to hand out a card outside the theater,"
says Neil. "'Please do not look at Chris during the
They are briefed about the progress of the
"Somewhere" single, which is not yet released, but which
is being played a lot on Radio One, but not very much at
all on Capital Radio. Neil has a theory." 'Somewhere' is a
bit Northern," he reasons, "whereas 'Se A Vida E' is
fundamentally Southern. 'Red Letter Day' - Northern.
'Bilingual' - Northern. 'West End Girls' -Southern. We
haven't got any Southern tracks at the moment, so we might
as well forget it. We'll have to write something Southern:
something mellow and a bit full of shit."
through the song, over and over, for Top Of The Pops. Each
time, as the end, Chris says, hopefully, "is that it?"
When they begin to film close-ups he says, "there better
not be too many close-ups of me. I don't want to look like
a wizard". After a couple more run through, his stance
"I don't want my face," he announces.
"Can't they film his shoes?" suggests Neil, not entirely
"Film my shoes!" repeats Chris, who seems
to think this a marvelous idea. "I'll tap them. That's the
most movement they'll get out of me."
"He is," says
Neil, "literally the Victor Meldrew of pop."
to Chris's dressing room to see the results of the
Conservative Leadership ballot: Ken Clarke 64 votes,
William Hague 62 and John Redwood 39. Hague appears on TV
immediately, looking pleased.
"Oh, isn't he vile?"
"He's quite camp," Neil says.
goes to rest for a while. Chris is finally given his fire
safety lecture from the fire safety officer, an obligation
for anyone appearing at the theater. "As far as I am
concerned," the fire safety officer tells him,
are a responsible person". They're told that if there is a
fire, they will hear it on the backstage tangy but that
they should carry on performing until the fire curtain
comes down. If they hear "will Mr Sams come to the stage
door?" it means there's a fire. If they bear "will a
friend of Mr Sams come to the stage door?" it means
there's a bomb. After the man has gone, Chris mentions
that when he worked in Harrods there were two bomb scares.
"I went searching for bombs," he recalls. "The first time
I heard the coded message I went 'oh my God'. It was in
the toy department. I was in luggage, but at Christmas I
was in toys. Luggage was really boring. I had good fun in
toys. You could play with all the toys. Though you're
probably not allowed to nowadays..."
has seen the doctor. "He's given me antibiotic drops,"
Neil says. "He said, 'oh yes, you've got a huge lump of
puss on your eardrum'. He told me that I have slight
exceed on my eardrums .~,. My stomach's made a miracle
He sits back and reads about Tony Blair in
the New Yorker.
"It's funny how I spend most of the
show dying for it to be over," he says, "and then when it
is I feel quite sad."
A bit like life really,
"A bit like life. Exactly."
the Royal box tonight are Martin Fry from ABC and some of
M People. The Pet Shop Boys go off at the end, as usual,
to a piece of bombastic classical music. "No one writes
about this music," Chris complains. "It's almost the
Battle of Britain. It's the Spitfire Theme by William
Walton from one of those beat-the-Krauts movies. It's
Neil's choice, not mine." (Each night their performance is
preceded by the brass band version of the slow movement of
Rodrigo's Concerto D'Aranjuez from the soundtrack to the
film Brassed Off)
"They were a bit hard work tonight,"
says Neil. "I don't mind it, myself. I actually quite like
it when they're a bit hard work." Dainton
his post-show glass of champagne. "Only four shows to go,"
he says. "It'll soon be over."
"Yeah," says Chris.
"It's great, isn't it?"
Wednesday, June 18th.
arrives early to rehearse "I Wouldn't Normally Do This
Kind Of Thing". In a break, Ivan discusses the end of tour
party. They had decided to have a small party for 150
people, but it's already getting out of hand.
already 200 people on the list," Neil frets. "It'll get
too crowded and there'll be 300 people pissed off. Why
spend eight grand on not having a nice time and causing a
lot of grief? I just want to have a drink. I don't really
want to go raving mad."
"It is too late to cancel the
party?" Ivan asks.
"No," says Neil, firmly.
need to speak to Chris?" says Ivan.
"Yes, we do. I
want to go through the whole thing with him. I don't want
to go at the moment. It is impossible, it seems, for the
Pet Shop Boys to have a small party for their friends."
There is a story in the newspapers, and on the radio,
that tickets for these shows are now changing hands at
£600 each. It was the Pet Shop Boys who originally heard
this and told their record company, who have spread the
story. Now Susan, Neil's sister, asks him about it.
nods. "I don't suppose it's true," he says.
you going to feel sad on Saturday when it's the last one?"
"Probably," he says, a little wistfully.
Neil has a TV interview to do. Dainton comes to fetch him,
"What's the interview?" he asks.
"That covers a large area," Neil says.
When he returns to the backstage area, Chris is there,
talking about the youth
football team from Yeading
which he sponsors, who are all coming tonight. They talk
about the party. "The fact of the matter," says Neil, "is
that it's not possible to have a small party." They go
through the guest list, trying to pare it down. It's hard.
Just about everyone has a good reason to be invited."
They get dressed.
"These suits are actually Richard
Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman," Neil says. "Do you
"Yeah," nods Chris.
"Let's go and kick
ass," Neil suggests.
"Have you talked about the
party?" Ivan asks them as they wait behind the stage.
"We have," says Chris. "We haven't come to any
When Neil talks after the second song,
he can't remember what day it is. "Is it Wednesday?" he
asks the crowd.
At half-time, Lynne Easton has a
question for Neil. "Is it true that you might not have a
party at all?"
