“The Chief Mechanic Meets The Waiting Room” - Interview with Mike Rutherford at the Apollo Theatre Manchester on Sunday 5th March 1989. Interview conducted by Peter Morton, Ted Sayers and Alan Hewitt. Photographs byTed Sayers.
TWR: How did you come to do the Mechanics project?
MR: I did it in between one of our Genesis periods. I didn’t want it to be a solo album. I mean, I can’t sing so it’s a bit odd when it’s a solo album without a singer. I mean I decided I would present it as more of a group and I went into it with very much that sort of… with a producer; Chris Neil and myself, B A Robertson and I thought it really was a bit to do and see. Put the tracks down which I did in Monserrat with Peter Van Hooke and Adrian Lee and came back. I couldn’t think about it seriously until I heard the songs and the mood of the album you know, instrumentally the backing tracks. One or two singers came down. Paul Carrack came down and sang Silent Running in about two hours. Paul Young came down and sang a couple very quickly and they felt very strong and right. So you got to the end of the album and I thought this is something that should be continued.
TWR: Had you worked with any of the musicians in Mike & The Mechanics before?
MR: No. Damn I’ve forgotten the sugar! (laughs) No, I hadn’t. Paul Carrack nearly sang on Smallcreep’s Day but it didn’t come together. No, I hadn’t.
TWR: How did you come to meet Paul?
MR: Actually he came down with B A Robertson one day, he was singing a demo of a song for B A and he brought him down with a view to possibly do some of the stuff on the album and he just sounded great, you know. I think that luck really comes into all these things, we got lucky; also we had a tour of America. We were heading off and I was thinking to myself, ‘well hang on; five guys who’d hardly met because they were there at different times in the studio and there’ll be no reason why they’ll get on that well’. It was a complete gamble but we hit the road and got on really well and had a good time, marvellous.
TWR: Were you surprised by the success of Mike & The Mechanics particularly in America?
MR: Yeah. I mean, I was very surprised. The odds are against all that happening. The nicest thing was having the success in the States with what you would look upon as a new band which was great at first. The whole reason for recording something else and to have success with that song; Silent Running which is not the sort of song thought of as a hit single. And without blowing my own trumpet it’s quite a classy song in a way and it’s nice to start off with that particular song you gain a good feeling for the group. People saw it in a nice way.
TWR: Did you find it easier to write this album than the other one?
MR: Yeah, because I knew where I was going a little bit more. I mean I was writing for the second time with Chris Neil and B A Robertson and those song writing relationships were developing and that happens; you work with people more and more and I think if the relationship is good it gets better. Sand the whole thing was easier because I knew who was singing. I could write it in the right key.
TWR: Because the song The Living Years was quite a personal song. Can you tell us a bit more about that one?
MR: Actually the lyrics were mainly written by B A. We both worked on them. We had both lost our fathers in 1986 and really it’s about that. Losing a father before you got the time to say the things you always kind of meant to say but never got round to. It’s nice, a lot of people have related to it which is good.
TWR: Was it hard to write and perhaps even harder to release as a single?
MR: Yes it was hard. No, by the time it’s finished what happens is… what happens with me is by the time I actually finish a song, recording the album I am terribly close to it all and it is very personal and by the time I finish it and fix it and hand it over to a company you have to let it go. I have to let go otherwise I just get too upset because you know the thing is just so personal to you. Every song, especially that one but its so personal that unless you can actually… If the song came out and was criticised or reviewed or whatever or commented on and I was as close to it as I am to the recording sessions it would break my heart. So you have to sort of let go, there’s a sort of three month process where you sort of give it up to the outside world really. And in that process it becomes less painful.
TWR: Would you have liked to release it as the first single from the album?
MR: It wasn’t my choice.
TWR: It’s the record company who decide, is it?
MR: At the end of the day I could have said no and I would have won but everyone; Doug Morris, the head of Atlantic, Rob Dicken over here, Tony Smith, everyone said Nobody’s Perfect was a hit so we should put it out, and they don’t usually agree so I said, ‘well if you think so…’ and they were wrong. It was hit chorus but that didn’t make it a hit single. It wasn’t designed as a single just as an album track and it works as a whole.
