February 17, 2007.
Neil searches for the Backstage entrance to Koko in
Camden, north London,
he mentions that it has been a
while since he last performed onstage in this building.
"The last time we appeared here was 22 years ago," he
says, "for the Alternative Top Of The Pops:' Back then the
building was known as the Camden Palace, and the Pet Shop
Boys, yet to have their first hit, appeared on a bill with
Curiosity Killed The Cat, Swing Out Sister and a number of
other up and coming groups.
They mimed "West End
girls". Tonight, the Scissor Sisters are headlining a
concert in aid of the charity Body And Soul, and Neil has
agreed to sing a song or two with them. Increasingly, this
has been causing him some concern. For one thing, he has
been slightly unhappy at the way his performance has been
billed: his name is nearly as big on the posters as the
Scissor Sisters', and in this week's edition of the London
listings magazine, Time Out, for instance, they blithely
refer to Neil Tennant's "solo show". (He has put a note up
on the Pet Shop Boys website explaining that he is only
expecting to sing one song, in case fans might be misled;
tickets for the event are £100.)
Even more worryingly,
he doesn't really know
what he is doing. A vague plan
has filtered through
that he will sing a song from the
first album, "It Can't Come
Quickly Enough", and the Pet Shop Boys' "Love comes
quickly" but he knows nothing more - what the arrangement
will be, what key the songs will be in, if and how they
will be joined, and how he and Jake Shears may share, duet
or otherwise perform on the songs. He has been trying to
get in touch with Shears by phone for the past few days,
unsuccessfully. "I have this frequent nightmare, an
anxiety dream, that I am onstage and all the audience is
there and I don't know what I'm doing," he says. "And
that's what we re going to be doing tonight:'
the backstage door, he asks where the stage is. A security
guard points about two yards to his right.
Neil. "That's why those keyboards are there:'
scheduled to rehearse at three o'clock - right now - but
no Scissor Sisters are here yet. Neil waits in the
dressing room which, even for an old venue like this, is
reached by a remarkable warren of staircases which go down
then up and unexpectedly twist back on themselves before
you find your destination. Sitting there, he explains that
he has also got a bad shoulder from slipping on some ice
the previous week up north. Jeffrey, who will be sorting
out Neil's wardrobe, hair and make-up tonight, shows Neil
the sleeve of a very early Ultravox album from back when
John Foxx was their lead singer.
"God, they look
awful," says Neil, failing to appreciate fully the
groundbreaking fashion aspects Jeffrey points out. "We
worked in Billy Currie's studio once. We wrote 'So hard'
He starts reciting the lyric to "It Can't Come
Quickly Enough". "Sailing through the tunnels in the
morning by yourself there's a very special feeling, true
sensation all is well..." He sighs. "I'm never going to
remember this. That's why I'm nervous about it:'
woman from the charity comes in.
potential interviews lined up," she says, beaming, as
though this is good news all round.
"I probably won't
be doing them," Neil points out, politely.
from the Pet Shop Boys' management company arrives, Neil
asks him to let everyone know he won't be doing interviews
tonight, and to make sure that any press already here -
and there are some - aren't t allowed to watch the
rehearsal and sound check. It will, after all, be the
first time he has ever sung this.
Still waiting -
it's gone half past three and still no Scissor Sisters in
sight - Neil talks about The Killers, and how Brandon's
wife apparently plays "Home and dry" when her husband
returns from trips, and about the latest
flavour-of-the-moment, The Klaxons. "I bought the album
and dutifully listened to it, because we all have to like
it," he confesses, "and I can't remember anything about
it." He'd hoped, for all the advance hullabaloo, that it
might be one of those life- and opinion-changing records
that make you think about music differently, but it
wasn't. "I remember when we finished Release and Johnny
Marr gave me Sigor Ros's album and I was, 'Uhhhhh... why
didn't you give me that six months ago?"'
"I'm nervous about it," Neil says. "This song,
I can't sing it." He explains that it has also been
suggested he sing a third song, "Laura". He hasn't said
that he wouldn't because when he read the title "Laura" in
an email he confused it with another Scissor Sisters
girl's-name song called "Mary", which he likes much
better. He doesn't want to sing "Laura".
Shears sweeps in, apologising for the reasons he hasn't
been in touch which involve an absurd travel schedule to
the other side of the globe over the last week, changed
mobile phones, and over-ignored partner's ultimatums. They
run though the plan for tonight. Neil explains about
"Why can't you sing 'Laura'?" Jake asks.
