"Lest We Trespass" - John Mayhew talks exclusively to TWR about his time with Genesis. Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt at the Astoria in London on Sunday 28th May 2006.
TWR: So, first of all John, on behalf of Genesis fans world wide; we are really pleased to welcome you back to the fold after all this time and we are now about to let the man tell his tale. So I suppose the first question is how did you actually come to join the band?
JM: I had actually put my telephone number about all over London; this was back in late 1969 I discovered the telephone (laughs) and this is how I recall it. The others would say that they got the number out of an ad in Melody Maker but I never used to advertise in Melody Maker because I was always in a band and there is one particular amazing story; not to do with Genesis but how I came to join a band. I was hitchhiking along the road one day with my first wife and it was bumper to bumper traffic and a band's van was in the traffic travelling along and it was a blazing hot day it was Easter of 1969 and they pulled up and they had the side door open and to cut a long story short they gave us a lift which bands never do because they don’t have the room anyway; I piled in and I had long hair and everything a bit more than I do nowadays! (laughs) and their drummer was leaving to go and play on cruise ships and they were looking for a drummer and so I went to Farnham which was where Mike Rutherford comes from and they had a house down there and rented a huge front room and they were probably the band that I should have stayed with…
TWR: What were they called?
JM: Milton's Fingers; they never became famous or anything but they were such a good four part harmony band and we just got along like a house on fire and unfortunately my first wife wanted to get back to London and I followed her; in love you see. So, to answer your question, I just put the number around and Mike Rutherford called me sometime of an afternoon and I got home from work and my wife told me that a guy called Mike Rutherford had called and was going to call back at six o'clock; I remember it was six o'clock and I was half way down the stairs when the phone rang and I picked it up and he spent about twenty minutes trying to convince me to join Genesis. He didn't know me; he didn't particularly want me because I was hot news or anything like that but because he felt he had to be convincing and argue a rock solid case for me leaving my precious life and …
TWR: They have always struck me as being just as afraid about what other people might think about them as what they think about other people…
JM: Yes, I kind of zeroed in on the "pretentiousness" and they brought that subject up themselves and asked "are we pretentious?" and for a week or two that question was always around in the conversation and loading up with mysterious sounding lyrics and weird noises and dingle dongles and so I think that we were all aware that we ought not to become - not that they were; but that we should try and avoid that.
TWR: So, when you joined that would have been between From Genesis To Revelation and Trespass and so what were those sessions like? I have heard some of the horror stories from the other guys where they used to beat each other up because they played the wrong chord progression or whatever…
JM: No, no they were an object lesson in civility really. I didn't hear anybody have an argument or anything like that and there weren't any strained relationships that I could detect and at this stage, of course, Genesis weren't big news; they hadn't toured.
TWR: Of course, they hadn't toured by that time and perhaps you can tell us about some of those early gigs, because Ant has told us about some of them…
JM: I can’t remember the precise details but at one gig we played a wedding! (laughs) Then we played University gigs very shortly after that which kind of made up for it because of the extremely receptive audiences. Of course there was the night at Ronnie Scott's Club and there was this guy who was heckling and it got to Tony; he was the first one and he stood up from the organ and said: "Sir, we are no ORDINARY rock band!" (laughs) We used to play with the instruments all around us, not so much me because I was relatively static behind the kit but the others had to put flutes down and cellos and things like that and change guitars in some very confined spaces.
Genesis was different at every level normalcy would reign with any other band (laughs) but what Genesis were doing was so different down to lifting and putting down a flute. I don't know if I told you I had to build a flute stand and a cymbal stand and I think I even lined it with velvet so it looked like a miniature coffin (laughs).
TWR: That period in the band's story has always struck me as being surreal; what they were doing. They must have been recording and gigging pretty much incessantly during this period?
JM: It built up and built up and we were always getting busier and busier of course as more gigs came in. I can’t really remember rehearsals and to be truthful I am a bit hazy about a lot of it bearing in mind I have been in loads of other bands as well as Genesis and I have got memories of gigs with those bands as well as Genesis.
TWR: You mentioned briefly last night that you could see that as things progressed, Anthony was getting more and more…. Although he himself has never really gone down the path of explaining what happened and it is interesting to have somebody else's perspective of what was going on because it obviously was getting to him.
JM: Yes it was, he was really nervous and he quivered; you would get the impression that he physically quivered and as you can see now he looks youthful and then he looked positively baby-like (laughs) with that white skin and the blond hair and you could see the pressure. They would go to the extent of driving the van outside a gig. I remember there was one place we played and I think there was either a cricket field or a football field next to the gig and they were trying to tune the guitars because the quiet sets would have really shown up an out of tune guitar and they drove the van out to the middle of this pitch to get away from the noise of the gig so that they could tune up! (laughs).
TWR: Trespass finally came out in October 1970 and by then both you and Anthony had left. Can you remember when the album was actually recorded?
JM: It was during June and July I think; the last couple of weeks in June and the first couple in July as I recall. It was two weeks recording it and two weeks mixing it I think. In a sense we simply had to go into the studio and play the songs because as I said we had rehearsed eleven hours a day for call it a year and we knew the songs note perfect and it was only bits like the shouting "Fire over their heads!" during The Knife and bits and pieces of cementing the tracks down.
TWR: So the album had been assembled from the material you had road tested, I assume?
