May 7,2006. Studio One,
BBC Maida Vale
It is the day
before the Pet Shop Boys will play a live concert with the
60-piece BBC Concert Orchestra, and this morning they are
rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time. (The
last two days they have been rehearsing with just the band
- a remarkable line-up itself, led by Trevor Horn who is
playing bass, and including famed Oscar-winning arranger
and composer Anne Dudley on piano, noted producer Steve
Lipson on guitar and 10 CC and Godley & Creme's Lol Creme
as one of the backing vocalist.)
Neil and Chris arrived
here at 10.30 on this Sunday morning, and when Literally
arrives nearly an hour later they are working on "Casanova
More specifically, Chris is swinging
round in his chair between the keyboards while Neil is
singing along to Anne Dudley's piano, as the orchestra
builds behind them. Neil won't even be singing this song
in the concert - Rufus Wainwright, one of the guests, will
be doing so - but right now he is helping everyone
understand the arrangement. They move through "After all"
and "Integral", then the conductor, Nick Ingman, says,
"Neil, we have to have a break:' Orchestras operate under
very strict union rules - each session is three hours long
with a fixed break in the middle.
"I love all this
union stuff ," says Chris. "Bring back the unions - that's
what I say."
Neil wanders over and says that he saw
their performance on Popworld yesterday, recorded days
earlier, in a tone of voice which confirms that it was
fine without saying so.
"You know I'm missing the last
game at Highbury to be here," says Chris. Chris is a
long-term Arsenal fan and season ticket holder, and today
they play their final match at the stadium, against Wigan.
They need an unlikely series of results today - beating
Wigan while Tottenham lose to West Ham - for them to
qualify for next year's Champions League.
made the ultimate sacrifice," says Neil, perhaps without
the necessary sincerity.
"I have made the ultimate
sacrifice," says Chris.
After a few minutes, the
orchestra efficiently re-take their seats. During "Luna
Park", the percussionist hits the metal sheet used to
simulate the sound of thunder. It will be at an
appropriate volume during the concert, when everything
else is louder, but today it sounds comically loud. At the
piano, Anne Dudley gets the giggles. The song still sounds
good, though, and at its end Marcus, the BBC soundman,
mutters what a wonderful track it is.
"Jealousy" - another song he won't be singing tomorrow -
and stands there during the final, long orchestral
"Hilarious," he says, as it finishes.
They rehearse the final two songs -"Indefinite leave to
remain" and "West End girls" - and Neil worries that the
gap between the two of them is too large. He wants the
sound effects at the beginning of "West End girls" -the
ambient city noise and the echo of footsteps in the street
- to fade in over the end of the previous song. He talks
to the conductor and Pete Gleadall and they agree to
re-edit the backing track to make this possible.
They have finished the rehearsal a little early for lunch,
and so they decide to run through that transition. Chris,
meanwhile, sits at the keyboard reading Heat magazine. He
studies the merchandise from the new Take That tour,
proclaiming most of it "crap" though he is somewhat taken
by the boxer shorts, some of which say It Only Takes A
Minute, others How Deep Is Your Love.
finally comes the
announcement. It is 1.21.
finished early$' says Chris. (Nine minutes early, in
Neil and Chris have been advised to race for the
front of the queue at the BBC cafeteria so that they're
not caught behind the orchestra, so this they do. There's
still a short wait, during which Chris sings to himself a
song about chilli con carne. Over lunch they discuss some
practical matters to do with tomorrow night's concert.
Should their guests, for instance, come back onstage and
take a bow at the end?
"I imagine Rufus will
already be having dinner at J Sheeky," predicts Neil.
