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Get ready to celebrate four decades of the Pet Shop Boys

Get ready to celebrate four decades of the Pet Shop Boys

  • Sponsored by AEG: Nearly 40 years after they formed, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are on a major UK tour with tickets still available for their Hull date.
Pet Shop Boys on tour

SPONSORED: Synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys are the authentic sound of LGBT+ Britain – and their latest collaboration just confirms this.

The pair’s new single ‘Dreamland’ features Years & Years. Indeed Olly Alexander, the Years & Years lead singer and one of the most relevant young gay artists in the UK today, co-wrote it with the Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant. He also duets with Tennant on the track.

Right now the Pet Shop Boys are preparing for their first greatest hits tour, Dreamworld. The duo will be criss-crossing the UK in May and June, visiting London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bournemout, Cardiff, Newcastle, Glasgow and Hull.

So as they gear up for the tour, we have taken a look at how they’ve shaped the LGBT+ world in surprising ways for almost four decades.

The East End Boys and West End Girls arrive

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe formed the Pet Shop Boys in 1981, at a time when LGBT+ representation in the media was a fraction of what it is today.

And from the earliest days, gay and bi men in particular related to their groundbreaking synth-pop sound and city boy style.

Early hits including debut single West End Girls, It’s A Sin and Rent landed them huge chart success. But they also introduced a new sound to the UK.

From the start they weren’t ashamed of their commercial image – instead they embraced it as a kind of ironic critique on Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

Indeed another hit song, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money), is both the ultimate anthem of the City of London’s boom years and a clever-take down of the culture of greed that period created.

At the time, a generation was growing up under Section 28 – a viciously nasty law Thatcher introduced which banned any discussion of homosexuality in schools and condemned many young people to isolation and life-long self-loathing.

But while most young people were not aware of PSB’s queer credentials at the time, many LGBT+ youth found themselves identifying with the band. (As a personal note, the first single I ever bought was the Pet Shop Boys’ Always On My Mind.)

Nor was this superficial. The Pet Shop Boys deliberately chose to work with queer artists to make their style. For example, legendary (now sadly late) gay director Derek Jarman collaborated with them to make the video for It’s a Sin.

Neil Tennant
Neil Tennant in the 1980s at the height of Pet Shop Boys fame. @PetShopBoys

Springfield, Madonna and Gaga

Many other amazing collaborations with LGBT+ icons and artists have followed.

One of the earliest was with Dusty Springfield who worked with them on the single What Have I Done To Deserve This.

It peaked at number two in the UK and US charts, but was Springfield’s biggest US hit. In fact, it helped revive Springfield’s career and led to a resurgence of interest in her music.

They would later perform it again at the 2009 BRIT Awards with an even greater music legend, Lady Gaga.

One of their queerest collaborations was with another gay pop star of the 80s, Boy George. Tennant and Lowe wrote the title track for the gay movie drama The Crying Game which George performed.

Initially the film was considered too controversial, tackling the painful subject of terrorism in Northern Ireland. But it nevertheless went on to be a hit and win a best screenplay Oscar.

Another example was their collaboration with Madonna in 2006 when they remixed her Confessions On A Dancefloor track, Sorry. Tennant provided additional vocals and Madonna performed their version on her massive Confessions Tour.

It was a dream fulfilled for the Pet Shop Boys. They had wanted to work with the reigning Queen of Pop on their 1988 song Heart. But they were too nervous that she may reject them, so kept it for themselves. In compensation, they secured their fourth number one UK single.

Pet Shop Boys on stage
On stage, the Pet Shop Boys are going to be in Hull on Wednesday 24 June. @PetShopBoys

‘Can’t you hear yourself?’

But Tennant and Lowe didn’t just collaborate with fellow musicians.

As the century turned, they worked with Jonathan Harvey, one of the UK’s best contemporary playwrights and TV writers, to create the musical Closer To Heaven.

The club-based musical may have had mixed fortunes. But again those displayed the Pet Shop Boys were merely ahead of their time. Their bold depictions of complicated relationships set in a gay club now raises issues the LGBT+ community still discusses today.

Meanwhile, it gave them another hit in the title song, Closer to Heaven. And they worked with Kylie Minogue to duet on another hit from the show, In Denial.

It’s perhaps not surprising to see Closer to Heaven revived last summer at the amazing LGBT+ theatre, Above The Stag in London’s Vauxhall – still a hub for queer London clubbing.

Perhaps it’s a sign of how the Pet Shop Boys are a band whose legacy is destined to live on.

As another gay star, Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters joked in 2010, they can influence artists even without being aware of it.

Talking about his song Sex and Violence, Shears said: ‘I feel that track sounds very Pet Shop Boys. It’s funny because Neil Tennant, who has been a great guiding light for this record, can’t hear it at all. I’m like, “Can’t you hear yourself?” because they were such an influence.’

Pet Shop Boys on tour
The electropop band will soon be celebrating 40 years in the music industry. Alex Lake, @petshopboys

Helping to pardon Turing

Despite this endless list of musical achievements, it would be remiss to write about the Pet Shop Boys without mentioning their more personal commitment to the LGBT+ community.

Tennant formally came out as gay in 1994. He has often made a difference in an understated, humble way, both behind the scenes and a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

In just one example, he connected with then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron over the 2012 London Olympics. Tennant then used that connection to push Cameron’s staff into formally pardoning World War II hero and father of modern computing Alan Turing.

The UK had persecuted Turing after the war for being gay, ultimately leading to his suicide. A posthumous pardon may have seem like a symbolic gesture. But it has also paved the way for other gay and bi men to clear their records of unfair convictions for consensual sex.

Almost 40 years on, the Pet Shop Boys is still a band with something vital to say to us all.

Join the Pet Shop Boys tour

Tickets are still available here for the Pet Shop Boys’ UK tour this summer.

Here’s the full tour schedule:

  • Thursday 28 May: The O2, London.
  • Friday 29 May: Manchester Arena, Manchester.
  • Saturday 30 May: Resorts World Arena, Birmingham.
  • Tuesday 2 June: International Centre, Bournemouth.
  • Wednesday 3 June: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff.
  • Friday 5 June: Utilita Arena, Newcastle.
  • Saturday 6 June: SSE Hydro, Glasgow.
  • Wednesday 24 June: Bonus Arena, Hull.