TWR: Will there be another single from the album?
MR: Yeah, Nobody Knows is coming out next.
TWR: Even though it has been a B side already?
MR: Well, it sold not that many copies. I’ve made a different version. I’ve actually shortened it and I have taken the drums off. I think it works. Funnily enough I sort of disagreed with Chris Neil. I wanted the song to stay in one sort of mood the whole time. I was never sure about the drums coming in a bit like Taken In off the first album that stays in that sort of warm mellow mood the whole way through. Actually I think it works better like this, it’s more of a complete song I think that’s coming out in about three weeks’ time I think.
TWR: When you write the album, what decides which tracks are left out? There are several tracks that have appeared as B sides, what actually decides which ones you put on the album?
MR: They’re the ones that sound best really. I mean, there’s one off this one which is on the B side of Living Years I think.
TWR: Too many Friends?
MR: Yeah. It didn’t quite work out though. The backing track was good but it didn’t quite happen.
TWR: Were there any others?
MR: No. There was another one which I’ve forgotten what it is… we didn’t record it. We decided there were two reasons: we decided they weren’t as good as the rest.
TWR: Are there any that are left over from Genesis? I mean, there was one from the Abacab sessions…
MR: There were two off Invisible Touch; Feeding The Fire and I’d Rather Be You.
TWR: And there’s Do The Neurotic. It’s just that these songs are carried over andf there is one from this album; Black & Blue?
MR: I messed up a bit there. I’ll explain, actually I got the
credits wrong I think. What it was was the opening riff you hear that was something
from during the Invisible Touch
Album and I was playing the guitar thing and Phil must have been hitting the hi hat and Tony sampled it on his Emulator and he played it back from time to time and I liked the sound of it and that sort of Stonesy feeling inspired to write a song which I wrote with B A Robertson and, out of courtesy if you like, I put in a credit for Phil and Tony. But people are now saying I hear Tony recorded the album and all sorts of things… I made it all look a bit too big!
TWR: What decided you on where to play on this tour?
MR: What happened was; we booked the tour, it’s fine now to say why aren’t you playing here? That’s how I feel but when we booked the tour, no one wanted us. You know what I mean…
TWR: It’s the single that has made you popular…
MR: Suddenly it is possible to fill out halls and the single, but more importantly the album, doing well over here. Prior to that we had only booked three dates and they were worried about those.
TWR: You suffered from bad publicity there as well, because we found out about this concert quite by chance. Somebody told us they had seen it advertised on Teletext because there has been nothing in the press.
MR: It’s one of those things really, when you get success it begin to roll downhill. But you are right, and that was the point. The people wouldn’t put us on because they thought they wouldn’t sell any tickets. You know, if I’d said I want to play Birmingham they’d have said, ‘fine, who to?’ So then that happened and we booked a European tour with just Manchester, London and Folkestone, I don’t know why Folkestone! (Laughs). That was all it was going to be at first and then when things took off we only had three days left at the end. As it is, the tour finishes up in Hammersmith and I’m off to America the next day! What was a five or six day gap is now… So we’ve lost a few days off just to try and do a bit more in Europe.
TWR: How has the tour been received in Europe? Has it gone well?
MR: Yeah, very well. Tough, I mean we haven’t sold out. The first time you go out there, the first time in America I mean we had a couple of top ten singles and the album was selling well but wherever you go the first time you have to prove you’re a live band to that town or that city and until you do that they aren’t going to rush to see you.
TWR: Is the US tour an extensive tour? I mean in comparison with the first one?
MR: A little bit more… about the same. Six weeks. We might go back in the summer though it depends on how things do.
TWR: Will you be playing again in the UK?
MR: I don’t know really. I mean the more fluid you can keep things the better I like it. We’ll see how the record is doing and things, we’ll see.
Well, as we saw at the show after this interview finished, The Mechanics can turn on a brilliant performance wherever they are and we look forward to seeing them back in the UK in the very near future. Thanks again to Mike for giving up so much of his time to speak to us. Thanks also to Carol Willis and Alan Comer for helping to arrange the interview. Look out for part two next time!