As they eat, another guest, the actress and star of Closer
to Heaven, Frances Barber,
frightened..? she says, in a way which manages to seem
both sincere and rather actress-y. "But what a wonderful
thing for you guys. Everyone wants tickets:'
scared," Neil says, "but it's not that
scary here. I've
never sung live with an
orchestra before... well, not
She mentions that she recently did an
interview for the Channel 4 documentary, and that after
half an hour - during which she felt she was delivering
what was needed rather well
- they told her there was
something wrong with the camera and they wanted her to
Neil nods, and says that they have long
had a rule about that kind of thing. "We quite often say,"
he says, "'we only say things once':'
A man who was
sitting near the entrance when we came in walks over to
say hello. He turns out to be the novelist and
scriptwriter Hanif Kureishi, and the man he has left at
his table is the composer Michael Nyman, who soon also
comes over and offers his hand.
The two of them
are working together on a piece in one of the nearby
"We've never met," he says to Neil and Chris,
and starts talking to Neil about his work with Damon
Albarn on Damon's contribution to Twentieth Century Blues,
the album of Noel Coward songs Neil put together some
years back. (Neil struggles to remember the details.) When
he goes, Frances Barber says how justifiably annoyed he
has always been that he wasn't even nominated for an Oscar
for his score for the movie The Piano.
Frances Barber whether she will help them out with another
part of tomorrow's show, speaking the introduction to "The
Sodom and Gomorrah Show".
She nods, looking relieved.
"No, speaking I
can do," she says.
"We could do it
on computer," Neil says,
"but I thought you could do it
in your Nurse
Ratchett voice:' "Absolutely," she says.
"That's easy:' She wants to check one detail herself. "I
should just dress as me? Not as Billie?"
Maida Vale, with Sally Bradshaw.
ISunday, Maida Vale,
Rufus Wainwright with Neil.
Sunday, Maida Vak, Frances
star of Closer to Heaven, Frances
"I'm so frightened..:' she says, in a
way which manages to seem both sincere and rather
actress-y. "But what a wonderful thing for you guys.
Everyone wants tickets:'
"I was scared," Neil says,
"but it's not that scary here. I've never sung live with
an orchestra before... well, not very much:'
mentions that she recently did an interview for the
Channel 4 documentary, and that after half an hour -
during which she felt she was delivering what was needed
- they told her there was something wrong
with the camera and they wanted her to start again.
Neil nods, and says that they have long had rule about
that kind of thing. "We quite often say," he says, "'we
only say things once':'
A man who was sitting near the
entrance when we came in walks over to say hello. He turns
out to be the novelist and scriptwriter Hanif Kureishi,
and the man he has left at his table is the composer
Michael Nyman, who soon also comes over and offers his
hand. (The two of them are working together on a piece in
one of the nearby studios.)
"We've never met," he says
to Neil and Chris, and starts talking to Neil about his
work with Damon Albarn on Damon's contribution to
Twentieth Century Blues,
the album of Noel Coward
songs Neil put together some years back. (Neil struggles
to remember the details.) When he goes, Frances Barber
says how justifiably annoyed he has always been that he
wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for his score for the
movie The Piano.
Neil asks Frances Barber whether she
will help them out with another part of tomorrow's show,
speaking the introduction to "The Sodom and Gomorrah
She nods, looking relieved. "No, speaking I can
do," she says.
"We could do it on computer," Neil says,
"but I thought you could do it in your Nurse Ratchett
"Absolutely," she says. "That's easy:'
wants to check one detail herself.
"I should just
dress as me? Not as Billie?"
"No," says Neil. "No,"
echoes Chris. "As you' says Neil.
"What are you
wearing?" she asks.
"Just a tailcoat," says Neil.
"Just a tailcoat," repeats Frances Barber, laughing.
"I'm doing the look of the album," he explains.
whole thing's intimidating for me," she says.
intimidating for me," says Neil, "but as it gets closer I
get less intimidated. I'll probably get more intimidated
She goes off to run through
"Friendly fire" with Anne Dudley before the orchestra go
back into the studio. Chris mentions seeing The Beautiful
South's Paul Heaton on Andrew Marr's political interview
programme on TV with Gordon Brown. They've been asked to
do political programmes recently, but they've turned them
When the orchestra do return, Frances Barber
sings "Friendly fire" with them, a little tentatively, but
"Great," encourages Neil.