"Might not," he confirms. "Too many
people. We just want to have a quiet cosy drink-up, and
for some reason that involves 219 people."
watches Roseanne on TV. "It's Chris's mate," says Dainton.
"They bonded." (Chris and Roseanne Barr met at the Tyson-
Bruno fight in Las Vegas.)
"Mind you," says Chris,
"that was when the programed was good. I wouldn't have
After the encores, Neil is joined in his
dressing room by his brother Simon and his three children.
For the youngest, who is four, it is her first concert.
"I'll tell you," says her father, "it's better than
the first concert I went to - a group called Uriah Heap."
"That's worse that John Hiseman' S Coliseum," says
Neil. John Hiseman's Colosseum played keyboard-based
progressive rock nodding, and one of their concerts was,
as it happens, Neil's first.
Thursday, June 19th~
Neil turns up this afternoon in a suit. "I'm having dinner
with Neil Hannon," he says (Neil Hannon is The Divine
Comedy), "so I've decided to come as him. I've decided to
out-suit him. Also, I've run out of casual clothes."
They've decided the party will go ahead. "I, of course,
would rather not have it," he says, "but no doubt it will
be aright on the night." He tells Pete Gleadall that
they'll play the same encores as last night. "I quite
enjoyed 'Before' last night," he says. "It sounded like a
hit. It doesn't always. Sometimes I think, 'what is this
I'm playing?"' He picks up a fan letter. "It's a rant," he
sighs. "'I don't love you for your body'." He laughs. "I'd
prefer it if you did, to be honest. If they could all love
me for my body and not my mind they'd all get a lot
Jill Carrington, their manager, talks to
Neil about the possibility of taking the show to New York.
"If they can put us in a theater. with one thousand
seats for a week in New York, and in a hotel..." says
"You'd go?" says Jill.
"You'd have to ask
Chris. I'd go."
He does two interviews, then requests
some peace and quiet. "I need to rest for ten
minutes," he explains, "after these two intensely
"You know you're rehearsing
Monday?" Ivan tells Chris. There's a rehearsal planned of
the festival set.
"I am?" says Chris.
says Ivan, "as one of the Pet Shop Boys."
settles down to watch an episode of the The Bill in which
a young kid kicks open a lockup in which some counterfeit
money has been stashed. But who has the money now? Chris
is summoned downstairs to begin the show.. .But he refuses
to leave the dressing room without knowing how the episode
ends. In the end, Literally is ordered to stay in his
room, and to report back to him the last ten minutes.
Neil is jittery and UN-relaxed tonight on-stage. Some of
Madness are here, and for some reason this unnerves him.
"The other people who put me off were Bananarama," he
reflects afterwards. "It's all the old Eighties chums."
In the hospitality area a fan gallops up to Neil with
indecent keenness. "I promised myself that I wasn't going
to pester you," she says, and Neil nods his head in
agreement, "...But I've changed my mind."
Neil has just heard the new Oasis single, "Do
'You Know What I Mean", for the first time. "The word
we're using," he says, "is 'disappointing'." Earlier this
afternoon Neil and Chris did a radio interview, and were
asked a question via e-mail by long term fans the Putney
Posse about the various vegetables which have been thrown
on-stage most nights:
the Putney Posse are apparently
responsible. Chris watches Top Of The Pops. "Oh my
God! Eternal singing live!" he exclaims. "Oh, the shame of
it." Blur come on next. "That guitarist tries too hard to
do the nerd thing," he says. He prefers Alex: "Alex is a
work of art. Everyone who goes to the Groucho, they're all
a work of art. Or they make it."
Neil comes in just as
Top Of The Pops show a thirty-second preview of the
specially-shot performance of "Somewhere".
"How did it
look?" Neil asks.
"I looked ugly, but that goes
without saying," Chris replies.
"What did I look like,
more to the point?" asks Neil.
"You looked great,"
Chris goes to the bathroom which is
between their two dressing rooms. The door is locked. "Is
someone in the bathroom?" he shouts. It's Dainton, who
promptly gets told off. "That's for stars only," Chris
informs him. "Yours is down the corridor."
starts strangely tonight. Before they come on-stage, the
strings at the beginning of "Somewhere" - which shouldn't
be heard until later in the show in this version
start up and then stop. Pete Gleadall has been working on
the festival set earlier today, and the machine is playing
"That was most exciting," laughs Chris, backstage.
"Who can we blame?"
The music starts again, and the
mistake recurs. From the audience, you can hear a loud,
confused cheer. When crises actually arrive, rather than
when they are merely anticipated, the Pet Shop Boys can be
surprisingly lighthearted. While an anxious Pete Gleadall
frowns over his computer, Neil and Chris laugh themselves
"Oh my God," says Neil.
"It's a technical
hitch," Chris sniggers.
When Neil introduces "Hello
Spaceboy", he usually talks about the legends they have
worked with: "Liza Minelli!..." (big audience cheer)"...
Dusty Springfield' (big audience cheer)"... David
Bowie!..." (big audience cheer). Tonight he changes the
script slightly. "Liza Minelli!... Dusty Springfield!...
The crowd is subdued tonight. "They
probably got their tickets at the last moment," Chris
complains at the interval, "and they're not true fans."
"They're not even standing up in 'Go
"They're a crap audience," Chris concludes.
"We've ended up on a downer. Isn't that typical? I hate
having a middle-aged audience. We want youngsters. Neil,
we're going to have to reposition ourselves in the market.
