He’d shake Gor­bachev’s hand — but not Bono’s

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - ART & MUSIC -

Barry Egan can never for­get an af­ter­noon with Marti Pel­low — and his band Wet Wet Wet — driv­ing around Dublin in 1988 in a limo

EV­ERY­BODY’S youth is a dream, said F Scott Fitzger­ald. And he was right. This mem­ory from my youth is like a dream. Thirty years ago, a limo drove through Killiney to Bray, stop­ping at the odd pub en route. It was a beau­ti­ful sunny sum­mer even­ing and four warm­hearted, fresh-faced young men with permanent smiles in the back of the long, black chauf­feur-driven car with tinted win­dows are more than en­joy­ing their day in the sun­shine, their mo­ment in the lime­light, as they were en­ti­tled to, with me from Ir­ish teen pop mag­a­zine Fresh along for the ride.

They were full of beer and full of un­print­able jokes. They were full of fun and sto­ries, re­count­ing how they had all met at Cly­de­bank High School in Glas­gow, their love of Van Mor­ri­son, Amer­i­can soul, the im­por­tance of their work­ing-class roots, not least when one of them, Marti Pel­low, laughed at how his fa­ther, upon be­ing told a few years pre­vi­ously that he had joined a band and was go­ing to sing for a ca­reer, had replied: “Are you on drugs? I’m a builder, your grand­fa­ther was a builder, your great-grand­fa­ther was a ship­builder. What do you want to be a mu­si­cian for?”

The im­por­tance of their work­ing-class roots was fur­ther ev­i­denced by their re­fusal the month be­fore in Am­s­ter­dam to go along with a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer’s sug­ges­tion: at the end of their set a hun­dred teenage girl rush the stage bran­dish­ing au­to­graph books for the young pop idols to sign. The pro­ducer fi­nally lost his tem­per and shouted at a per­plexed front man, Mr Pel­low: “You can shake the hand of Gor­bachev but you can­not shake the hand of Bono!” Marti, I seem to re­call through the mists of time, do­ing an im­pres­sion in a bar in Bray in 1988 of the afore­said Dutch TV pro­ducer in­vok­ing the last leader of the Soviet Union and the lead singer of U2 re­spec­tively.

Wet Wet Wet went on to be­come a hugely suc­cess­ful blue-eyed Cale­do­nian soul combo with 26 hits across the world — like Wish­ing I Was Lucky (their de­but in the charts in April, 1987), Sweet Lit­tle Mys­tery (July, 1987), and a song The Guardian called “sick­en­ingly sin­cere”, All Around (May 1994).

The most fresh-faced of the lot of them per­haps went on to have a suc­cess­ful solo ca­reer, along with a dark re­la­tion­ship with heroin that he mer­ci­fully man­aged to end (Marti is clean since July 1999). His prob­lems with the drug came to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion in Fe­bru­ary 1999, when he col­lapsed at the Con­rad Ho­tel in Chelsea from a drugs binge. “I was wean­ing my­self off smack with methadone and Lib­rium, yet I was still self-de­struc­tive, so I thought, ‘Have a drink!’ I drank co­pi­ous amounts of vodka and Strega for two or three hours, and col­lapsed,” he re­mem­bered to The Guardian’s Caro­line Sul­li­van in 2000.

There was also, he re­called, an un­happy Yule­tide in a Florida cot­tage where he spent Christ­mas 1998 alone. “I was de­pressed ev­ery day. There was a tremen­dous amount of iso­la­tion. Just leave me alone with my drug of choice. I didn’t want to be with anyone I knew, so I stayed alone in a cabin.

“I’d get oc­ca­sional lit­tle mo­ments of clar­ity and see pain on the faces of my fam­ily.”

It is a tes­ta­ment to Marti’s pure will and strength of char­ac­ter that he has been sober for over 20 years now; fur­ther tes­ta­ment to that will, and his di­ver­sity, is that in those years he has sung with the re-formed Wet Wet Wet, as well as solo per­for­mances, to say noth­ing of ap­pear­ing as Che Gue­vara in Evita, the nar­ra­tor in Willy Russell’s Blood Broth­ers and Billy Flynn, in the Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Chicago.

For me, Marti’s best per­for­mance was the one he gave of Mikhail Gor­bachev and Bono that even­ing in Bray in 1988.

Love Is

‘Your grandad was a ship­builder. You want to be a singer?’

Marti Pel­low plays The Bord Gais En­ergy The­atre on Oc­to­ber 13.

Marti Pel­low to­day

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