ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Radio 2 concert

May 7,2006. Studio One
BBC Maida Vale studios, London.

It is the day before the Pet Shop Boys will play a live concert with the 60-piece BBC Concert Orchestra, and this morning they are rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time. (The last two days they have been rehearsing with just the band — a remarkable line-up itself, led by Trevor Horn who is playing bass, and including famed Oscar-winning arranger and composer Anne Dudley on piano, noted producer Steve Lipson on guitar and 10 CC and Godley & Cremes Lol Creme as one of the backing vocalist.)

Neil and Chris arrived here at 10.30 on this Sunday morning, and when Literally arrives nearly an hour later they are working on “Casanova in Hell”.

More specifically, Chris is swinging round in his chair between the keyboards while Neil is singing along to Anne Dudleys piano, as the orchestra builds behind them. Neil wont even be singing this song in the concert — Rufus Wainwright, one of the guests, will be doing so — but right now he is helping everyone understand the arrangement. They move through “After all” and “Integral”, then the conductor, Nick Ingman, says, “Neil, we have to have a break.” Orchestras operate under very strict union rules — each session is three hours long with a fixed break in the middle.

“I love all this union stuff ,” says Chris. “Bring back the unions — thats what I say.”

Neil wanders over and says that he saw their performance on Popworld yesterday, recorded days earlier, in a tone of voice which confirms that it was fine without saying so.

“You know Im missing the last game at Highbury to be here,” says Chris. Chris is a long-term Arsenal fan and season ticket holder, and today they play their final match at the stadium, against Wigan. They need an unlikely series of results today — beating Wigan while Tottenham lose to West Ham — for them to qualify for next years Champions League.

“Youve made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Neil, perhaps without the necessary sincerity.

“I have made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Chris.

After a few minutes, the orchestra efficiently re-take their seats. During “Luna Park”, the percussionist hits the metal sheet used to simulate the sound of thunder. It will be at an appropriate volume during the concert, when everything else is louder, but today it sounds comically loud. At the piano, Anne Dudley gets the giggles.

The song still sounds good, though, and at its end Marcus, the BBC soundman, mutters what a wonderful track it is.

Neil sings “Jealousy” — another song he wont be singing tomorrow — and stands there during the final, long orchestral blow-out.

“Hilarious,” he says, as it finishes. They rehearse the final two songs -“Indefinite leave to remain” and “West End girls” — and Neil worries that the gap between the two of them is too large. He wants the sound effects at the beginning of “West End girls” -the ambient city noise and the echo of footsteps in the street — to fade in over the end of the previous song. He talks to the conductor and Pete Gleadall and they agree to re-edit the backing track to make this possible.

They have finished the rehearsal a little early for lunch, and so they decide to run through that transition. Chris, meanwhile, sits at the keyboard reading Heat magazine. He studies the merchandise from the new Take That tour, proclaiming most of it “crap” though he is somewhat taken by the boxer shorts, some of which say It Only Takes A Minute, others How Deep Is Your Love.

“Lunchtime,” finally comes the announcement. It is 1.21.

“Weve finished early.” says Chris. (Nine minutes early, in fact.)

Neil and Chris have been advised to race for the front of the queue at the BBC cafeteria so that theyre not caught behind the orchestra, so this they do. Theres still a short wait, during which Chris sings to himself a song about chilli con carne. Over lunch they discuss some practical matters to do with tomorrow nights concert. Should their guests, for instance, come back onstage and take a bow at the end?

“I imagine Rufus will already be having dinner at J Sheeky,” predicts Neil.

As they eat, another guest, the actress and star of Closer to Heaven, Frances Barber arrives.

“Im so frightened…” she says, in a way which manages to seem both sincere and rather actress-y. “But what a wonderful thing for you guys. Everyone wants tickets.”

“I was scared,” Neil says, “but its not that scary here. Ive never sung live with an orchestra before… well, not very much.”

She mentions that she recently did an interview for the Channel 4 documentary, and that after half an hour — during which she felt she was delivering what was needed rather well — they told her there was something wrong with the camera and they wanted her to start again.

Neil nods, and says that they have long had a rule about that kind of thing. “We quite often say,” he says, “‘we only say things once.”

