Mellow Pellow

Wet, Wet, Wet frontman Marti Pellow knows that Love Is All Around but as Arts Editor Andrew Clarke found out, Marti is finally getting to grips with his demons and is turning a little devilish on stage.

Andrew Clarke

Wet, Wet, Wet frontman Marti Pellow knows that Love Is All Around but as Arts Editor Andrew Clarke found out, Marti is finally getting to grips with his demons and is turning a little devilish on stage.

MARTI Pellow is a man who has been haunted by his fair share of demons but know he is confronting his devilish nature in a new stage show of The Witches of Eastwick.

Based equally on the hit film with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Susan Sarandon and John Updike's best-selling novel; this new stage version is a dramatic reworking of a show which cast its spell on theatre audiences in 2000.


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The original production featured Lovejoy actor Ian McShane in the satanic role of Daryl Van Horne, a role that former Wet, Wet, Wet front man Marti Pellow is determined to make his own. It's an opportunity the Scottish singer is seizing with both hands to prove that not only are his personal demons are behind him, but his stage career, which was launched with a highly praised performance in Chicago, was not just a one-off.

Marti feels that because this latest version of the show is a complete reworking of the original musical, he has a fantastic opportunity to make the musical theatre world sit up and take notice.

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Marti admits that competing with the memories of Jack Nicholson and Ian McShane in the role is a tough challenge but he says he is a man who relishes a challenge - it's what makes life worth living.

Speaking during a visit to Norwich Theatre Royal, where the show launches in August, Marti is incredibly enthusiastic about the rehearsal process which is about to start. He has spent the past week listening to the reworked score and is incredibly upbeat about the new songs which are being worked into the show.

“The songs are very strong. I love Dance With The Devil - the clue's in the title,” he laughs. “The test of a good song is whether you can play them on a piano and it's still a strong song with a good arrangement. These songs have that. The arrangements for this show have a very good sound landscape and everyone has worked hard to bring it out of that cheesy 80s place that it was in before. We've changed some of the instruments, we've made a few key changes and instantly the songs become different - lighter, livelier.”

He said that for him the mark of a good song was the fact that they sound just as good when played on the piano. “Our songs work great just with a piano, so everything we put on top in terms of arrangement is the icing on the cake. Sometimes you can over guild the lily but if the structure is sound then it is very hard to destroy a good song.”

It is clear from just a few minutes conversation that Marti Pellow is a wonderful enthusiast. You get the feeling that if he gets behind a project, then he is really behind it. There are no half measures which may explain his addictive past which eventually led to his collapse in February 1999 at London's Conrad Hotel. He was taken to hospital and shortly afterwards it was announced that he was fighting heroin and alcohol addiction.

But, his single-minded approach has helped him put this episode firmly behind him. New challenges have helped him refocus his wife. A reunion with his band Wet, Wet Wet, the recording of a blues/jazz album with some of his musical heroes and now a critically acclaimed stage career have helped to turn his life around.

As rehearsals for The Witches of Eastwick gets underway Marti is delighted that he will get a chance to be in at the beginning of a completely new look production.

This latest version is an entirely new production complete with new songs and new direction by Nikolai Foster who has worked extensively with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the recent Aspects of Love tour as well working at Sheffield's prestigious Crucible Theatre, Royal Court Theatre and the National Theatre Studio.

He also directed A Midsummer Night's Dream and Of Mice and Men at Colchester's Mercury Theatre.

Hailing from Clydebank, Marti Pellow speaking voice is as Scottish as you can possibly imagine and takes some getting used to if you only know him from his smooth singing voice.

He said that his new life as a stage actor has completely changed his out-look not only on his career but on his life. His lauded appearance as Billy Flynn in Chicago has given him the confidence to pursue a life on stage but he says it originally took a lot persuading to get him front of an audience without his band behind him.

“Many years ago Pete Townsend approached me with a view to playing Tommy. At the time I wasn't mentally ready for that but he said: 'No, you'd be great at musical theatre,' The irony of it was, I was playing a night at the Royal Albert Hall for Pete and Roger's (Daltry) charity The Teenage Cancer Trust and there were some theatre producers in the audience and they came backstage and said: 'You have got to do Chicago.'

“I just laughed but I went and saw it and I just fell in love with the whole show. Musical theatre, in a way has found me and it's been such a pleasant surprise. I love nothing better than when someone sees something new in you, something you haven't seen in yourself and yes it is a challenge but it's a great challenge.

“And I've been lucky because I have been access to a lot of people who have enabled me to tap into new sides of me and with a lot of hard work and enthusiasm have been able to draw it out. The whole thing has been a revelation to me.”

Marti's eyes flash as he talks and clearly this journey of self discovery means an awful lot to him and he talks quickly and with passion - sentences almost tumbling one into the other.

“I thrive on a challenge - particularly ones that take me out of my comfort zone. It's enough to shake you up and to get you passionate about what you do. You get up in the morning and you want to work hard at something. It keeps you focussed, it keeps your energy levels high. I don't know if it's my working class work ethic or not but I love being involved. I love the interaction, the creative process. I love the fear of it all.”

He said that he loves the feeling of power when he can master a new skill. He says that the urge to master new skills is a reaction to the fear of going on stage and not knowing what he is doing - which he describes as the most terrifying feeling on earth.

