sound stages used by George
Lucas to film the first Star Wars movie (and now,
named after him), the Pet Shop Boys are
rehearsing for two days in preparation for this summer’s
concerts. The building next door, as indicated by the logo
on its side, will soon be the home for one more series of
This is the first time the Pet Shop
Boys have rehearsed here — “We’ve got a good deal,” Neil
will explain — and they have travelled together from the
centre of London, with tour manager Andy Crookston, by
train. They walk in from the train station at a little
after 11 o’clock in the morning during the first British
hot spell of the year.
These summer shows are, for
the most part, a continuation of last year’s Pandemonium
show. There are perhaps three reasons why they nonetheless
need to rehearse a little before appearing in public once
more. One is simply to remind themselves how it all goes:
it is several months since they last played a full show. A
second is because there is a new dancer and backing
singer. Charlotte Walcott has had to leave the production
for personal reasons, and is being replaced by Helena
today will be her first rehearsal with the
Pet Shop Boys themselves.
Still, perhaps the need is
not so great after all. When Neil walks in he views the
stage set — configured for the shows beginning, with two
large cubes made up of smaller cubes in the centre of the
stage — and simply declares: “Looking at that, I’ve
already realised I don’t need to rehearse.” He will,
anyway. First they are shown some video of yesterday’s
rehearsals when one of the road crew, Hansi, the keyboard
technician, is standing in Chris’s place, and doing
whatever Chris usually does. Their attention is drawn to
one particularly fine moment. “Somebody’s doing my dance!”
Chris exclaims. “I think that should go on YouTube.” He
approves of the imitation aside from its final flourish.
“Oh, I don’t bow,” he tuts. “The bow’s wrong.”
stand around and chat for a while. “So,” Chris asks, “is
nothing happening?” “We’re waiting for you,” he is told.
“Oh,” he says.
First they meet the new member of
Shop Boys tour, and chat a little. “It’s hot
enough, isn’t it?” Neil says. “It’s like flaming
Jeffrey, their wardrobe man, joins them. He
seems surprised.“I’ve never seen you in a pair of leather-
soled shoes in my life,” he tells Chris. “They’re not
leather,” says Chris, checking the soles, though he does
concede that they’re unusually smart footwear for him.
(They’re Loake desert boots. He bought them the other day
not far from where he lives— walking past a shop window he
did a double take, backtracked, and went in.)Jeffrey asks
if they want T-shirts for the rehearsal, so that they do
n’t get sweaty in their everyday clothes.
have one,” says Chris, then asks, almost suspicious,
“what’s the neckline like?”Chris is wearing a white
collared Ralph Lauren polo shirt. Neil is wearing a dark
t-shirt which shows a picture of the Statue Of Liberty
swathed in barbed wire and the words FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.
In the end, neither of them change.
drink, Chris requests a coffee. “We only have instant,”
Andy tells him. “I like instant,” he says, a little
defiantly. They discuss two songs they are considering
adding to the set. One is their cover of Blur’s “Girls and
boys”, based on the remix they did for Blur when the song
first came out, but in an arrangement which Stuart Price
is working on.
There had been a notion to use
footage of football matches projected onto the stage while
they played “Girls and boys” but there is a problem. They
have been told that each clip would cost close to one
thousand pounds for two seconds. Chris asks how much they
usually spend for such imagery. “Not as much as that,”
After some debate, they decide to try
using the footage they used during “Paninaro” on the last
tour. When asked why they decided to revisit “Boys and
girls”, Chris says “I thought it would be good for
Glastonbury. Because it’s a Blur song.”“It’s indie,” says
Neil. “And Stuart liked the idea very much.” Lynne Page,
the choreographer, arrives. “It’s the Tony-award nominated
announces Neil. She has been nominated in the New York
theatre’s most famous awards for her work on the new
production of La Cage Aux Follies; it stars the Frasier
star Kelsey Grarnmer, and Neil and Chris now quiz her
about him. (The reassuring summary: “He’s brilliant.”)
They consider the staging for the other proposed addition,
“Something sort of romantic,” Neil suggests to
Lynne. “What do you think?”
“No video?” someone
“No video,” Neil confirms.
He points out that
they are only adding these songs for four of the shows,
though when he starts listing them, the number of shows
grows first to five.., then to six...
nonsense,” he says. “It’s most of them.”
“‘Rent’ is the
130 bpm version we did on the last tour, isn’t it?” Pete
Gleadall checks. “That’s right,” says Neil.
about their ballet. (They are surprised to learn from
Lynne that someone she knows is already working on aerial
ideas for it.)
It’s time to start work. They are
scheduled to do one full run-through before lunch, and one
more after lunch.