She speaks with one of the soundmen about using headphones
and the potential problems. "My ears are tiny," she
At just before three in the afternoon, Rufus
Wainwright arrives. (He has flown in from America just for
"Hello, sweetie," he says, as he enters,
in Neil's general direction. "Have you guys started?"
"Nearly finished," says Chris. "Have you prepared?"
know the song," he says.
Neil studies the "Casanova
in Hell" lyric that has been printed out for him and
notices a mistake. "Her sharp perception" has been typed,
when it should read "her sharp suggestion". He draws
Rufus's attention to the error, and corrects it himself by
"I'm not promising a perfect first job," says
Rufus, taking his place on a stool. The music begins. "I
just have to be cued as when to start, that's all:'
He messes up a couple of moments, but sounds
wonderful. He does it again, and then Neil walks over.
"In the end section you could rock out a bit," says Neil.
"Walk out?" wonders Rufus, mishearing.
"Rock out," says
"Oh. Rock out. OK..." he says. Under his
breath, he repeats this advice to himself. "Rock out," he
He does it again.
"Excellent," says Neil.
"It sounds lovely:' He turns to Rufus's friends who are
sitting near the doorway. "It sounds like he wrote it,"
Chris goes over and chats with Sister Bliss
from Faithless, who has dropped in from one of the other
studios where she is working on a 15-minute symphonic
piece. (It seems that this is probably the same piece
Michael Nyman and Hanif Kureishi are doing.)
"I'm with Stupid" seven-inch picture discs arrive - the
first time Neil and Chris see the finished article. Chris
laughs at how black the vinyl is. "Why has no one else
thought of doing this?" he says. He studies it some more:
the picture disc, the sleeve, the inner sleeve. "I love
our picture disc. It's over-packaged:'
eighties again," says Neil. "It's literally a waste of
wood' says Chris. Rufus surveys the musical mix in front
him. "You've got every medium," he tells Neil, then
thinks of something that may be missing. "You need a
"No," Neil corrects him, "I'm the rapper:'
They start a final complete run-through for the day,
but it breaks down during the first song, "Left to my own
devices". When they finally get through it, Trevor Horn
looks at Neil and wipes some imaginary sweat from his
brow. Meanwhile, the musicians in the orchestra are
complaining about the sound from the PA coming back at
them, distracting them. The soundman tells them that they
need to get used to it, as tomorrow it will only be worse.
As Neil begins to sing "Rent" in the arrangement Angelo
Badalamenti did for Liza Minnelli's Results album, Chris
wonders whether he has time to pop over to Sister Bliss's
studio. During this performance, he doesn't stay
onstage during the songs where he has nothing to play.
"There's no miming going on," he points out. (He sensibly
decides that there isn't time to leave and return.)
When they reach "Casanova in Hell"~ Rufus trips over a few
parts. Neil suggests he might want to run through it some
more with Anne Dudley but he says not - that when he
returns tomorrow he'll have it - and takes his leave.
"I'm going to start singing it like Rufus now," Neil tells
"He should have sung it on the album," says
Neil nods. "He should be lead vocalist. It'd
be best for all concerned:'
Chris gets a football score
update as they play - Arsenal will not be in the Champions
League as things stand.
They do "It's alright", but it
falls apart because no one gives Sally Bradshaw, the opera
singer who sings on this and "Left to my own devices", her
cue. The second time round, Neil gets the words wrong and
sings the "generations will come and go..." verse twice,
but they carry on anyway.
"It's one of those
round-and-round chord changes," he says at the end.
As they're nearly finished, Chris gets another
football update - incredibly, Arsenal are now winning and
Tottenham losing. When the sessions breaks up at 4.56 -
over half an hour early - it is confirmed, and Chris
quietly celebrates. Neil picks up the lyric sheet Rufus
has left behind - his homework. Neil is seeing him for
dinner and will give it back to him then.