A man who was sitting near the entrance when we came in walks over to say hello. He turns out to be the novelist and scriptwriter Hanif Kureishi, and the man he has left at his table is the composer Michael Nyman, who soon also comes over and offers his hand.

The two of them are working together on a piece in one of the nearby studios.)

“Weve never met,” he says to Neil and Chris, and starts talking to Neil about his work with Damon Albarn on Damons contribution to Twentieth Century Blues, the album of Noel Coward songs Neil put together some years back. (Neil struggles to remember the details.) When he goes, Frances Barber says how justifiably annoyed he has always been that he wasnt even nominated for an Oscar for his score for the movie The Piano.

Neil asks Frances Barber whether she will help them out with another part of tomorrows show, speaking the introduction to “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show”.

She nods, looking relieved. “No, speaking I can do,” she says.

“We could do it on computer,” Neil says, “but I thought you could do it in your Nurse Ratchett voice”

“Absolutely,” she says. “Thats easy.” She wants to check one detail herself.

“I should just dress as me? Not as Billie?”

“No,” says Neil. “No,” echoes Chris. “As you” says Neil.

“What are you wearing?” she asks.

“Just a tailcoat,” says Neil.

“Just a tailcoat,” repeats Frances Barber, laughing.

“Im doing the look of the album,” he explains.

“The whole things intimidating for me,” she says.

“Its intimidating for me,” says Neil, “but as it gets closer I get less intimidated. Ill probably get more intimidated again tomorrow”

She goes off to run through “Friendly fire” with Anne Dudley before the orchestra go back into the studio. Chris mentions seeing The Beautiful Souths Paul Heaton on Andrew Marrs political interview programme on TV with Gordon Brown. Theyve been asked to do political programmes recently, but theyve turned them all down.

When the orchestra do return, Frances Barber sings “Friendly fire” with them, a little tentatively, but captivating nonetheless.

“Great,” encourages Neil.

She speaks with one of the soundmen about using headphones and the potential problems. “My ears are tiny,” she explains.

At just before three in the afternoon, Rufus Wainwright arrives. (He has flown in from America just for this concert.)

“Hello, sweetie,” he says, as he enters, in Neils general direction. “Have you guys started?”

“Nearly finished,” says Chris. “Have you prepared?”

“I know the song,” he says.

Neil studies the “Casanova in Hell” lyric that has been printed out for him and notices a mistake. “Her sharp perception” has been typed, when it should read “her sharp suggestion”. He draws Rufuss attention to the error, and corrects it himself by hand.

“Im not promising a perfect first job,” says Rufus, taking his place on a stool. The music begins. “I just have to be cued as when to start, thats all.”

He messes up a couple of moments, but sounds wonderful. He does it again, and then Neil walks over.

“In the end section you could rock out a bit.” says Neil.

“Walk out?” wonders Rufus, mishearing.

“Rock out.” says Neil.

“Oh. Rock out. OK…” he says. Under his breath, he repeats this advice to himself. “Rock out,” he murmurs.

He does it again.

“Excellent,” says Neil. “It sounds lovely.” He turns to Rufuss friends who are sitting near the doorway. “It sounds like he wrote it,” Neil says.

Chris goes over and chats with Sister Bliss from Faithless, who has dropped in from one of the other studios where she is working on a 15-minute symphonic piece. (It seems that this is probably the same piece Michael Nyman and Hanif Kureishi are doing.)

The “Im with Stupid” seven-inch picture discs arrive — the first time Neil and Chris see the finished article. Chris laughs at how black the vinyl is. “Why has no one else thought of doing this?” he says. He studies it some more: the picture disc, the sleeve, the inner sleeve. “I love our picture disc. Its over-packaged.”

“Its the eighties again,” says Neil. “Its literally a waste of wood says Chris. Rufus surveys the musical mix in front of him. “Youve got every medium,” he tells Neil, then thinks of something that may be missing. “You need a rapper.”

“No,” Neil corrects him, “Im the rapper.”

They start a final complete run-through for the day, but it breaks down during the first song, “Left to my own devices”. When they finally get through it, Trevor Horn looks at Neil and wipes some imaginary sweat from his brow. Meanwhile, the musicians in the orchestra are complaining about the sound from the PA coming back at them, distracting them.

The soundman tells them that they need to get used to it, as tomorrow it will only be worse.

