In June 1997 the Pet Shop Boys unveiled “Somewhere”, a three week residency at the Savoy Theatre. So of course I went along to see them!
As June 1997 rolled around, I was celebrating six months of living in London. I was well in the swing of my new London life and living it to the full. I was still only working part time, finishing every day at 2pm. So on the day of this gig, a drizzly, non-summery June day, I had time for a bit of a spree in the music stores before heading to the Savoy. From my diary: “Lots I coveted, like the many essential albums already released this year, the US “Coming Up” with bonus CD, the fabulous Mansun shirt covered in blue roses. But all I bought was the Supergrass album, had a Boots salad and Burger King chips for dinner, then made my way to the Savoy.”
(Both the US edition of Suede’s “Coming Up” and the blue roses Mansun shirt would be in my possession by the end of the year, and I still own the latter!)
At the theatre I bought myself a programme and viewed my surroundings, judging the Savoy to be “a very cosy little theatre, with an excellent view from the dress circle.” Being primarily a scruffy/glam indie girl, I felt a little out of place in the crowd for this show. “It was all fortyish couples, well-adjusted looking young women, and gay blokes, of course.” Despite not fitting into any of those categories, I wasn’t uncomfortable in this crowd, but I was “surprised they don’t get a camp feather boa contingent at their shows”.
The support was somewhat unconventional: the poet Murray Lachlan Young, who I’d previously seen at the My Life Story gig at the Astoria in May 1997. He was “introduced by a staid butler in bicycle shorts “on vodka”. He did a couple of poems from the previous gig but most were new, and fantastic. I am decidedly a fan and will be seeking out his book/CD thing, as handily advertised on the postcards on every seat, at the nearest opportunity.”
I did in fact buy his book that year, but then he promptly seemed to disappear into the ether. In 2016, when I was taking my first steps on my journey back into music obsession, I switched on BBC 6 Music to discover he was the resident poet – making it feel like a bit of 1997 had seeped into the 21st century! Which can only be a good thing.
The Pet Shop Boys’ set started the moment Murray’s finished. “Two screens at either side of the stage displayed groups of lounging, chatting people, one including Chris, the other featuring Neil, as a hyperactive mix of “Somewhere” blasts through the room. Finally Neil and Chris leave the virtual realm and enter the silver TARDIS-like box in the middle of the two screens. It’s Neil! It’s Chris! The crowd come alive! But stay seated! Ah well.”
This first song was “Yesterday, When I Was Mad”, which “set the tone perfectly for the uplifting and gently moving show. The stage was very simple and uncluttered, just Chris in his box with the two screens at either side, leaving Neil and Sylvia to roam the stage as they wished.”
It is of course one glaring drawback to theatre gigs that you have to weigh the balance of staying seating throughout thundering dance hits like this, or jump up and dance with no care as to how ridiculous you may look, or how many people you may piss off behind you. I have taken both such approaches at theatre gigs in my time, but on this night, I tried to gauge the mood of the crowd when it came to boogieing.
“The second song was “The Truck Driver And His Mate” which is of course a stomper of astounding proportions and had me cursing the crowd for not jumping up instantly and dancing about wildly, as any sane person would. “Se A Vida E” was gloriously shiny and celebratory and prompted bits of the first row to get up and jig about, but the balcony began to seem glued to their seats.”
Following this, the boys played “Some Speculation” with “an androgynous dancer prowling the stage”, and then “Hallo Spaceboy”, their duet with David Bowie, here with Sylvia Mason-James taking on the Starman’s role. At this point there were signs of life in the crowd, with “a large portion of the crowd below finally surging to the front to have a good old dance”. But it wasn’t until “Go West” that the balcony posse got moving. “It was a great moment of total celebration, such an arena-sized anthem it’s a wonder the Savoy didn’t burst at the seams.”
Then there was a proper theatre-style interval complete with ice-cream, though my diary doesn’t record which flavour I chose, before Part Two began appropriately with “The Theatre”.
