“Not now Bernard” - the Mike & The Mechanics story retold by Alan Hewitt.
It is now somewhat incredible to believe that Mike & The Mechanics are now almost thirty five years old and still going strong! Yes, that little part-time outfit that Mike put together to plug the gaps between his work with Genesis is now his main musical outlet as Genesis are on indefinite hiatus.
The story cannot be told however, without at least acknowledging what came before it. Casting our minds back to 1979 when Genesis took a well deserved break and Phil Collins in particular, took time out to try and resolve his marital issues, both Mike and Tony Banks finally opted to try their hands at solo albums. The time was right for them both and the resulting albums: Tony’s A Curious Feeling (1979) and Mike’s Smallcreep’s Day (1980) are both rightly regarded as being two of the best solo offerings from any member of Genesis. Sadly, recording and touring duties with Genesis forestalled the possibility that we may have seen Mike performing material from it.
By the time it came to Mike’s second solo album, 1982’s Acting very Strange, in a quirk of fate, he, Tony and indeed Anthony Phillips were all to release albums in the 1982-83 period which featured them performing the bulk or all of the vocals themselves. In Mike’s case with Acting Very Strange, this proved to be a mixed blessing indeed. His rough and raspy vocal style lent itself more readily to songs like Maxine and Half Way There but there was never any likelihood of Mike taking to the road in support of this album, especially as, once more, recording and touring activities with Genesis were to keep him occupied throughout the mid Eighties.
|The somewhat negative experience of Acting Very Strange meant that once Mike did decide to try his hand at another solo project he asked Jon Crawley to suggest some songwriters for him to work with. Jon came up with B A Robertson and Chris Neil - that pairing proved to be inspired and together with Mike they spent the summer of 1984 working material into shape. Then came the awkward realisation that, now that the songs were in shape, they had to have someone to sing them as there was no way Mike was going to do that again after the Acting Very Strange experience. Fortune smiled on the project once again as B A Robertson knew Paul Young who was then fronting Sad Café who were, by this stage of their career past their best. And Chris Neil was friendly with Paul Carrack, one of Sheffield’s finest vocalists with a string of bands, albums and hit singles under his belt.|
The pair were duly invited to audition and try out the material to see what was the best fit. It soon became apparent that in these two singers, Mike had not only struck gold but also had given the band a character all of its own. How many bands do you know that have two singers and two of such quality?
|Both Mike and Paul Carrack related the beginnings of the band to TWR and here is what they had to say about its beginnings…
“I had met him a long time before actually, at the time he was recording his first solo album and he kind of interviewed me I guess, as a prospective singer on that but in the end Noel McCalla got the job on that one. Anyway, the second time around it was really through B A Robertson who was writing songs with Mike and I had just been helping him out on some of his demos and he asked if I would be interested in signing a couple of songs and I said sure, and I just went down to The Farm and that’s how it came about…”
“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 had to present it as a group and I went into it with very much that sort of idea.. I had a producer (Chris Neil), myself and B A Robertson and it really was a case of let’s do a bit an see what happens…”
Mike also confirmed exactly how much good fortune played in the project…
I think it was just one of those lucky things; Paul Carrack came down and sang Silent Running and then on another day, Paul Young and sang All I Need Is A Miracle and things just sort of happened. It was just a great combination of voices…
Paul Young also confirmed the somewhat haphazard and unexpected manner in which the band came together…
|“I got a call from Chris Neil and he said ‘I’m doing a solo album for Mike Rutherford, do you want to come down and sing? ‘ So I went down and the first track I tried was All I Need Is A Miracle and they seemed pretty pleased with it and they said it was cool for me to do a couple more and so I did and I got a nice cheque and then thought that was the end of it (laughs). Then I got a phone call about three months later saying that Silent Running and All I Need Is A Miracle had been top and five respectively in America and we had another one on the boil and did I want to go over there and tour with them? So we went over and became Mike & The Mechanics, the touring band, almost by default really…”|
It does seem incredible now that this is how a band which has since gone on to achieve such success got its beginnings but then again, luck has always played a part in Mike’s career, hasn’t it?
With a chart topping album under their belts, the band did eventually break their touring duck with a series of shows during the early summer of 1986 and they gave the fans who saw them a show comprising most of the new album along with the performance of a couple of tracks from Mike’s second solo album: Acting Very Strange as well as some established covers making for a very enjoyable show which, as you can see in another feature in this edition was well documented by live recordings.