8,2096. The Mermaid Theatre. The Pet Shop Boys prepare for
their final run-through onstage. Already there is a little
fuss. Chris is unhappy about the two transparent Radio 2
logos which have been dangled in the middle of the stage
above their heads and wants them removed. Neil isn't so
bothered. "It gives it an event feel," he suggests. He's
more worried about how low the stage is ~- just a few
inches high - which he seems to find unsettling, and
how cold it is in here. People are still setting things
up. In front of where the Pet Shop Boys will be, monitors
are being wrapped in black cloth, and people shout out, in
urgent voices, phrases like, "Flutes, Marcus!"
talks to Frances Barber about where she could stand to the
behind the curtain. She nods, but looks a
little deflated. It turns out that they are at cross
purposes - Neil is working out how she will do her spoken
part on "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show" but she is imagining
that this is for her main performance.
"No, not for
'Friendly fire' ," he exclaims. "That'd be ridiculous:'
She looks relieved.
Robbie Williams - tonight's other
guest performer - walks in with his friend Jonathan Wilkes
and takes a seat in the front row to watch the first part
of the run-through. He grins when Neil speak-sings the
line "Che Guevera to a disco beat". At the end of the song
Neil says, once more, Hilarious," then adds, "at this
point I'll explain the orchestra, say what we're doing
tonight, and then I'll say what this is?
asked whether he wants some "Jealousy" lyrics to prepare
"I've got some," he says, taking them, "but
it's always good to have two:'
Neil and Chris have been
bumping into Robbie since he was in Take That, and have
got to know him somewhat better recently, and they wrote a
song together a few months ago: a studio date arranged
after Chris bumped into him at Soho House. They asked him
to sing "Jealousy" because he's mentioned several times
publicly that it is his favourite Pet Shop Boys song.
They do "Rent", "You only tell me you love me when
you're drunk" ("Good song," notes Robbie when it starts)
and "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show", and then Neil explains
how he will introduce Rufus. After "Casanova in Hell", a
screen comes down - very slowly - so that the appropriate
Odessa steps section of Battleship Potemkin can be
projected as they perform "After all". Chris sits in the
audience. "I like watching this," he says. ("This'll come
out well on the radio," murmurs Jonathan Wilkes.) On its
way up the screen sticks. "Carry On at the
says Robbie, who is asked whether he wants to stand for
his song. "No," he says. "If at all possible:' (He will.)
After the final two songs of the first half -"Friendly
fire" and "Integral" - Neil suggests that they break and
rehearse Robbie singing "Jealousy". He steps onto the
stage and shakes hands with Lol Creme and Trevor Horn. He
sings with his eyes shut until the beginning of the second
verse when he has to check the lyric sheet, then misses
the quick beginning of the third verse coming out of the
first chorus, then misses his cue to come back in after
the instrumental break.
But what he sings sounds
very good indeed.
"You don't think you should come on
later," wonders Chris once he has finished. There is quite
a long instrumental introduction when he will just be
"Do you think you should come on during
the instrumental," suggests Neil.
"I think I should
send my trainers on first," says Robbie.
suggests that they run through it again. This time Robbie
makes a later entry, raising his hand to acknowledge an
audience that isn't yet here, buttons up his coat and
launches in with more gusto than before. He still makes
some mistakes, of course.
"Excellent," says Neil.
"I'll get it right tonight," he promises.
brilliant, mate," says Jonathan Wilkes.
"Like Stars In Their Eyes," says Jonathan
The musicians take a Musicians' Union break,
which Chris once more applauds.
Robbie chats with Neil.
"Have you been doing a lot of promo?" he asks.
been doing too much," says Neil.
Trevor Horn comes
"What a great pleasure it is to meet you,"
says Robbie earnestly, and talks about how much he likes
Fundamental. "My favourite is 'Numb'," he says.
Creme joins them. Robbie asks if they've met before - they
haven't - and they discuss
their places of origin.
