Earlier this year, the Pet
Shop Boys went to Russia to perform four conceits. Anthea
Eno, wife of musician and artist Brian Eno, had suggested
to them on an earlier visit to St Petersburg that they
might want to come and play there. They arranged two
concerts in St Petersburg, and also two in Moscow (one in
a large hall and one in a nightclub) so that the tour
wouldn't lose any money. Literally went with them.
Thursday, February 26th
The tour party are to rendezvous inside Heathrow's
Terminal 4 at 8.3Oam. The previous night, Chris, Neil and
Janet Street-Porter have been to Elton John's house for
dinner, to celebrate his recent knighthood. As Elton John
lives near Heathrow, they stayed overnight. "Elton's on
such good form," says Neil. "Half past seven in the
morning, he did a great impression of Chris as hilda
Baker, waddling into the kitchen."
"It was hilarious,"
As we walk through the airport, Chris
comments on each floor. He's been planning some home
decoration, and he's been preoccupied by floor materials
and textures. "It's the new catch phrase," he explains.
"'What's this floor?"'
Neil and Chris are in club
class; everyone else is in economy. Janet Street-Porter
sits with her friend, Janet Cristea. "Spiritually," Janet
Street-Porter announces, "I should be in Club class. Look!
I've got a Channel sweatshirt on -what am I doing in
economy?" She sighs. "What about us being the two oldest
rock groupies ever?" She details a Sunday times piece she
has just done in which she talks about phoning Neil and
the other Janet every morning, and in which she explains
how she introduced Chris to the delights of taramasalata
on crumpets.(You do use butter too, but just a little, to
fill the holes.)
A couple of hours into the
flight, Neil comes and visits us in the cheap seats, where
- as the flight isn't even half full - we are happily
stretched out. "It's a con, isn't it?" he
"These are exactly the same seats as we have." He has a
further, more important observation to make. "I'll just
like to point out," he says, "'love is a bird I she needs
to fly"' He is quoting from the brand new Madonna single,
"Frozen". He thinks it is one of the worst lyrics he has
JJanet Street-Porter has a question for him:
"Tell us rock chicks what we're doing tonight."
we get there," Neil says, "we have to do some TV
interviews. Then we have dinner. Then we do a radio
interview live - we'll be a bit pissed - and then, to be
quite frank, we'll be in bed by a quarter to twelve." He
has a policy announcement to make: "I'm not going to night
you were playing in one," Janet Street-Porter points out,
CChat's the only one I'm going to' he concedes,
"dragged reluctantly." He watches the TV monitor above our
heads, which are showing an episode of Friends where
Phoebe is playing the guitar. "Oh, she's doing 'Smelly
Cat'!" says Neil. "A really good song, I think."
The landing cards are handed out. They are issued by the
USSR. "A country)' Neil notes, "that hasn't existed for
We walk off the plane, into the Moscow
airport building. Chris looks down. "What kind of floor is
this?" he asks. He sighs. "I've settled for slate, butt
don't know if I'm wrong.
They are led into some kind
of VIP room, and about thirty Russian media people scrum
in after them. Within ten minutes of arriving, the Pet
Shop Boys must give a press conference. They sit down.
They are asked about the flight. "What did you eat?" the
"Good..." sighs Dainton in the
"What did we eat?" Neil laughs.
stringy beef," says Chris.
"British beef," says
"British," says Chris. "On the bone:''That's why
we're a bit mad;' says Neil.
They're asked if it's
cold for them here. Neil says he's pleased it's cold
because they've had a warm British winter. "We haven't had
any snow at all- So I want to see some snow.
asked whether they have a special affinity with Russia.
"Personally," says Neil, "I've always been interested
in Russia since I was a child, in Russian history"
press conference finishes and we wait for a car. "These
glasses are such a shit design," Chris complains, holding
his Okays. "And yet I love them. But they're crap. Like
everything I like. Totally nonfunctional. But looks good."
He hands them to Neil. "Look. You can't see through them.
Annoying though. It happens when you're snowboarding as
welt. They steam up and you can't see. I bought them on
the way to New York to see Naseem. They're really good
because the wraparounds are so last year. I Just love
"They're really gorgeous," says Neil.
"They're my favorite sunglasses ever," Chris says.. "The
trouble is, they're not very functional." He laughs.
On the way out of the airport, they are rushed by more
photographers and a few fans. There's quite a scrum, but
the scene is not so hectic as to prevent Chris from
turning round and declaring, "We're literally getting
We pile into a limousine, and admire the
video player and karaoke machine.
"It's pure Boogie
Nigh At, this car," Neil exclaims.
The music in the
background is their "Suburbia". They assume that, rather
cheesy, their hosts have decided that they may want to
hear their own music, but it soon changes to Side's
"Smooth Operator". It's the radio. In the hotel bar, only
a few minutes after arriving, they have to do a TV
interview with Russia's Channel 4. ("It's for Channel 4!"
