There are times in your career when you’re touring and times when you’re touring,” explains Marti Pellow in that gloriously gruff Scottish accent.
“There are many types of life on the road – from transit vans to private jets. I’ve done both and now I’m somewhere in the middle and I’m happy with that.”
Now 48, Marti has had a career of unbelievable highs (platinum records, one of the longest-ever stints at number one, starring roles on Broadway and the West End) and brutal lows (band break-ups, heroin addiction, personal loss).
But things are now exactly where they should be. Happy and healthy, he’s currently on a national tour with the musical Evita and will then be reuniting with Wet Wet Wet for an arena tour in December. It will be their first since 2007.
“We were all sitting around a table a while back, eating and laughing and asking ‘how’s the wife?’, ‘how’s the kids?’,” Marti, who originally left the band in 1999 before they reformed in 2004, tells Weekend.
“Then Tommy piped up and said ‘y’know, it’s been five years since we’ve been on the road’ and we couldn’t believe it. We were like ‘come on, let’s go, we owe it to the fans – all the hits and some new songs’. And I couldn’t get away with taking my eye off the ball for five years – they wouldn’t let me get away with that and dragged me back.”
Wet Wet Wet – Marti, Tommy Cunningham, Graeme Clark and Neil Mitchell – formed at Clydebank High School in the early 80s. Tommy has gone on record to say it was “either crime, the dole, football, or music” at the time. Marti, or Mark McLachlan as he was known back then, was training to be a painter and decorator but joined the band after being approached by Graeme.
“When we are all together, it’s like those old days at school,” Marti says. “I think it’s the same for a lot of people, you have four or five great friends that you can count on one hand and you can call on those people any time. Two or three years can go past but when you all sit down together, it’s like not a day has gone by. It’s very natural when we’re together.”
So what can the fans expect when they reunite at Birmingham’s LG Arena on December 15.
“Lights, music, dancing and all the hits of Wet Wet Wet,” he proclaims.
And can they expect The Song? The one that spent 15 consecutive weeks at number one and was played so much it’s reported the band themselves demanded it be deleted from sale.
“Of course!,” he cries. “Love Is All Around is a beautiful song, a great song.
“If we are always remembered for that song then so be it – it is a beautiful song. People have got married to it, people have had babies to it.
“I played it to Reg Presley from The Troggs (the original performers) and he said ‘I love what you have done with our song’. Can you believe that? He described it as our song as in us and them. What an honour.
“Y’know what, we may even play it twice! It is not about education it is about entertainment. We will play a couple of new songs for the hell of it but it is all about the big hits of Wet Wet Wet – the top 10 records, the number one songs. This is what we built our career on. This is what we want to give the fans.”
The tour doesn’t kick off until December 6 and until then Marti has Evita to keep him busy.
The show, starring Madalena Alberto as Eva Peron, comes to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on Monday. Pellow plays Che in the musical, which, as if you needed to be told, has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.
“It’s amazing, Tim and Andrew were so young when they wrote it but they broke the mould when they made this one,” he says.
“The score is great, the characters are great and it’s nice to have those Latin rhythms to work with – I’ve never really had that before.
“The response from the audience has been fantastic. Standing ovations – you can’t do better than that. It’s very touching when people put themselves out there like that, it’s wonderful.
They’re straight out of their seats. It’s not something you take lightly that sort of attention. There is a lot of passion and heart surrounding this show.”
Pellow has been in the theatre world since 2002. He was approached by the American producers of Chicago to take on the role of Billy Flynn after they saw him perform at a Teenage Cancer Trust concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a role that took him to the West End, Japan and Broadway and opened up an entire new chapter of his career. Since then, he has also appeared in Chess, The Witches of Eastwick, Blood Brothers and much more besides.
However, in the cut-throat world of theatre, has he ever encountered barriers or criticism for being a pop star?
“No, not really,” he says. “I think they have the right man for the right job. I have 30 years of experience I can bring to the table. When I am first approached, I assess a show’s score and I think ‘right, what can I do with this?’, ‘what can I bring to the table as an actor and a singer?’.
“Yes, I am fortunate enough to have a fan base that follows me with whatever I do – whether it be soul, jazz, musical theatre they seem to eat it up and come on these journeys with me – but I worked hard to get here. I am proud that I have got here and it angers me if people think otherwise. But the people who work with me know what I’m about. I get involved in character and scores and if you’re gonna work with me you better bring something to the table yourself.”
Marti says he now feels at home on the stage but still has moments when he can’t quite believe his luck. After all, Clydebank to Broadway is no mean feat.
“I do pinch myself sometimes. But it’s very satisfying standing on stage when you know you’ve worked hard to get there. Sometimes I find myself going ‘aye, cracked it’ when I achieve a target I set myself a year ago,” he explains.
“Of course, it can be hard sometimes on the road – I like my creature comforts and I always sleep best in my own bed. But I love the discipline of touring. People who know me know I respond well to that type of structure and discipline.
“And I love musical theatre. I always chose musicals that have great stories and great melodic scores. I chose things people will enjoy and be entertained by.”
Aside from Wet Wet Wet and musicals, Marti has also enjoyed a rich and varied solo career, working with some of the biggest names in jazz and soul.
Authenticity, it seems, is everything to him and he regularly worked in Memphis, Tennessee, with the late, great Willie Mitchell, who produced the likes of Otis Reading and Al Green.
Such was his success across the pond with Mitchell, The White House declared May 9 Marti Pellow Day in Memphis and gave him the keys to the city. No, seriously.
He is also constantly writing new material, and continues to work alongside Squeeze legend Chris Difford.
Successful jazz projects have also formed part of his body of work, with sold-out performances at Ronnie Scott’s under his belt and records with Jim Watson.
“Music for me has always been about escapism. I’ve used it on happy days and sad days,” he says.
“For me it has tremendous sense memory – I can hear a song and be back in the school playground in an instant. But it is such a powerful tool, you can use it to politicise or educate and that shouldn’t be underestimated. But for me it is always about escapism.
“I like real music, something that touches me, that feels real whether that be pop, jazz, classical. But you don’t get that in record shops now do you? The ‘real’ section – things with a sense of history, passion, that can teach you something.”
Our time is almost up but there’s just chance to ask about his plans after the Wet Wet Wet reunion.
Has he got lots of things lined up?
“Yes, lots set up for 2014 but I’m not going to tell you, I’m being cagey,” he laughs.
“I tell you one thing though, this beard that I’ve had to grow for the role of Che will be the first thing to go.”
We like it, we tell him. It makes him look distinguished.
“Aye, that’s me,” he laughs again. “Look at me I’m so distinguished – I can grow a beard.”
Evita runs at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from August 19-31, call the box office on 429212