Tim Hughes dons black tie for an eye-popping show by Pet Shop Boys at the dapper Henley Festival

  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Henley Festival
  • July 6 2017

We should treasure the Pet Shop Boys. In an age of pop mediocrity, where Ed Sheeran can score 16 songs in the top 20, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe revel in intelligent musical and visual flights of fancy.

From 80s synthpop icons to techno dance masters and sonic experimentalists, the pair have constantly pushed the boundaries – as much band as art project.

So it comes as no surprise at all to see them walk on stage at the ultra-formal Henley Festival sporting what appear to be metallic lampshades.

Henley, with its insistence on black tie, is a good fit for the dapper duo – and when they roll out their 80s anthem Opportunities – with its tongue-in-cheek refrain of ‘let’s make lots of money,’ the well-heeled audience go wild. The song is, of cause, far from a materialist anthem, in fact being satirical. And it’s that killer combination of dry wit, poetry and what they describe as “80s techno” which underscores their best work.

The first half features largely newish material – with The Pop Kids and Burn from latest album Super, and Love is a Bourgeois Construct and Inside a Dream from 2013’s Electric, alongside old gems like In the Night. It’s a sublime scene, the stage awash with psychedelic swirls and blocks of colour as the sun sets over the Thames immediately behind the stage at what has got to be one of the world’s most beautiful festival sites. Revellers on passing boats wave at the crowd – glasses of fizz in hand – and we wave back and dance – shedding, variously, bow ties, dinner jackets and pashminas as the beats keep coming.

It is only when you see Pet Shop Boys live that it all really makes sense. These are club tunes that work as a dance set, rather than simply individual pop songs. And when they wheel out the big-hitters the crowd goes wild.

The familiar intro to West End Girls sends arms skywards.

Alan Turing tribute The Enigma goes up against the burlesque Sodom and Gomorrah Show and then a trio of bangers: It’s a Sin, Devices and Go West.

The sun has finally gone down and a riot of lasers pierce the sky.

They go off but return with Domino Dancing before a sing-along finale to Always on My Mind. And we go away, dishevelled and glowing – and grinning from ear to ear.