"When you are retired," the
interviewer asks, "do you think you will have your own Pet
Shop Boys? No...pet shop."
"Right first time," Chris
"I'm planning to run a very beautiful old
people's home," says Neil, "with me as the oldest person
in it, and all of the other old people looking after me."
"I think it'd be quite nice to own chain of pet
shops," says Chris. "And do our own graphics and our own
range of pets."
"One of you is an architect," she
says. "What do you think about St Petersburg
No one answers. The interviewer and
Neil looks towards Chris, who is quietly eating his
"Me?" he says. "You're asking the wrong
"You're the architect, meaty," Neil points
"So-called. It's really good. It's - what do they
call it? - the Venice of Russia, or something like that.
It's really great. What I like is, well, particularly the
view from the river, and I quite like the fact that the
buildings look great and everything but on the outside
they have these big chunky drainpipe things. It's really
strange. In England they would have sort of metal things -
these look like they've been added afterwards. And the way
it sort of crumbles around the edges, I like."
"In'93,"she says,"you choose constructivist symbols. What
would be the images of Russia now for you if you decide by
any chance to make a video here? 'On East', probably."
They laugh. "If we did 'Go East', I think for me it would
be a Russian nightclub," Neil says. "When I was here two
years ago I was taken to a nightclub in Moscow where they
had a nude underwater ballet, and it was one of the most
incredible things I've ever seen. So maybe that would be
one of them." Pause. "That's obviously a frivolous
"Although not just frivolous, is it?" Chris
chips in. "It's a symbol of fun. And Russia seems to be
quite a fun place, where our images of it before was
pretty dour and miserable."
She asks if they speak any
"We're very good at saying 'nyet'," Neil
"We're very good at saying nyet'," Chris agrees.
Next is an interviewer from a financial paper, who
asked them about quotes they've said in the past
disparaging bands who tour to promote records.
not what I think now," says Chris. "I think touring really
good fun. I'm being positive."
"We've never toured to
promote," says Neil.
"We fancied coming to Russia,"
says Chris. "And when we fancied going to South America,
we did a tour of South America. It's basically a way of
having a holiday that pays for itself."
wanted to get the train from Moscow to St Petersburg..."
says Neil and we've devised a cunning plan," says Chris.
"That's what we're going to do. We may be mad."
and interviewer chat for a while about record sales, and
then she says, "Why, during the interview, you speak most
and Chris stay silent?"
"Neil's very erudite," says
Chris. Why don't we ask him?" Neil suggests. "Why don't we
ask him this question, listeners?"
you're erudite, Neil, and me, on the other hand, I'm a
stupid moron," Chris says.
"Chris is actually much
more talkative than me in private," Neil says. "I mean, at
two in the morning he's like this." He mimes extreme
chattiness. "But in public he's little bit shy," Neil
says. "Although not that shy."
"I have dropped my
pants in public before," Chris points out.
interviewer asks if he can film the Pet Shop Boys' hotel
"You can't see my room, Chris exclaims. "It's
"We're not doing that," says Neil. "No."
"No, it's not Through The Keyhole," says Chris.
"Nyet, nyet," says Lainton.
"It's a big nyet to
that)' says Neil,
"It's a huge nyet," says Chris.
We go for dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant set up around a
lit-up courtyard within which there is a totally contrived
scene of pastoral life:
sheaf's of wheat, barrels,
real chickens and a real horse. Halfway through our meal,
in the farmyard, we notice a fake "peasant" walking by. We
are genuinely shocked.
"Imagine what Lenin would
think," says Neil.
"It's poverty as a theme park,"
says Janet Street-Porter.
"Somebody should come in and
machine gun everyone," Chris suggests.
Back inside the
limousine, we discover the switch which turns the disco
lights on. Neil and Chris have to do one more interview at
a radio station before they're allowed to bed. They are
chatting in the radio station studio when they notice that
the DJ is looking at them expectantly.
"I think we're
on the air," says Chris. And he's delighted "It's a Zoo
format," he says.
"We're live on the air, in the
studios at Silver Rain radio," says Neil into the
microphone. "It's fabulous. It really is a gas to be
As they talk, playing behind them, is a ghastly
version of "Go West" from a CD called The Music Of The Pet
Shop Boys: 17 Instrumental Hiss.
terrible," Neil says, and everyone shrieks, though Janet
Street-Porter's is, by some way, the loudest. "I must take
this album away;' Neil tells them, "so that we can sue the
people who made it later." While Silver Rain play "West
End Girls", Neil and Chris study the instrumental LP
"'Go West' was a big hit, wasn't it?" says
Afterwards, we briefly visit Red Square.
"There it is," says Neil. "Red Square in many ways most
famous for the filming of..." He means the "Go West"
We had to dress up in yellow and blue suits and
wander round here," remembers Chris.
