By Cam LindsayAfter first meeting in a synthesizer shop 28 years ago, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant have developed into one of those rare acts still reinventing themselves and producing their best work three decades into making music. "Right from the beginning, our aim was to create a Pet Shop Boys world of our own where we did things our way," says Tennant. "I think with every album we've tried to do something different, and succeed to greater or lesser extent, but I think the quality of the songwriting has always been good. I guess we have a certain integrity." Their unique sense of style and debonair twist on pop and dance music has never been compromised, resulting in some of the most visual, accessible and demanding material of any mainstream artist in the last quarter century.
Over the course of their partnership they've gone on to sell over 50 million records, win numerous awards and honours, write an opera, a ballet, a score for an old Russian silent film and a Liza Minelli album, and become the fourth most successful artist on Billboard's dance music chart behind only Madonna, Donna Summer and Janet Jackson - in a country that gave up on them commercially decades ago no less. "I feel we're underrated commercially," says Tennant. "But I think artistically Pet Shop Boys get a generous airing from the media. And I think we get that because of the quality of our songwriting and records, over the last 25 years, has been really strong and consistent. People seem to appreciate that."
1954 to 1980 Neil Francis Tennant is born on July 10, 1954 in North Shields, Northumberland. Christopher Sean Lowe is born on October 4, 1959 in Blackpool, Lancashire. Neil attends St. Cuthbert's Grammar School in Newcastle, an all-boys Roman Catholic school at the same time as Sting, who years later will inadvertently play a role in launching Neil's music career. Chris immediately discovers a love for music through his grandfather and mother, and while studying at the Arnold School he begins playing the piano and trombone and performs Glenn Miller songs in a school dance band called One Under the Eight. Neil doesn't fit in at school, and finds solitude at the Young Peoples Theatre at age 11. He begins playing the guitar and cello, and at 16 joins the Literary and Philosophical Society as well Dust, an all-acoustic band influenced by the Incredible String Band.
Neil moves to Tottenham, London in 1972 and studies archaeology at North London Polytechnic; Chris studies architecture at the University of Liverpool. After finishing his degree Neil finds work at Marvel Comics' UK branch as the London production editor where he anglicizes comics for the British reading public and even interviews artists such as Marc Bolan and Alex Harvey. "I had to read them all and Anglicize the spellings, do things like put the 'u' back into 'color,'" Neil explains. "It was very strongly felt that they shouldn't have American spellings because it confused kids. Occasionally you'd get stories where you had to cover up women. Conan the Barbarian in particular was all a bit sexy - the artists were always having to add bras, basically." After two years he begins editing books.
1981 to 1984 A budding songwriter, Neil buys a synthesizer without knowing how to play it. While visiting the store for advice, he meets Chris Lowe and the two bond over music and quickly form a partnership. "We both knew about what the other didn't know - and that was clear quite quickly," admits Neil in the documentary A Life in Pop. "It started off as a hobby, but part of me was watching it thinking that we were doing something quite good." The duo begin writing music under the name of West End, in honour of the London neighbourhood. The name doesn't last, however, and they change to Pet Shop Boys, after some friends of theirs who work in a pet shop. The name appeals to them because it misleadingly "sounded like an English rap group." However, one interviewer tells Neil she heard the name refered to "this thing in New York where gay guys get hamsters and put them in plastic bags and shove them up their asses." Neil eventually lands a gig at Smash Hits magazine as news editor and later assistant editor.