"From The Factory Floor To Chief Mechanic" - Mike Rutherford
in conversation about his solo career with Alan Hewitt.
TWR: Now we come to what many fans think of as your big "up" in terms of your solo career ; the first Mike & The Mechanics album. You actually seemed to go about that project the opposite way to what most people would expect; and submerged yourself within a band. Why did you decide to go about it that way?
MR: Looking back on it, it was a bit like Genesis. I wanted to be a songwriter, so I got together with Chris Neil ad B A Robertson and we tried to get some other people to do our songs. I always believed in that but it didn’t really happen. I suppose making a version of Silent Running didn’t seem a good song to cover so once again history was repeating itself (laughter). So I started to record the songs in Monserrat with Chris Neil and Adrian Lee and then came back to England. I think it was just one of those lucky songs. Paul Carrack came down and sang Silent Running and then another day Paul Young came down and it was just a great combination of voices. He sang All I Need Is A Miracle and things just sort of happened. Before we knew it, we had finished the album and it did well in America. I think it was down to the fact that I have realised that what I have done over the years with Genesis was a collaboration and I like working with other people. I think that's more creative than on my own actually, and that has kept me going.
TWR: Did you have any criteria as to who would play on the album and did you have any idea of the musicians you were looking for?
MR: Well… no. I had been hearing Peter Van Hooke's name for a long time and so we thought we must have him and Adrian was another recommendation from Chris.
TWR: How did you come to work with B A Robertson?
MR: When I first started writing songs my publisher gave me a list of people and Chris Neil was the first and next was B A Robertson and that was as far as I got!
TWR: There are lots of rumours around concerning the song A Call To Arms and that it was in fact one of those famous Genesis "bits" that we hear so much about…
MR: It was a Genesis bit. The main sequence had been discarded from the album before it and I always liked it, so I tried to do it and it didn't come out right. I had as couple of people play on it from a band I had produced and it is always a bad sign when you go through two or three singers!
TWR: Have you ever brought in bits from Genesis with any other tracks?
MR: No, I don’t think so. With Genesis I tend to think that once the album is done, if there are any tracks left over which weren't good enough to go on the album they shouldn't be used.
TWR: Its interesting that that track was dropped from the Genesis sessions.
MR: We all liked it bit we didn’t get as far as singing, it was still instrumental. It was a bit that was nice but it wasn't in the top bracket if the stuff we had done.
TWR: Moving on to the album that was your first real chart success; Living Years. Did the success of the album come as a surprise?
MR: No. I didn’t think we thought it was going to be a big hit. At the time of doing it which at the time I was working with Brian by which time we had both lost our dads so it was very emotional time. That song was so emotional that we thought it might not work and BA and I said we will try and if it comes out all sugary and sickly we will forget it. I think the people around thought it was good and Peter Van Hooke said it was something special actually but we didn’t quite see it. I liked it very much.
TWR: Did you write it as a very personal song or did you intend it as one which people could relate to?
MR: I think the funny thing is you don’t realise when you are doing these things what they will end up like as something special and the album had some really great songs on it; things like Black And Blue.
TWR: When you took the show out on the road in 1986, you played tracks from Acting Very Strange in the set. Will anything like that happen again?
MR: I doubt it. 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 ..we were in trouble! So, we did a bit of Tempted and a bit of Maxine and it was fun to do. What makes it great when we go on tour next year is that we've got a good choice of songs off four albums and it was quite hard with one album because some songs are live songs and some songs aren’t.
TWR: Did you choose the other songs like Tempted because Paul Carrack was in the band?
MR: Yes, that was the reason for it you know. It was popular and I liked it. I've got an idea for the next tour of doing a little short kind of ten minute or so medley with a little bit of people's history with that Sad Café track Everyday Hurts and maybe How Long? as well as Tempted and Don't Shed A Tear and then even do a couple of small bits from Genesis as a sort of history of the projects that the band has been involved in.
TWR: I think that sounds like a good idea, people would certainly be surprised by it.
MR: I think it could work if we justified it as saying "this is where we all come from …"
I was intrigued by the videos when watching the video compilation A Closer Look especially by the two for Take In and Seeing Is Believing. There seems to be a thread through the videos as if they are telling a story of the album.
The first three, especially the first two: Silent Running into All I Need Is A Miracle were designed to run together so that if you start the second there is the solo and that was a nice idea actually. And the other one with Roy Kinnear as a dodgy manager and it was nice the way they were designed.
TWR: How did you come to work with both Roy Kinnear and Victor Spinetti?
MR: I think we had to find someone to play this character and I think that was Paul Flattery's idea. They were great to work with …and one thing that annoys me is that with videos that come out you don’t always know how or why or what they are about.
TWR: You finally brought the band to Europe and Britain and I wonder how did that compare to previous outings with Genesis?
MR: The English dates were pretty good actually, and we had quite a nice following by then. The first time in America was tough because they didn’t really know who we were and they went to see us on the strength of Silent Running. That was a good challenge and we had to prove ourselves which was good. The English dates were good with great support from the audiences.
TWR: Then when you went back to America on the second leg of the tour you also released your cover version of The Beatles track; Revolution. How did that come about?
MR: That was a song for a film and they wanted a song and I was in the studio on day one and I had no ideas at all and then we got this idea to do that track. There were several ways it could have come out and it ended up ok. We also did it as an encore at the shows in the States with the two Pauls duetting; one Paul sang the first verse; one Paul sang second verse and then on the third verse they both sang together but never the same words! (laughter).
TWR: Now we move on to Word Of Mouth, which doesn't seem to have as much spirit as its predecessors were. You were going through that almost typical "Third Album" problem stage. Where you were having problems following something that had been so successful?
MR: I don't think it was that. I decided to make a change in the choice of producer: Russ Titelman was originally producing it and I like 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" and in a new relationship it sometimes takes a while for things to get going. 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! (laughter) .
I told Russ and he was cool about it and so I had an album about half done and he helped choose the material but I am not sure if he chose the right stuff. Then Chris came back and we weeded out some songs and by then the whole thing had become a bit of a problem. I had lost interest and it was laboured. I am sure that was reflected on the album but; having said that ; some of the stuff was very good. Get Up I like very much and Word Of Mouth as well. Something In The Way You Look At me I really liked and Paul Carrack liked that. There's a bit more drive to it and The Mechanics are more about moods and atmospheres and somehow I think that was missing from this album.
TWR: It is a shame that there was no tour for the album. Was that because of the problems with the album?
MR: No. 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 managers' 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; you know the way we always seem to make things happen with Genesis, and I am sure that what I went through making this album is part of life.
TWR: You have just said that the album didn’t do remarkably well and yet it is the album with the most number of singles released from it; four or five, I think. Why were there so many taken from the album?
MR: Because the record company was trying SO hard to get something going.
TWR: One single; Get Up in particular was released and then withdrawn. What happened to it?
MR: You probably know more about this than I do actually. They might have just done a radio thing but I don't really know any more about it.
And there we wrap up this look at Mike's solo career for this issue. Next time we will look at Mike's first solo album: Smallcreep's Day and Acting Very Strange. My continuing thanks to Mike for giving up so much of his time and to Carol Willis and Richard and Andrew Nagy for making this possible.