Top of the Pops live chat
Pet Shop Boys
The fantastic Pet Shop Boys, joined TOTP for a Live Chat and answered your questions about their music, their new album and lots more …
Question from Ian: Hi Neil and Chris. Really enjoyed your performance tonight, what’s it like being back at Top of the Pops?
Neil: The first time was in 1985, and what’s really nice is that they had a thing in the 90s when they went to Elstree. Now it’s back at BBC TV Centre in Shepherds Bush, which is more convenient, and it’s where TOTP originally came from. The audience feedback was good. We had some fans in there. My brother and his wife were there. Friends and family!
Question from Hans: Hello boys. You released your album on April 1st. Did you come up with the title Release because that is the latin word for April?
Chris: Is it? Of course that’s the reason! You studied Latin didn’t you, Neil?
Neil: We were originally going to call the album Home, but it was suggested that we call it Release. It feels like a release for me.
Question from Sarah Merrett: What do you think about the state of the music today? Do you think there are too many “created” bands and not enough originality about? I have always been a fan since the early 80’s and love your music.
Chris: I love manufactured pop bands, they’re fantastic. S Club Juniors are my favourite – I don’t think those kids are being exploited at all!
Neil: I do like Blue.
Question from Chris: Yeah, they’re good.
Neil: You can get good manufactured bands. The Monkees were manufactured.
Chris: The Beatles!
Neil: No, not really … You don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to.
Question from Hilary Hadfield: Love the new album. Have seen the gruelling tour, how do you prepare physically for it?
Chris: I’m down the gym every day! I’ve just run the marathon! It’s also a mental thing as well, so I like to do a lot of reading. I study Buddhism and yoga.
Neil: No wonder you look so well Chris! I actually do nothing to prepare for the tour, but I occasionally do yoga before the show. I think it’s good to be upside-down, get the blood to your head. I like touring, but I don’t like flying all the time.
Question from David Elliott: Will the Release world tour have a similar set up to the recent university tour or are you going to go for something a bit more extravagant?
Neil: It’s not extravagant. Doing this in smaller venues – we designed it around what we wanted to do musically, and it’s not a big production. It was designed by Ian McNeil, a famous theatre designer, so the aesthetic is ‘rough’.
Chris: This tour is really about the music, just us and the audience. We’re not detached from the audience this time. We’ve reworked some of the old songs too – not too radically.
Question from Vespawelle Java: Hello boys, may I ask you for the story behind the wonderful song Love is a Catastrophe?
Neil: This came out of a thing in my personal life I was very unhappy about. I told a friend that love is a catastrophe. When love goes wrong, you get obsessional, and that’s what the song is about. It’s quite cathartic putting it down in words. You make the record, listen back to it, and you can leave it there. This was written almost two years ago now. When I sing it, I find I can still feel the pain, if you like.
Question from David King: Will you be releasing another remix album? How about calling it “Excuse me PLEASE it’s DISCO ACTUALLY”!
Chris: Great title! I doubt it. We’ve just repackaged all our previous stuff. There’s quite a lot of stuff lying around but I don’t think we will.
Neil: We wanted to re-release the old material because the technology has really improved, so we could make the sound quality better. We also wanted to put out the stuff – remixes for example – that we made at the time, and have them all in one place. It’s a marketing exercise as well, to get our stuff back in the shops.
Chris: In the old days, the booklet was the cover in the CD packaging. Our stuff was originally poorly packaged, but now they’re gorgeous items in cardboard sleeves, and you get two albums in one.
Question from Alex 4D: A few people have covered your songs, Merril Bainbridge covered Being Boring – which are your favourites?
Neil: I like the version of Rent we did with Liza Minelli, arranged by the person who did the music for all the David Lynch films. I felt that was a really good arrangement. It’s a very coverable song because it’s got a very simple chord change.
Question from Emma King: What has been the best gig so far and why?
Neil: Ever? I always remember a gig on the Performance tour in Brussels. The show was like an opera – you had to pretend the audience weren’t there, but they were behaving like a football crowd. I really enjoyed that gig. I remember Glastonbury two years ago. We didn’t know what it would be like but it went down really well.
Chris: We did a concert in Rio once. The audience was so mad – the reaction was like just having scored the winning goal at the World Cup.
Neil: The first time we did TOTP – West End Girls – you do a rehearsal, and when we did, the studio went really quiet, and at the end, the studio clapped, and it was a nice feeling.
Question from Steve Wilkinson: Hi Neil and Chris – will you ever DJ on Radio One again like you used to?
Chris: I’ll DJ again if we’re asked. Whenever we’ve done it we’ve had total control over what records we play, so it was great – we could scout round all the record shops. Doing the Simon Bates show for a week was a real highlight. There’s a record I heard called Just Put Your Hand in Mine by the Space Cowboys which is really good.
Question from Josh Isaacs: Do you feel you have developed as musicians during your absence from the limelight?
Neil: I don’t know about the absence and the limelight bit but I think, over the years we’ve developed as musicians. I feel we have over the last few months, doing the university tour, having to play guitar. I’ve been playing guitar since 12, but I was pushing myself on the tour, doing something new. It’s a good feeling. Remembering all the chords and the whole thing, I like that. But I also feel, making songs technically, we’ve improved over the years. I think we still have the simple inspiration that we had at the start, but greater technical knowledge. When we started we didn’t always understand what was going on in the studio, but now we do.
Question from Trudi Topham: Was it jarring moving from more “conventional” careers into the pop arena? What prompted the decision to leave financial stability and head into the fickle music world?
Neil: Chris didn’t have a career! He’s never worked for a living ever!
Chris: I’ve had part-time jobs!
