Since forming Wet Wet Wet with school friends back in 1982, bassist Graeme Clark has recorded some of the most enduring songs of the past twenty years, such as the self-penned ‘Goodnight Girl’ and the 15-weeks-at-number-one Troggs’ cover ‘Love Is All Around’. As the band spend the summer working towards preparations for their UK-wide Greatest Hits tour in December, RedHotVelvet spent a couple of hours hanging out with the Scottish songwriter in Brighton’s south lanes.
With the July mid-day sun out in full force, Graeme Clark arrives for our interview looking relaxed and happy, dressed in an open-necked checked shirt. “I love Brighton,” he states emphatically. “The first time Wet Wet Wet came here was in 1985 on a university tour and we played at a place called the Zap Club. There were penises drawn all over the walls! It was a good introduction!”
After a long hiatus – and a one-off Glasgow Green gig last summer – Wet Wet Wet are back with a twelve-date tour in the run up to Christmas 2013. Yet with vocalist Marti Pellow based in London, drummer Tommy Cunningham living in Glasgow, keys-player Neil Mitchell in Northampton, and Graeme in Surrey, it’s not been easy. “As we’re getting older, it’s difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time. We were supposed to do [the tour] two years ago, then last year, but it kept getting shelved. You never say anything in this band until the tickets are on sale! Sometimes I think ‘Do I really want to go back to this?’ But then I spend five minutes with the guys and I realise how much I miss them! This is why we’ve lasted so long!!
When asked about getting back into touring with Wet Wet Wet, Clark is refreshingly honest. “It’s like riding a bike. We needed to work out if we were going to do a nostalgic heritage thing, or add more value. There’s one or two new songs and some of the old songs need bit of a facelift. There’s nothing worse than a band going through the motions – you can smell it a mile off! People think we must be sick of playing ‘Love Is All Around’, but ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’ has been in our set since 1985!”
He seems to have a good understanding of what Wets’ fans want. “I wanna relive that period of my life too! Reclaim my youth! It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who still want to come and see Wet Wet Wet. No one’s more suprised than me that we can still sell tickets.”
With the four-piece spending more time together recently whilst doing promotion and interviews over the summer, is it a good dynamic? “We’re old and we’ve been through the whole ‘I hate you; you hate me’. We’ve been through enough to just step away and collect our thoughts and then come back to it. I love them all.” After pointing out that this tour will be the longest time they’ll have spent together in years, Graeme pauses and laughs. “I never thought of it like that!”
Running his hand through his hair and leaning in to sip his coffee, he continues. “Everyone’s families come along to the shows when they want to. We’ve got trombone and sax players too. It’s not just us four. Wet Wet Wet is like a family but we’re the most dysfunctional family there is!”
Speaking of vocalist Marti Pellow, Clark appears to have nothing but admiration for his fellow bandmate. “Guys that lead a band have to be a certain kind of person; they have to have charisma. Marti’s got it. And he can sing like a fucking bird! When I was 20, it became apparent that Marti was the recognisable one, and I was like ‘Why aren’t these people asking for my autograph?!’ The publisher said to me ‘One day, you’ll be happy about that’. That was my ego and pride taking a bashing. But whenever it did happen to me, it was always at the cheese counter in Morrisson’s, like, ‘Hey Graeme, can you sign this receipt for me?’ And then other people are like ‘Who the fuck are you?!’ Marti gets it much worse than me, but he’s great at it. He’s just an iconic guy.”
Despite no formal plans for a new album or further gigs, will this tour mark the beginning of a new era? “We are talking about going to Europe and doing some festivals. We might do a full album, but first, we’ve just written a couple of songs. The record company is putting out a retrospective of hits which will include a couple of new tracks. We wanted to keep the quality level and not dilute it. We haven’t worked together properly in 10 years, but now the clock is ticking. It takes us enough time to speak together about doing a tour! But we’ve been throwing ideas around and technology’s moved on in such a way [GC’s a self-confessed Apple fan] that we can record parts and share things around.”
When asked how Wet Wet Wet has stood the test of time, Graeme is sure it’s down to luck and hard work. “We didn’t know what we were doing when we started, but we wanted to create something which lasted. Back then, bands had a three year lifespan – it suprised me that we got so far. My manager said it’s 10% music, 40% travelling and 50% perspiration. It’s work. We’re not hugely successful and we’re not a massive failure – we’re somewhere in between. We’re lucky we had this thing happen to us in our 20s and 30s and it’s still resonating today.”