"Prestwick?" says Robbie. "The train stops there:' Neil
tells Lol: "A lot of people are coming because they've
heard you're singing. If they shout 'Wall Street
Shuffle'~just ignore them..."
After the break, they run
through the second half of the show, which begins with
"I will then say the arrangement for that,"
Neil announces, "and then the next song, which is a bit
It's "It's alright". Then comes "Luna
Park" and - "at this point I will say something about
Dusty Springfield" - "Nothing has been proved", during
which Neil messes up his entrances into the verses and
Robbie leaves his seat to take his place at the side of
the stage (followed, as ever, by his security man).
Neil now introduces "Jealousy" without reference to
Robbie, and stays on stage to speak the Shakespearean
introduction over the opening music, then says, "Will you
please welcome a very special guest tonight, Robbie
"Merci... beaucoup," he says then looks a
bit flustered and silently mouths the words "lyrics?"
until he finds them, just in time. At the end, he
unbuttons his coat and spins round, clenches his fist, and
heads over to chat with Chris. He shakes both Pet Shop
Boys' hands, says "See you later on," and heads off, as
though to leave, though he stays by the door to watch a
little of "Dreaming of the Queen" first.
"It's a sin"~ the final song before the slightly
artificial encores - artificial because though the Pet
Shop Boys can leave the stage the orchestra cannot - the
vocalists work on their "Amen" harmonies. Sally Bradshaw
asks Chris what the lighting will be like tonight so that
she can be prepared.
"I've asked to be in complete
darkness," he says. "I imagine you're going to be lit:'
"How am I going to know about that?" she quite reasonably
asks, and he directs her to the lighting man.
fingers the Chris Lowe Chord Charts And Parts document on
his music stand.
"What's to stop a member of the public
running onstage and putting these in the wrong order?" he
worries, though it seems an
Andy, the tour manager, walks over. "Are you happy?" he
asks Chris, perhaps foolishly.
"Happy?" repeats Chris,
incredulous. "Tolerably OK?
In an upstairs room there
is a buffet dinner featuring what Neil declares to be some
of the finest sausages he has ever eaten. As they eat,
Sally Bradshaw asks Neil how one might go about singing
someone else's song. She will be performing a series of
songs about love at Cambridge Folk Festival and she would
like to include "Casanova in Hell". He says that she
doesn't need permission - she should just go ahead.
"You could do the original lyric," says Trevor Horn. (It
used to be "his aging fate to masturbate...", rather than
.... .to contemplate".)
Neil thinks this is a fine
idea. "You have to put 'masturbate' back in," he says.
"You have to:' He sings it.
"I'd be happy to," she
"I just couldn't cope with it," he explains.
Conversation turns to sausages. Steve Lipson says he also
knows where to get some excellent ones near his home in
the countryside, and it turns out Sally Bradshaw knows one
of the places he mentions, and they start mentioning
places like Chipping Norton and Stow-on-theWold in the
"This is a very P G Wodehouse
conversation," Neil observes.
Trevor Horn points out
that he has just been reading a Wodehouse compendium.
"My favourites," says Neil, "are the Blandings Castle
He speaks in favour of the Ralph Richardson TV
version in the sixties, and Sally Bradshaw defends the
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie incarnation, which prompts
Trevor Horn to muse on Hugh Laurie's sexiness, and a
general appreciation of his accent and limp in the current
American TV drama House.
"My favourite Wodehouse," says
Trevor, "is The Clicking Of Cuthbert?
"Is that an
American one?" asks Neil.
"No," says Trevor, "it's a
"Oh, I don't read the golfing ones," says
This, it turns out, is the kind of
conversation that takes places before an orchestral Pet
Shop Boys concert.
"Do you know how old Orson Welles
was when he wrote and directed and staffed in Citizen
Kane?" asks Steven Lipson (who, amongst many other things,
is the man responsible for S Club 7's finest moment,
"Don't Stop Movin"'.)
"23," says Lol Creme,
Steven Lipson nods.
"He was on a
roll then," says Neil.