Neil: For me it was a funny decision. I left Smash Hits at 30 which seemed quite old. I felt it was worth a go. We got an advance from EMI, which meant I got the same annual salary as my pitiful one at Smash Hits.
Chris: I had no idea how the music would be received. When we came back from New York with our demo, I didn’t play it to anyone – I was too embarrassed!
Question from Susan Cowan: Hello Neil and Chris. I really enjoyed Closer to Heaven, are there any plans for another musical?
Chris: Oh yes, we’re going to write another one next year. We learnt a lot from Closer to Heaven. It was a great experience. It’s not just me and Neil – it’s the whole theatrical team, the actors as well. It’s a great team effort, and when you get it on stage, it’s quite an achievement. A long, hard process, but well worth it. We want to do one that’s more accessible to more people this time. Closer to Heaven was never meant to be a big blockbuster like Les Mis. It was very much an off-Broadway production, which lasted for five months – I was surprised it lasted more than a week!
Neil: We’re also talking about a north American production too. I was talking to someone who works in musicals, and she said she couldn’t imagine an entirely new musical with a new score being successful, because people like familiarity. As ever in the Pet Shop Boys we’re standing outside what other people think. We think it’s possible, but we don’t think of it as being commercially viable for ten years. We just think of it as doing a new play.
Chris: The age group we were aiming at would go to the cinema, but would never go to the theatre. I think Closer to Heaven would make a great film. I can imagine a Hard Day’s Night type version of it.
Question from Julian Thomas: Any more musical collaborations on the horizon?
Neil: No, not at the moment.
Chris: We’re not really thinking about it at the moment.
Question from Stephen1: What’s your favourite track on the latest album, and are you worried about upsetting Eminem?
Neil: We’re not worried about upsetting Eminem. He’s upset a lot of people in his career, so I suspect he won’t mind, but he probably won’t hear it! My favourite album is the last track, You Choose, but I like every track on the album.
Question from Anders: How do you feel when you find out that your songs are on the internet one or two months before the album is released?
Neil: It’s a fact of modern life. I find it kind of annoying that your album is stolen and put on the internet. You don’t have the responsibility about releasing things anymore, you don’t have the choice. If we wanted to do that, we could do it on our own website. There’s a weird morality on the internet – people think it’s okay to steal things because it doesn’t feel like stealing. Our album is something made and financed by us. I think we should be able to decide when we can release it. I think people should get their heads around the fact that it’s stealing. But the music business isn’t really bothered. People say, I downloaded your album, I’m going to buy it. Okay, but it’s still stealing. We think music is precious, and has a value. If you look at our album cover, the work that’s gone into the presentation – when people download it in MP3 format …
Chris: People don’t realise that MP3 isn’t a very good format. There’s this whole myth that digital is really good quality, but analogue is much better quality.
Neil: The internet is a good resource, but there are no libel laws on it – people say things that aren’t true, as if they are fact. People are intellectually lazy …
Chris: And the grammar’s appalling!
Question from Jeremy Kay: Have you got massive record collections? I remember Neil saying he bought all the Bobby O records in the early days…
Neil: At some point in the early 90s, or even earlier than that, I got rid of a lot of vinyl albums, but I kept my 12″ singles. I’ve also got a collection of 7″ records from the 70s and early 80s. And I’ve got thousands of CDs!
Question from Neilsblueeyes: Roughly what percentage of your fan mail do you read (truth please!) and do you bin it immediately or keep any of it?
Neil: We have a system on the internet where people can ask us questions, and we answer some of them – we can’t answer them all! Fanmail requests for autographs are passed to us, and we sign them, but we can’t respond to all our fanmail. We get sent food and things – bottles of wine, that goes down quite well!
Question from David Robinson: What further ambitions do you have as a group bearing in mind everything you’ve achieved over the years? Is there anything you still have a burning desire to do?
Neil: We have a lot of ambitions, in terms of performances, records, doing another musical.
Chris: I don’t know really. I wish I was more ambitious really. I’m lazy! But it’s the more ambitious people who seem to get further, even if I’m not as talented. I wish I had a bigger ego because they seem to do better as well.
Question from Neilsblueeyes: Who is the snootiest star you’ve met?
Chris: Apart from Neil?
Neil: How dare you say that! Moby! No… Michael Stipe? Erm… People probably expect showbizzy stars to be snooty, but music people are a lot more snooty. Steven Spielberg told me he loved my music. But you might find someone who won Big Brother is a lot more snooty than Steven Spielberg.
Question from Mellissa Marshall: Did you ever think, way back in the 80’s that your success would continue as it has done … your albums get better and better!!
Neil: Thank you! We’ve never ever thought that far ahead. It’s great to still be doing what we’re doing. We have fantastically interesting lives, have done for a long time. What happens happens. It’s great really.
Chris: I didn’t really think about it. I never imagined success in the first place. I’ve got no complaints.
Neil: I think to be able to have ideas, write songs, have them released and get things produced in the theatre – it’s a wonderful position to be in.
Chris: We’ve managed to do this without using fame and celebrity. Sometimes I think if we’d lived our lives in a more public way, we’d have had more success. But we’ve relied on our music, rather than going to openings and living our life as a soap opera.
Neil: We don’t look back at our records and think they’re crap. We like them all.
Chris: I think our greatest achievement is writing songs that mean things to ourselves and people.
TOTP Host: Here’s the Boys with a final word to everyone that’s logged on today….
Neil: I’d like to thank all our fans around the world for the support they give us, because it is great. We have a kind of weird Pet Shop Boys community. It’s amazing. It’s all about love!
Chris: As long as it’s unrequited! The Pet Shop Boys are all about lost love, or love that’s never happened!