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Marti Pellow: ‘Let’s not walk around on eggshells. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about. So, addiction?’

The former Wet Wet Wet singer returns to the band’s first album, from 1987, on his new tour. It’s a chance to reflect on the highs and lows of life since then


If you’ve ever wondered what Marti Pellow smells like, wonder no more. In the plush surrounds of a five-star Dublin hotel, the man who will be perennially known as the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet exudes a particularly fragrant aroma, custom-made for him in London.

This one has “a wee bit of sandalwood, a wee bit of frankincense, burnt orange and a bit of Tibetan pine, and a bit of bergamot”, he explains, bracelets clinking on his wrist as he pushes his tortoiseshell specs back up his nose. “It’s a powerful thing, scent. If I smell ham-hock soup I’m at my granny’s house on a Saturday morning.” He flashes his 100-watt grin. “What would my fragrance line be called? Eau de Marti? You’ve opened a can of worms there.”

Pellow is a ball of energy, eager to answer questions, and seemingly oblivious to the people doing double-takes as they walk past our table. The lustrous mane from Wet Wet Wet’s 1990s heyday is long gone, and his cropped hair is now greying around the edges, but he remains recognisable. His Glasgow accent is similarly intact, despite years living in England. (He bought Laurence Olivier’s house in Brighton, he says, before moving to Windsor quite a while ago.)

He’ll be in Dublin again next weekend, to perform Wet Wet Wet’s debut album, Popped In Souled Out, at 3Arena, backed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, after a successful run of similar orchestral shows last year. Revisiting his early material in such a setting has been eye-opening, the 58-year-old says. “They’re songs that I wrote at 15, 16 – and now, as I’m approaching 60, I’m figuring out ‘How do I interact with them now?’”

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Popped In Souled Out, released in 1987, was an album made “by a bunch of headless boys growing up in a Glasgow housing estate who wanted to make a record. And it happened,” Pellow says, rejecting the notion that the tour is an exercise in nostalgia. “So 40 years down the line, or near enough, I’ve come around to it again. And those songs keep giving.”

He has not been fazed by performing the album without his bandmates. Wet Wet Wet first split, somewhat acrimoniously, in the late 1990s, after a royalty dispute with their drummer, Tommy Cunningham, and Pellow’s subsequent departure to deal with his drug and alcohol addiction. They eventually re-formed in 2004, but Pellow once again departed, this time for good, in 2017. The songs, he says, have always been part of his repertoire as a solo artist, but he seems a little cagey while talking about his former band, who have continued without him.

“Those melodies are very much my imagination,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t feel any… That’s what we wrote together, that’s what we have in common – so fill your boots. It’s their imagination, it’s my imagination. I’m fine with that.”

Pellow has not seen the band since they installed a new vocalist, Kevin Simm, formerly of the pop band Liberty X, as his replacement, in 2018. “I’m doing my thing, they’re doing their thing,” he says. “This is a period or whatever… of where we are as mates. Without going into too much detail, that’s what we’re navigating at the moment. I wish no ill-health to anyone – I’m just doing my thing.” He shrugs again. “I’m just rolling.”

It was one of those epiphany moments where I went, ‘Jesus, I’ve been drinking a long time, I’m using drugs, I’m in a bad place here – I need help’

Wet Wet Wet’s success was so longed-for that it never felt overwhelming, he says, and he embraced his fame at the time. Even now, he says, he would not refuse a selfie or autograph request. “Just don’t come at me when I’m about to put a bit of food in my mouth,” he adds, chuckling. “People just want a wee picture or [for me to] sign a wee piece of paper, and it’ll sit in somebody’s kitchen drawer for the rest of their life, and they’ll take it out and have a wee giggle. Or they’ll stick it in the bin.” He pauses to stick an imaginary cigar between his teeth, jazz-handing as he jokes, “That’s showbiz, baby!”

Pellow is perhaps more aware than most of the hazards of fame. Before we spoke, his publicist had politely requested that the focus remain on the present – specifically, steering clear of his well-documented battle with alcohol and heroin addiction. He pooh-poohs the idea of shying away from it, however. “Let’s not walk around on eggshells,” he says, frowning as he shoos the notion away. “Me and you are sitting here, face to face. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about. So, addiction?” he says, grimacing. “Aye.”

It is 25 years since Pellow entered rehab at the Priory clinic to seek help for heroin and alcohol abuse. Although he doesn’t talk about it specifically, his late brother John also suffered from alcohol-addiction problems, and Pellow can see now that it is a disease. “And once you get knowledge about a disease, you can do something about it,” he says, shrugging. “You can’t use the excuse of saying ‘I didnae know, I didnae know.’ And that’s what happened to me: it was one of those epiphany moments where I went, ‘Jesus, I’ve been drinking a long time, I’m using drugs, I’m in a bad place here – I need help.’ Everything was out of control, and I said, ‘What do I need to do to address that? Whose door do I need to bang on and say, “Look, I’m on the bones of my arse, here – I need help”?’”