We'll have to make a drum'n'bass album."
The number of
fans waiting outside has increased each night, as they get
to know the Pet Shop Boys' routine, and tonight Neil and
Chris are mobbed as they climb into a black cab. "I
wouldn't be in one of those groups where they climb on the
limo," says Neil. "I'd get claustrophobic. I'd just tell
them to drive over the fans."
They go for dinner.
"Pop is so relentless," Neil says. "Sometimes I think,
can't we just stop for a while?"
Instead, they talk
some more about the Oasis single.
"This time, the
critics are going to like it," Chris predicts, "and get it
"Do a Supergrass on it," says Neil. "I
got the feeling of a bit of a nonevent when I
heard it today. The matter of fact is, it's a
dingy tune. You didn't want to rush
out and do a
hi-energy cover version of it. I
though it would a
"A journey!" Chris sniggers.
"Do you know what I mean?" says Neil. "I know it's a
wanky thing to say. But 'right here, right now - do you
know what I mean 'is the least interesting lyric in
"And what happened to the question
mark?" Chris queries.
"When I stop doing this," Neil
announces, "I'm going to probably devote my life to
Chris asks Neil the difference
between a colon and a semicolon, and Neil explains at some
"I've got the Oxford Concise Book Of Grammar,"
"You like rules, don't you?" says Neil.
"So you can break them."
Tomorrow is the final night.
"I'll probably feel a bit sad tomorrow when it's
over," Neil predicts. "But I'll get over it quite quickly,
and get sensationally out of it."
Saturday, June 21st.
Most days there are a few letters from fans which have
been sent to the theater and which are placed in the Pet
Shop Boys' respective dressing rooms. Today, Neil has one
from a research student at the University of Ulster. In
part, it reads "Dear Mr. Tennant
.For my doctoral
thesis I am looking at the kinship between
theatre-as-ritual and performance in pop music. I strongly
feel that Pet Shop Boys could represent a key case study
in this ~
Before the show tonight, Neil and Chris pack
up their rooms.
"Can Leonard come to the stage door,
please?" asks Philip, the man who makes the announcements,
over the intercom.
"I'm going to miss his
announcements," Chris says. "I think I'm going to get him
to do the message for my answer machine."
was a dancer on the Discovery tour, arrives to take a
picture of the entire cast and crew. They all line up on
the stage. "After three," says Neil, "say 'lesbian Back in
the dressing room, Chris watches Dale Winton's show. The
background music is strangely familiar. "Bloody hell," he
"we're on." They're using "Single-Bilingual".
Time for the last show. The Pet Shop Boys sit backstage as
the first half of the "Somewhere" twelve-inch booms out
into the audience. "I mean," comments Neil, "this is
better than Oasis's record. Chris sounds so like Liam
Gallagher." It's a merry, triumphant performance.
Afterwards, they head to the Un-cancelled party at Holborn
Studios. They are there quite some time.
Neil and Chris meet at Heathrow airport.
Chris has only had two hours sleep. He
a variety of people in central
London last night,
including Boy George.
"Boy George is nice," he says.
"He's a sweetie," Neil concurs.
"Talk about karma
karma karma karma chameleon," says Chris. "He phoned the
office this morning to say what a wonderful evening he'd
had and how nice I was."
"I think the Groucho Club
should be shut down by law," says Neil. "It should have
pub licensing hours."
It is pointed out to Neil that
he is rarely to be found saying this when he is in the
Groucho Club at one in the morning.
"Actually I think
that then," he insists. "But I can't leave. I'm imprisoned
by my own pathetic-ness."
Today we head for
Copenhagen, but it is our subsequent stop - Turku in
Finland - which we're thinking about more.
brought thermal underwear," says Chris.
"I've brought thermal underwear."
They talk about
yesterday's accident on the MIR space station.
"Imagine it," Neil says. "The Americans will all have been
bullshitting and the Russians will all have been drunk."
Leaving Copenhagen airport, an overexcited but
under-informed Danish fan rushes up to Neil.
Chris! Chris!" he shouts.
"It's Neil, actually," says
We meet in the hotel reception for dinner. Neil
is a little irritated. He has had a problem with his
Jacuzzi. He just put it on for the hell of it, and it
wouldn't turn off. He has left a Jacuzzi engineer in his
room, struggling to sort it out.
We are filled in
about the festival bill. On the Pet Shop Boys' stage they
are preceded by Suede, which pleases them. Also playing
that night, elsewhere at the festival, are Daft Punk.
"I'd go and see that," says Neil. "Let's face it, all
their songs sound the same. It's one of their strengths."
The restaurant, in converted underground cellars, is
one of Copenhagen's most expensive and most carnivorous.
They both order the smoked salmon and the roast sirloin.
"You and me might as well have gone to a Berni Inn,"
"Was Jesus a vegetarian?" Chris asks Neil.
"He certainly wasn't," Neil replies.
asked," says Chris.
"The Last Supper wasn't," Neil
"I would have had a bowl of Cornflakes,"
They eat on.
"Oh my God," says
Neil. "We're playing a festival. What have we got in to?"
"It's so exciting," says Chris. "Neil, you're going to
turn into Freddie Mercury."
"Thank you, Chris," says
Neil, dryly. "I really need an images fix."
got to stomp around the stage," Chris encourages.
want coffee. It turns out that we have to pay for our meal
here at the table, and then pay for the coffee in the
coffee-drinking salon upstairs. The Pet Shop Boys are not
happy with this complicated, time-wasting arrangement.
