MARTI Pellow has flown up from London to talk about his new album and he’ll be straight back on the plane afterwards. “I’m keeping a low profile because I don’t want my dad to know I’m here,” he says, slinking down into the plush hotel’s sofa.
“He’ll not be happy that I’ve come up to Scotland and not had time to see him. So after this chat I’ll grab a fish supper from my favourite chippy and that’ll be me.”
The pop-to-showtunes super-crooner declines to name this establishment. “Actually there are three or four that I like, strategically placed around the globe, but if I was to show favouritism I might blow the extra big bit of jumbo haddock.” What a tricky path Pellow must tread to keep fathers and fast-food outlets content. “Aye it’s a mindfield.”
This is what he says. He also talks of how he’s “manipulised” his voice for his new life, post-Wet Wet Wet, in musical theatre. His speech is a funny mix of customised words, football-pundit lingo and the therapyspeak of the recovering addict, all delivered with boyish wow, and all quite entertaining.
A bit greyer at the temples, a bit wrinkled round the eyes, but still able to rely on that trademark toothpaste-ad grin, Pellow is 48 and into his second decade of doing songs his mother would know, and love. Songs from the musicials, songs Sinatra made his own, songs he must be racing Rod Stewart to record first. He remembers growing up in Clydebank, watching MGM musicals on TV with his mum Margaret, a proper mummy’s boy. She told him he’d get to Broadway. She was right – and he loves to tell how the backstage announcer would issue the age-old reminder: “Five minutes, everyone. Don’t forget it’s Saturday and it’s Broadway” – but Margaret died before she could glimpse her son’s name in lights for Chicago. Pellow’s father John witnessed his opening night, and the following day a helicopter tour of Manhattan was organised for the old man. “Aw thanks, son,” he said, “but I’ve found this wee Irish bar showing the Old Firm game.”
It’s a pity John, nearing his eighties and still a “Bankie boy”, isn’t here today because he figures in lots of Pellow’s stories. He taught the laddie to sing. Or, to be precise: “Dad pointed to our dog, who was always barking, and said, ‘See how it breathes? From way down in its belly. That’s why it never loses its voice. If you’re going to be a singer you’ve got to learn how to breathe right.’”
A builder by trade, he also lectured his son in the finer points of Scottish architecture. “We’d wander round Glasgow with Dad pointing out the ‘Greek’ Thomson pillars and arches.” Pellow can sometimes be accused of over-romanticising Scotland, like many a local boy made good who no longer lives here, but his passion for the old country seems real enough: he feels it in his fingers, he feels it in his toes.
“My plane flew in over Clydebank,” he says. “There’s just the one crane now; left as a reminder perhaps. I couldn’t help thinking back to when the streets round the shipyards were just a sea o’ bunnets. The barmaids in the pubs would have the pints and nips piled high for the men at the end of their shifts and I’d try to sell them an evening paper.
“The saddest thing I ever saw was the Queen Mary in Los Angeles, all concreted in. I went right down into the guts of the ship and the fittings would say, ‘Made in Ballieston,’ ‘Made in Springburn,’ ‘Made in Clydebank.’ I wore that ship for weeks after. Lots of my family worked on it. Uncle Joe – huge hands, like a guy out of a Peter Howson painting – used to hold the rivets while they were smacked in. Seeing the rivets again was very … tactical.” (He means tactile, but we definitely get his drift).
Pellow is happy chuntering away about Clydebank; less so the personal. His engagement to former Miss Scotland, Eileen Catterson – in the Wets’ heyday they were Scotland’s Posh and Becks – must rate as one of showbiz’s longest. Why haven’t they married? Does he want kids? “Ach,” he smiles bashfully, “never say never. Hopefully I’ll get to see all the colours of the rainbow.”
I have slightly more luck going through the lyrics of new album Hope. On I Won’t Send Roses from Mack & Mabel he sings: “I’d be the first one to agree/That I’m preoccupied with me.”
Was there such a moment? “Oh aye. Back home after the Wets’ first big tour, my mother said, ‘Gonnae nip down the shops and get me a loaf?’ I thought I was above that and think I might have said, ‘Mum, I’ve been on national television!’ ”
And the line “Wanted my pool, my dose of fame” in the theme song from Sunset Boulevard reminds him of how his father was similarly unimpressed with the pop idol having splashed £300 on a Versace shirt. “He said, ‘Son, I don’t know if I can continue this conversation. I’ve only made 200 quid and it’s been snowing all week.’”
Pellow, who had a well-publicised heroin addiction, has just marked the 14th anniversary of his quitting drink and drugs. “It happens every Valentine’s Day; I get a little present.”
He doesn’t avoid parties or those who indulge, and says his natural exuberance enables him to keep pace, until he knows when to call it a night. “The only problem is that in the morning I can remember all my lies!”
Next for him is a tour of Evita but it’s no lie to say there might be a Wets reunion. “I’d like to see where we are when we get to 50. Maybe that would be the time to break bread again.” By rights, Pellow should fetch the loaf.
• Hope is out on 18 March on BK Records. Marti Pellow plays the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 28 March; Perth Concert Hall, 1 April, Eden Court, Inverness, 2 April, and Aberdeen Music Hall, 3 April. www.martipellowofficial.co.uk