As Neil begins to sing “Rent” in the arrangement Angelo Badalamenti did for Liza Minnellis Results album, Chris wonders whether he has time to pop over to Sister Blisss studio. During this performance, he doesnt stay onstage during the songs where he has nothing to play. “Theres no miming going on,” he points out. (He sensibly decides that there isnt time to leave and return.)

When they reach “Casanova in Hell” Rufus trips over a few parts. Neil suggests he might want to run through it some more with Anne Dudley but he says not — that when he returns tomorrow hell have it — and takes his leave.

“Im going to start singing it like Rufus now,” Neil tells Chris.

“He should have sung it on the album,” says Chris.

Neil nods. “He should be lead vocalist. Itd be best for all concerned.”

Chris gets a football score update as they play — Arsenal will not be in the Champions League as things stand.

They do “Its alright”, but it falls apart because no one gives Sally Bradshaw, the opera singer who sings on this and “Left to my own devices”, her cue. The second time round, Neil gets the words wrong and sings the “generations will come and go…” verse twice, but they carry on anyway.

“Its one of those round-and-round chord changes,” he says at the end.

As theyre nearly finished, Chris gets another football update — incredibly, Arsenal are now winning and Tottenham losing. When the sessions breaks up at 4.56 — over half an hour early — it is confirmed, and Chris quietly celebrates. Neil picks up the lyric sheet Rufus has left behind — his homework. Neil is seeing him for dinner and will give it back to him then.

May 8, 2006. The Mermaid Theatre. The Pet Shop Boys prepare for their final run-through onstage. Already there is a little fuss. Chris is unhappy about the two transparent Radio 2 logos which have been dangled in the middle of the stage above their heads and wants them removed. Neil isnt so bothered. “It gives it an event feel,” he suggests. Hes more worried about how low the stage is — just a few inches high — which he seems to find unsettling, and how cold it is in here. People are still setting things up. In front of where the Pet Shop Boys will be, monitors are being wrapped in black cloth, and people shout out, in urgent voices, phrases like, “Flutes, Marcus!”

Neil talks to Frances Barber about where she could stand to the side, behind the curtain. She nods, but looks a little deflated. It turns out that they are at cross purposes — Neil is working out how she will do her spoken part on “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show” but she is imagining that this is for her main performance.

“No, not for ‘Friendly fire,” he exclaims. “Thatd be ridiculous.”

She looks relieved.

Robbie Williams — tonights other guest performer — walks in with his friend Jonathan Wilkes and takes a seat in the front row to watch the first part of the run-through. He grins when Neil speak-sings the line “Che Guevera to a disco beat”. At the end of the song Neil says, once more, “Hilarious,” then adds, “at this point Ill explain the orchestra, say what were doing tonight, and then Ill say what this is.”

Robbie is asked whether he wants some “Jealousy” lyrics to prepare himself.

“Ive got some,” he says, taking them, “but its always good to have two.”

Neil and Chris have been bumping into Robbie since he was in Take That, and have got to know him somewhat better recently, and they wrote a song together a few months ago: a studio date arranged after Chris bumped into him at Soho House. They asked him to sing “Jealousy” because hes mentioned several times publicly that it is his favourite Pet Shop Boys song.

They do “Rent”, “You only tell me you love me when youre drunk” (“Good song,” notes Robbie when it starts) and “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show”, and then Neil explains how he will introduce Rufus. After “Casanova in Hell”, a screen comes down — very slowly — so that the appropriate Odessa steps section of Battleship Potemkin can be projected as they perform “After all”. Chris sits in the audience. “I like watching this,” he says. (“Thisll come out well on the radio,” murmurs Jonathan Wilkes.) On its way up the screen sticks. “Carry On at the Kremlin,” says Robbie, who is asked whether he wants to stand for his song. “No,” he says. “If at all possible.” (He will.)

After the final two songs of the first half — “Friendly fire” and “Integral” — Neil suggests that they break and rehearse Robbie singing “Jealousy”. He steps onto the stage and shakes hands with Lol Creme and Trevor Horn. He sings with his eyes shut until the beginning of the second verse when he has to check the lyric sheet, then misses the quick beginning of the third verse coming out of the first chorus, then misses his cue to come back in after the instrumental break. But what he sings sounds very good indeed.

