Pet Shop Boys at BBC Proms 2014

Hello – apologies for being quiet these past few days but the heat here in Belfast is absolutely sweltering. It is, quite simply, piping hot.Too hot to really do anything constructive even.

Anyway, last night was arguably the most important date of 2014 for Pet Shop Boys fans as they performed at the BBC Proms last night (in London’s Royal Albert Hall). It was broadcast live on radio as well. I’ve just finished listening to the full show (which runs about ninety minutes I think) via BBC iPlayer and this is what I made of it:

The show opens with ‘Overture to Performance’ – a melody of no fewer than nine classic Pet Shop Boys hits which opened the start of every show on their Performance tour of 1991. They just used a recording of the piece to open the shows though. It’s never actually been performed live until last night. It made for a very fitting opening and I really liked how they opened with a relatively obscure piece. After all, it’s never been used at all after the Performance tour and it’s only available on certain versions of the ‘DJ Culture’ and ‘Was It Worth It’ singles.

At the conclusion of the overture (and following a brief introduction by Neil), Chrissy Hynde of Pretenders fame entered the stage to perform four Pet Shop Boys songs… with a twist. The four songs were rearranged for orchestral performances, all in the key of A minor. Chrissy was in fine voice and performed ‘Love Is A Catastrophe’, ‘Later Tonight’, ‘Vocal’ before singing with Neil on ‘Rent’. All four songs sounded marvelous – especially ‘Vocal’. It just shows the true versatility of Pet Shop Boys as composers as their songs can be readily interpreted in so many different ways. Special mention must go to Neil also, his vocals in ‘Rent’ were brilliant. His voice just gets better with age.

After this, attention turned to the main part of the evening. Receiving its full world premiere last night was ‘A Man From The Future’ – a song suite chronicling the life and tragic death of Alan Turing. Turing was a true pioneer whose findings paved the way for computer science, and thus technology as we know it today. Without his work computing wouldn’t exist (an unthinkable concept really). Not only that but in World War II he cracked various Germany military codes – including the Enigma code which was believed to be impossible to crack. His contributions to the Allied Victory cannot be disputed nor ignored. However, Turing was also gay and in 1952 he was arrested for homosexual activity. He was found guilty and received “treatment”, something which proved so detrimental to him on every level that he committed suicide in 1954. It truly was a despicable way to treat a unique and gifted genius.

As you could imagine, ‘A Man From The Future’ is a moving and experimental piece. Turing’s life story is narrated by Juliet Stevenson against an elaborate backdrop of music which can be divided into eight portions. The BBC Singers (and Neil) add their vocals from time to time into the mix as well. The music seamlessly blends more avant-garde orchestral work with more familiar classic sounding Pet Shop Boys electronics. Even without the narration and knowing the rough gist of Turing’s story, I still found it very moving to listen to. The music is very powerful by itself. The overall feeling of celebration though permeates throughout. All of the eight sections are beautiful, though it’ll take another few listens before I fully become familiar with the piece.

You can listen to the full show on BBC iPlayer. I strongly recommend you do so – it’s a fabulous piece of music that provides another gem in the Tennant/Lowe catalog. It further cements Pet Shop Boys’ status as gifted musicians who continuously put out rewarding music, even after thirty-three years in the business. Just superb.

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