Back in the dressing room, the
Pet Shop Boys stylist, Frank, gives them a good-luck
present: a copy each of Infernal's "From Paris To Berlin".
"I think we should do a cheesy album," says Chris. "I'm
fed up with quality
"I know what you mean," says Neil.
"It doesn't come naturally to us, quality:' He considers
whether this might be a little harsh. "Well, it does and
He looks at the good luck flowers from
Gary Barlow and reads a letter from a fan detailing all
the Pet Shop Boys concerts she has attended.
"Chris," he asks, "what jeans are those?"
Prada," says Chris. "They're my jeans for the season.
Frank brings me a new pair every time he sees me. They
cost about 250 quid. Four pairs are a thousand:'
"Whereas," says Neil, "four Dior pairs cost only £600:'
By now, they are each lying on one of the two couches
which are lined up end to end so that they could be
squeezed into such a thin dressing room.
what it's like doing a Wednesday matinee and an evening
performance," comments Neil.
Chris tells Neil about the
Take That underwear merchandise.
"We should do a
range of underwear," Chris suggests. "'NUMB':'
BORING," suggests Neil. "'THE SODOM AND GOMORRAH SHOW:'
"'LOVE COMES QUICKLY' ," says Chris. "All our songs work
"'HOW CAN YOU EXPECT TO BE
SERIOUSLY?"' says Neil. Chris picks up a box of chocolates
been sent. "I hope they're Fair Trade," he
scowls, and reads the side of the box. "They contain
nuts," he notes, as though this is a minor outrage.
"Well," Neil sighs, "It's finally the night. I've been
dreading this concert for three months:' Radio 2
approached them to do this concert towards the end of last
year. At first they planned to perform with nothing but an
orchestra, then they changed their mind and decided to use
more traditional Pet Shop Boys instrumentation augmented
by an orchestra. ("I just imagined everyone being
disappointed," says Neil.) They also realised that this
fitted in better with the style of Fundamental, on which
most of the songs are electronic but with an orchestra. So
they made a list of all of the Pet Shop Boys songs they
most liked, old and new, which had been recorded with an
orchestra, and decided to add orchestration to two more
which have never before had it:
West End girls"
and "It's a sin". Even so, Neil has been somewhat dreading
it. "Now it's here," he says, "weirdly, I'm almost
Tony Wadsworth, EMI's managing director,
pops by to see them, and they talk about the Channel 4
"I don't hate us by the end of it," says
Chris, "which is what normally happens:'
"I thought, 'I
might quite like to buy their album' ," Neil agrees.
Tony Wadsworth talks about how well things are going, and
how good the reviews are. "It's all 'return to form' ," he
"I always hate 'return to form' ," says Neil. "Q
said it, and they gave our last three albums four stars:'
They begin to prepare. Neil puts in his contact lenses.
"It starts very early, doesn't it?" says Chris. They are
due onstage at 7.30.
"Good thing is," says Neil, "it
finishes early:' He continues what he is doing. "You're so
lucky not to wear contact lenses:'
"You don't have
to wear them," says Chris. "You could wear glasses, or
have laser surgery, or...
Dave Dorrell tells them that
from Radio 2, who will be introducing
them, will be coming up to say hello at 7.15.
now," reschedules Neil, "because we're running a bit
With difficulty, Neil frees a new toothbrush
from its clear plastic packaging, and runs the tap in the
"Oooh," Chris exclaims,
"you're going to wash your teeth with water from that
"No," Neil says, "you're right:' He reaches for a
bottle of Evian instead, and brushes.
"You don't want a
stray piece of rocket on your teeth," says Chris. "In The
Sun. Or in Heat magazine:'
"No, that'd be typical:'
says Neil. He sings to himself the chorus of one of the
new songs Rufus Wainwright played him last night from his
Chris says he might just wear the
hoodie he's got on.