"That's bloody ridiculous," Neil exclaims. "Right! I'm
against the European Community."
"I'll never come to
the Netherlands again," Chris announces.
"We're not in
the Netherlands," Neil points out.
Friday, June 27th.
We head off on foot through the Copenhagen streets to
shop, explore and lunch.
"We need to look out for
something dead nice to eat," says Chris. "I want something
Scandinavian. But not fish."
"So you mean reindeer,"
They go into Donna Karan. George Michael's
"Star People" is playing.
"You don't want blooming
George Michael when you're in a shopping mood," Chris
complains. He points out some Neil-style shirts. "Don't
you like these plain blue shirts? Or do you just have too
"I do," says Neil. "I'm always in the
market for socks."
He tries a few things on. He buys
no socks, just a tracksuit top and a blue shirt.
is losing interest. "I'm not really in a shopping mood,"
After some searching for a typical Danish
restaurant, we settle into a bar.
"I'll have a beer,"
says Chris. "Have a beer for once," he encourages Neil.
Neil doesn't drink beer. It's not allowed on his
food-combining diet. "Actually," he says, "I'm very
tempted to have a beer. I'll have a beer. This is why you
go on tour and dump your diet." Some food arrives too. "I
am having fun in Denmark," Neil announces. "Having potato
salad and beer.. ..Right! I think next year we'll spend
the whole summer doing the festivals. Let's turn into
"I'm looking forward to it," Chris
grins, "because I don't know what I'm doing." He is yet to
work out the one part of the show he refused to rehearse -
his keyboard part in "Domino Dancing". "I don't know what
key it's in," he shrugs.
"It's in A minor," says Neil.
We stay in the bar a long time. Eventually Neil leaves,
but Chris stays. "It's good to know some of us have got
into the spirit of the festival," Chris laughs, "while
Neil's looking round antique bookshops." (In fact Neil has
bought a book, Remembering Stalin 'S Victims, about the
Russian government and people come to terms with the
massacres from the Satanist era. "A good airplane read,"
he explains.) Chris adjourns to the hotel bar. "Tonight
could be a huge disaster," he says. "We've had one
The record company want to take the Pet
Shop Boys out for a pre-show dinner. Chris decides to
sleep instead, but Neil goes. Various events conspire to
put Neil, not unjustifiably, in a decidedly unhappy frame
of mind. "The biggest ever concert I've ever done," he
fumes, "and I'm in such a bad mood that I could put a foot
through a window." He looks thoroughly upset. "It was
obviously always a ridiculous idea for us to start playing
rock festivals. It's raining. It's a sea of mud. We're
surrounded by maniacs." We get on the bus, but then we
have to wait for a van of competition winners. Neil's mood
darkens some more.
"What song are we doing second?" he
Someone tells him it's "I Wouldn't Normally
Do This Kind Of Thing".
"Oh," he says. "The song we
The bus driver turns on the
radio. It's Erasure. The final straw.
"Do they really
have to play Erasure?" he says.
We drive off, past a
beautiful big church.
"Do you know what that is?" Neil
asks the Danish man who is supposed to be looking after
them. Even in his black mood, Neil is interested in these
"It's a big church," the helpful Dane tells
"Even I can see that," says Neil.
arrive on the site, all we can see is mud, though as we
get of the bus the rain, miraculously, stops. David Byrne
is playing on-stage. "I heard him on the radio earlier,"
Neil reports. "I mean, even we do Brazilian music better
than you do, love."
"What do we do if the equipment
breaks down?" wonders Chris.
"I'll get out the
acoustic guitar," Neil suggests. "I can do loads of Bob
Dylan. Beatles. 'White Light, White Heat'. 'Anarchy In The
"You'd get such respect," says Chris.
"People just don't realize what I can do," says Neil. "I
can do 'Imagine'. 'Imagine there's no heaven, ladies and
They do a couple of interviews. "I think
it's good that, after twelve years," Neil tells one
interviewer, "we're sitting here about to do something for
the first time." He laughs. "I'm a nervous wreck."
interviewer asks about "Somewhere".
"It was meant to
be a duet," Chris says, "but we couldn't think of anyone
to do it with."
They do a third interview, this time
with six journalists at once.
"We're playing fifteen
hit singles and one obscure song," Neil tells them.
"We're not taking any chances," Chris explains.
of groups don't like their hit singles," Neil points out.
"We, for better or worse, still like ours." When the press
have left, Simon from Suede, who has just come offstage,
pops in to say hello. "Are we going to get electrocuted
out there?" Neil asks. He shrugs. "Oh, I'll die a legend."
The realization that, for the first time in their
life, they are about to stand in front of a rock festival
crowd and perform is beginning to sink in.
we doing?" Neil laughs.
"I don't know how you've got
the bottle, Neil," says Chris.
"I'm from Gosforth,"
"We're doing it for the money, don't
forget," bluffs Chris.
"Given that we're doing it for
the money," Neil says, "we're not doing just doing it for
the money. It's quite exciting."
"I don't know how
you're doing this," Chris reiterates.
"It's not a
problem," fakes Neil. "It's a dream come true, Chris. It's
that rock festival I always promised myself." He has just
one question. He's not entirely sure what this festival is
called. "It is Roskilde, isn't it? Might as well get that
"They're going to laugh at us for wearing
silly clothes," says Chris.
"It's good to wear silly
clothes," says Neil.
"This is how I felt when we went
on the chute in Florida," says Chris. "What makes it
scary is the inevitability."
