Jun 24, 2001 Rock Marti Pellow Smile
HE'S come in for a bit of stick over the years for various reasons - the suits, the smile, the success, the smack - but Marti Pellow has survived pretty much everything that life has thrown at him.
And with this first foray into solo land, he's slipped comfortably into the world of soulful and sweeping balladry.
Recorded in Memphis, the album has picked up some of the local magic, demonstrated on recent single Close To You and the swaying She Can Lean On Me. It's a consciously mature sound, and fans of Wet Wet Wet's later work won't be disappointed.
And while his personal life might have been damaged by his addiction, Pellow's voice has, if anything, improved; deeper, throatier and far more expressive.
Go on; dip a toe into Marti. *by Fay Lucas
I am the; resurrection
The Sunday Herald, May 27, 2001 by Peter Ross
When grinning, clean-living Marti Pellow was exposed as a miserable heroin addict in 1999, many people were shocked. Now he's kicked drugs to devote himself to his music and his fiancee. Might as well face it - he's addicted to love.
MARTI Pellow takes the needle and, ever so carefully, places it where he has placed it a million times before. He knows it's an addiction but he can't help himself. He's still staggered by the high he gets from this stuff. Who'd have thought that, at 35, having kicked heroin and beaten booze, he'd still be a vinyl junkie?
"Oh yeah, you can't beat vinyl," he jabbers in a red-toothed west coast accent untamed by the phenomenal success of Wet Wet Wet, his band of two decades. "There's just something about it. The sleeve looks great because it's so big and I'm being all anoraky here, but there's the smell of the record. And getting your stylus right, ooh."
And here Marti Pellow - aka Mark McLachlan fae Clydebank, aka the man whose infamous grin flew like a pirate flag over a staggering 25 hit singles, aka the man who felt empty and angry despite (or maybe because of) it all and turned to the smoke and mirrors of drugs to fill the hole where his heart should have been - yeah, that Marti Pellow gives a little moan of pleasure and, presumably, trots off to sniff his LPs.
Marti isn't wild anymore. He's a teetotal, drug-free vegetarian, passionate about sobriety and the focus it has given his life and career. What's more, he actually looks better than ever. Slimmed down and, for the first time since he became a star, not sporting one of the Four Hairstyles Of The Apocalypse, he's back to his fighting weight and ready to deliver a few knockout blows to the charts.
The first of these - he hopes - will be Close To You, the debut single of his solo career. Where once Pellow was blessed/cursed with a huge audience of young girls, he seems to be repositioning himself as housewives' choice, popping in on daytime radio shows and selling out by appearing on last Saturday's National Lottery, where Dale Winton gave him a smacker on both cheeks.
Close To You, with lyrics by Pellow's friend and collaborator Chris Difford of Squeeze, is a typically MOR ballad and a bit of a grower; like much of his new material it reeks of eau de Elton. His voice has taken on a hoarse note, a rough edge which hints at a time - not so long ago - when his own candle guttered, flickered and somehow didn't blow out. Fourteen years ago, Marti Pellow was wishing he was lucky. Today he knows he has been.
"Addiction isn't fussy who it breaks bread with," he says. "It could be a housewife hooked on Valium. And, unfortunately, I spent some time with it too. It's been the worst thing that happened to me and also the best thing because that experience has put things back into perspective. It's been a real blessing in disguise. Through that humbling experience I could move on and embrace my life again and also my love of music."
Pellow talks a lot about his love of music. He'd much rather talk about that than heroin. In fact, he gets rather spiky when I keep asking him about the drugs. "Och, yadda, yadda, yadda, yeah what?" he says in exasperation when I'm halfway through one question.
His frustration is understandable. After years of being the good- looking toothy guy who made music for screaming teens before Take That were invented, he believes he finally has the chance of being taken seriously as a singer-songwriter. Working with Chris Difford is part of that, as is recording most of the forthcoming album, Smile, at Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The studios are run by Willie Mitchell, the 74-year-old legend who discovered Al Green and claims Pellow is the greatest singer he has heard since.
Pellow, who has somewhat grudgingly lived in the London area for two years, is very much at home in the blues joints of Beale Street, including BB King's bar, where he can often be found giving the locals a song. They must appreciate it too, because he was recently given the keys to the city. And - in a development which seems incomprehensible to a Britain which has always had a rather sneery attitude towards his talents - May 9 is now official Marti Pellow Day in Memphis. "Marti Pellow Day," he repeats in a rubbish Southern accent that would make Colonel Sanders blush. "I'm just a wee boy from Clydebank, so I must have done something right. Life doesn't get much better than that."