We get out for a
moment. It's freezing. We take a few photos.
great limo," Chris sighs, looking at our car.
great limo," Neil agrees. "It's one of the great limos of
We drive back to the hotel with the
heating on ,full blast, and the windows open.
what I've always done at home;' says Neil. "It's the Neil
Tennant heating system. If it's too hot, open the window."
He looks out of the window. "You know, it's nothing like
as grim. It's just not grim, is it?" He sounds nostalgic.
"The grim factor, which five years ago was 95%, is now
February 27th, 1998
The Pet Shop Boys
each rise in the late morning. They are met at 12.45 in
the hotel reception for a day's promotion arranged by
Nadia, the Moscow promoter. They say that they don't want
so many security guards today and consequently discover
that the beefy man who sat with us in the back of the limo
isn't a security guard at all. He is the limousine owner.
He is asked to travel separately.
Mitch talks them
through today's schedule: a TV show question-and-answer
program in front of an audience of journalists, then a
trade show exhibition, then a record signing, then another
radio station. She says that time is tight, and they'll
have to go straight from the radio station to the Bolshni
Ballet where we are going to the ballet this evening.
Chris shakes his head. He has to go back to the hotel.
"I'm putting my suit on;' he says-. "Let's face it the
number one priority is the Bolshni Ballet."
At the TV
studio they are sat opposite row upon row of earnest
Russian journalists. The theme music - a hilarious mixture
of chugging synthesizers and electric guitar - strikes up,
and Chris gets the giggles.
"Hello, we're the Pet Shop
Boys;' says Neil. "This is going to be our first ever
concerts in Russia, and we're really looking forward to
The Russian press seem fascinated by the idea
that Chris doesn't talk very much. "To be honest," the
translator says, "there are legends circulating around
about your adherence with the principles of silence. Do
you want to make an exception this evening and talk to us
a little bit:'
"Not really, 00," he says, and everyone
laughs. "I like the wall of silence. Chris Lowe, the wall
A subsequent question begins: "I will
make my very first attempt to break the wall of silence,
"Mr. Lowe;' laughs Chris. "To you.
"...Who did you vote for during the most recent
"I didn't vote;' he says. "I just don't
like politicians very much."
"If you're not too fond
of them, where is a way of expressing your attitude, and
that is voting to somebody?"
"No, no.1 don't think so.
I'm more of an anarchist."
Soon the questions get more
intense: "Ever since 1993, observers started to note
homoerotic elements in the performances, as well as song
writing activities - take for example the concert in Rio.
And a lot of people have been noticing that you began to
accentuate this theme lately. Why is it that particularly
since this moment on you begin to happily display your
attitude to this issue?"
"I don't think we've just
begin to display this kind of thing;' Neil says. "I think
we've always in our presentation and videos had quite a
lot of sexual elements. In the video we made in the
Eighties for the song 'Domino Dancing' a lot of gay people
thought the video was very gay, and a lot of straight
people only noticed that the girl in it has very big
breasts. We've always presented homosexuality as being a
normal way of life. And a lot of the music we've written
has been inspired - or in the Eighties was inspired - by
music that was played in gay clubs. I don't think
nowadays, in England, there's a gay subculture like there
used to be, simply because to be gay is just part of life,
really. It's ordinary."
The next question is: "You
seem to be quite at ease with the concept of
homosexuality, and you have made statements to the effect
that you associate yourself with this phenomena. Yet many
Russian showmen, even though they also belong to this
population group, they try to make a secret out of this
fact out of fear of public alienation and things like
that. The question is, have you ever through the years of
your stardom had problems with that or experienced any
negative effects of making statements and formally
displaying your attitude towards this phenomena?"
draws a breath. "No," he says. "Not really." And everyone
"There is an opinion in this country," the
translator says, "to the effect that Western performers
who come to Russia are on the downfall of their careers...
Neil and Chris collapse into hysterics your group has
been around for 16 years -it's difficult to assume that
all throughout the 16 years of your existence you've
always been at the pinnacle of your fame and your
popularity. How do you reconcile with the concept of
having been on-stage for quite bit of time, and is it not
for you that the upcoming concerts in Moscow will be just
for the sake of having this line in your biography or
discography, saying 'had shows in Moscow'?"
you must be a very cynical person," says Neil.
are asked about their most unpleasant experience with the
"It's not anything that really concerns us
enormously," Neil answers. "In England we don't do very
"Here," Chris laughs, "we do press
"We would never do this in England,"
If my memory doesn't fail me, you started
out as a reporter, a journalist, yourself," the translator
relates to Neil. "Has your experience you gained during
your work with Smash Hits has ever been of any use when
you try to come to terms with your ex-colleagues?"
worked as a journalist for two years, but before that I
worked as a book editor for eight years," Neil points out.
"No one's ever asked me what the influence of being a book
editor for eight years is. And in fact it's had a big
influence on the Pet Shop Boys, because I learned to edit,
and in writing songs it's very useful to be able to edit,
to take out the bad bits and keep the good bits. But being
a journalist hasn't really any direct bearing on what we
do now. Apart from it gave me some insight into how the
music business in Britain worked."
