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MARTI PELLOW (WET WET WET) INTERVIEW [2006]

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF THE KIND OF PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS THAT PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE ABOUT YOU?

Sometimes I do wish I was that fly on the wall and I could hear what people were saying... but that would bring a plethora of things, there would be good and there would be bad... people can have a preconceived idea of what you're about though you know? But I think - due to a song called 'Love Is All Around' which was a fantastic song for me and for Wet Wet Wet - that people might just think 'that was the guy who did my head in with that song back in the summer of '94!' but I would like to think they might also say I'm a good singer...

THE REASON I ASKED THAT QUESTION IS BECAUSE I HAVE LISTENED TO YOUR NEW ALBUM AND I THINK THAT PEOPLE WILL BE TRULY AMAZED BY IT, BUT I WOULD NEVER HAVE GUESSED IT WAS BY YOU... IT SOUNDS NOTHING LIKE I THINK YOU SOUND IF THAT MAKES SENSE?

I do understand, I understand exactly what you are saying because this album is all about the voice, it's not about the vocal aerobics or the versatility of it, it's a very organic sounding record and it's a very... there's a lot of depth to this work, which is not to say that my previous work has lacked that, but it doesn't resonate in the same way with me. This is an album that has taken me forty-one years to make, it's not just interpreting the songs but it's also understanding them...

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH THIS RECORD SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN MADE BY SOMEONE MUCH OLDER... A MUCH OLDER BLACK SINGER IN FACT!

That's alright with me! I think that the music that inspires me and the way that I feel inside, that's the way it comes out you know? You hear a lot of records that try to be a kind of pastiche of something, they just try to sound like something else... for me, all the musicians who are playing on the record have been hand-picked by me for the quality of the playing they bring to the table, so there's a lot of thought process gone into it. I could have hired other musicians no problem, but I wouldn't have got the same gravitas of playing. Bringing this set of people together to play on 'Moonlight Over Memphis', people who haven't played together for a long time, that in itself was magical and all I had to do was add some fried chicken and we were covered, I was onto a winner!

AND THIS SET OF MUSICIANS IS JUST AN INCREDIBLE LINE-UP ISN'T IT? IT'S LIKE YOU'VE GONE THROUGH YOUR RECORD COLLECTION AND JUST PICKED ALL YOUR FAVOURITE PLAYERS AND BROUGHT THEM ALL TOGETHER...

Absolutely! I knew that if I went to my record company - or to any record company for that matter - and said I want to make this record with Willie Mitchell, and every musician on it will be between sixty and eighty years old, they're just going to say no way, but instead it was me making a decision to self-finance the record, to source it and to put it together. But there's a way these guys play and I knew that if I could get that onto my record then that would be good for me... the record doesn't have to be a hit, to be successful because I'm already reaping the benefits... every day I was going to my work with an even bigger smile on my face!

SO IS THERE NO PRESSURE FOR THE RECORD TO BE COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL FOR YOU?

Well I don't think anyone makes a record in the hope that it only sells two copies! I've made this album and now I want to get out there and talk about it to as many people as possible, but this is not an easy album and it involves commitment, from the people who made it to the people who listen to it... people will need to spend a bit of time with me through their music system and that in itself brings some weight because it's not just about instant accessibility.

But at the end of the day it's not about how many units you sell, for me I'm already ahead of the game because I got to make a record in Memphis with my heroes and anything else that stems for it is a bonus!

DO YOU THINK THE ALBUM WILL SURPRISE PEOPLE?

Well I hope that when people hear it they can still hear Marti in there but I think it will change people's perceptions because of the integrity and the nature of the album and the gravitas of what it is and I think some of that will rub off on me. I just hope that people can say that it's just another string to my bow.

IT DOES SOUND LIKE AN ALBUM WHERE EVERYONE WAS ENJOYING THEMSELVES DURING THE MAKING OF IT... THERE'S A FREEDOM TO IT...

And that was important all the way through the process, and you know, my name is on the album; it's a Marti Pellow record but the musicians and the producer - Willie Mitchell - co-produced this album with me and there's a sense of family to it and that resonates when you hear the music. It was an environment that I basked in.... it's just me and these people making music in its rawest form and it was amazing.

GIVEN YOUR POSITION AS THE KID IN THE CANDY SHOP AS IT WERE, WAS IT DIFFICULT TO STOP? TO REACH THE POINT WHERE YOU HAD TO SAY OK THIS IS IT, IT'S DONE?

Well I think there's nothing better than the feeling of putting an album to bed... the most frustrating thing for me is that when I write these songs I hear them in a funny order... I hear the arrangements, I hear what the strings are going to do, I hear what the horn parts are going to do and I have to walk about with that in my head until I can get it out and get it onto tape.

SO THAT PROCESS OF ACTUALLY MAKING IT REAL IS THE KEY THING?

Yes, it's all about that because it's all running about in my head... it's about hearing it in its finished form and then moving on and getting out there and talking about it, playing it to people to inspire them and to be inspired, and then I know there's going to be another record...

WHEN IT COMES TO THE NEXT RECORD WON'T YOU JUST LOOK BACK AT THIS ONE AND JUST GO 'HOW AM I GOING TO BEAT THAT?'

I think that's no bad thing, I think what you've got to do it to be always sharpening your pencil, to not be afraid to go the whole hog and to go the whole way with a song... I think I've always got to say that there's better to come!

WHEN I WAS PREPARING FOR THIS INTERVIEW I HAD TO CALL THE PR COMPANY TO CHECK WHO WROTE ALL THE SONGS ON THE RECORD BECAUSE I'M NOT MUCH OF A SOUL MAN AND SOME OF THESE SONGS SOUND LIKE CLASSIC SOUL LIKE SAM COOKE OR MARVIN GAYE... BUT YOU WROTE THEM ALL!