Pellow went and spoke to addicts, he says, asking them, “‘How do you stay off the heroin? How do you stay off the drink?’ And I attacked it with the same vibrancy that I went into it: I needed to get help... I grabbed it with both hands, because I knew if I did what they said I was in with a chance of getting my f**king life and my family back together again. I remember being in a room [during treatment], and there were three of us sitting there. And the guy came in and said, ‘Right, who’s the dead man in the room? It’s the law of the thirds. Is it you? Is it you?’” He laughs bittersweetly at the memory. “No. No. Not me. But that’s the reality of it.”

He is more proud of his sobriety than anything else. “Hey, I’m designated driver now,” he says. “I’ll sit with my mates, and it’ll be getting to that time when the madness starts and I’m, like, ‘See ya later.’ And I’m absolutely cool as a fan around alcohol. It’s just no fun with me any more. And I’m super-proud of that. So keep your Brit Awards, keep your Ivor Novellos. The thing that I hold closest to me, that I’m most proud of in my whole life, is doing that. And it got me back writing and singing again, and that was another byproduct of my sobriety: it all comes back, and you feel at ease with it. I’m not a poster boy to say what it is,” he says, shrugging, “but if you want to talk about it, I can.”

Pellow lights up when he talks about his partner, the former model Eileen Catterson. They have been together for “30-odd” years, although they have never courted the limelight. “I have a good, powerful woman in my life, and I love her to bits,” Pellow says. “We’re not the typical… We keep ourselves to ourselves. And I love her independence, I love how powerful she is, and those are the things that attracted me. And she’s got the cut of me,” he adds, laughing. “We’re a wee team together, we’re a wee gang. And she’s got an amazing family, who I love dearly. My mum and dad and my family have all passed on, and they’re just great people. I’m so lucky.”

We are 41 minutes into our conversation before the topic of Love Is All Around is broached. It must get tiring, I say, constantly being asked about your biggest hit when it wasn’t even your song. “But it is my song,” he protests. “It is very much my song. I remember singing that live to Reg Presley [of The Troggs, who wrote it], and he got very, very emotional and said, ‘I love what you’ve done with our song.’”

Pellow denies that it was a marketing ploy to ask to have the track deleted after it spent an exhausting 15 weeks at number one in the UK, in 1994. “I assure you, I’m not that smart. I wish I was,” he says, shaking his head. “But it’s time to put the song to bed when it’s like eating chocolate every day. It’s one of the biggest-selling love songs of all time – that still makes me giggle. But here’s the fact of the matter: what happened? A little girl [Whigfield] sat in front of a mirror with a hairbrush and went, ‘Saturday night…’ and away it went. That just puts it into perspective: there she was, enjoying herself, so fill your boots. It had a good run, that song.”

Pellow stumbled accidentally into musical theatre in the early noughties, when he was approached to play Billy Flynn in Chicago. Roles followed in big West End and Broadway shows, including Chess, The Witches of Eastwick, Blood Brothers and Evita. Performing eight shows a week while you’re away from home for six months is taxing, he says. In recent years he has done shorter stints in pantomimes. His dream roles, he says, would be in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera and in the stage musical Nine. I tell him that I could see him playing a hard-nosed detective in a Scandi-noir TV drama.

Sometimes I get up in the morning and I go, ‘Nah’, and I pull the duvet over my head again. And that’s cool, too; it’s not 365 days

“I’m with you! Oh, wouldn’t that be incredible?” he says. “And having been a big fan of Rebus [the TV series based on Ian Rankin’s novels] and all those things, that’d be amazing. But, you know, it’d have to be something that’d really answer to me. You get offered to do these little roles all the time, and I’ll go ‘Right, a musician’. But what if you become the Everyman? What if there’s a husband and wife, and they’re dealing with the dynamic of a troubled kid or something? That would intrigue me more than going to play a rock star who’s lost his way. So whatever that is, and whoever’s brave enough to see that in me, I think I would take the challenge.”

Is he happy these days? He takes a moment to answer. “I’ve yet to meet a person who is 100 per cent happy,” Pellow says slowly. “I think that would be unique, because I want all the colours in life – and in order to have that, you have to have balance. I still love what I do, I work with great people, I’m breathing in and there’s no sharp pains and I still have a childlike enthusiasm for what I do. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I go, ‘Nah’, and I pull the duvet over my head again. And that’s cool, too; it’s not 365 days.” He shrugs, flashing that grin again. “But, aye, I’m happy. I’m singing some songs tonight. I’m in the Shelbourne shooting the breeze with you over a cup of tea, and that’s just great. My life isn’t always this – and that’s okay, too.”

Marti Pellow is at 3Arena, Dublin, on Sunday, March 10th