"It is radio:' he points out. "I
wonder if I'll be able to see the music with sunglasses
"In that case:' says Neil, "I'm doing my own
make-up. It's 'model's own':' He begins to do so in the
mirror. "I feel very backstage doing my own make-up:' he
says. "It's showbusiness, darling. It's a wonderful life:'
He finishes. "See? I just saved Parlophone eight hundred
Chris decides he'd rather keep his blue
jeans on than change into the white ones he has ready.
"Somebody's got to keep it a bit street:' he says. "I've
even got dirty trainers:'
At 7.17 Stuart Maconie comes
in. He asks whether there's anything he should say while
"Say whatever you like:' says Neil.
"But don't be sarcy:' says Chris.
They have their
photograph taken with him and he leaves.
waiting I don't like:' says Chris. "I wonder what it feels
like when you're waiting for the death penalty. And they
say, 'You've got five minutes."'
"I bet it's terrible:'
"I wonder if you think, 'Oh, I didn't think
it was going to happen':' says Chris. "Or, 'It's about
time - I've been here for 25 years."'
the dressing room then returns to
fetch his lyrics. He
asks whether he should wear his top hat and is met with a
chorus of "yes"s. Chris checks himself in the mirror. "Oh,
you scruff:' he says, and strides into the corridor. "The
thing is, you've got to have a bit of contrast. We're not
a rock band:' He feels in his pocket as they go down the
backstage stairs. "Oh, my phone!" he exclaims.
haven't got your phone, have you?" says Neil.
have to put it on vibrate:' says Chris.
Neil. "I can hear it in my headphones..."
Maconie introduces tonight's
performers as "some of the
finest musicians ever collected together on a British
stage", listing many of them until he finally builds up to
"the Pet Shop Boys!" At which point they don't come on and
Maconie has to explain to the audience -"because that's
the lie that radio tells" - that he now has to leave the
stage, and then the Pet Shop Boys own build-up to their
performance will begin. Though it's a strange, small
auditorium, and the house lights stay up during "Left to
my own devices", it's immediately clear that this is going
to work. As soon as the rhythm track comes in everyone is
clapping, the orchestra sounds wonderful,
voice rings clearly through and you get a sense that
people are aware that this may be the only time in their
life that they hear this - the full, long album version of
"Left to my own devices" with all its lyrics and different
movements and wild instrumental flourishes and Sally
Bradshaw's operatic wails.
The top hat lasts until
after the third song when Neil chucks in into the wings -
"it's getting a bit sweaty under there". Rufus
Wainwright's performance is greeted rapturously
kisses Neil before departing - and then Neil must talk at
great length as the screen slowly lowers. (Towards the
end, it starts to rise before the song and film have
finished, then pauses until it is really time.)
don't get that in Take That's concert:' Neil points out,
and introduces Frances Barber.
Unlike in rehearsals,
she now falls back into all of Billie Trix's over-the-top
jaded Teutonic mannerisms and hand gestures. Then after
"Integral" - there is applause when Neil explains how it
is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys' opposition to ID cards -
it's the intermission.
"I'm quite enjoying it' says
Neil in the dressing room.
"It's the best repartee
you've done," Chris tells him.
"I feel like a chat show
host," says Neil.
"You're the new Bruce Forsyth," says
"I had to restrain myself to stop asking
Rufus about his Judy Garland project," says Neil.
is a knock on the door. It is Janet Street-Porter and
"The orchestra's great, but you can't hear
the rhythm section," says Elton, then adds, as though
maybe he has realised this sounds a little blunt (never
mind not the only reasonable view on how the music has
been sounding), "it's going to sound great on the radio?
He adds: "I loved 'Rent' - 'Rent' is fantastic:'
a lovely arrangement," Neil agrees.
"It's a great
song," says Elton. "And Rufus did a great job:'
"'Integral' ," says Janet, "is your Rammstein:'
you write it for them?" Elton asks.
"No," says Neil,
"but when we were recording it, we kept telling Trevor it
should sound like Rammstein:'
"You're not doing
'Stupid'?" asks Elton.