"It doesn't fit my voice," argues Neil. "I don't bring me
to the party:'
"You can sing the verses," persuades
"It's not really my persona," Neil insists.
They move onto the songs Neil is happy to sing. Neil
wonders whether they can sing some of "Love comes quickly"
in the middle of "It Can't Come Quickly Enough", but
technologically that's impossible, so they decide to sing
a sparsely instrumented version of "Love comes quickly"
after which "It Can't Come Quickly Enough" will klck in.
"That'll be fun," beams Jake enthusiastically. "We can do
this by the seat of our pants."
Neil frowns. "I have,
literally, nightmares about not being rehearsed," he
explains to Jake. "It's a frequent nightmare I have."
Jake says they can rehearse it now at soundcheck, and
rehearse some more in the dressing room afterwards if need
Neil tells him that "It Can't Come Quickly Enough"
has "a tricky melody".
Jake seems surprised, as to him
it's a song which
borrows very heavily from the Pet
Shop Boys in the first place.
acknowledges, "but in fact you do things that we wouldn't
"Really?" says Jake.
"The thing that sounds like
us," says Neil, "are the 'Oooooh's."
Jake dashes off
for a few minutes, then returns.
"I need to leam one of
the verses for 'Love comes quickly' ," he says.
nods. "I have them:'
"Can you just try 'Laura'?" Jake
asks one more time.
"I'll try it at the soundcheck,"
says Neil, clearly still dubious. "It's so... Scissor
Sister-y. If I was Elton..." He lets this hang there. "I
don't think the crowd wants to hear me do this song:'
"Do you want to just stick to 'Love comes quickly'?" says
"I think it'll be a lovely moment:' says
Neil. "I mean, we can try it in the soundcheck:'
just think on those verses..." says Jake, excited again at
the idea. "Just the verses:'
"We can try it:' Neil
agrees. "I just can picture the whole thing, and I can't
picture myself in it."
They talk of other things.
"When did we last see each other?" Neil asks.
"Serbia!" exclaims Neil. "My birthday!"
They walk down towards the stage. On the way Neil is
warmly greeted by the show's host, Ben Elton.
Neil confers with Jake, Baby Daddy and the Scissor
Sisters' touring keyboard player, John, who plays the
"Love comes quickly" chords. (The keyboard player is,
someone mentions, apparently the son of The Goodies'
Graeme Garden.) On their first attempt, Jake doesn't come
in where he's supposed to, and seems pretty unsure of what
is happening, but each time it gets a little bit better.
After a few tries, Jake and Neil work out a way of
harmonising the chorus, with Jake trying a couple of
different, high melodies.
"That's good:' says Neil
Then they try "It Can't Come Quickly
Enough". Now it is Neil's turn to seem unsure of both the
structure and the melody. (The lyrics are less of a
problem only because he has a sheet of paper in his hand
with them printed upon.) Eventually, they run through the
whole medley, stopping and starting.
"If we do that
whole thing one more time..." Jake suggests.
"Absolutely:' says Neil, who perhaps would
rather do it
many more times. "Definitely?' This time it is Neil who
messes up the "Love
comes quickly" lyric, repeating the
"you can live your life lonely" line.
"From the top
again," he suggests. This time, there are no mistakes.
"What did you think of that?" Jake asks. "I thought it
sounded good," says Neil. There is only five minutes left
They discuss what they are going to do
onstage, and decide that Neil should come on first, down
the stairs at the side of the stage. Jake should appear
for the first chorus, but they shouldn't look at each
other until the second chorus. It's agreed. And instead of
rehearsing more now, they decide to meet in Neil's
dressing room at nine o'clock to practice further.
Neil goes home for a few hours, and returns a little after
nine. On his way he has picked up the fashion designer
Hedi Slimane. This time it is Jake who has been popping in
every few minutes, wondering where Neil is. In Neil's
dressing room a keyboard has not only been set up - it is
baianced on top of two rubbish bins with a space between
them - but has been left on, emitting a fairly loud but
quite pleasant pulsating ambient drone.
"I like it,"
Neil declares when he walks in. "You could just put this
A copy of lyric to "Laura" has been left
beside the keyboard, but no-one will ever mention it.
Jake comes in. He says that this is the Scissor Sisters'
final show for a while, and that tomorrow he will be
retreating to his parents' farm in Virginia. The keyboard
player, wearing a t-shirt that says I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT
YOU ARE TALKING
ABOUT, comes in to play the chords
while Neil and Jake sing. Jake loosens up his voice in an
unexpectedly operatic way.