David Byrne comes to the
dressing room door to say hello. He tells Neil, "I like
your book", which Neil decides is the greatest backhanded
compliment the Pet Shop Boys have received since Joni
Mitchell told him in 1991, "I like your videos".
head to the stage.
"Give it some elbow," encourages
"It's just like Bon Jovi, isn't it?"
Chris sniggers. "Oh, shame. What if they don't like us?,'
Les sidles over. "Tear it up, children! Teach! Teach!
"Teach," says Neil, laughing. "It's such a
Neil shouts out "good evening, Roskilde!"
after the first song as though he has been playing
festivals all his life. They loiter backstage, grinning,
during the middle section of the set where Sylvia sings
"The Man Who Has Everything". At the end, Neil says,
"You've been a fabulous audience, Roskilde -we love you!"
"We can rock'n'roll," laughs Chris, as they hide
behind the backdrop before the encores.
"I just do
Dave Gahan," says Neil.
Lynne rushes up. "Yes! You're
They go back on. "This is the first
festival we've ever played," Neil tells the crowd, "and we
"Well done, everyone," sighs Neil, back in
the dressing room.
"Well," says Chris, "I think you
coped with that very well. You almost got too carried
"'Go West' is a good song, isn't it?" Neil reflects.
Chris nods. "I wish we'd written that one." He begins to
worry. "We didn't look too keen, did we? It's easy to get
carried away at moments like that, and do things you
"Didn't you enjoy it though?" Lynne
"I loved it," says Neil. "Low moment,
"It sounded terrible," Chris agrees.
"I've never like 'Opportunities'," says Neil.
really went for it at the beginning," Chris laughs.
was doing 'Wham! The Final'," Neil says."! Was doing
Depeche Mode. I've seen these shows."
"Lollapalooza next year," Neil says.
"'Opportunities' was great," Brett tells them.
begins worrying about Finland. "The next one will be a
load of bored people having a picnic in the rain."
Robbie appears. "Your music sounds good in a field," he
"It's punk rock, basically," Neil says.
"It always has been."
Saturday, June 28th.
is supposed to be a van taking us to the airport in the
morning, but it doesn't turn up.
"Once they've got
what they want out of you. ..Dumped!" says Chris.
"Literally dumped," nods Neil.
We hail cabs in the
street. At the airport Chris explains to Ivan that we had
no transport and so hailed taxis.
"It's only a matter of time before we go
back to South America," Chris says. "Now we realize it's
just so easy. If you don't bother with costume changes and
dance routines and all that, and just play the songs, it's
We fly via Stockholm. Neil accidentally leaves
a book, The Roy Strong Diaries, on the first plane.
"They're absolute rubbish," he says. "Actually, it's good
for an airplane because it's a load of drivel about having
dinner with the Queen Mother." In Stockholm airport Neil
announces, "I might have to have a hot dog" and then, more
definitively, "I'm going to have a beer and a hot dog".
He's clearly on the slippery slope.
Neil decides to
call Jill back in England on his mobile. "Just because we
can," he says.
"I just want to hear the chart
position," says Chris. ("Somewhere" came out the previous
Monday.) "I don't know why we bother. We've tried
everything. We've tried being different. We've tried being
"We've tried being different but the same,"
"And now we're reduced to headlining rock
festivals," says Chris.
We arrive in Turku. They don't
play until tomorrow night. Tonight at the festival Sting
is headlining, which interests neither of them much. Neil
says he might go anyway, to see Nick Cave, but changes his
mind fairly swiftly. First impressions of Turku are not
terrifically enticing. The town seems rather Eastern
European in an gray austere way, and it seems rather shut.
The hotel seems like a deliberately surreal tribute to
Seventies kitsch. Soon, however, we get into the swing of
things. In the evening we have a drink with some famous
Finnish porn stars who are staying in the hotel, then go
to dinner. The weather is beautiful and so we sit outside.
"Let's hope it gets cold," Neil complains. "We both
brought thermal underwear."
We are approached by some
local club kids.
"This is a really silly question," a
girl begins, "but we've wanted to know for months. What
was Rick Mayall's character called in The Young Ones?"
"He's called Rick," says Neil, helpfully.
She turns to
the guy who is obviously her boyfriend. "I told you a
thousand times," she says.
"If we ever do another
book," Neil says, "we should quote that at the beginning.
David Byrne to Neil Tennant: 'I like your book'."
is David Byrne?" Dainton asks.
"Talking Heads," says
"He's the most pretentious man in the world,"
"He makes David Bowie seem like Noddy
Holder," says Neil.
We notice that, though it is 10.30
at night, it is still light, and it is getting no darker.
We are far enough north that, during the summer, the night
never really comes. Somehow it's rather exciting. It makes
you feel that you can stay up as long as you like.
the way," Neil says to Chris. "Ivan's room is better than
"His always is," Chris sulks. "Actually I
haven't got a problem with my room. But that isn't the
Another fan comes up.
"I love your London
style, your club discoteque," he says. "I love 'King's
Cross', I love the videos."
"Are you coming tomorrow?"
"There's no videos," Neil
says. "Just hits."
"Taking no chances," says Chris.
"We are very proud to have you here in Turku," the fan
We go back to the hotel. Chris insists that we
all go to Ivan's room and confront him about the room-size
"I don't know if I can bear to go," says
Neil, who follows anyway.
Chris pounds on the door.
"Wake up! Ivan! Wake up!"
Eventually Ivan wakes up,
though he still looks fast asleep.
"You've got a
bigger room!" says Chris.
"Yeah," says Ivan, blearily.
