Literally Issue 35 Rehearsals      Page 1 Page 2 Back
sound stages used by George Lucas to film the first Star Wars movie (and now, consequently,
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 Big Brother.

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 Dowling:

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.”
They 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 the Pet
Shop Boys tour, and chat a little. “It’s hot enough, isn’t it?” Neil says. “It’s like flaming Australia.”
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.

“I’ll 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.

Offered a 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,” says Neil.

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, “Rent”.
“Something sort of romantic,” Neil suggests to Lynne. “What do you think?”

“No video?” someone asks.
“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...
“I’m talking 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.
They chat 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 Chris.
The case is made that these in-troughs will be useful.
“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.”
“It’s a complete...?” asks Chris. (He means “a complete rehearsal”.) “Coming through holes in the wall?”“Yes,” says Neil.
There is still some hanging about. Chris chats with
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.
They don’t 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 bonuses).

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.

Meanwhile, tiny 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 out, provisionally.

“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.
Instead of 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.]
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