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Happy birthday Neil Tennant + the times Pet Shop Boys did Glastonbury with David Bowie & The Killers

Happy birthday to fellow Cancerian Neil Tennant, who turns 65 today, and is now the proud owner of a free London bus pass. Let’s just hope he avoids Peckham.

Pet Shop Boys seem to be turning into Glasto old hands, if a recent guest spot is anything to go by.

So far I’ve only managed to get to Glastonbury once, when – surprise, surprise, David Bowie and the PSB were two of the main acts to grace the Pyramid Stage, the very week the BowieStyle book was published.

Sadly there was no team up for these erstwhile Spaceboy collaborators, and Bowie, being the canny businessman, ended his set at 23:59 on 25 June 2000.

Sticking very carefully to the local curfew, The Dame reportedly saved himself a potential fine of several thousand quid a minute for Michael Eavis and himself.

At exactly one minute before I turned 31, it was the last time I ever saw David Bowie.

At least I think I did, since I could be dragged kicking and screaming from the camper van.

Nine years ago, the Pet Shop Boys returned to Worthy Farm to produce a festival-stealing set at Glastonbury. It was quite possibly the most theatrical performance ever to grace a muddy field in Somerset.

26 June 2010, also happened to be the day I turned 41, but alas, I was keeping it local, and saw another fave rave, Blondie, playing Kenwood House at one of George Michael‘s favourite parks, Hampstead Heath in North London.

A year earlier, I’d caught another American pop/rock combo, The Killers, play an even bigger open air gig in my home city, Hyde Park, on my 40th birthday.

This year my 50th birthday fell, slightly disappointingly on a Wednesday, so the Saturday night headliners at Glastonbury did their thing on June 29th.

But what a remarkable thing it was: in one of those full circle moments of showbiz brilliance, The Killers brought out the PSB themselves for a totally surprise cameo appearance on Human and Always On My Mind, the 1987 chart topper that saw the seminal synth duo infamously deny Rick Astley and he smelly old Pogues from bagging the coveted Christmas Number One.

Brandon Flowers really is a most intriguing front man. Like Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, the Vegas heart-throb is a confirmed obsessive of all things British, Eighties and electronic (he named the band after New Order’s frightwigged fake rock band in the video for Touched By The Hand Of God, which, by a synthy twist of fate, just happened to be nestling in the British singles charts at No.20 as the Petheads were sitting pretty at the festive summit).

Despite fronting one of the biggest bands on the planet, and foppishly attired (remarkably dressed, Morrissey would say) as a kind of stick-thin vegan Elvis to boot, the snake-hipped Brandon’s a very understated kind of rock star. It’s like he studied the PSB manifesto every night by torchlight of how not to be the stereotypical, fist-pumping posturing rock god so loathed by Neil and Chris.

Flowers has a kind of gauche, geek charm that’s simply irresistible. And he never forgets he’s actually singing with the subjects of his strange adolescent fascination, like a comfortably social awkward fangirl. Click on the BBC clip above, and you can see for yourself the unbridled joy all over his impossibly handsome face.

He did the same thing when he joined Tennant, Lowe and Lady Gaga at The Brits a decade before: a kind of schoolboy crush where his impish grin reveals he can’t quite believe he’s on stage with his idols, despite his tenor ladykiller vocals overpowering the thin and reedy Tennant at every turn, even if Neil did turn up looking like a Teletubby in a tarpaulin ready for winter.

Steve Pafford, Sorbonne, Paris*

Yes, as name checked by Tennant himself in the lyrics to Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)

Featured image: Richard Isaac/Shutterstock: The Killers performing on the Pyramid Stage, with guest star appearance with Pet Shop Boys/Glastonbury Festival, Day 4, UK – 29 Jun 2019

Postscript: Are we human or are we tenor? The full Killers set is here, helpfully cued at the moment the drums pinched from Paninaro (missed from the earlier clip) announce PSB…
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