“You dont think you should come on later,” wonders Chris once he has finished. There is quite a long instrumental introduction when he will just be standing there.

“Do you think you should come on during the instrumental,” suggests Neil.

“I think I should send my trainers on first,” says Robbie.

Neil suggests that they run through it again. This time Robbie makes a later entry, raising his hand to acknowledge an audience that isnt yet here, buttons up his coat and launches in with more gusto than before. He still makes some mistakes, of course.

“Excellent,” says Neil.

“Ill get it right tonight.” he promises.

“That sounds brilliant, mate.” says Jonathan Wilkes.

“Thanks.” says Robbie.

“Like Stars In Their Eyes.” says Jonathan Wilkes.

The musicians take a Musicians Union break, which Chris once more applauds.

Robbie chats with Neil. “Have you been doing a lot of promo?” he asks.

“Weve been doing too much,” says Neil.

Trevor Horn comes over.

“What a great pleasure it is to meet you,” says Robbie earnestly, and talks about how much he likes Fundamental. “My favourite is ‘Numb,” he says.

Lol Creme joins them. Robbie asks if theyve met before — they havent — and they discuss their places of origin. “Prestwick?” says Robbie. “The train stops there.” Neil tells Lol: “A lot of people are coming because theyve heard youre singing. If they shout ‘Wall Street Shuffle just ignore them…”

After the break, they run through the second half of the show, which begins with “Numb”.

“I will then say the arrangement for that,” Neil announces, “and then the next song, which is a bit more cheerful.”

Its “Its alright”. Then comes “Luna Park” and — “at this point I will say something about Dusty Springfield” — “Nothing has been proved”, during which Neil messes up his entrances into the verses and Robbie leaves his seat to take his place at the side of the stage (followed, as ever, by his security man).

Neil now introduces “Jealousy” without reference to Robbie, and stays on stage to speak the Shakespearean introduction over the opening music, then says, “Will you please welcome a very special guest tonight, Robbie Williams?”

“Merci… beaucoup,” he says then looks a bit flustered and silently mouths the words “lyrics?” until he finds them, just in time. At the end, he unbuttons his coat and spins round, clenches his fist, and heads over to chat with Chris. He shakes both Pet Shop Boys hands, says “See you later on,” and heads off, as though to leave, though he stays by the door to watch a little of “Dreaming of the Queen” first.

After “Its a sin” the final song before the slightly artificial encores — artificial because though the Pet Shop Boys can leave the stage the orchestra cannot — the vocalists work on their “Amen” harmonies. Sally Bradshaw asks Chris what the lighting will be like tonight so that she can be prepared.

“Ive asked to be in complete darkness,” he says. “I imagine youre going to be lit.”

“How am I going to know about that?” she quite reasonably asks, and he directs her to the lighting man.

Chris fingers the Chris Lowe Chord Charts And Parts document on his music stand.

“Whats to stop a member of the public running onstage and putting these in the wrong order?” he worries, though it seems an improbable threat.

Andy, the tour manager, walks over. “Are you happy?” he asks Chris, perhaps foolishly.

“Happy?” repeats Chris, incredulous. “Tolerably OK?

In an upstairs room there is a buffet dinner featuring what Neil declares to be some of the finest sausages he has ever eaten. As they eat, Sally Bradshaw asks Neil how one might go about singing someone elses song. She will be performing a series of songs about love at Cambridge Folk Festival and she would like to include “Casanova in Hell”. He says that she doesnt need permission — she should just go ahead.

“You could do the original lyric,” says Trevor Horn. (It used to be “his aging fate to masturbate…”, rather than “…to contemplate”.)

Neil thinks this is a fine idea. “You have to put ‘masturbate back in,” he says. “You have to.” He sings it.

“Id be happy to,” she says.

“I just couldnt cope with it,” he explains.

Conversation turns to sausages. Steve Lipson says he also knows where to get some excellent ones near his home in the countryside, and it turns out Sally Bradshaw knows one of the places he mentions, and they start mentioning places like Chipping Norton and Stow-on-theWold in the Cotswolds.

“This is a very P G Wodehouse conversation,” Neil observes.

Trevor Horn points out that he has just been reading a Wodehouse compendium.

“My favourites,” says Neil, “are the Blandings Castle ones.”