“Neil and Chris’s shiny white suits now replaced by shiny blue suits. A great tune, but it’s the following “It’s A Sin” that has the crowd going ballistic. Finally we’re all up and dancing.” Given that “It’s A Sin” is the song that made me a Pet Shop Boys fan, which is in fact how I became a music fan, it has a very special importance in my life and can be an emotional moment live. However, on this night, there was no wallowing. “Singing along to this, the first pop song to ever move me the way all my favourite songs have subsequently moved me, I felt no nostalgia whatsoever, just the joy of the moment.”
Next up Neil retired screen right leaving Sylvia to sing “The man who has everything” which had a lot of people seated again. I tried valiantly to stay up and jigging, but I was scuppered by the arrival of a new song, “Friendly Fire”, “which saw Chris exiting screen left as it was a bit of an acoustic lament. Lovely though.”
Then it was one of my favourites, “Love Comes Quickly”, “and I sprang up again more out of sheer thrillment at hearing this song than anything else. Me and two others kept the balcony party going for this most wonderful tune. How anyone managed to stay seated was beyond me.”
One of the most stirring moments of the gig came with “Discoteca”, the opening track from their album of the previous year, “Bilingual”. The lyrics talk of being tormented by missed opportunities: “I don’t speak in anger, but the chances I have let pass me by and now regret, I can’t forget, they’re haunting me like a score of unpaid debts”. I felt the power of those words that night.
“Singing those words along with the man who wrote them, a man who has done so much that is great he surely should not regret anything at all, was very powerful. Almost like a warning.”
If it was a warning, then it surely was a warning to the Me of Now. I am now the same age that Neil Tennant was in 1997, and while I do have some regrets – who doesn’t, at 43? – there are none that haunt me as achingly as the way Neil sang about his all those years ago. And a big part of that is thanks to the Me of 1997, going out and screaming at her favourite bands, reminding me through the years of what is important.
After this came “Can You Forgive Her?” which was “incapable of being anything other than storming.” Closing the main set was their recent single “Somewhere”, a cover of the tune from “West Side Story”. I’d been highly unimpressed with it when I’d heard it on Radio 1, but as with so many times at gigs, sometimes the sheer fact of being in the presence of the band while they play their songs makes otherwise unimpressive songs click. This night, it was “almost as joyously anthemic as “Go West”.”
The first song of the encore was an acoustic version of “Rent”. Now was the time for me to wallow in nostalgia in the way only an extremely young person can do. “This band, and only this band, can connect me with the person I was NINE YEARS AGO, can lay a claim on my memories stretching back to before I became even remotely like who I am today, and yet make it feel continuous.”
To think that nine years was such an unfathomably huge amount of time to me at 22. Nowadays, nine years ago feels like the day before yesterday. Still, it made “Rent” “possibly the highlight of the night for me”.
Then it was “Being Boring” which was “a gentle pre-finale”. Band introductions were made, and the whole thing ended with “Left To My Own Devices”.
“We’re all chanting, singing, dancing, waving, Neil shakes hands with the front row, “I could leave you, say goodbye… ” And after several up’n’downs of the curtain, which could easily have been 20 though it was only three, it was over.”
And thus ended my second Pet Shop Boys gig. When I’d seen them three years earlier in Perth, I’d concluded my diary entry my stating that I never would see them again – a bit of youthful hyperbole, perhaps, but maybe also an indication that I didn’t quite believe I’d be able to make it to London and to make a new life for myself in that city. So this gig, occurring almost exactly six months into that new life, may not have been the most storming or life-changing, but it was a gentle reminder to me that I Bloody Did It.
“They’ve always been there. I dread to think of a time when they won’t be.”
It’s bloody marvellous to reflect that now, 21 years after I wrote that, the Pet Shop Boys are still here, and still as wonderful as they ever were. And next week I’m going to see them again at another legendary theatre – the Royal Opera House. Twice. Because that’s what living in London is for!