Whilst Wet Wet Wet has taken a back seat, Graeme has been pursuing a solo project, and released the 12-track album ‘Mr Understanding’ in 2012. “That name [Wet Wet Wet] does two things – sometimes it opens a door, and sometimes it fucking shuts in your face! People don’t necessarily know Graeme Clark but if I mention Wet Wet Wet, I see their eyes light up and they say ‘Well who the fuck were you?!’ For my solo stuff, I don’t get much crossover from Wet Wet Wet fans. It’s moving much slower than I thought but as a songwriter, I need somewhere to put all this stuff.”
And how is the song-writing process in his solo work compared to with Wet Wet Wet? “Songwriting gets harder with age. Wet Wet Wet’s bar was set pretty high, so it’s coming round to haunt us! I think we’re ready to put out some new music. But it has to be exceptional. If you’ve got really good songs, everything usually falls into place. Song is king. We had a couple of songs that came together in 20 minutes. But it’s the 20 years of scratching your head and working-working-working that enables you to do that. ‘Goodnight Girl’ is a good example. We had the title written down but it had never fitted with anything before. We didn’t think who or what the goodnight girl was. We were more pop sensibility and escapism.” He explains further, of their 1987 hit ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’, “It was quite poignant and relevant at the time.”
What’s your favourite Wet Wet Wet song? “Neil always says ‘You like it if it’s successful!’ I’ve always liked ‘Julia Says’, which was kinda overshadowed by the release of ‘Love Is All Around’. It’s a well-crafted song. Before that, people thought we were a bit bubblegummy. I also like ‘Lip Service’, and ‘I Can Give You Everything’ is fun to play live.”
And what music do you listen to do? “The Isley Brothers. Biggie Smalls. Boz Scaggs. Gil Scott-Heron. My brother bought me a yearly subscription to Rough Trade; you get a new CD every month. I discovered Grizzly Bear and The XX from that. I’m liking Bob Marley too, since the sun’s out! ‘No Woman No Cry’ is like a prayer. My older brother used to buy all the Jamaican imports in the 1970s when reggae was breaking out. I had access to arts like Augustus Pablo and Lee Perry. Perry had an album called ‘Cloak and Dagger’, and we released an album of the same name as Maggie Pie and The Imposters. We had a song on that called ‘I Don’t Believe’ and you can hear a lot of that reggae influence.”
In recent years, things have changed. “It’s a different pace. I get up at 9am and make porridge. My wife takes our son to his drama college. I work on my solo stuff and potter about. It’s not exciting, but I love it. I won’t ever be accused of working too hard, but I do try to play guitar at least an hour every day.
And how has the music industry changed since you were first signed? “Half the guys who were there [at the label] when we got signed aren’t there anymore. It’s a double edged sword because a new guy coming in might be invigorated and have all this vision about where they see us going. Or it could be a younger kid who fucking hates us! But I don’t stress out because I like our music, and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem. We had a great manager who was all about the craft of the song. He was tone deaf but he had a vision and instinctively knew when something was right. If we hadn’t had that dynamic in the band we probably wouldn’t have done as well as we did. Managers are important but they can be overbearing; you take what you need and you leave the rest.
As our time draws to a close, Graeme gets philosophical. “The fundamentals of the music industry are still the same – it’s about having a good song. If it was easy, we’d all be doin’ it. It’s a bit irresponsible when someone says “Follow your dream”, because it’s not always possible. It’s one thing doing it in your bedroom, it’s entirely different putting yourself out there, on the chopping block.” Then he looks up from his coffee and smiles “That’s why you get guys like Marti involved!”
Check out Wet Wet Wet on their Greatest Hits tour!
THU 05 • DUBLIN The O2
FRI 06 • BELFAST Odyssey Arena
SUN 08 • MANCHESTER Arena
MON 09 • BRIGHTON Centre
TUE 10 • CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
WED 11 • LONDON The O2
FRI 13 • NOTTINGHAM Capital FM Arena
SAT 14 • BOURNEMOUTH International Centre
SUN 15 • BIRMINGHAM LG Arena
TUE 17 • NEWCASTLE Metro Radio Arena
WED 18 • LEEDS Arena
THU 19 • GLASGOW The Hydro
For ticket info, visit http://www.wetwetwet.co.uk/