He speaks in favour of the Ralph Richardson TV version in the sixties, and Sally Bradshaw defends the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie incarnation, which prompts Trevor Horn to muse on Hugh Lauries sexiness, and a general appreciation of his accent and limp in the current American TV drama House.

“My favourite Wodehouse,” says Trevor, “is The Clicking Of Cuthbert.”

“Is that an American one?” asks Neil.

“No,” says Trevor, “its a golfing one.”

“Oh, I dont read the golfing ones,” says Neil.

This, it turns out, is the kind of conversation that takes places before an orchestral Pet Shop Boys concert.

“Do you know how old Orson Welles was when he wrote and directed and staffed in Citizen Kane?” asks Steven Lipson (who, amongst many other things, is the man responsible for S Club 7s finest moment, “Dont Stop Movin”.)

“23,” says Lol Creme, authoritatively.

Steven Lipson nods.

“He was on a roll then,” says Neil.

Back in the dressing room, the Pet Shop Boys stylist, Frank, gives them a good-luck present: a copy each of Infernals “From Paris To Berlin”.

“I think we should do a cheesy album,” says Chris. “Im fed up with quality

“I know what you mean,” says Neil. “It doesnt come naturally to us, quality.” He considers whether this might be a little harsh. “Well, it does and it doesnt.”

He looks at the good luck flowers from Gary Barlow and reads a letter from a fan detailing all the Pet Shop Boys concerts she has attended.

“Chris,” he asks, “what jeans are those?”

“Those are Prada,” says Chris. “Theyre my jeans for the season. Frank brings me a new pair every time he sees me. They cost about 250 quid. Four pairs are a thousand.”

“Whereas,” says Neil, “four Dior pairs cost only £600.”

By now, they are each lying on one of the two couches which are lined up end to end so that they could be squeezed into such a thin dressing room.

“Thisd be what its like doing a Wednesday matinee and an evening performance,” comments Neil.

Chris tells Neil about the Take That underwear merchandise.

“We should do a range of underwear,” Chris suggests. “‘NUMB.”


“‘LOVE COMES QUICKLY,” says Chris. “All our songs work as underwear.”

“‘HOW CAN YOU EXPECT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY?”‘ says Neil. Chris picks up a box of chocolates they have been sent. “I hope theyre Fair Trade,” he scowls, and reads the side of the box. “They contain nuts,” he notes, as though this is a minor outrage.

“Well,” Neil sighs, “Its finally the night. Ive been dreading this concert for three months.” Radio 2 approached them to do this concert towards the end of last year. At first they planned to perform with nothing but an orchestra, then they changed their mind and decided to use more traditional Pet Shop Boys instrumentation augmented by an orchestra. (“I just imagined everyone being disappointed,” says Neil.) They also realised that this fitted in better with the style of Fundamental, on which most of the songs are electronic but with an orchestra. So they made a list of all of the Pet Shop Boys songs they most liked, old and new, which had been recorded with an orchestra, and decided to add orchestration to two more which have never before had it: “West End girls” and “Its a sin”. Even so, Neil has been somewhat dreading it. “Now its here,” he says, “weirdly, Im almost enjoying it.”

Tony Wadsworth, EMIs managing director, pops by to see them, and they talk about the Channel 4 documentary.

“I dont hate us by the end of it,” says Chris, “which is what normally happens.”

“I thought, ‘I might quite like to buy their album ,” Neil agrees.

Tony Wadsworth talks about how well things are going, and how good the reviews are. “Its all ‘return to form ,” he says.

“I always hate ‘return to form ,” says Neil. “Q said it, and they gave our last three albums four stars.”

They begin to prepare. Neil puts in his contact lenses.

“It starts very early, doesnt it?” says Chris. They are due onstage at 7.30.

“Good thing is,” says Neil, “it finishes early.” He continues what he is doing. “Youre so lucky not to wear contact lenses.”

“You dont have to wear them,” says Chris. “You could wear glasses, or have laser surgery, or…”

Dave Dorrell tells them that Stuart Maconie from Radio 2, who will be introducing them, will be coming up to say hello at 7.15.

“7.17 now,” reschedules Neil, “because were running a bit behind.”

With difficulty, Neil frees a new toothbrush from its clear plastic packaging, and runs the tap in the dressing-room basin.