JM: Yes, I think there was a kind of sadness with the band due to the fact that they were coming to the realisation that they couldn't play their quiet songs; these poetic lyrical songs and it was not that they were not going down well but simply the fact that it was a Friday or Saturday night crowd and they wanted some Rock 'N' Roll and I think this stuff would have been accepted more today or perhaps a few years ago but not then I don't think so much. They were really quite upset about that I think.
TWR: Part of the fascination for me as a fan I think is finding out about these missing pieces; you hear about these… Tony loves to tease us with songs that we have never heard and do you remember any of the stuff on which you might have played but which didn't make it on to Trespass?
JM: Pacidy was around then and Let Us Now Make Love I can’t remember any of the others. These were very quiet songs; gentle almost lullabyes really and I think it was a learning curve that on a Friday or Saturday night all anybody wants is a few beers and some Rock 'N' Roll.
TWR: Do you remember the Night Ride session? The BBC session?
JM: Yes (laughing) It was a piece of music that was outside the repertoire that they had to compose and pieces of The Fountain Of Salmacis and other bits and pieces got mixed in and of course, these guys at the BBC aren't stupid; they were aware that it had been fudged together….I think that was the Night Ride programme…
TWR: That was what we now know as the "Jackson Tape" that’s the one with the pieces on that became Anyway, Lilywhite Lilith and Anyway and another called Peace that has never been used.
JM: I have never heard any of these unless they are in that vast collection that Dave Burgess gave me.
TWR: The Night Ride session was the one where you did actually play Pacidy and Let Us Now Make Love. I get the impression that that session wasn't an enjoyable experience for Mike but we are glad that those tapes survived!
JM: We progressed very quickly from an acoustic, reflective band. I think it would have spoiled the album if there had been too much of a contrast between The Knife which is about as sharp as it gets! (laughs) I think if there had been a song like Pacidy on the album it would have been too much of a contrast on one album because there were quieter songs and shorter ones too I think and I think they would have been better on an album of their own I think. They weren't actually writing them to record; although they were song writers they would keep on churning out songs.
TWR: Did they actually write any of this stuff down? None of the guys could actually write music apart from maybe Tony…
JM: Tony and the others would turn up to rehearse a new song and they knew the song already and that's why they had to teach me because they had this kind of telepathy, I don't know how they did it. Obviously they were very complex songs and they had parts and…
TWR: this is it and obviously with the guys who we are going to see today at the Convention, they have struggled to find the music and they can't find it because none of it was written down!
JM: It was all up in their heads and I can't remember who it was exactly but a member of another band that we were on the same bill with came up and jaw dropping said; 'I thought you were ad-libbing that!' We played on the same circuit as some of these musicians but we played everything. If I had a lot to remember, think what Phil Collins had to remember he had probably thirty songs; not six or eight and they were longer songs and they were far more complex too and that amazing ability of his to turn that around was amazing.
TWR: When you look at the various characters in the band; and I don't know Peter that well but when you look at Tony, Mike and Ant you do wonder how they ever got together in a band….
JM: They are very un-rock and roll industry people (laughs). Mike still has that voice hasn't he?
TWR: It is great to finally get your thoughts on this period but now we come to that unpleasant bit…. Did you jump or were you pushed?
JM: I was pushed. Although I was ready to jump because I knew that I didn't have the technical expertise that Phil had although I didn't know that at the time, of course. It was obvious that they needed somebody more like themselves really and it might be true to say that Phil came from a more salubrious background than I did! (laughs). Higher up the social scale than I did (laughs) and with his education and his stage school background and his technical expertise made him as good as he was.
TWR: Did you know at the same time that Anthony was leaving, had that become more obvious?
JM: It had become more apparent, yeah. We weren't communicating terribly well towards the end but there was no direct confrontation we were all too diplomatic for that. I just knew and that was making me very sad about that because at the beginning of the year it was one story at the end it was another because we had done a few gigs and people were starting to take notice and so on and I got a heck of a buzz seeing the name "Genesis" on posters! (laughs). I thought "Wow! I have actually made it" That was one of the biggest buzzes and seeing your name in Melody Maker and so on also at the same time I had this awareness that I was going to be leaving because I didn't have the technical ability. I taught myself to play and it is one thing playing a Beatles song and another playing a Genesis song!
TWR: Can you remember what your last gig with the band was?
JM: No I can't. It was probably the same as Anthony although he left, I was pushed.
TWR: Who did the pushing?
JM: I think it was Peter. We met in a coffee shop and I remember I had tears in my eyes because I had built up an affection for the band in that year but because I couldn't play as well I was holding them back and that was why I felt I was responsible for Anthony's dissatisfaction and I thought he would still be annoyed about that and no, he was the opposite way round; he thought that they were the ones who had treated me so badly and I carry none of that; that was all news to me.
TWR: Did you go and see the band after you left?
JM: Yes, at the University of Essex with a pal who had never seen them and that was the first time I met Phil Collins.
TWR: What did you do after leaving the band? You already were a carpenter weren't you?
JM: Yes, I had completed an apprenticeship but I played in semi-professional bands and sort of ricocheted from one band to another and if anything the period after the band is more of a blank than the period in it! (laughs). I went back to Ipswich essentially and then I went travelling to Scandinavia; Italy and played American military installations on monthly contracts. A big blond was my reason for travelling to Australia in November 1979 but I am back now!
Yes, he certainly is folks and after watching John performing The Knife with ReGenesis there are certainly no doubts in my mind about his playing ability! It has been an enormous pleasure to have been accidentally instrumental in the reunion of John and Ant and I am delighted that the fans have welcomed him back into the "family" so fulsomely - welcome back, John!