This Day in ’88: Pet Shop Boys Play Live

Monday, June 5, 2017
This Day in ’88: Pet Shop Boys Play Live

29 years ago today, the Pet Shop Boys were talked into performing a pair of songs at the Piccadilly Theater, an occasion which is often described as the duo’s live debut.

In fact, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe first hit the stage on September 24, 1984, playing at a nightclub called the Fridge in Brixton, where they performed six songs: “One More Chance,” “I Get Excited,” “Opportunities,” “West End Girls,” and “Rent.” They also did a three-song set on August 6, 1985 for the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ Week, during which Chris reportedly demonstrated his trombone skills and – in a true only-in-the-‘80s moment – the duo was interviewed by Max Headroom. There are also reports of a two-night stint at the London nightclub Heaven in November of the same year.

So why have the two songs performed by the Pet Shop Boys on June 5, 1988 – and the songs were “One More Chance” and “It’s a Sin,” if you’re curious – been described as their live debut? Frankly, we haven’t a clue, though we’d guess that it’s probably because it was easily the most high-profile performance they’d given up to that point in their career, so those who wrote about it at the time and described it as their first-ever live performance probably just didn’t know any better.

Still, the performance in question is nonetheless one of note, as it was one that they did at the behest of Sir Ian McKellen. Not that he was a “Sir” yet, mind you, but he was certainly already an actor of some note, including a very memorable performance as a vampire in the video for the Pet Shop Boys single “Heart.”

Pet Shop Boys 'Heart' stereo HQ video by LaFeniceNova

McKellen had organized a benefit gig to protest Clause 28, and he secured some pretty impressive names to participate.

As Graham McKerrow wrote of the event…

“The biggest cheers went to writer Alan Bennett who came out, and to Dame Peggy Ashcroft. The biggest laugh went to the newly-out Stephen Fry who compared the Government to a pelican because ‘as far as I'm concerned they can both stick their bills up their asses!’ A crowd of stars from TV soaps EastEnders and Brookside joined together in a sketch written by former EastEnders Script Editor Tony Holland. And the first half closed with Imelda Staunton leading dozens of women in the suffragettes' grand old battle song March Of The Women.

“Ian McKellen also performed a scene from Bent, with Hugh Quarshie. While John Thaw, Sheila Hancock and Gary Oldham gave equally fine performances in a scene from Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, Joan Plowright delivered an Alan Bennett monologue from A Woman of No Importance, and Vlaria Aitken revelled in a scene from Noel Coward's Hands Across The Sea. And so the stars kept appearing, talents who had carried one-person shows jostled for a few minutes' attention. Peggy Ashcroft came from her sick bed to be on stage for 30 seconds. But she had such a good time she stayed in the wings for another 1 l/2 hours.

“Rock stars The Pet Shop Boys gave their first ever live performance to open the second half while very different music came from conductor Simon Rattle on the piano, soprano Heather Harper accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, and the Medici String Quartet. Composers included Sir Michael Uppett, Cole Porter, Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Peter Maxwell Davies, Francis Poulenc and Benjamin Britten. DV8 Physical Theatre gave an exciting dance performance, and other lesser known names who held their own admirably with the international stars included comedy duo Parker and Klein.

“The show, produced by 20th Century Vixen, involved 320 performers and other workers. The show ended with a final, breath-taking theatrical line-up of Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Judi Dench, Harold Pinter, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Alec McCowen, Edna O'Brien, Paul Eddington, Alan Bates and Francesca Annis. They read poetry by Marlowe, Tennessee Williams, A E Housman, Maureen Duffy, Cavafy, Auden, Wilde and Sappho. Then the entire cast came on stage and threw pink roses into the audience. Cast and audience stood and applauded each other.”

We’d call that a success. Wouldn’t you?