This is what can become frightening because you don't want to sound like a pastiche of something else, but at the same time these songs should sound like those guys because those are the guys who started it... and you mentioned Sam Cooke there and there's a few guys on this record who played on those Sam Cooke albums, and on Otis Redding records, and the people doing backing vocals did Elvis Presley's 'In The Ghetto' and Al Greene's 'Stay Together' which is just incredible...

DID YOU EVER HAVE THOSE MOMENTS IN THE STUDIO WHERE YOU JUST LOOKED AROUND AND WENT 'WOW... HOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME?'

Oh yeah, and it was a very humbling experience because music is obviously about the power of the collective so I hope that some of that power has come out on the record, but to have conversations with these guys, who I'm such a fan of... you know if I meet Eric Clapton or Elton John or Peter Gabriel I'm just 'Oh... wait a minute, what's going on?' and that essential enthusiasm, that almost bug-eyed enthusiasm is what I hope I never lose for what I'm doing because I'm a such a fan of music and a fan of these people...

COULD THIS ALBUM HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT WILLIE MITCHELL PRODUCING? WITHOUT THIS STELLAR CAST OF MUSICIANS?

No. Absolutely not, because the people who came and worked on this project... it was like Stax reunited and I was the catalyst for that but it couldn't have happened without everyone else, but especially with Willie Mitchell because first and foremost he's my friend.

AND TALKING OF FRIENDS... LET'S TALK ABOUT CHRIS DIFFORD...

That bag of bones!

I HAVE IT ON GOOD AUTHORITY THAT HE'S YOUR BEST MATE, AS WELL AS YOUR CO-WRITER...

Apparently so! Seriously though, Chris Difford is a fantastic wordsmith, a great songwriter and a very established artist in his own right, so for me - when I embarked on a solo career - I will occasionally write lyrics but when I've got a friend like Chris Difford who's such a fantastic lyricist then I'm going to go to him every time!

The good thing about Chris is that I can just phone him and say I want to write a song about blah blah blah and my strengths lay in arranging, in melody, in the production side and I bask in that but Chris doesn't always write for the music, sometimes he never does... so he sends it to me and I just mould it in and that's a great way of working.

AND YOUR'RE TOURING 'MOONLIGHT OVER MEMPHIS' THIS YEAR AREN'T YOU, AND CHRIS IS GOING TO BE THERE FOR THAT?

Oh it's just an excuse so we can hang out together... I've not seen him much this year and it is a great chance for us to hang out!

AND WHAT SORT OF SHOW ARE YOU DOING?

Well I'll have a few musicians with me and it'll be kind of along the lines of what makes a song tick... not a masterclass or anything like that but these are relatively small venues, big enough for me but quite intimate...

I hope that people will walk away at the end of the night and say that the music was great, but I also want them to be saying 'that was a great bit with Marti telling us about such and such', sending people away with something new, something they didn't know before they arrived...

AND PRESUMABLY YOU'LL BE PLAYING SONGS FROM THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, WET WET WET SONGS AND EVERYTHING?

You'd better believe it! People come and see you for those songs and there's many different ways to play a song but if people want to hear 'Love Is All Around' then they're going to hear 'Love is All Around', if they want to hear 'Goodnight Girl' by the Wets then they're going to hear 'Goodnight Girl'... these are the songs that made me what I am so I'll play them all, Wet Wet Wet songs, cover songs, songs from my solo career but it's all going to be quite loose... an 'if you can hum it I'll play it' kind of thing!

PEOPLE REALLY SEEM TO BE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE TOUR, AND TO THE ALBUM, AND I'VE BEEN STRUCK BY THE LOYALTY OF YOUR FANS, JUST FROM CHECKING OUT ALL THE SITES ONLINE AND EVERYTHING...

You know I am really so blessed to have the kind of fanbase who allow me to go off and do certain things, whether it's a solo career or treading the boards on Broadway, just being there for me and supporting me. And they take on board the kind of challenges I have in my life and that's the kind of fanbase you dream of... it would be so easy for them to just decide 'that's the way I like Marti to be, this is what I like him to do' and then I go and do something else, move the goal posts, and they're gone... but my fans are very supportive.

IT'S BEEN A VERY VARIED CAREER SO FAR HASN'T IT? THERE'S BEEN ALL SORTS OF TWISTS AND TURNS AND HIGHS AND LOWS... IS THERE A BOOK IN THERE? AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY?

Well, only really when I have a few more chapters! I do believe there's a book in there and if I decide to play that card then I want to have a few more anecdotes in it yet... I love biographies, I think they're amazing - my favourite is 'The Moon's A Balloon' by David Niven - but I don't think I'm ready for all that, because for me that's for stars, you know Hollywood stars, but I think I've got a story to tell...

I WOULD SAY YOU DEFINTELY HAVE A STORY TO TELL - YOU'VE DONE SOME VERY DIFFERENT THINGS AND YOU'VE EXPERIENCED SOME REAL SUCCESSES AND SOME VERY DRAMATIC AND PUBLIC LOWS...

Aye... a lot of shit has happened to me; let's not beat about the bush!

WHAT ELSE IS COMING UP FOR YOU AFTER THE TOUR? YOU DID 'CHICAGO' IN THE WEST END FOR A WHILE DIDN'T YOU, WILL YOU DO MORE IN THAT DIRECTION?

I hope to do more of that but at the moment it's all about this record, but next year I'll be releasing an album with Wet Wet Wet and we've been writing some new songs for that... it's our two hundredth anniversary or something!

SEPTEMBER 2006

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