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Tennant singing in a Pet Shop Boys concert at the 2013 Berlin Festival
|Birth name||Neil Francis Tennant|
10 July 1954 |
North Shields, Tyneside,
|Genres||Synthpop, dance, electropop, electronica, alternative dance|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer-songwriter, music journalist|
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, synthesizer, guitar|
|Labels||EMI, Parlophone, Spaghetti|
|Associated acts||Pet Shop Boys, Electronic|
Neil Francis Tennant (born 10 July 1954) is an English musician, singer and songwriter and co-founder of the synthpop duo Pet Shop Boys, which he formed with Chris Lowe in 1981. He also was a journalist for Smash Hits, and was assistant editor for the magazine for a period in the mid-1980s.
Tennant was born in North Shields, a fishing port near Newcastle upon Tyne to William W. Tennant (1923–2009), a sales representative, and Sheila M. (Watson) Tennant (1923–2008). He has an elder sister, Susan, and two younger brothers, Simon and Philip. The family moved to a semi-detached house in Greenfield Road (opposite the corner of South Bend), Brunton Park, a relatively affluent suburb in Newcastle, shortly after Neil was born.
As a child, Tennant attended St. Cuthbert's Grammar School, an all-boys' Catholic school in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Tennant's songs "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" and "It's a Sin" refer to his early life in Catholic school and the strict upbringing there.
While at school, Tennant played guitar and cello. At age sixteen, he played in a folk music group called Dust, whose most popular song was called "Can You Hear the Dawn Break?". They were heavily influenced by The Incredible String Band. During his teenage years, he was a member of the youth theatre at the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne.
In 1975, having completed a degree in history at North London Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University), Tennant worked for two years as London editor for Marvel UK, the UK branch of Marvel Comics. He was responsible for anglicising the dialogue of Marvel's catalogue to suit British readers, and for indicating where women needed to be redrawn for the British editions. He also wrote occasional features for the comics, including interviews with pop stars Marc Bolan and Alex Harvey. In 1977, he moved to Macdonald Educational Publishing where he edited The Dairy Book Of Home Management and various illustrated books about cookery, playing the guitar, and other home interests. Then he moved to ITV Books where he edited TV tie-in books. After having commissioned Steve Bush, then the designer of Smash Hits and The Face, to design a book about the group Madness, he was offered a job at Smash Hits as news editor of the British teen pop magazine in 1982. The following year he became Assistant Editor. He also edited the 1982, 1983 and 1984 editions of The Smash Hits Yearbook.
At Smash Hits, an opportunity arose for him to go to New York to interview The Police. While there, Tennant arranged to meet Bobby Orlando, a producer whom both he and Lowe admired. Tennant mentioned that he was writing songs in his spare time and Orlando agreed to record some tracks with him and Lowe at a later date. Orlando subsequently produced the Pet Shop Boys' first single, "West End Girls".
Pet Shop Boys
Alongside his work with Chris Lowe as Pet Shop Boys, Tennant has worked on several side projects including:
- In 2014, Tennant provided vocal on "Were You There" by Diamond Version.
- In 2008, Tennant's vocals featured in The Killers' Christmas song "Joseph, Better You Than Me" alongside Brandon Flowers and Elton John.
- In 2007, Tennant co-produced Rufus Wainwright's album Release the Stars.
- In June 2006, Tennant provided backing vocals on "Throw" by DJ Fresh.
- In 2005, Tennant provided lyrics and sang on the track "Tranquilizer" by DJ Tom Stephan (a.k.a. Superchumbo). Under numerous guises and aliases, Stephan had previously remixed Pet Shop Boys tracks such as "Paninaro '95", "Minimal", "New York City boy" and "Sexy Northerner".
- In 1998, along with Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, Tennant sang backing vocals on the Robbie Williams' single "No Regrets".
- In April 1996, Tennant's vocals were featured on two live recordings by the British group Suede that were released as b-sides to their single "Filmstar". One track was a cover of the Pet Shop Boys track "Rent", while the second was a duet with Suede singer Brett Anderson on the Suede song "Saturday Night".
- He worked with Electronic. Tennant sang backing vocals on their first single "Getting Away With It" in 1989, while taking lead vocals on the 1992 single "Disappointed". Along with Lowe, he wrote and appeared on the Electronic album track "Patience of a Saint", on which he shared lead vocals with Bernard Sumner.
In terms of other artists' music, Tennant has praised the group The Specials and singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, highlighting the former's track "Ghost Town" and the latter's track "Shipbuilding" as successful protest songs putting politics into pop music.
In 1998, Tennant was named in a list of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour Party. He has since switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, citing disillusionment with Labour's ID card scheme.
Despite the numerous ideological differences, the Pet Shop Boys agreed to warm personal appeals by major Tory figures Boris Johnson and David Cameron for the group to play at the "winners’ parade" taking shortly after the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. Enjoying the events' atmosphere and how their stage presence turned into a well-received performance, Tennant commented with Cameron's staff both thanking them for their courteousness and also pushing Cameron to use LGBT scientist Alan Turing’s centenary year as impetus for the British government to formally pardon Turing. The formal pardon did, in fact, go through on 24 December 2013, with the related official paperwork signed by Queen Elizabeth II.
Tennant has complained about ageism in the context of the music industry, stating that multiple individuals have told him that they wanted to play Pet Shop Boys songs yet could not because informal policies labeled the duo as too old.
- "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
- "Literally" by Chris Heath, published 1990
- 'Pet Shop Boys, annually (1989). 1989.
- "'Luvvies' for Labour". BBC News. 30 August 1998.
- "Pet Shop Boys protest at ID cards". BBC News. 1 March 2006.
- "Elton John AIDS Foundation patrons". Ejaf.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "I refuse to be restricted by background - or fear". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
- Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, Kirsty Young.