Mike also explained the reason for the inclusion of such tracks…
“The scenario with the first album was that it had done great in America and they were keen to have us go over there and the album had eight songs on it. Only EIGHT songs, so we were in trouble! So we did a bit of tempted and a bit of Maxine and it was fun to do…”
One amusing piece of trivia attached to one of these gigs is that the venue for one of the gigs; Six Flags Over Texas was the same theme park where the classic Sixties children’s TV series The Banana Splits was filmed. Heaven knows what might have happened if Fleagle and Co had still been around eh?
Then it was back to the world of Genesis for Mike as the band reconvened to record what would become their biggest selling album: Invisible Touch. The success of that album and the resulting massive tour which kept the band on the road almost constantly for a year, meant that it was not until late 1988 when The |Mechanics re-emerged with their second album…
Once again, no one, least of all the band had any idea that this one, titled Living Years after the title of one of the tracks on it, was going to catapult the band to the very top of chart success.
The first indications of what the new album sounded like were revealed when the first single; Nobody’s Perfect was released on 17th October 1988. A dramatic piece, it boded well for the new album which was released on 28th of that month. The album did very well both at home and overseas, securing the Mechanics’ position as a major act but it was to be the second single, the album’s title track that was to set the scene for their rise to a major chart band here in the UK.
The song itself was one which Mike had doubts about as he explained to TWR… “You know the thing is just so personal that unless you van actually relate to it… if the song came out and was criticised or reviewed or whatever, or commented on and I was so close to it as I am during the recording sessions, it would break my heart…”
Well, it may not have broken any hears but the sentiments expressed so vividly in the song’s lyrics certainly struck a chord with a lot of people and the song eventually released the number two slot at home and has remained a live favourite ever since.
A third single, Nobody Knows, was released in time for the band’s first UK/European tour the following February but it failed to emulate the success of its predecessor. Not that that mattered, by now the band were well established as a major draw and the subsequent shows both in the UK and Europe were extremely well received. The band also undertook a further two US tours in April and August 1989 and it was also during this time that they recorded one of only a handful of cover versions that they have ever released. This was their version of The Beatles’ classic, Revolution which was included on the soundtrack to US Comedy duo Cheech & Chong’s film, Rude Awakening. The single was issued in a couple of territories but failed to make any impression. It was also played as an encore during the the band’s second US tour.,
Astonishing to think now, back in 1989 the band were still not sure about how well they would go down with audiences…
When we booked this tour no one wanted us, you know what I mean? 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…”
By the end of the last US tour, the band were higher profile at home and abroad than ever before thanks to that single which they had had reservations about. That and the fact that the band were all pro musicians and their material was a quality brand which would draw its own audience which it has done and continues to do so today.
The band reconvened for that difficult third album in the autumn of 1990 and it was indeed, to prove to be a difficult album to finish as Mike explained to TWR…
“I decided to make a change in produser. Russ Titelman was originally producing it and I liked his work very much but it just didn’t seem to work and on the second day I said to everyone in the band ‘I don’t think this is going to work’ and they all said; ‘Oh give it a try’ . So sometimes things would go great but after about two and a half months I wasn’t enjoying it and found myself driving to work slowly! (laughs)…”
The album, Word Of Mouth is indeed, a somewhat lacklustre affair compared to its predecessors. The struggle to get it finished shows, but having said that, there are several tracks, not least the title track which bear all the distinctive Mechanics characteristics and it has remained a favourite in the band’s live shows ever since. Sadly, no tour was undertaken for this album and once again, Mike explained the reasons for this to TWR…
“There were two reasons really. One would have been that it ran late with the Genesis album starting and so I couldn’t really arrange a tour, and second, in reality the way we were, had the album been a huge success around the world, and I had my Mike & The Mechanics manager’s hat on, they would have said; ‘This is crazy, you should be out there doing something’ and I am sure there would have been a way to make it work…”
The following three years were to be hectic ones for Mike and the rest of Genesis as they reconvened o produce what we now know was to be the band’s swansong album with Phil Collins : We Can’t Dance. Another multi million selling album which also spawned another plethora of singles and of course, another massive tour of the USA, Europe and the UK. However, all was not well within genesis as Phil’s growing dissatisfaction not with the band, but with his own life, led him to inform the band of his intention to leave in the autumn of 1993. Wisely, the band kept this decision under wraps while they considered what to do next.