"One thing about
the Pet Shop Boys that the public is aware of and always
kind of expects are all sorts of surprises," the
translator says. "It's well known that last year during
your show at the Savoy one of you gentlemen bared one
particular part of your body. Do you expect anything like
that possibly happening in one of the Moscow shows?"
"Well, ~ don't know," Chris says, "because I like
spontaneity. So probably not, now that it's been brought
"Are you familiar with the concept of jealousy?"
they are asked. "Talking about the likes of Oasis and
Spice Girls, it seems as if they have this endless row of
invitations for tea parties with princes and the powerful
of this world. Have you ever been jealous of that?"
Neil and Chris laugh quietly and collusively. "Actually,"
Neil says, "the invitation you're talking about is, Oasis
were invited to go to meet the Prime Minister, Tony Blair,
at Downing Street. We were invited as well."
"Newspapers wrote nothing about it," the questioner
We avoided the press," Chris points out.
"We avoided getting our photographs taken," Neil says.
"But also, Oasis is much bigger news in Britain than the
Pet Shop Boys."
Afterwards, Chris says, laughing, "So,
Pet Shop Boys, you are only touring here because you are
Great question, that," Neil laughs.
"Absolute classic. You know why they ask that?" he says.
"Because Samantha Fox is always here."
They try to
leave to go to the record shop signing, but there is a
kerfuffle for a moment because their coats have been put
away safely. (In Russia, it is possible to waste several
hours a day in the giving and receiving of your coat.) It
has been agreed that there is no longer time to visit the
trade show exhibition, so Neil and Chris are somewhat
surprised when, after a very long drive, the limousine
pulls up. There is not a record shop in sight. There is,
however, across the road, an exhibition center. It turns
out that Nadia has totally disregarded the agreement to
skip the exhibition. Everyone is on their mobile phones,
and voices are raised.
"Oh, I love this kind of
thing," says Chris, gleefully. "It's fantastic."
principle, they refuse to go in, and we drive off to the
record signing, where they put their hands in some wet
cement, and sign some autographs.
A teenage girl leans
towards Neil. She has something desperately important to
say. "Neil," she asks, "why do you drink so much alcohol?"
"For fun, "he says.
"Please," she says, almost in
tears, "don't do it so much."
"I've been told off
now," he says.
The owner says they can look around and
choose some CDs.
"Do we really want to look around a
record shop?" Chris wonders. "I hate them at the best of
time." He soon changes his mind, picking up a handful of
Fl ins CDs and the Boogie Nights soundtrack.
agreed to miss the first pan of the ballet (which is, in
fact, an opera anyway) so that they can go to the radio
station. The DJ suggests that with current technology any
person can make a hit.
"Well, actually, any person
can't make a hit," Neil says.
"For a dance track," the
"Ooooh," says Chris, then adds,
sarcastically, "I agree".
"Anyone can make any old
dance track," says Neil. "But not anyone can make a good
dance track. Anyone can make a film with a video camera,
but it doesn't mean they can make a really fantastic
movie. Technology liberates people to do things, but they
have to learn how to do them well."
"What are the new
sounds going to be for the Millennium?" the DI wonders.
"Well, we'll have to wait and see, won't we?" says
Chris. "As soon as we find out what they are, we'll copy
"What is your advice," the DI asks, "to people
who are shy and don't go out and dance?"
"Go out and
dance," Chris suggests, logically.
"Do you like
dancing yourselves?" he asks.
"Yep," says Chris.
"Where do you dance?"
"I'm being very literal:' Chris
warns. "A nightclub. In discos. No, I dance at home as
well, before I'm having a bath. I work up a bit of a
sweat. I've got a nice long room and I can run up and
down. Normally in the nude, as well. Waggling all over the
We get to the Bolting in plenty of time for a
drink, a little caviar and the second-half ballet. Over
dinner, one of the men from EMI Russia says, "If an
ordinary person in Russia thinks about England, two things
come up - the Tower Bridge and the Pet Shop Boys."
the Tower Bridge? Literally asks.
"They always show
the parliament and the Tower Bridge on television, at the
beginning of the Sherlock Holmes movie...
And why the
Pet Shop Boys?
"Because we always heard them since you
are little boy. And you don't also listen to the music,
you listen to the lyrics. They capture your attention,
always. They have such visual effects. A little story
about something. Pet Shop Boys were the first mass pop
group whose videos were shown on Soviet television at the
time. We had special program's on New Year's Eve, and they
always showed Pet Shop Boys. You couldn't imagine a
program about Western music at that time without Pet Shop
Saturday, February 28
Neil spends the
morning at Russian art galleries. Chris sleeps. At sound
check, they inspect the stage. "I thought the screen was
going to be bigger," says Chris. For reasons of cost, this
is not a complicated show, visually. The Pet Shop Boys
will be wearing the outfits from their 1997 Somewhere
shows (this time with Issey Miyake, rather than Buffalo,
footwear), but they are not using Sam Taylor-Wood's film,
nor the stage set; instead they are performing in front of
projected colored backdrops, one for each song.
walks up to Neil's microphone stand. "God, Neil's tall,
isn't he?" Chris says. "I never released he was that
Sylvia Mason-James says something to Neil.