YEAH, Marti, yadda, yadda, yadda. Now tell us about the drugs. However much he tries to dodge the subject - and his evasions are about as graceful as Jim Royle on ice - Pellow's heroin addiction is fascinating in its unexpectedness. He always seemed so clean cut. Okay, there were the constant rumours that he was gay, a subject he laughed off in an interview with the rock magazine, Q. ("A loving relationship, be it two men together, is a splendid thing. For me, I'm happy with the woman I'm with.") But drugs? Not Marti. And especially not heroin. Why would a winner like him, a man who was number one for three and half months in 1994 with Love Is All Around, mess around with a loser's drug like that?
Frankly, he's stumped. "I'm still questioning it," he says. "And that will be an on-going process for the rest of my days."
Pellow cannot say whether he would have been a junkie had he not been famous, but his addictions to alcohol and heroin, which he smoked but did not inject, were surely not hindered by living in a world where your every whim is smiled upon. Once, Wet Wet Wet arranged for a curry to be flown from Glasgow to Denmark, where it arrived piping hot, complete with naan bread. Clearly, excess is a matter of context.
In 1996 and 1997, as Wet Wet Wet's final album 10 took shape, Pellow became more interested in booze than music. He would arrive at the studio in time for the pubs opening and try to herd his bandmates into a different kind of session. His older brother, John, has also had problems with alcohol, a subject on which Pellow is extremely uncomfortable. "I see my brother and he's dealing with his own demons," he says, before adding, in a near shout, what will be his mantra throughout this interview: "That's as much as I've got to say on that."
As the drinking spiralled out of control, Pellow began to take heroin, experiencing it as the answer to a question he had never known quite how to ask. "Where have you been all my life?" he wondered, and within a week he was hooked.
In November 1997 Tommy Cunningham, Wet Wet Wet's drummer, left after refusing to take a cut in his share of the royalties. Pellow, whose interest in being a shiny happy pop person was already fading fast, now pinpoints this as the beginning of the end. He made his own exodus in May 1999. "The circle of life had come to an end for that band. It was never the same after Tommy left. And, you know, it was something that was coming from within for me to move on as an artist. We spent many, many years together, not only making music but growing up. There was a lot of loyalty issues going on, so it was a hard decision to make. But I played that card and I've moved on and I'm sure they wish me well."
Pellow had stayed clean during Wet Wet Wet's British tour of late 1997 but, at its conclusion, he confessed his addiction to the band and went back on heroin. In the summer of 1998 he entered rehab in - of all places - Arizona but bought more drugs on the day he left.
By December 25, he was still in America, no longer drinking but drugging more than ever, holed up in a cabin with his smack. He phoned his mother and his fiancee Eileen Catterson and tried to sound happy as he wished them merry Christmas.
Following a European tour which Pellow says he cannot remember, he attempted to kick the heroin for good, weaning himself off the drug with methadone and Librium. Then, in late February 1999, he collapsed at the exclusive Conrad Hotel in London after mixing his medication with vodka. He was taken to hospital and, slowly but surely, the rumour leaked out that Marti had a problem. The word was that he had tried to kill himself after a row with Catterson, an allegation which the former Miss Scotland - who has been his partner since 1990 - quashed while confirming his addiction to the press.
Assuming that he must have been furious with her, I ask Pellow how he reacted when Catterson told the Daily Record that she had given him the ultimatum "heroin or me".
"There were all sorts of rumours going about - like maybe I tried to commit suicide and bullshit like that," he says. "So Eileen went to the papers to confirm that this was not the case and fair play to her. She took care of business while I was taking care of business getting my shit together and embarking on this journey called sobriety."
So she went to the press with his blessing?
"Well, you know, I'll be forever indebted to her for that. It was more setting the record straight, not going to the press for the sake of going to the press. There was a lot of speculation and if you're going to print anything let it be the truth. And that's what she did."
In any case, what really matters is that the incident seems to have been The Big Scare that Pellow needed. He checked into The Priory, the clinic which has become synonymous with cases of celebrity crash and burn. He's been clean and teetotal since July 1999 and has subsequently spoken with enthusiasm about meetings of Narcotics Anonymous.
However, he's less than enthusiastic when I ask him if he is still attending NA; he gives a little exasperated gasp and a huffy answer. "Narcotics Anonymous and AA are things that are out there that you can embrace and it's all about anonymity. That's as much as I have to say about that also. I practise sobriety every day of my life and will continue for the rest of my life because I am an addict."
The 12 Steps programme, which AA and NA ask its members to follow, places a great deal of emphasis on the part God - as the addict defines Him - can play in recovery. Pellow seems slightly more at with this subject. "I see myself as a very spiritual person," he says. "Whether or not that entails a man up in a cloud in a chair I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, I went through a very spiritual experience and a very humbling experience and I feel enriched by that."
"I feel enriched. I feel a sense of connection with whatever my higher power may be."
Would it be going too far to say that God helped him through his addiction?
"Well, I can never remember hitting my knees and saying, 'Please, God, help me through this,' but I remember hitting my knees and going: 'This has to stop'."
