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Literally Issue 18 SOMEWHERE Part 1
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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

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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 diary:

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 vice versa.

"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 of creosote."

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?" says Chris.

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 have..."

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 tonight, probably..."

Afterwards, they sit and discuss how it went. They're not sure.

"It was all your idea," Chris says to Neil.

Tuesday, June 3rd.

Another 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-

through 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."

The conversation wanders onto the hot news from the world of pop music.

"Marti Pellow has disastrously dyed his hair blond," sighs Neil.

"I bet he doesn't even have a skateboard," snorts Chris, derisively.

Wednesday, June 4th.

Chris, who has been in his dressing room reading The Sun, appears at the side of the stage.

"Are we 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 choreography."

Chris listens to the music from the

audience seats.

"You don't think it's all too loud?" he asks Neil.

"Quite possibly," says Neil.

"We 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."

They 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 desk.

"Favorer the double-track," he says. "And me.. ~

"...Barely audible," teases Chris.

"Not barely audible," Neil corrects. "But... discretion."

There is 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 says.

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?

"I don't imagine the applause will be very long," says Neil.

"Assuming there is any," says Chris.

"Assuming 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."

In his 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.

"You can't beat sincerity," says Chris.

"My mother will like it," Neil nods.

"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.

"Teletubbies is on tomorrow," reminds Chris. "At least there's something worth waking up for."

Thursday, June 5th.

The 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 wrong.

Chris 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 collect more.

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.")

Their two dressings rooms are filling up with gifts and cards, which have been arriving at the backstage entrance throughout the day.

"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."

Chris is 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?

"Renaissance 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

private life 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."

Chris and 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 boring routine."
"Neither can I," nods Neil.

Lynne 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 out.

"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.

"It was 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.

"Oh, are 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 boxer shorts.

"It's a great moment in pop," says Neil, afterwards.

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 professionalism."

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."

Ivan looks 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.

"Do you 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 trousers.

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 interested."

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, unrepentant.

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.

"It felt better tonight," Chris says afterwards. "More exciting."

"What's happened to my official contact lens towel?" asks Neil.

"I'm not a father," says Chris. "I don't like to make a drama out of things."

"You!" exclaims Neil, incredulous.

"You only wear contact lenses because it's a drama," Chris insists. "The number of dramas that's caused."

Saturday, June 7th.

Chris 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.

Arma Andon, their American manager, is here tonight.

"We've 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 Neil.

"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."

Chris and 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."

The 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 the theater.

"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?"

"Being in bed," says Chris. "Beats everything."

The Dutchman 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," says Neil.

"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.

In the 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 with Elton.

Immediately afterwards, before that, the Lowe family come backstage. Mrs Lowe sees Literally taking notes.

"He writes down everything you say," she notes.

It's all approved, Literally points out.

"Ah, yes," she says wisely, "but who approves it?"

Wednesday, June 11th.

[There is no show on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday Literally is Ill.

"Yesterday," Neil 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.

"I'm 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."

Once Chris 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.

They discuss 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 him. Saddo."

Stuart Maconie from Q magazine is ushered into the dressing room to ask some questions about the show.

"It's more about performing the songs," Neil explains.

"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 behind them."

"In some ways," adds Chris, "it was very sensible."

"I still miss it sometimes," Neil agrees. "Where are the dancers? Where are the wigs?"

"It's very much a game of two halves, Brian," says Stuart Maconie.

"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 Saigon!'."

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 it's Thursday.

"What time?" asks Chris.

"I see 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.

"He 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 Wright.

The interview goes on a while. "Longer than we thought," says Chris when they finish.

"We record quite a lot," Wright explains, "and take all the crap out."

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.

Neil 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."

Going 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 bit pushy.
"Hello," says Neil.

"No," says Chris. "Go away."

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.

"We 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. "A joy."

"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 it."


 

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