He looks suitably horrified. "We haven't got a
tambourine!" he exclaims. "We need a
"Green?" queries Sylvia, puzzled.
"No," he says, "it doesn't have to be green,
Neil, Sylvia and Less rehearse their new
dance steps for "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of
Thing", "Can You Forgive Her?" and "Opportunities". "Oh,
it's the sexy bit," sighs Neil during the latter. "Oh
"We'll do 'Rent':' Neil suggests to Chris.
This they must perform entirely live.
"Five or six
times," says Chris. "Blasted bane of my life."
new arrangement," says Neil.
They follow that with an
acoustic beginning to "Always On My Mind". Neil starts,
then stops. "I'm playing the wrong key," he says. "Sorry."
In the limo back to the hotel, Neil asks the
translator, Denis, for some language lessons in how to say
"we are the Pet Shop Boys" in Russian to the crowd. Not
long afterwards, they have to leave to go back to the
venue. Chris decides to eat chicken wings on the way to
"People are seeing this limo go through
Moscow," Janet Street-Porter points out, "and little do
they know it's a McDonnell's on wheels."
"I wonder if
you get M&Ms in Russia," says Chris. "In a little glass
bowl. They're probably so used to rock groups demanding
them. M&Ms are the only American chocolate that is better
than the English equivalent."
The limo drives into the
venue's grounds, and we promptly get completely lost, and
"We're lost!" says Neil, clearly
delighted. "It's a Spinal Tap moment! We've never really
had one before. And now we're stuck in a traffic jam.
"The shame of not even getting to our own gig:' Chris
"Spinal Tapski:' says Neil.
through a park of tall, straight trees.
laughs Chris, "in a forest." They find it eventually.
Their set concentrates on hits.. The first seven songs are
"It's A Sin", "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing",
"Se A Vida IE", "Domino Dancing", "Hello Spaceboy",
"Before" and "Left To My Own Devices". The introduction to
"Left To My Own Devices" takes its time arriving, and Neil
has already thanked the crowd - "spacebar balshoi" - so he
gestures across the stage, and says "this is Chris Lowe".
Chris shrugs, seemingly flummoxed by this. I hump into
Neil backstage during the next song, "The Man Who Has
Everything", and he says he did it because he figured
Chris would make a funny face and do something
spontaneous. "Which," Neil says, "he did."
next song, "Rent", Neil says "Thank you - we love you",
and Chris makes another face.
The Russian crowd is
pretty keen - there's nothing that unusual about them at
all - but not everything is as normal. On the left side of
the stage, almost surrounded by the audience, there is a
man in a glassed-in office, in full view of the stage. He
is wearing a gray suit and reading glasses. Behind him is
a topless calendar. His head is down, oblivious to the
fact that he is in the middle of a pop concert. He is
doing a crossword.
They play "Where The Streets Have
No Name", "Can You Forgive Her?" (some of the Russian fans
put on homemade pointy hats), "Love Comes Quickly", and
"Opportunities", then Neil says."The guitar is returning!
Which can only mean one thing...I'm going to play it."
After "Always On My Mind", "West End Girls" and
"Somewhere", they go off. After encores of "Being Boring"
and "Go West", they're finished.
"We've got the
exciting songs to do," says Chris in the limo, looking
forward to the nightclub concert. "We do the Elton John
song. And 'It's Not Unusual'."
Fans surround the limo,
but they're in a hurry.
"We'll do a Lisa, 'says Neil.
"Three autographs." They do more than that, then drive
oft'. "Well ," he sighs, "that was our first connect in
Russia. It was a laugh." He sits hack. "Did anyone notice
my new lyric to 'Go West'?" Neil asks. "'We'll go to
"What should it be?" Chris asks.
~I can't remember."
They eat at the hotel restaurant,
then head for Utopia, the nightclub, at 12.50. In a
cramped dressing room, they do a quick radio interview.
"What is your general feeling about this whole pop
danced techno boom all over Eastern Europe and Russia?"
they are asked.
"Pop dance techno boom," says Chris.
'That's a good album title."
'What is the future
of this whole dance music?" the interviewer persists. "Is
it going to survive?"
"The future is," Neil says,
"it's all become fantastically formulaic, and something
new has got to happen pretty quickly."
"For all our
sakes)' Chris says. "We're all getting desperate."
"Are you going to continue through the night after this
gig...?" the interviewer asks.
actually;' Chris says. Our second gig of the night, which
don't normally do?' Neil says. "We have never ever
done this before. And, fascinatingly, we'll never do it
There is also a competition winner, who has
won a competition where fans have to send in pictures of
their pets, either posing with Pet Shop Boys posters or
with their photos inscribed with testaments to their Pet
Shop Boy devotion. The winner, Timothy, had a funny dog.