It would be a distortion to say that Marti Pellow has had a religious conversion but it's easy to understand how the idea of a more spiritual life would attract a man who says he feels an affinity with Al Green, the soul survivor who turned to God in 1974 and whose songs of lust and longing sit uneasily with his new vocation as pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis.
Anyway, Pellow has enough credibility problems without starting to shout about being saved. Wet Wet Wet may have been big but they were never hip. Pellow, whose own taste always ran more to Stax than Stock, Aitken and Waterman, consoled himself with Ferraris and big houses, but was still uncomfortable with his teen idol status.
Now, though, he is at ease with whoever his audience may be. "I've sold billions of records so I must have been bringing enjoyment to someone else, whether a certain genre of the music industry thought I was cool or not. At one point in my life that might have upset me but - you know what? - I'm cool as a fan about that now."
Ironically, it's arguable that Pellow has now more credibility than ever, thanks to his drug experiences. Nobody's suggesting that he's a Dionysian figure to rival Jim Morrison, but the brush with the dark side does make him more intriguing somehow. Not that he agrees.
"All I can do is make the best music I can and hopefully that will prevail. That's more important to me than whether people think I'm credible because I had a rather painful experience in my life. That's my shit. If people think that Marti Pellow's cool because he had that dark time in his life then let me set the record straight: that's not the case. I make great music and that's what will prove me as a singer-songwriter."
He's quite vexed and, for once, keen to keep talking. "I kind of feel a wee bit angry about that. In my sobriety, this is the best work that I've ever done. It's a lot more focused. So I kind of look and think, what could I have been if I wasn't self-medicating? Or I wasn't in a dark place? Could the music have been better? That's the kind of thing that frustrates me."
Put it another way: does he think that his music is somehow more soulful as a result of what he has come through? What is soul music, after all, but an expression of joy bursting through pain?
He blurts some knee-jerk retort about his music always being authentic and soulful then pauses and thinks about it a bit. "Maybe people now see me as - how can I word this? - as more real, fallible, human. Cut me, I bleed. In this day and age, where you are on television or on the front covers of magazines, people put you up on a pedestal. But shit happens to me the same way as it happens to other people. Maybe I just seem a little more human. And that ain't no bad thing."
In the early days of Pellow's fight to stay clean, he used music as "escapism", as a way of getting him through it. He would listen to James Taylor, Tom Waits and, most of all, Joni Mitchell. Her voice takes him home, he says. But where is his home? Is it Clydebank? Memphis? London? Mainly, he's finally learned to feel at home in himself.
Back when he was at his most unhappy in Wet Wet Wet, Marti Pellow felt like a coat he could never remove. Mark McLachlan seemed to have been lost beneath it forever. But now he says the two are reconciled, that he will never again be a lonely figure surrounded by bodyguards, desiring nothing more than to be left alone with his misery and the monkey on his back.
"Right now, my sobriety is the most important thing in my life because everything stems from that," he says. "I feel more focused as an artist, I'm enjoying my family, I'm enjoying being in a loving relationship and I love my life. And I take more time not being totally engrossed in music. I have other aspects to my life, be it writing, cooking, playing golf, sports, being gentle, living. It's important having a balance in your life so it doesn't all lean to one side. And that's what's important to me today."
Put the needle on the record. Sounds like Marti's got his groove back Close To You is released on June 4. The album, Smile, follows in July.
1 June, 2001
BBC NEWS Pellow's Prison Gig
Former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow has performed a gig for inmates at Holloway women's prison, London.
The show was to give support to drugs charity Stonewall, who helped him conquer his own heroin addiction.
The singer played an hour-long set for 300 female inmates in the prison's gymnasium.
He had a string of hits with Wet Wet Wet in the eighties and nineties before quitting the band in 1999. "The atmosphere was great," he said. "I had such a warm welcome."
"Stonewall really help me get over my disease. They do some excellent work with drug rehabilitation. "When they asked to play here today and I was more than happy to be able to put something back in through music."
He received a letter from home secretary Jack Straw before the gig, wishing him luck and thanking him for supporting the prison's work against narcotic dependency.
During the gig, one of the crowd surprised the singer by running to the stage, giving him a bunch of flowers and a kiss.
He played hits including Goodnight Girl, Get By With A Little Help From My Friends and Sweet Little Mystery.
Record-breaking single Love is All Around, which spent 37 weeks in the UK singles chart in 1994, ended the gig.
After the show, he talked to inmates on the drug dependency programme.
Prison governor David Lancaster said: "I am really pleased that Marti Pellow was able to support the efforts and achievements in drug rehabilitation at the prison in this way."
Pellow admitted his heroin addiction in September 2000 after spending time in rehabilitation clinics.
He played his first solo tour in November 2000 and is preparing to release a solo single and album.