Saturday, December 09, 2006

National Portrait Gallery - Philip Hoare on the Pet Shop Boys

On Thursday evening I went to a talk by Philip Hoare entitled 'Pet Shop Boys Catalogue' at the National Portrait Gallery.

Hoare is the co-author of the coffee-table book Catalogue that was released a few weeks ago. The book is pretty much what it says - a bulky lavish document paying homage to the imagery and product that the pop group have released over the last 25 years. The only other 'completist' PSB fan that I know (Hi Birdy!) thought the whole book idea redundant and pointless, and, having bought the book, I can sort of see where he's coming from. Do you really need a photographic record of all the product the group have put out when you already have that product anyway? The book was apparently intended to accompany a high profile exhibition in an American art gallery, which subsequently fell through. Nevertheless it's a lavishly produced item and fans will no doubt be happy with it. It's fun to dip into occasionally, if only to remind yourself of the quality and diversity of the band's work over the years.

Hoare will be hosting another event at The National Gallery in January, when he interviews Neil Tennant. It's a somewhat disappointing indictment of our 'cult of celebrity' society that while that event sold out almost immediately (I have a ticket so will no doubt have further things to say at the time), this one was delievered towards rather a lot of empty seats, particularly towards the front of what was a fairly small lecture theatre to start with. Maybe I'm being unfair as to why the Tennant talk sold out and the book author talk was so quiet, and the attendees stayed away because they got wind of what the talk would be like, because, frankly, I thought it was an hour of rambling and rather pretentious tosh. On the plus side there were some nice photo's projected on the big screen behind Hoare while he talked and the Q & A which followed the talk wasn't the usual 'Can I have your autograph?' nonsense that such fan events tend to quickly turn into.

Hoare's talk was centred mainly around the similarities and influence of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde! Needless to say, I found it all extremely thin, like some school boy essay trying to justify something as being 'higher' art than it really and having no real content. Let's face it, the comparisons between these two rather camp stereotypes (Coward and Wilde) and Tennant when he's in plum-voiced, patronising, 'I'm delivering edicts from the philosophy of the Pet Shop Boys pop' mode are fairly obvious, but so what? Too much of the talk seemed to me to be 'stating the blooming obvious', and while the remainder of the talk at least gave a quick summary overview of the career of The Pet Shop Boys, given the fan boy audience, it all seemed somewhat redundant.

For me, the Q & A session after the talk was more interesting than the talk itself had been, with questions being pretty much serving as an excuse for Hoare to discuss 'what the band are really like' and pass on some gossip. Hoare, by his own admission, is not exactly discrete, and I know this makes me a bad person but I found the tittle-tattle about the two band members more interesting than any luvvie nonsense about what a great art institution (and geniuses to boot) the group are.

The other 'problem' I had with the event is my dislike of the whole 'hard core fan' thing (whatever the thing is that people are a fan of). The people around me seemed nice enough, but when everybody recognises everybody else (solely from fan-oriented events) and the conversations around you seem to be entirely about previous events, with the main theme being talk about days off work, travel and hotel booking for the next signing event from 'the boys', it all seems to err a little bit too much the wrong side of the thin line between being a fan and being stalkerish and scary. Particularly when, unlike say The Lord of the Rings fan base, with which I've become most familiar, the audience seem to be mainly 35-55 year old gay men!

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