He asks for a photo with them.
"Now we pose for
pictures with the competition winners)' says Neil.
get onto the stage, they have to run through a narrow
corridor in the audience. The stage, only a few feet
across, is circular, in the middle of the club. They are
surrounded and, should the crowd get out of
hand, it could be horrible. It is also hilarious, and from
the start they look like they've having fabulously surreal
fun. After "It's A Sin", Neil says "this song is for
people who like dancing...so it's called 'Domino Dancing'
...Good link, that." Afterwards, he is handed a glass by
Dainton - "champagne!" lie coos - then they play "Before".
During "Where The Streets Have No Name", Dainton pushes
Janet Street-Porter onto the stage, and she dances with
"Where's my beer?" Chris shouts.
also not written by the Pet Shop Boys - do they ever write
anything?" introduces Neil. "This is by a very good friend
of ours.. Mr. Elton. John." And for the first time ever,
live in conceit, they play the medley of "Believe" and
"Song For Guy" which they played with Elton on his An
Evening with... TV program. (Sylvia sings Elton's part.)
They rollick through "Go West". "West End Girls", "Left To
My Own Devices" ("this song?' says Neil, "has a very long
orchestral introduction, during which I will drink some
champagne") and Tom Jones '"It's Not Unusual". The Janets
stand at the lip of the stage and shriek "Neil! Neil!
Neil! Neil!" And then everyone bounds back into the
"Good fun, that," says Chris. "Neil, I
think we should do a club tour of England."
to apologize for my dance routine," says Janet
We rush to the limo. On the way, Neil
passes a girl in a pointy hat who is clearly waiting for
some acknowledgment. He kisses her on the cheek, and she
burst into tears.
"You see what you've done)' teases
Chris. "You've traumatized hen"
Sunday, March 1st
The Janet's, who are not going to St Petersburg, leave
this morning. "Good-byes have been phoned through," Neil
says. In the bar there is a famous blond Olympic skater.
None of us know her name, but she poses with Neil and
Chris, and everyone seems happy enough about it.
Neil and Chris sit in the limo, waiting to go to the train
station, a waiter walks out of the hotel carrying a tray
stacked with china, cutlery and food. He bends down to the
limo's front passenger side, and passes the food through
the window. Dainton is having his breakfast delivered.
"I am," says Chris, "literally speechless."
we pull away. Chris looks out of the window. "Bonnie
Tyler's got posters all over, he says. "But she might not
be selling tickets."
On the train Neil stands up and
makes an announcement to the rest of the touring party.
"Hello, everyone. Can I welcome everyone on behalf of the
British government to the 12.20 to St Petersburg, stopping
nowhere?" He sighs. "St Petersburg. It's one of our
spiritual homes. For me, it's like going home."
train pulls out.
"There's no reason for us not to
start eating, is there?" says Chris.
Neil agrees. "I had plain yogurt and black bread for
Bags of food are unpacked: lots of caviar,
mostly, and red wine, The journey takes just under five
hours. Neil and Chris doze, and then go through letters
for this issue of Liberally. Some of the crew go to the
train bar, where they are forced to skull huge quantities
of vodka by Russians.
Driving into St Petersburg from
the station, we see a huge video billboard playing Pet
Shop Boys videos and advertising their concerts, and we
pass a nightclub where the Pet Shop Boys, on their last
social visit here, were crookedly advertised as
performing. Neil points out where a politician was
assassinated last year. "Don't worry," he says "Things
have calmed down."
That evening, they go out for
dinner, but once we have changed restaurants (there are
two restaurants with the same name on the same street) and
been kept waiting in the
second, Chris gets in a mood
and goes back to the hotel to have room service. Everyone
else ends up in the hotel bar. Neil spots that it is
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" he
wails. He jumps up, energized. "We should go and have a
snowball fight. It's what we came to see, and we got it.
It doesn't often snow in February, the way it's meant to
do. Actually it's March now."
In the road outside the
hotel, a couple of snowballs are lobbed under the street
lights, then everyone retires to bed.
Neil does some sightseeing. In a snow-covered
square near the hotel, we meet an old man with a
balalaika. Neil pretends to play it for a moment and
photographs are taken. As we skid around the ice-rink
which has formed in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there
is a loud boom. "That means it's midday," Neil says. We
walk over to the Marble Palace, and end up in the famous
Marble Hall, its windows looking out over the icy river.
"This is one of the best views there is," Neil says. "I
always say I could live in this room as a studio flat." He
talks about how the remains of the last Star were buried
in quicklime. "As in the Pet Shop Boys song 'Up Against
It' ," he adds. In another wing, we find a modern art
One exhibit is a collection of photos of art
scene parties. Neil is in the strange position of looking
at an exhibit and finding both himself and Chris -
pictured at an exhibition - in it.