It was into this fraught atmosphere that Mike decided to reconvene the Mechanics to begin work on the follow up to Word Of Mouth. Perhaps with something to prove after the relative failure of that album, they set to work with a will on its follow up which was to be released on 13th February 1995. An auspicious number as Mike remembered when he talked to TWR just prior to he album’s release…
“There are thirteen tracks on the album. It’s a lucky number for me. I got married on the 13th, I lived for years at number 13 Coal Street in London and A Trick of The Tail came out on the thirteenth…”
The writing and recording sessions for this one were extremely productive as in the end some nineteen tracks were written with the remaining ones appearing as B sides to the various singles that the album was to produce. Indeed, this was to be an album blessed with successful chart songs: Over My Shoulder and Another Cup of Coffee being but two of the ones which made their way into the public’s subconscious thanks to conspicuous radio and TV play, in fact, by now the band were becoming regulars on both Breakfast TV and Top Of The Pops here in the UK and deservedly so!
Unlike its predecessor, Mike was actually confident in this one as he revealed to TWR at the time…
“I’m very confident about this album. You don’t start wearing that hat until you have finished them. I come in and I write and I don’t really care if anything ends up being recorded and you have to be selfish and choose what you want to do. I like this album very much and I feel very strongly about it - it does feel good to me….”
It certainly felt good to many other people as well as the album emulated the success of its predecessor The Living Years by achieving a top ten position in the UK charts, a similar position was also achieved by several of the album’s singles. Another UK tour was organised for the spring of 1995 and several European dates were also tagged on to it as well as a handful of US shows.
The biggest indicator of the band’s truly worldwide success was the announcement of a string of shows in South Africa which just happened to coincide with the Rugby World Cup … happy coincidence eh boys? Whatever it was one which Paul Young remembered well…
“It was great but it was a very odd vibe... I found it sinister, that’s how I would describe it. Everyone was smiling but there was an undercurrent as if any minute there was going to be a bloody civil war and I don’t think a lot of those guys out there have lost their attitudes, especially up north in Pretoria. Anyway, I was very pleased to be there when the rugby was on, they booed us forever when we wore the rugby shirts but I think they were booing us because they liked us really…”
Thankfully, the band’s appearance in South Africa was captured for posterity on a TV broadcast of their concert from Johannesburg which shows the band in fine form.
1996 was to be a pivotal year for Mike, Genesis and The Mechanics. Capitalising on the band’s ongoing popularity their record company released a Hits compilation album and video compilation which rounded up just about all of the band’s chart hits here and abroad and the video compilation included several videos which had been rarely seen here in the UK. Another lengthy tour took in the spring which was maybe just as well as on 29th March the announcement of Phil’s departure from Genesis was finally made public on 29th March and caused considerable surprise for the fans and understandable concern as well.
Mike had other things on his mind however, as the Hits tour began on 28th February and ran right the way through March and April and with another successful album and tour under their belts the Mechanics at least, could look forward to a secure future as they took a well earned break at the end of the tour.
|No such luck for Mike however, as he was immediately drawn back into Genesis activity as the band got to grips with trying to replace Phil Collins. The silence on this was finally broken on 6th June 1997 when Ray Wilson, formerly of Stiltskin was announced as Phil’s replacement and the band’s next album, Calling All Stations was also announced. Activities on this and the subsequent Archive 1967-75 box set kept Mike preoccupied pretty much up to the end of 1998 by which time it was high time to reconvene the Mechanics once more.|
Trying to follow the inordinate success of an album such as Beggar was to prove to be somewhat difficult, even the title this time was a bit lacklustre - M6 was to be the punning title . Although an album full of top class songs, there was something decidedly downbeat about this album. Maybe the trials and tribulations of the situation with Genesis had rubbed off on Mike, I really don’t know, but the album failed to ignite and its two singles failed to make any impact on the charts, here or elsewhere.
|Another extensive tour of the UK was organised, preceded by a warm up gig for an invited audience at the Hanover Club in London on 10th May which was broadcast by Radio One . The tour saw the band in fine form and evidently enjoying themselves and indeed, this can be seen in the TV footage from several subsequent TV concerts the band performed in Europe as part of the promotion for the album, and one the Ohne Filter broadcast has since become an iconic piece of the band’s story as it was to prove to be the last appearance by the band’s front man, Paul Young whose untimely death in June 2000 deprived us of one of the best performers ever to front a band.|
|And that would have seemed to be it for the Mechanics as the band were put on indefinite hiatus in the wake of Paul’s death. However, Mike did have another attempt with Paul Carrack on 2004’s Rewired album which, with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps not the best decision Mike has made. The album lacked that essential spark which always made the Mechanics’ albums such a joy, and without Paul Young, it really didn’t feel like a Mechanics album.|
The only live performances organised for it were as opening act at some of Phil Collins’ First Final Farewell tour gigs in Europe and a one-off headlining performance at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Theatre which was captured for a long overdue live DVD. Sadly, it captured the band at perhaps the lowest ebb in their entire career and with Paul Carrack’s own career going into overdrive, it was decided to shelve the Mechanics indefinitely after this gig.