"No," says Neil. "There's
not an orchestra on it:'
"And you're not doing my
favourite, 'I made my excuses and left' ' he says.
don't know why we're not doing it," says Neil.
believe the England squad?" Elton asks, and he chats with
Chris about the various merits of various footballers.
"It's hot in here, isn't it?" says Chris.
"It was hot
out there," says Janet. "And then there was the smell of
burning:' There was indeed a weird electrical-burning
smell in the auditorium as the show started.
great you've come down," Neil says to Elton.
on, I was looking forward to it," he says. "It's the first
time I've been out, apart from the other night:' They were
both at a charity event the other night where Elton sung,
and they laugh about a rather poor portrait of the Queen
they saw there. Neil says that while he was there he fell
into conversation with a man he knew was famous but who he
couldn't identify - for a while he wondered whether it was
the conductor Daniel Barenboim, but he hung on in the
conversation without letting on that he didn't know until
he realised he was talking to the playwright Tom Stoppard.
Elton asks about the Newcastle performance of Battleship
"God, it was cold," says Neil. "We had
thermal underwear on. The sheet music was held onto the
music stands by clothes pegs.
"I'm very impressed
you've got Lol Creme onstage," says Elton.
that he nearly sung an extremely rude word in the lyrics
to "You only tell me you love me when you're drunk"
tonight by accident.
"It's not a rhyme," objects
Chris. "It's not even a half-rhyme:'
Elton raves about
Sally Bradshaw. Or, as he puts it, "The fabulous woman in
the first song. I immediately said, I want one of her just
to have around. She's so camp."
"She was doing Parsifal
last week' says Neil. "She's a really famous opera singer.
She normally wears sandals and a cotton dress - we told
her she had to look like an opera singer:'
There is a
knock on the door.
"It'll be 'five minutes' ' says
Elton, in a
how-many-millions-of-times-have-I-heard-that-knock tone of
"Five minutes!" comes the shout through the
door, and they all roar with laughter. Elton and Janet
make their way back to their seats, and the Pet Shop Boys
prepare for the second half.
"I'll sleep well tonight,"
"Numb" slides into "It's alright",
after which Neil says, "That's an old rave classic." Most
of the audience laugh - it's probably funny to hear
something described as "a rave classic" when it's played
in a theatre like this
with an opera singer and an
orchestra. "Well, it is," says Neil. Later, introduces
"Nothing has been proved". "This song actually tells the
whole story of the Profumo affair in four minutes. So
actually you don't need to see the film."
"Jealousy" by explaining it as the first song they ever
wrote. Robbie is greeted by a huge roar, and holds up his
arms like a body builder, and grins. He makes a slight
blunder or two on his way through the song, but covers it
up well, and by the end of the song half the crowd are on
their feet for the first time. He hugs Neil, gives a quick
thumbs up, and is gone. (When Literally speaks to him a
little later, he is full of beans about the experience.)
"It's just slightly over-the-top, the end of that song,"
When they return for the encores, Neil
introduces "Indefinite leave to remain" by noting that
"the start sounds a bit like the Hovis advert". After
"West End girls", they are gone.
"I'm glad that's over
anyway' says Chris in the dressing room, as ever the last
person on earth to acknowledge a triumph. He runs the tap
in the basin. "This is useless," he fumes. "I've seen it
Rufus comes in.
"Yes, Rufus' says
Neil, "you stole the show."
"Yes' says Rufus. "But then
I gave it back."
There is a party in an upstairs bar.
Neil is approached by Trevor Horn's wife and manager, Jill
"Rufus and Robbie did wonderful
impersonations of you," she says.
"The end of
'Jealousy' is so camp I thought I was going to laugh," he
says, and pays tribute to her husband. "I love watching
Trevor play," he says. "It's like I love watching Chris
play -because they're concentrating so hard."
disappears back into the thick of the party, where their
friends and family are waiting. One side of the room is
lined with the neon signs spelling out the names of the
songs on Fundamental and they won't be switched off