Chris and Neil have
lunch at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel. Chris
reflects on his departure last night, and its moral. I'm
not stupid," he says. 'One thing I know now is when to
leave. I've got a new rule now. I don't go out in groups
of more than six." He relaxes this a little. Eight, I know
all the people," he says Six otherwise.
course - crispy aromatic duck arrives, but he doesn't like
the way it is cut op, and won't eat it. Dainton gives him
one of his spring rolls and he is just about to eat it
when he realists that it'll have prawns in.
trying to poison me?" be asks Dainton.
Chris Lowe and
food," Neil sighs. 'It's a problem."
'It is," Chris
agrees. "It's a problem area."
Neil returns to one of
the tour's most frequent topics of conversation: his
"I'm going to get one," Chris
says. 'But I'm going to have to wait for my birthday. I
can't buy myself one."
There has been a suggestion
that their show Js too short for Russian audiences, though
they don't really agree.
Actually," says Chris, "I
thought the concert was a perfect length."
wonders whether he should talk for longer between songs.
"The trouble is," he says, 'I don't think they'd
'No," says Chris. "You haven't really got
anything to say, have you? The messages are in your
I like it peacely)' Neil declares. "First role
of showbusiness - leave them wanting more."
Ramones used to play half an hour and do about fifty
songs," Chris points out.
"We should set a fashion for
shorter shows," Neil says. They decide to add "It's Not
Unusual" at the end anyway.
At the October Hall, for
the soundcheck, Chris rehearses about half of 'Rent", with
his keyboard playing only in his headphones, as Neil plays
guitar. When "West End Girls" starts coming through the
speakers he says, casually, "right - I'm going".
Backstage, in the dressing room before the show, Neil
reminisces about famous Pet Shop Boys concert disasters.
"The first time we did 'Go West' at the Hacienda," he
recalls, "the wind machine blew the lyrics into the
audience, and I had to do the whole song improvising the
lyrics." He laughs I remember doing improvising when I was
young: You're a lot of mentally handicapped people, you're
in a lift in a ship that's sinking. What do you do?"
"That's why you're scared of lifts," Chris says.
"That's why I've got my phobia!" Neil exclaims. "That's
it! I should sue them."
Neil sips his white wine and
water, and makes a face. "I want flat water, not fizzy,"
he says. "It's a total disaster."
Chris says that he's
hungry. "You know what?" he declares. "I don't like
balsamic vinegar. So, in other words, most poncy food I
don't like. I can't wait for it to go out of fashion."
Mitch enters with her CD player and selection. They want
some music to go off too. She suggests "Mack The Knife",
but they're not keen. Chris examines her collection.
"Mitch!" he chides. "Supertramp!"
"Have you got
anything more idealistic?"
Neil asks. (More idealistic
than "Mack The
Knife", that is, not more idealistic
"How about Janet Jackson
'Together Again'," Chris says. "I like that."
decide on Peggy Lee's "Kiss Today Good-bye", though Chris
asks to hear "Together Again" as getting-ready music.
"Oh," he coos, "this is a great track."
"We can't have
this in the show," Neil says. '-It'll sound better than
us. Oh, this is a good song." He turns to Chris. "Why
can't you write songs like this?"
"You have to be
talented," he shrugs.
Neil listens to "Together Again"
some more. "You know," he says, "ill wrote this song at
home, I would probably think 'it's too corny to play to
"I like the lyrics," Chris says. "You
wouldn't have written those lyrics. You'd have written
something about the Russian Revolution."
audience is quieter than in Moscow, and the only real
drama takes place when Derek wanders on with the acoustic
guitar - supposedly for "Always On My Mind" but he is one
song early and Neil has to shoo him away. Before the
encores, Dainton jumps onto the stage and cheer leads the
crowd, rather effectively. Neil and Chris go back on. A
girl jumps on stage and kisses them; Neil says "this is
'Being Boring'." Before "Go West", Neil tries to introduce
everyone in Russian.
Corning off stage, he looks at
his watch again. "An hour and a half exactly," he
announces. "And we're doing one more."
people for you," says Chris, underwhelmed by the crowd
response. They return for a sprightly "It's Not Unusual"
but the crowd don't seem to know the song at all and so
it's a bit of an anticlimax.
"We're just too cool,
that's the problem," says Neil in the dressing room.
"Oh, I don't know why we bother," Chris says.
to dinner at a restaurant over on another of St
Petersburg's islands. Last year, Neil came to this
restaurant and had to wait for hours to cross back over
because the bridge was up to let a ship through. He and
Dainton had to sleep on the restaurant tables.
the opening of Bruce Springsteen's "Streets Of
Philadelphia" comes on, there is actual applause and
approving nods from the Pet Shop Boys camp.
one of the best records ever made," Chris says. "Who'd
have thought Bruce Springsteen could have done this?"