“I’m just wondering how much
rehearsal, precisely, we need to do,” says Neil.
“Exactly,” says Chris.
“I’m wondering if we can leave
slightly earlier,” Neil suggests.
“Before lunch?” says
The case is made that these in-troughs will be
“I just think we could leave slightly earlier
says Neil, and looks to Chris for confirmation. “Well, I’m
always happy to leave,” says Chris. “I could leave now.”
They decide they’ll do the morning mn-through, have
lunch, leave, and then return tomorrow afternoon for the
second of tomorrow’s two run through.
“What time is
it?” says Neil. “Quarter to 12! Let’s get going.”
a complete...?” asks Chris. (He means “a complete
rehearsal”.) “Coming through holes in the wall?”“Yes,”
There is still some hanging about. Chris
Jeffrey about some ambitious ideas he has to
meld clothing and technology.
“What are we waiting
for?” Neil asks, once more. “We’re waiting for you guys,”
he is told. “Let’s start,” he suggests.
dress for the performance (though
Neil does put on
a hat), there is only a small sound system, and though
Neil sometimes does speak between songs as though there is
an audience there ..... thank you very much we’re the Pet
Shop Boys this song is called “Love etc ) he does so in a
way that is perfunctory and half under his breath. But,
that aside, it’s a full Pet Shop Boys show one familiar
from last year (though with quit the added Christmas-time
By the end, as ever, some boxes have
fallen and some have risen up suspended in mid-air behind
them. No one seems that rusty — Helena makes a few
mistakes, but fewer than you’d expect, and when Neil
reaches the final line of “Viva la vida” — “that was when
I ruled the world” — he gets his timing wrong, but that’s
about it. As the earlier conversation made clear, neither
“Girls and boys” nor “Rent” are ready — they will rehearse
these next week when they return from this weekend’s
concert in Spain — so they play the songs they will
replace: “Jealousy” and “The way it used to be”.
Afterwards, standing on the stage area, Chris says that
he’s just had a new idea for “Did you see me coming?” —
towards its end he’d like the singing to stop, for it to
be instrumental for a short while, and then —just when you
no longer expect it — for the singing to come back in. “I
know it’s a bit late in the day,” he says. “But it’d be a
bit more showbiz. At the moment it just goes on and on and
peters out — if you were Elvis, you’d come back in, have
an impact.” They discuss the practicalities of what they’d
need to do at this stage to make such a change; the
conclusion seems inconclusive.
strips of paper are handed out. These are vouchers for the
Elstree Film Studios’ canteen.“Oooh, we’ve got vouchers,”
Neil exclaims. “I haven’t had a luncheon voucher since
about 1975!” “It’s school dinners,” says Pete Gleadall,
who has eaten there the previous day, and who has a fairly
clear sense of what the Pet Shop Boys find acceptable when
it comes to such things. “You’re not going to love it.”
“It’s better than Three Mills,” says Andy Crookston. Three
Mills is where the last Pet Shop Boys tour rehearsals took
place. There, they would walk to the local Tesco
superstore instead. Here there is a Tesco close by as
well, and so they consider that option. The canteen wins
“Let’s give it a go,” suggests
Neil, “and then storm out in a bad mood.”“We could go
straight to Tesco’s,” Chris presses.“N o, let’s go and
then storm out,” repeats Neil as though this is
indisputably the most promising option.
In the end, no
storming is required. Though the hot food main courses on
offer are, as predicted, not of the kind to lure a
lunching Pet Shop Boys, there is a perfectly acceptable
selection available in the salad bar (especially once
topped off with a few warm chips). Afterwards, they retire
briefly to their dressing room that includes, for reasons
that are beyond them, a luxurious double bed. Neil eats
some milk chocolate and Chris has a Crunchy.
taking the train back into the town towards their homes,
they have booked a car to share. (Neil announces that he
will get out at Swiss Cottage and walk home from there.)
“Shall we put the radio on and see what they’re playing?”
Chris suggests. “Oh, let’s,” Neil agrees. “Radio One or
Radio Two?” “Radio One,” says Chris. (I suspect the
decision being made is between the one which is more
likely to have preferable music and the one which is
likely to be most interesting, the latter choice being
made.) “Shall we,” says Neil, “hear what the kids are
listening to?” There is a short delay as they listen to
some of what is playing when the radio is tuned on — J. B.
Priestley talking about Nazi philosophy during the war —
but that can save us for only so long from Scouting For
Girls. [Note: After realising the show was already too
long for some festivals, Pet Shop Boys decided not to add
“Girls and Boys” and “Rent” to the set.]