PULL on your dancing shoes, it’s time to party with Marti, says that Scottish fellow Pellow ahead of his Greatest Hits Tour gig at York Barbican on Tuesday night.
York is one of five additions to the second leg of a post-lockdown itinerary that opened at Scarborough Spa Theatre on November 11 when the former Wet Wet Wet frontman, soulful solo singer and musical theatre star could not wait to re-connect with his devotees.
“Throughout lockdown, I was inundated by beautiful messages from fans, asking me to please organise a tour once we come out of these terrible times,” said the Clydebank singer at the time.
“Twelve million people tuned in for the Lockdown Sessions I did and each one of you has inspired me to make this tour happen this year.”
How did those autumn shows go? “Great! To say I was enthusiastic is an understatement and the audiences were so up for it because concert venues were the first places to close for Covid and the last to reopen,” says Marti, whose tour mission statement is to celebrate love, life and those we lost along the way.
“Calling it the Greatest Hits Tour was perfect too. As much as I did want to play songs from Stargazer [his March 2021 album written in homage to his heroes], and I did do that, most of the night hangs on being a celebration of getting back together.
“They were all shouting back at me, ‘No Marti, no party!’, as I did all those songs from multiple decades. After we’d navigated that year and a half we’d all been through, the set picked itself, whether I wrote the song, co-wrote it, sang it solo or with Wet Wet Wet, or it was a song I’d covered.”
On the tour’s second leg, that format remains the same; “In the more intimate parts of the show, I like to sit down and reflect, and I have a sophisticated audience so they’ll let me do that, dangling my feet off the edge of the stage and shooting the breeze,” says Marti, now 57.
“I’m forever mixing it up or changing the running order. I like people to be surprised! Maybe in the first song, I’ll look at them, and they’ll be turning their heads to the right thinking, ‘where’s he going here?!’
“It’s purely about reacting on the spot each evening. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘what’s going on with this audience?’. If it’s an attentive, ‘listening’ audience, I’ll squeeze in a few more ballads. Or maybe I’ll do songs that reflect on topics.
“It’s about how you set it up, like maybe pulling out a James Taylor Jackson Browne cover, or sharing a thought with them that they’ll relate to as audiences are storytellers themselves, remembering when they first heard a song or how their daughter always sang this song at the top of her voice in the back of the car.”
Marti has been delighted to find himself playing to such diverse crowds, whether they know him from Wet Wet Wet, his musical theatre performances or those Lockdown Sessions that went viral.
“What I find fascinating is the age range. At one of the shows I did last year, I met an elderly couple who said they were up having a dance, recalling how they first did that to a Wet Wet Wet song in 1987 when they were in their in their early 50s,” says Marti.
“Then I’ll be standing by a 17-year-old kid who says he’s come to the show because he’s seen me on YouTube and loved it.
“I think that’s got to do with me being a singer-songwriter, a storyteller, first catching an age group in their teens, but then you transcend that by doing half a dozen albums with your old band, 15 solo albums, and by being an eclectic artist, like doing songs from Broadway.
“Having that eclectic skill set transcends to the audience, who switch on to me through different media, including doing Kander and Ebb [Chicago] or being in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.”
Marti does not rest on his laurels. “I like spending some time in Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, where it’s about educating myself, and then applying that to what I do. That might switch on certain parts of the audience that will go on a journey with you,” he says.
“I know my audience through engaging with them, listening to what they say on social media. Like for the Greatest Hits Tour, I listened to them when I asked, ‘what kind of show do you want?’.
“Every day is a school day when I’m performing, and when I look at my audience, what I get back from them far outweighs what I give them.”
Describing the concert experience, Marti says: “It’s monumental, in the way that when you go to church, the power of the music will physically move people. Like with a ballad, where people remember how they fell in love to that song; there’s a shared experience when you’re in the moment and you’re engaging in your stagecraft.
“It’s all about escapism. That’s what it’s about. Whether it’s a three-minute pop song by The Beatles or a beautiful piece by Rachmaninov, it has a beauty to behold.
“If you’re the catalyst for that, seeing all those smiles makes it so worthwhile.”
Marti Pellow: Greatest Hits Tour, York Barbican, May 3, 7.30pm; doors 7pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.