Marti Pellow: 20 years on, he still feels it in his fingers
The Wet Wet Wet singer, currently playing Che Guevara in the musical Evita, recalls the the summer of 1994, when love (and then loathing) was all around the charts
Marti Pellow: ‘What a classy pop song [Love Is All Around] – it never ceases to amaze me.’ Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Marti Pellow in Chicago
Marti Pellow as Che Guevara in Evita
In the summer of 1994, Marti Pellow’s toes ruled the airwaves. It was the year that Wet Wet Wet topped the charts for 15 straight weeks with their version of The Troggs’ Love Is All Around. Turn on the radio or tune in to Top of the Pops (it was still on back then), and there would be Pellow, a perma-grin in his voice, intoning: “I feel it in my fingers / I feel it in my toes / Love is all around me / And so the feeling grows.”
It had been only three years since Bryan Adams ruined our summer with Everything I Do (I Do it for You), which topped the UK charts for 16 weeks; now a Scottish pop combo had hijacked the No 1 slot and made everyone’s toes curl, although they mercifully bowed out after 15 weeks, just one week short of breaking the Canadian rocker’s record run at the top.
Twenty years after hogging the No 1 slot for nearly four months, Marti Pellow is back in the spotlight, but this time he’ll be singing some different classics. He’s playing the role of Che Guevara in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, which comes to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on February 10th. Pellow is no stranger to musical theatre – in recent years he has enjoyed successful runs in Blood Brothers, Jekyll & Hyde and War of the Worlds. It’s a second act for a singer who was written off as a 1980s pop has-been, and a second chance for the reformed drug addict to prove he still has the musical power.
“We’ve had a career that has had highs and lows, goods and bads. That’s what it’s all about. You have all those things that happened to you, good bad or indifferent, and that’s what makes you the man you are today. And I still have a long way to go. So bring it on,” he says.
When the hits dried up for Wet Wet Wet following their biggest hit in summer 1994, Pellow went spectacularly off the rails, sinking into a mire of booze and drugs. When he eventually got clean, he found a new focus in musical theatre.
“I think I’ve got balance in my career, and I enjoy the luxury of having a fan base that enjoys me going out and trying different things. And I think it’s about me having a sense of connection as a singer-songwriter with my music, and still enjoying it and having a passion for what I do.”
Reunion, reunion, reunion
In recent years, Pellow has mended fences with his old bandmates in Wet Wet Wet, and they went back on tour to celebrate their 30th anniversary, opening with shows in Dublin and Belfast in December.
“It was great to go out and sing with my buddies, my mates, you know? And that tour was very much about us celebrating our body of work over the last 30 years. It was about entertaining and not educating – putting proper smiles on people’s faces.”
Of course, they played their biggest hit, Love Is All Around, which for Pellow had an added poignancy because its composer, Troggs singer Reg Presley, died late last year.
“What a classy pop song he wrote there – it never ceases to amaze me,” says Pellow. “I remember playing that and Reg taking me aside and saying, ‘I love what you’ve done with our song.’ And when he said that to me, my wee stomach knotted up. And he really was as mad as a box of frogs – a lovely man, and everything that you hope when you meet people in this industry. He ticked all the boxes: he was eccentric, he was passionate about what he did, and a very talented man. And I got to sing one of his biggest songs and make it my own, so I’ll be forever indebted to him.”
Presley, an avid ufologist, reportedly spent much of his royalty windfall from the single on research into extraterrestrial activity.
Wet Wet Wet weren’t the first to cover the Troggs classic – REM recorded a version of it in 1991, and subsequently worked with The Troggs on their 1992 comeback album, Athens Andover. But it was the Wet Wet Wet version that clicked with a wider public, not least because it was on the soundtrack to one of the biggest movies of the year, Four Weddings and a Funeral, starring Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell.
“For me, that song falls on a whole different level when I sing it now,” says Pellow. “The amount of pleasure it brought to millions of people. When you play that and see the whole room light up, you realise you’re lucky to have a song like that at your service.”
In the summer of 94
But back in that seemingly endless summer of 1994, even the jauntiest personality was sorely tested by the ubiquity of the song. Eventually, the band had to delete the single themselves just to give the public a break from it. “We did everybody’s head in,” said Pellow at the time.
Richard Curtis, the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, possibly hoping that lightning would strike twice, used the song again in his 2003 comedy Love, Actually. Only this time it was a parody, Christmas Is All Around, sung by a fictional has-been popstar, Billy Mack (Bill Nighy). This version, thankfully, didn’t dominate the Christmas charts.
But pop music still has the power, says Pellow, which is why he’s looking forward to performing in a musical that has spawned some classic pop hits.
“I first became aware of Evita through a pop environment, growing up hearing David Essex sing Oh What a Circus, or hearing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina on the radio,” says Pellow. “So it managed to cross over into the pop environment before I became aware that it was part of a musical. And that’s the great thing about it: the songs are very accessible, great pop songs.”
Evita is at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, until February 15. Love Is All Around is probably available to download – if you must