"I noticed that."
"I've got a poxy little room," Chris
"You like that," says Ivan.
to insist that they call the promoter right now to
complain. He says he wants some money by way of
"It's an official atrocity," says Neil.
Ivan is eventually allowed to go back to sleep. We
head out under the night's light sky, and end up in
Marilyn's disco. We walk in to the sound of "Wannabe".
"How brilliant!" Chris exclaims. "It's a shameless night
out." Free champagne is solicited; friends are made; the
dancefloor is used. (The night's most regular and popular
song seems to be Sash!'s "Ecuador".)
After a couple of
hours we head out into the street.
Neil shouts, a little drunkenly.
"We're not finished,"
We walk past a couple who are more or less
having sex on the street. We are heading for one of the
drinking boats moored to the river. On the bank, Neil gets
the frankfurter he has been wanting.
We drink on the
"How do you like it in Finland?" Neil is asked.
"It's fantastic," he says.
Sunday, June 29th.
"How many people at this festival?" Chris asks,
"25,000," says Ivan
"Is that all?"
"How quickly we get used to it," Neil
Still, they are in Finland. "We'll be running
through the woods, naked, later, hitting each other with
birchwood, drinking vodka," Neil says. "Finnish culture.
Lot going for it. It's based around nudity and
alcohol." It's a strange culture. He says that when he got
in last night, he wanted to catch up on world news. "I was
trying to get CNN," he complains, "and all I could find
was sex. But I wanted to see Margaret Thatcher on CNN. She
was going on about human rights, which she's obviously
discovered an interest in a bit late in the day. She's
obviously worried about it."
"Is this one of the
festivals when people camp out?" Chris asks.
camping," nods Ivan.
"There will be when we get
there," says Neil.
When they arrive, everyone
backstage is watching the weekend's Formula One race
(Finland has two drivers: Hakkinen and Salo), and on-stage
are Apocalyptic, the string quartet who play Metallic
songs. ("It is," Neil judges, "absolutely nightmlarish.")
Neil asks what the Finnish word for "thank you" is
"kutos," he is told - and writes it on his hand. "It's a
fascinating language, Finnish," he says. "It sounds like a
techno record waiting to happen."
David Bowie is
on-stage after they are. "I hope he arrives after we've
done 'Hello Spaceboy'," says Chris.
"We won't see
him," Neil predicts.
"Famous last words," says Chris.
They get ready. Chris looks at their suits. "Do these
actually work in daytime," he wonders, "or so we look like
a pair of prize plums?"
"It's a bit late to worry
about that," says Neil. He has a different, less relevant
thought. "What are we going to wear at Pride?" he wonders.
Soon after they return to Britain, they will headline
London's (;ay Pride festival.
"I was just going to be
myself," says Chris. "Wear a string vest and a pair of
It's a strange scene when they hit the stage.
There are thousands of people spread over the grass in the
center and to the right. To the left is a wide river, in
which a few people are swimming. Others are dancing on the
muddy beach. Some of them are naked. Before "Hello
Spaceboy" Neil says, "this next song is not written by the
Pet Shop Boys -it's written by the man who is coming
on-stage at 7 o'clock. It's written by David Bowie." When
they play "West End Girls" and get to the line "from Lake
Geneva to the Finland Station" there is a huge roar.
(Never mind that the Finland Station is actually in
they said "Finland".)
When they return for
encores, Neil shouts "Turku! Kutos! It's been a great
afternoon for us!" During "Go West", a preposterously huge
ship comes down the river, by the side of the stage,
looming over the audience, its foghorn booming, as though
it has been choreographed. Neil is most impressed. "Hey,"
he says, as they come offstage, "we've never used foghorns
on a record. That's one travel noise we haven't had."
"'Nightboat To Cairo' by Madness," says Ivan.
right," says Neil.
"'Go West's our best record, isn't
it?" says Chris.
· They sit in the dressing room. The
"Go away!" says the man who bursts in.
"Wherever I go I see you." It is David Bowie.
"Wherever we go we see you," Neil replies.
read about you in France," he says. He read about the
Savoy show. He sympathizes with the theatrical experience.
"That was the worst mistake I ever made, when I signed
that for The Elephant Man to do two matinees a week. I
He asks what the crowd is like.
"There's nude swimming," says Chris.
"But what are the
people like?" David Bowie asks.
already," Neil says.
the threatening side of it," he smiles.
David Bowie some of the dressing room champagne.
he says politely. "I don't drink."
They talk about the
theater. David Bowie says that they should set Joe Orton
to music. (Regular readers will know that "Up Against It",
spookily, borrows its title from a Joe Orton screenplay.)
Neil explains that they are working with Jonathan Harvey.
"Well, I was on the right track," David Bowie says.
"It's a soundbite," Neil says. "'Joe Orton to music
"To make it more now," David Bowie suggests, "you do
the Joe Orton story. That's a great idea."
in a toilet," Neil expands. "The curtain goes up and
there's nothing but a urinal and a single spotlight."
David Bowie is inspired by this to sing a potential song:
"'That's all you need'," he croons. "'One urinal!"'
can see you on the soundtrack," says Neil. "It's a battle
now - who does a urinal on stage first."
has been standing over David Bowie for a while, looking
worried, trying to tell him he should get ready. It is
only now David Bowie realized that, having traveled from
another time zone today, his watch is an hour wrong, and
that he is due on-stage in a few minutes. "But you didn't
tell me!" he exclaims to his assistant, half-jokingly.