“But if you can master these new skills, you can own it and then you can make it do what you want. It's like a footballer. Once you have developed your skills, the ball control, the ability to tackle, to curl a ball and a score a goal, then you can make it work for you on the pitch. Acting and singing is no different.

“I love that process of taming something - of getting to that place. It's a wild beast but I have it under control and that gives you the confidence to be fearless with it - to try different things, to experiment with it within the parameters of the piece. That stops it being Groundhog Day everyday.”

He said that bizarrely appearing on stage in a musical isn't that different from fronting a top selling pop band like Wet Wet Wet in concert in front of thousands of adoring fans. He said that when he was with The Wets, as he calls them, he was acting Marti Pellow - The Pop Star rather than being Marti Pellow - The Man. “It's all acting, it's all about putting on a front. It's all the same.

“But when I give a performance, even though I am playing a character, even when that character is Marti Pellow, I am trying to tell the truth of the song or of the scene.

“If you give me a piece of work that is beautifully written then all the information is there. It all comes alive to me because it engages my imagination and then I can colour it and deliver it to an audience. If it's a lyric or the spoken word it's no different. I react to it. I listen. It's keeping to the truth and not being tempted to be too flowery with it.”

He said that the secret of his success - particularly in the relatively new world of musical theatre was having good people around you - “that's monumental. You can learn from these people. The beautiful part is when you get to fill in the blanks.

“I was really unsure when I first agreed to do Chicago. I sat there afterwards, in the dressing room, thinking why the f…. did I agree to do this. But 20 seconds into rehearsal it just clicked.”

He said that he was daunted when offered the role of The Devil which Jack Nicholson made famous in The Witches of Eastwick but he maintains that although Nicholson's was a towering performance the stage musical is an entirely different entity.

“He was great. A brilliant, wonderful performance but if you come to this expecting the same thing you will be sorely disappointed because it's not going to happen. We might tip our hat to that but that's it. To my mind what I have to do, is stamp my identity on it, make the part mine. Make people forget about Jack Nicholson's version of the role - which hopefully won't be hard because it's so much fun to play. I have so much ammunition.

“I do have a devilish side to my character. I love the seduction of it all and I think that like Chicago Witches of Eastwick is going to find its time. I think the whole Desperate Housewives things has given this story and this show a profile and a vitality that perhaps it didn't have before. It's a great way to spend an evening and there's a seductive, slightly wicked side to it which people find appealing.”

What Marti finds appealing is the sudden diversity that his career has acquired but he says that it's not luck, it's something he has had to consciously work at - to keep busy and keep his demons at bay.

“I realise that I am blessed to do what I do. This ain't a real job… not really … but I was a terrible painter and decorator, so it's this or nothing. Besides I love doing it. It's my passion, my obsession. Singing is really all I have ever wanted to do. But, put some fear into that and you have a challenge. I am 43 years of age, I know the pop business and now this is something different. It's helping me grow as an artist. I like having lots of different facets to my career. I've done pop, swing, jazz and now show tunes, it's all good to me. As a songwriter each new area brings something different.

“My demons are tucked in my top pocket and I know they are there. I believe that at this time in my life, at this stage in my career, my sobriety is the most important thing in my life - everything else emanates from that - the love of a good woman, writing music, appearing in stage shows and I am very lucky as an artist that I have a fan base that affords me the luxury of doing all these different things.

“That is quite brave on their part because they may like their Marti just so but my fans are great because they allow me to go off and do Cole Porter or Chicago or The Witches of Eastwick, knowing that I will never turn my back on my past.”

Marti maintains that he is still a working class lad with his feet on the ground and has never allowed himself to become so seduced by the business that he forgets where he comes from - indeed his musical influences from his teenage years have recently provided the inspiration for the creation of a soul-searching jazz album recorded in Memphis, Tennessee.

“My pop career has what has fuelled everything else. It is that that has afforded me the opportunity to go off and record albums in Memphis, Tennessee with a bunch of 80 year old bluesmen - that's a learning process for me. The Moonlight Over Memphis album took me two years to track down the original players. I found Jack Hale on an Indian reservation. (Martin) Scorsese couldn't even find him, I found him.

“I knew that if I could get all those cats back together and supply some fried chicken - which was very important - then they would make some great music again. As a producer it was great to see them work together. You could see these guys, who worked with Duke Ellington when they were young, were getting a little more pigeon-chested, a bit more puffed up as they went along.

“As they traded friendly jibes with one another and played together I saw the years fall away. They were old men when they walked in but 15 minutes later they were youngsters again. As producer all I had to do was press record and play and sit back and enjoy the experience.”

He said that he enjoyed the fact that these giants of the jazz and blues world took him seriously as a musician and a songwriter meant a great deal to him.

“I loved just talking to them. I went up to them and started talking about records that were made 10 - 15 years before I was born. They were amazed that I knew about these records and I said that this is the music that inspired me when I was young. These cats were the real deal, it's going back to the source, that's when magic happens. If the record is a hit then that's a bonus because I get to have these amazing players interpret my music with the same passion as they did with Duke Ellington. How amazing is that? At the end of the day, that's why we do what we do.”

Marti Pellow opens in the new version of The Witches of Eastwick at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on August 23. The show runs until September 5. It then runs at the Ipswich Regent from November 11-15.

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