"You could sing baroque
opera, you know," Neil tells him.
"I couldn't' says
"Yeah, you could," Neil insists.
player asks whether the keyboard sound is OK.
pretty horrible:' says Neil, "but it'll do?'
practise "Love comes quickly", which is now sounding
pretty good. Neil tells Jake that he has been practising
"It Can't Come Quickly Enough", and that he also printed
out the lyrics bigger when he went home so that he can
read them more easily. They decide that they're ready.
"I'm super-happy with it," declares Jake.
discuss what plans they might have after the show. It's
Sunday night. There's some suggestion they may meet up
with Rufus Wainwright, who is performing his version of
Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall concert at the London
Palladium tonight. This decided, Jake goes off to get
Neil points to plates of unpalatable cheese and
cold meats, still covered in cellophane and stacked on top
of the fridge, and says to Hedi, "It's in our normal rider
to ask for no food. Why do you want a plate of cheese with
Clingfilm over it? But that's rock'n'roll..." He tells
Hedi about the recent song writing he and Chris have been
doing, and mentions double-tracking. Hedi asks what this
is, and Neil explains in some detail what happens when you
record a second vocal in unison with the first. "That's
when I turn into me, when I double track," he points out.
"When I put one track on, it doesn't really sound like
About five minutes after he left, Jake
returns, ready for the stage, now wearing a remarkable,
garish multicoloured suit covered in Disney characters,
over an orange shirt. He says that he recently wore this
outfit to Tokyo Disneyland:
"People freaked out."
He says that he's worried about remembering "Love comes
quickly"'s second verse.
Neil's appearance is scheduled
for the beginning of the encores. He watches the first
half of the Scissor Sisters' set from the side of the
stage, then goes back upstairs to get dressed. There are
no coat-rails here, so whoever is on hand has to hold up
the hangers with his clothes on. "My mother always used to
say, 'You should have a valet,"' he says. He has to re-tie
his tie three times, to his annoyance. "Whenever I'm late
going out at night, it's because I'm faffing about tying a
tie. And when you think I've been wearing them since
primary school..." Next, he spills water on his shirt.
"It's only water," he says. Now he worries about the
fraying label on his tie, and decides that Jeffrey should
cut it off. He's also slightly frustrated to discover that
he can't fix on the battery pack which powers his in-ear
monitors up here, as he would normally do as part of his
routine before going onstage, because they can only get it
from the Scissor Sisters' guitar tech once the Scissor
Sisters have left the stage before the encores. So, as
with many things about Neil's appearance in this concert,
it will be a little last minute.
Gorgeous" the Scissor Sisters burst sweatily into the room
at the side of the stage.
"I'm going to totally
forget my lyrics," Jake tells Neil.
"No, you're not:'
says Neil, in a tone that
supportiveness and instruction.
"'You can live a life
"You can mouth it to me:' says Jake,
forgetting that they're not supposed to be
looking at each other at this point in the song.
goes well. There is much whooping when Neil appears. Jake
forgets no lyrics, though he does completely change the
way the verse lyrics sit over the music, following the
first line immediately with the second, he waits for the
correct moment to sing the third line and rushes onto the
fourth line in the same way, so that it seems like an
unusual stylistic decision rather than a mistake. For "It
Can't Come Quickly Enough", Neil refers to the piece of
paper in his hand whenever he needs to. At the end, they
hug, and Neil leaves the stage while the Scissor
Sisters remain to finish the show with "I Don't Feel Like
"You know," Neil says on his way up the
stairs, "if I hadn't had the lyric sheet I wouldn't have
remembered a word. I don't know how actors do it.
In the dressing room, the champagne is opened. Jake soon
joins them. He talks to Neil about the writing block he
suffered while writing the second Scissor Sisters album.
"Our third album I felt that - that we might never write a
song again:' says Neil. "And we made a six-track album.
So, actually, it was our fourth album, Behaviour, where I
thought maybe we'd never write a hit song again."
going-into-town plan has been abandoned, and so the
after-show party turns out to be in Neil's dressing room.
The conversation wanders down a number of unpredictable
by-ways, so that someone wandering in for a moment might
hear Neil tell of how he used to put make-up on his teddy
bear as a child ("I wasn't very pleased with the results")
or of how "about three times a year I have a half of
Guinness". Eventually Jake gets up to go, triggering
preparations from his security people.
"He's got his
coat on!" one of them hollers down the stairs. "Let's do