"You're paid to tell me!" He shares charming good-byes and
"And there we were," says Neil,
shamefaced, "slanging him off..."
Chris is told that
they have to meet some journalists. They come in and pose
next to Neil and Chris for photos. Chris says little, and
puts on his aloof face. Then one of them mentions the
competition they have won. "Oh!" cries Chris, changing his
entirely. "You're competition winners! I'll
treat you differently. I thought you were horrible
"Can I just remind everyone," says Neil,
apropos very little, "that Actually in Finland outsold
Thriller by Michael Jackson?"
One of the fans, clearly
impressed by the unplugged version of "Rent", asks "are
you going to do an acoustic record?"
"Good God," says
"Absolutely not," says Chris.
"We just do
that to show that we can," says Neil.
David Bowie is
about to go on. "Are you watching Bowie?" Neil asks Chris.
Chris nods. "See what a real performer's like."
They stand in the pit between the stage and the audience.
After his first song, David Bowie says this: "We come in
peace. We are your friends. This one's for Neil Tennant."
And he launches into "Queen Bitch".
After about six
songs we go, even though he's really good.
"I liked my
dedication," Neil says.
think we need to read too much into it," he says.
"Neil actually blushed," Chris says.
"I did blush," he
agrees. "I only blushed because I was thrilled. I used to
watch him at the Newcastle City Hall, and now he's
dedicating a song to me in Turku.
We head for a
"Well," Neil sighs, "it's been a success.
It's not a bad way of earning a living. There's worse ways
of earning a living, I know. I've done most of them. It's
better than working in the British Museum. Or as a toilet
"I always like the idea of being a toilet
attendant," says Chris.
For several hours they have
been phoning England, trying to find out what position
"Somewhere" entered the chart. Finally they have the
"Chris," says Neil. "It's nine. That's
"It's not really," says Chris. "Nine. It's
better than ten. It's a million times better than ten."
"It's a trillion times better than 25," says Neil. "At
least we're in the top ten."
"Anyway," says Chris,
"it's the end of a project. We're going to come back
stronger than ever."
"Let's face it," says Neil, "it's
the end of our career." There are nervous laughs around
the table. No one is sure whether he is being serious.
"We're going to reposition our selves," says Chris. "I'm
looking forward to our resurrection."
doing," Neil nods, "is sowing the seeds..."
dinner, we take over a Turku club which is not expecting
us. By the middle of the night the Pet Shop Boys and their
entourage can be found, in the strange almost-daylight of
Finnish summer nights, buying drinks from an open-air bar
stall, drunkenly and happily practicing dance steps en
masse by the river bank.
Saturday, July 5th.
Pet Shop Boys have agreed to headline
Gay Pride, an
all-day celebration on Clapham
Common in London.
Chris arrives in the afternoon. Neil isn't here yet," he
says. "He isn't savoring the unity, the bonding, the
spirituality... Chris mobile phone rings. Wrong number.
"It's in the Yellow Pages as a furniture restorer," he
Neil walks into the dressing room. There is
one chair only.
"Do you think we could get one more
seat?" Neil wonders.
"I think it's a bit bad giving a
duo one seat," says Chris. "I mean, who's going to get the
seat out of us two?"
They consider their performance.
"Don't make any statements," Chris tells Neil.
jut going to announce the songs," says Neil. Then he says
"Chris, it's all about unity."
"It alienates me,"
Chris replies. "I feel alienated when I hear cries of
Janet Street-Porter pops in. Then Chris Evans
"It's a reunion," says Chris.
les garcons?" says Chris Evans. "Les garcons sont ici!"
Jonathan Harvey makes an entrance. He looks around.
"Chris Evans," he says. "He's off the telly."
minutes to stage," shouts Ivan.
"Actually," Chris says
to Neil, "these Bjorn Borg pants are a bit on the tight
"What size did you buy?" Neil asks.
bought small," he replies, "because you said I should."
"Well," says Neil, "I bought medium and I should have
Chris sighs. "I bought small and I
should have bought medium."
They stand on the back of
the stage. Holly Johnson is singing "The Power Of Love".
"I love that," Chris says. "It's a scarf-waver."
have been running late. The Pet shop Boys had planned to
play the acoustic version of "Rent" in their set, but now
they're told there's only time for three songs, which they
decide will be "Somewhere", "It's A Sin" and "Go West". So
they play them, a sea of people as far as you can see,
their arms in the air.
Friday, August 15th.
the previous weeks there has been some talk of an extra
festival date in Stockholm, Sweden. Finally, it has been
confirmed. The Pet Shop Boys will perform on a floating
stage on the final night of Stockholm's Water festival.
'~i5 is where I interviewed Squeeze in 1982," says
Neil. "My second interview for
Smash Hits. The first
was Yazoo. Or was Squeeze the first? It was. That was why
I was so nervous."
This afternoon, Neil and Chris
explore the shops. Literally takes some photographs.
"I'm nearly at the point where I won't have pictures taken
at all," Chris says.
"Your new thing is," says Neil,
"that when fans ask if they can take a picture you say,
'yes - of him'. That sums up a lot, really."
joined at dinner by a teenage friend. He complains about
the olives. He doesn't like them.
way of telling you you're thirty years old," Neil
"Cheese," says Chris, "is nature's way of
telling you you're twenty."
"I love cheese," objects
the friend. "I don't mean Dairy Lea Cheese Triangles,"
Saturday, August 16th.
"You're in the
paper," Jonas, the Pet Shop Boys Swedish chaperone, tells
Neil. Neil asks for a translation.