"This is one of the songs I wish we'd written," Neil
agrees. "And the other 'Philadelphia'. One of the top five
songs of the Nineties."
Tuesday, March 3
sightseeing by the Hermitage, Neil calls Chris on his
mobile. (In St Petersburg they call each other fairly
frequently like this, often only a few hundred yards
apart, even though the calls have to be dallied via
London.) Chris is having lunch a few minutes away: Neil
orders a Chicken Kiev over the phone and says he'll be
there in ten minutes.
"Oh, it was a great night!" says
Chris, about Dominica's, the nightclub where Chris and
most of the entourage ended up last night. "A brilliant
In the afternoon, they head off to a radio
"Shall we play 'Believe' tonight?" Chris
"We could do it instead of 'It's Nut
Unusual'," Neil says.
"We could do them both," Chris
"The problem i5$' Neil says, "we do so many
cover versions it's unbelievable."
"We make them our
own, Chris chuckles. "We have a talent for making them our
"We do them better, that's why," says Neil. They
are told that last night the hall was officially 80% full,
which in Russian terms given that nothing may ever be
quite what it seems, and that various unaccounted-for
tickets must be added to that - is considered a sell out.
And they expect even more tonight.
"Maybe there'll be
fewer rich people," Chris says, hopefully.
station is out of town, in a beautiful, run-down old
"In order to uphold your popularity," the DJ
suggests. "Don't you think it's necessary to have some
kind of scandal in the papers from time to time, in order
to get the group back in the spotlight. Do you think that
this is true?"
"Nyct)' says Neil.
Chris says. "l think that works...."
"It does work)'
"...But we don't want to do it," Chris
"Pet Shop Boys have never tried to be in the
newspapers all the time Neil says We do lots of scandalous
Don t get us wrong Chris interrupts laughing
but they're not in the papers
On the way back into town
we are pulled up at a police roadblock
"Don't be cheeky
to them, DJ' says Neil as we slow down.
try to bribe them," Chris says. "Yet."
In the event,
Dainton chats merrily with our interrogator, and Neil
shakes his hand, and we are waved on our
a charming man, Neil says .Doesn't like the Pet Shop Boys
likes the Beetles
We slow down so that Neil can take a
photograph of the sea Chris complains We re not doing
tourism he objects I m in a hurry
panics. Disaster. He has lost a glove.
believe it," he says. "Those gloves Costa fortune. And,
also, they're rather useful."
"You shouldn't spend
much money on gloves," Chris tells him, perhaps a little
Neil begins searching. "Somewhere
here," he says, "is a glove."
"This," says Chris,
portentously, "is the story of a glove."
which, it turns out, Chris is sitting on.
October Hall, Neil runs through 'Believe", which begins
with a sample of Elton John playing 'A Song For Guy". ~I
think it's a hit strange," Neil says, Elton John playing
piano on our show."
I point out that, in 'It's Not
Unusual", they've also sampled Jimmy Page playing guitar.
"Yes)' he says, "I felt a hit weird about that."
"It's not like Elton will ever hear it," Pete Gleadall
"I'll probably tell him)' Neil says.
Pete Gleadall has been talking to the Russians who work at
the theater. "They told us," Pete Gleadall says, "that it
was the best reaction they'd seen.
nominal concert behavior in Russia is even less
"We thought it was ghastly," Neil says
"and they thought it was unbelievable."
believe you're in the country," Pete Gleadall tells him.
In the end, the audience is more lively tonight, and
Neil is chattier. "It features Elton John on piano," he
tells a presumably-puzzled audience before "Believe"; he
introduces "Opportunities" with "this next song is from
those evil 1980s where all anybody ever cared about was
"It all sounded very loud," Chris
says, before the encores.
"They turned it up," Neil
I've got earache," Chris says.
they go back on, two men and one woman rush the stage.
"We've been wanting to come here for a long time," Neil
says, "so this is a dream come true."
After a dinner
at which far too much vodka is drunk and far too many
fried potatoes with sour cream and garlic are eaten, the
Pet Shop Boys are bundled upstairs into the VIP balcony of
a club called Luna. There is a kind of ballet sex show on
stage. The Pet Shop Boys party gets excited when one
sequence is acted out to The Original's "I Love You Baby".
During a version of "Swan Lake", the female dancer has car
headlights over her breasts. A man appears with a
two-and-a-half foot wooden prosthetic as a penis, which,
at the end, is grabbed off by the woman. In me next
performance, a woman has TV over her head, magnifying it.
"Talk about brilliant," Chris says. "We've got our
next show sorted out."
The evening continues in an
appropriate spirit. It is not long before Chris is
standing on the sofa, dancing to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck".
"Do you know," Chris says, 'I feel like taking all my
clothes off and dancing to The Rite Of Spring. And I
wouldn't normally do that kind of thing."
The Pet Shop
Boys Russian tour is over, but they will be here for
several days more.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1998:
All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1998 Issue 19