By the autumn of 2010 most fans of Mike & The Mechanics had thought that the band was over and done with following the death of Paul Young but they were to be proven wrong when rumours of a new lineup began to circulate and this was finally confirmed by a radio gig at Manchester’s Band On The Wall Club in November where the new lineup was finally revealed. Mike had recruited Andrew Roachford, already an established name on the British music scene since the 1980’s and Canadian, Tim Howar as the new front men for the band. Mike explained how this unexpected turn of events came about to TWR…
“Well, there was no sort of master plan. I think, looking back I think really when Paul Young died, something changed. The chemistry changed and both myself and Paul Carrack felt it actually. We did one more album, Rewired which was a bit of…the album was a bit odd. Anyway when Paul died we came to the end of an era really and the chemistry had changed and I put it away in my mind. Then it was Brian Rawlings at Metrophonic, who said: ‘why not go back to the first thing; the name and the sound are there, just see what happens. Write some songs, find some new writers ..’ It was easier this time because Andrew came down earlier on and I sort of let it happen…”
It seemed like Mike had struck pay dirt once again but the proof of the pudding is in the hearing so to speak and as yet, fans had not actually heard or seen the new lineup in action. That was soon to be resolved however, as the title of the new album; The Road and a UK tour were soon to be announced.
The album was released on 18th April and proved that the Mechanics still had what it takes although it was, by nature, a somewhat tentative feeling album, from a lineup beginning to find their feet - and their audience but it was soon apparent to anyone who saw the gigs in 2011 that the new lineup worked. Seeing the band for the first time in Liverpool I can confirm that by the third song, I no longer noticed that it was no longer Messrs Carrack and Young up there on stage and that was some feat to achieve!
Mike also explained the intention behind going out on the road quite so soon after the album, and the ongoing ethos of the band…
“In terms of a proper UK tour it has been twelve years since the last one and I think you have to t remind people what the Mechanics are all about and this tour has been a pretty good start, and we are thinking of going out again next springtime and keeping it going. Change some songs and find your following, you know…”
And that was exactly what the band did. In the years which followed the release of The Road album, the band took to the road here in the UK and increasingly in Europe once again, re-establishing the brand and getting back to where they were before Paul Young’s tragic death. In 2014 the band also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of the iconic Living Years album and Andrew Roachford explained what it had been like for him during those years and to be celebrating such an iconic album…
“Amazing, it has been amazing. You know for the first couple of gigs I was wondering what it was going to be like and I’ve got my own band but I was wondering what it was going to be like fronting another band with a different lineup and the people have loved with these songs, with Mike & The Mechanics stuff and they have been amazing. … It is quite surreal actually. I was listening to that stuff way back when and I never thought I would end up playing it! (laughs) . And it was two really great artists; Paul Carrack and Youngie so you have to sort of respect that and find your place within that, you know. And it has been a challenge but I like that…”
Tim Howar, who perhaps has the more difficult job in the band taking the part of Paul Young also outlined how he joined the band and how it feels to be performing in it…
|“I had a band in London called Van Tramp and we were playing for about eight years and got a record deal but nothing happened. But the guy who produced it knew Brian Rawlings at Metrophonic and he said ..’’I have seen you front various rock band a lot and you remind me of Paul Young. I’ve got an idea, would you be prepared to come and have a meeting?’ So we had the meeting and I came down and met Mike and Tony Smith and I went down to the studio and worked on some songs and he said ‘I like your kind of singing, it’s not Youngie but it is you and there is still enough of that there to pay homage to because you can’t sing these songs without paying homage to where they came from..”|
As the years progressed and the band got more match fit with regard to gigs, it soon became apparent that they had rediscovered the Mechanics’ magic. Live, the band were every bit as dynamic as they had ever been all they needed now was an album to match that live dynamism.
|That album finally appeared on 7th April 2017. Titled Let Me Fly it was to finally bring the Mechanics brand back on track and reached number nine in the UK charts. The band’s hard work had evidently paid off in spades! The new album was a definite step up from The Road in every way, the Mechanics swagger was back and as anyone who saw them on their tour that year will tell you, they were relishing their new found success. The band ended their touring cycle with a triumphant performance at Hyde Park where they were on the same bill as Phil Collins among others.|
Since then the band have continued to perform and write and have just concluded a UK tour in support of the new album, Out Of The Blue, a mix of new songs and established Mechanics classics re-recorded by the new lineup. You can read Mike’s thoughts on the new project elsewhere in this edition but one thing is for sure and certain, the future looks very bright for Mike & The Mechanics!