“Oooh,” Chris exclaims, “youre going to wash your teeth with water from that tap?”

“No,” Neil says, “youre right.” He reaches for a bottle of Evian instead, and brushes.

“You dont want a stray piece of rocket on your teeth,” says Chris. “In The Sun. Or in Heat magazine.”

“No, thatd be typical.” says Neil. He sings to himself the chorus of one of the new songs Rufus Wainwright played him last night from his forthcoming album.

Chris says he might just wear the hoodie hes got on.

“It is radio.” he points out. “I wonder if Ill be able to see the music with sunglasses on.”

“In that case.” says Neil, “Im doing my own make-up. Its ‘models own.” He begins to do so in the mirror. “I feel very backstage doing my own make-up.” he says. “Its showbusiness, darling. Its a wonderful life.” He finishes. “See? I just saved Parlophone eight hundred pounds.”

Chris decides hed rather keep his blue jeans on than change into the white ones he has ready. “Somebodys got to keep it a bit street.” he says. “Ive even got dirty trainers.”

At 7.17 Stuart Maconie comes in. He asks whether theres anything he should say while introducing them.

“Say whatever you like.” says Neil.

“But dont be sarcy.” says Chris.

They have their photograph taken with him and he leaves.

“Its the waiting I dont like.” says Chris. “I wonder what it feels like when youre waiting for the death penalty. And they say, ‘Youve got five minutes.

“I bet its terrible.” says Neil.

“I wonder if you think, ‘Oh, I didnt think it was going to happen.” says Chris. “Or, ‘Its about time — Ive been here for 25 years.

Neil leaves the dressing room then returns to fetch his lyrics. He asks whether he should wear his top hat and is met with a chorus of “yes”s. Chris checks himself in the mirror. “Oh, you scruff.” he says, and strides into the corridor. “The thing is, youve got to have a bit of contrast. Were not a rock band.” He feels in his pocket as they go down the backstage stairs. “Oh, my phone!” he exclaims.

“You havent got your phone, have you?” says Neil.

“Ill have to put it on vibrate.” says Chris.

“No!” says Neil. “I can hear it in my headphones…”

Stuart Maconie introduces tonights performers as “some of the finest musicians ever collected together on a British stage”, listing many of them until he finally builds up to “the Pet Shop Boys!” At which point they dont come on and Maconie has to explain to the audience — “because thats the lie that radio tells” — that he now has to leave the stage, and then the Pet Shop Boys own build-up to their performance will begin. Though its a strange, small auditorium, and the house lights stay up during “Left to my own devices”, its immediately clear that this is going to work. As soon as the rhythm track comes in everyone is clapping, the orchestra sounds wonderful,

Neils voice rings clearly through and you get a sense that people are aware that this may be the only time in their life that they hear this — the full, long album version of “Left to my own devices” with all its lyrics and different movements and wild instrumental flourishes and Sally Bradshaws operatic wails.

The top hat lasts until after the third song when Neil chucks in into the wings — “its getting a bit sweaty under there”.

Rufus Wainwrights performance is greeted rapturously — he kisses Neil before departing — and then Neil must talk at great length as the screen slowly lowers. (Towards the end, it starts to rise before the song and film have finished, then pauses until it is really time.)

“You dont get that in Take Thats concert.” Neil points out, and introduces Frances Barber.

Unlike in rehearsals, she now falls back into all of Billie Trixs over-the-top jaded Teutonic mannerisms and hand gestures. Then after “Integral” — there is applause when Neil explains how it is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys opposition to ID cards — its the intermission.

“Im quite enjoying it.” says Neil in the dressing room.

“Its the best repartee youve done.” Chris tells him.

“I feel like a chat show host.” says Neil.

“Youre the new Bruce Forsyth.” says Chris.

“I had to restrain myself to stop asking Rufus about his Judy Garland project,” says Neil.

There is a knock on the door. It is Janet Street-Porter and Elton John.

“The orchestras great, but you cant hear the rhythm section,” says Elton, then adds, as though maybe he has realised this sounds a little blunt (never mind not the only reasonable view on how the music has been sounding), “its going to sound great on the radio.” He adds: “I loved ‘Rent — ‘Rent is fantastic.”

“Its a lovely arrangement,” Neil agrees.

“Its a great song,” says Elton. “And Rufus did a great job.”