'intelligent music'," Jonas says.
"How true," Neil
says. "So simple, but so true."
They board the coach
which will take them to the stage for a soundcheck.
"We don't travel by coach, do we?" says Chris, happily
hopping aboard. "Isn't it in our contract? Don't we have
to travel by stretch limo?"
On Thursday night the Pet
Shop Boys saw Blur perform here.
shortsighted?" Neil wonders.
"You mean in terms of his
career?" Chris asks.
"No. In terms of 'does he need
We pull up at the stage.
"Look at it!"
Chris shouts. "It's a piddling little stage and a piddling
little venue. We're used to much bigger than that."
"Have you been watching Spinal Tap
again?" Neil sighs.
They begin to soundcheck.
"Shall we do 'Rent' first,
then I can go," Chris suggests.
"I don't think that'll
be convenient," says Neil.
"I've got to have my hair
"You can do that after."
"I've got to have
lunch first," Chris grumbles. "In fact, this is all most
Neil peers carefully over the lip of
the stage. The stage is floating and there is a small gap
of water before the dry land, where the audience will be.
"Dainton," he asks, "can you make sure that there's white
tape right along the front of the stage? I don't want to
fall in the sea, which is entirely likely."
Neil gone?" says Pete Gleadall in a Teletubbies voice,
imagining what might happen.
"It's time for
tubby-byebyes," Chris sniggers.
They rehearse a few
songs. After "Rent" Chris does leave. After "Before" Neil
mutters, distractedly, into the microphone, "Oh yes. It's
happened before." When they're finished, Neil and Sylvia
head off to a recording studio where he wants to run
through a few songs in private. The van which brought us
here disappears, so Neil sits at the studio grand piano
and begins playing.
"...Will you love me?..." he sings
under his breath, "...Party nights and chairs... we'll go
"It's a tune I thought of the other day," he
It is, Literally observes, not very cheerful.
"It's supposed to be happy," he says. "I'm just
playing it that way."
The van judders as we pull away
from the Stockholm side street.
"Hand brake," says
Dainton to the driver.
"'Hand Brake' - their new
single," says Neil.
There is an early dinner hosted by
the promoter. Chris, who had a long lunch, skips
Neil goes. There is some drama when a slug crawls out of
Sylvia's salad. Neil picks it up and poses for a photo
with it balancing on his finger. Outside, in the street, a
man comes up to Neil. It is Dr Alban, noted Swedish pop
star, who is recording a few years away and who is coming
to the concert. "I'll be there, screaming," he says. "You
guys have made a lot of good songs, man. You've been in
the business for a long time."
"Not that long," Neil
Neil and Chris meet in the hotel before the
"That's the same shirt," says Chris. "You've
worn it for three days."
"No, I haven't," says Neil,
slapping Chris around the head, lightly but firmly.
"Ooooh," he says. "I hate doing concerts. It's
nerve-wracking, isn't it?"
We drive to the other side
of the bay, where we jump onto a launch which will take us
to the side of the stage. Neil looks doubtful.
insured to go on this boat? It looks like it would easily
sink. I'll almost certainly be seasick."
whizzing through the water.
"I say it's the most fun
festival we've been to," says Chris.
Teletubbies," says Neil.
They get dressed, talking
about Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, whose romantic
troubles are all over the paper.
"Are we doing 'Always
On My Mind'?" Chris asks. It is currently penciled into
the set list as an optional encore.
"It's a question
mark," says Neil.
Chris releases something relevant.
"It's Elvis's death day!"
"Oh, we've got to do it,"
"It's going to be such a genuine
moment," says Chris.
As they play, the man-made island
which carries the stage noticeably sways. Neil is at his
chattiest. "Right," he says, introducing
"This next song is a love song. And we're going to
dedicate it to Di and Dodi." Before the next song, "Left
To My Own Devices", he says, "That was a song from last
year. This next song takes us back to the evil
Eighties..." Nonetheless, during the break halfway through
when they come backstage, he's unhappy - he could barely
hear himself for the first three songs. "It was like it
was coming by short-wave from Copenhagen," he complains.
But it gets better. "Twenty years ago today," says Neil
during the encores, "Elvis Presley died. So we're going to
do this next song, which he first recorded..."
"Right," says Chris, backstage afterwards. "We need some
bigger hits for the next year. We need to write some hits
for the Nineties."
"It's too late now," says Neil.
"For the millennium," says Chris. "The Thrillennium." He
has a question. "I think we got a better reception than
Blur, didn't we?"
"Of course we did," says Neil.
Chris nods, content. "thar's all that matters."
night the Pet Shop Boys take over the back rooms of a club
called Spy. Chris takes over the DJ CD player. "I've made
a career out of not mixing the records," he announces,
"just like I've made a career out of not playing the
keyboards." We get Depeche Mode's "It's No Good", DJ
Quicksilver's "Bellissima", Imagination's "Body Talk"
("the first twelve-inch I bought," Chris points out),
Donna Summer's "McArthur Park" and "Bad Girls", Tupac's "I
Ain't Mad At Cha" ("Tupac was the best rapper ever," Chris
says. "His voice almost brings me to tears"),
Faithlessness "Insomnia", Sash£'s "Encore Une Fois". It's
a good night. Everyone is dancing everywhere they can
dance: on the floor, on the DJ platform, on sofas, on
tables. One of the crew is dancing on a table - which
earlier had five or six people on it, including Neil -
with a Swedish girl when the table top breaks, and falls
through the frame to the floor. He never stops dancing.