“‘Integral ,” says Janet, “is your Rammstein.”

“Did you write it for them?” Elton asks.

“No,” says Neil, “but when we were recording it, we kept telling Trevor it should sound like Rammstein.”

“Youre not doing ‘Stupid?” asks Elton.

“No,” says Neil. “Theres not an orchestra on it.”

“And youre not doing my favourite, ‘I made my excuses and left” he says.

“I dont know why were not doing it,” says Neil.

“Can you believe the England squad?” Elton asks, and he chats with Chris about the various merits of various footballers.

“Its hot in here, isnt it?” says Chris.

“It was hot out there,” says Janet. “And then there was the smell of burning.” There was indeed a weird electrical-burning smell in the auditorium as the show started.

“Its great youve come down,” Neil says to Elton.

“Come on, I was looking forward to it,” he says. “Its the first time Ive been out, apart from the other night.” They were both at a charity event the other night where Elton sung, and they laugh about a rather poor portrait of the Queen they saw there. Neil says that while he was there he fell into conversation with a man he knew was famous but who he couldnt identify — for a while he wondered whether it was the conductor Daniel Barenboim, but he hung on in the conversation without letting on that he didnt know until he realised he was talking to the playwright Tom Stoppard.

Elton asks about the Newcastle performance of Battleship Potemkin.

“God, it was cold,” says Neil. “We had thermal underwear on. The sheet music was held onto the music stands by clothes pegs.

“Im very impressed youve got Lol Creme onstage,” says Elton.

Neil says that he nearly sung an extremely rude word in the lyrics to “You only tell me you love me when youre drunk” tonight by accident.

“Its not a rhyme,” objects Chris. “Its not even a half-rhyme.”

Elton raves about Sally Bradshaw. Or, as he puts it, “The fabulous woman in the first song. I immediately said, I want one of her just to have around. Shes so camp.”

“She was doing Parsifal last week” says Neil. “Shes a really famous opera singer. She normally wears sandals and a cotton dress — we told her she had to look like an opera singer.”

There is a knock on the door.

“Itll be ‘five minutes” says Elton, in a how-many-millions-of-times-have-I-heard-that-knock tone of voice.

“Five minutes!” comes the shout through the door, and they all roar with laughter. Elton and Janet make their way back to their seats, and the Pet Shop Boys prepare for the second half.

“Ill sleep well tonight,” Neil notes.

“Numb” slides into “Its alright”, after which Neil says, “Thats an old rave classic.” Most of the audience laugh — its probably funny to hear something described as “a rave classic” when its played in a theatre like this with an opera singer and an orchestra. “Well, it is,” says Neil. Later, introduces “Nothing has been proved”. “This song actually tells the whole story of the Profumo affair in four minutes. So actually you dont need to see the film.”

He introduces “Jealousy” by explaining it as the first song they ever wrote. Robbie is greeted by a huge roar, and holds up his arms like a body builder, and grins. He makes a slight blunder or two on his way through the song, but covers it up well, and by the end of the song half the crowd are on their feet for the first time. He hugs Neil, gives a quick thumbs up, and is gone. (When Literally speaks to him a little later, he is full of beans about the experience.)

“Its just slightly over-the-top, the end of that song,” says Neil.

When they return for the encores, Neil introduces “Indefinite leave to remain” by noting that “the start sounds a bit like the Hovis advert”. After “West End girls”, they are gone.

“Im glad thats over anyway says Chris in the dressing room, as ever the last person on earth to acknowledge a triumph. He runs the tap in the basin. “This is useless,” he fumes. “Ive seen it all now.”

Rufus comes in.

“Yes, Rufus” says Neil, “you stole the show.”

“Yes” says Rufus. “But then I gave it back.”

There is a party in an upstairs bar. Neil is approached by Trevor Horns wife and manager, Jill Sinclair.

“Rufus and Robbie did wonderful impersonations of you,” she says.

“The end of ‘Jealousy is so camp I thought I was going to laugh,” he says, and pays tribute to her husband. “I love watching Trevor play,” he says. “Its like I love watching Chris play — because theyre concentrating so hard.”

Soon he disappears back into the thick of the party, where their friends and family are waiting. One side of the room is lined with the neon signs spelling out the names of the songs on Fundamental and they wont be switched off anytime soon.