“A Second Oil Change” - The Story of Mike + The Mechanics’ Living Years album retold by Alan Hewitt. Concert photography by Ted Sayers and Guido Truffer.
Continuing on from our look at the first Mechanics album in TWR #70 it is quite appropriate to continue the story with the follow-up to that album here. It is difficult to believe that the album is now TWENTY years old!
The success of the first Mechanics album back in 1985 took every, not least Mike himself completely by surprise. The follow-up had to wait however as Mike rejoined Genesis for what would become their most successful album; Invisible Touch. The recording, promotional and touring duties for which would occupy Mike for the better part of two years.
Eventually though, Mike found time to reconvene The Mechanics to record the follow-up to 1985’s successful debut and the first indications of what the new album would sound like were revealed with the release on 19th October 1988 of the first single from the new album. Nobody’s Perfect, showed that the band were capable of creating a harder edged sound whilst retaining a fine ear for melody as well. The choice of single did not necessarily sit well with all of the band members however as Paul Carrack mentioned in an interview he gave for TWR back in January 1989.…
“I think to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure how the other chaps will think when they read this but I didn’t really think Nobody’s Perfect was a great first single although I think it is a good song and a great performance from Paul Young. I think the idea was they wanted a fairly upbeat first single before they came in with The Living Years. We always thought that The Living Years was going to be strong…”
The album, titled Living Years was released a week after the single and was a huge success both in the UK and in many other territories. The group had really gelled and become a strong unit brimming with confidence and ideas. Which showed in the material. Tracks such as Don’t and Poor Boy Down took the band into almost R & B territory. In fact the entire album showed that the band could rock out with the best of them, a point Mike was keen to stress himself …
“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 and the whole thing was easier because I knew who was singing; I could write it in the right key…”
The success of the album took off with the release of the second single the
title track: The Living Years. An enormously poignant examination of the feelings
surrounding the loss of a loved one. The single topped the charts in many territories
and made it to number two here in the UK. A song which struck a chord with practically
anyone who heard it, even reducing Rolf Harris to tears on TV when it was played
on a daytime TV show here in the UK! The song reflects the personal experiences
of both of its creators as Mike was keen to point out….
“Actually the lyrics were mainly written by B A. we both worked on them. We had both lost our fathers in ‘86 and really it was 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 that a lot of people have related to it which is good".
A further single was released to coincide with the tour which was soon organised to capitalise on the success of the album and the enormous popularity of The Living Years single. At last fans in the UK and Europe got the chance to witness the Mechanics’ own brand of magic for the first time. Sadly, we were not to have the opportunity of hearing any of the material from Acting Very Strange which had featured in the ‘86 set list but instead the band, who now had two immensely strong albums to draw upon and they served most of them up to us piping hot in a superbly strong set. The opportunity to perform in Europe and the UK was not quite as simple as it might seem however, as Mike explained…
“It’s one of those things really, when you get success it begins to roll downhill. But you are right and that was the point. The people wouldn’t put us on because they thought we 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 it 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 at 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…”
Difficult to believe now that the band thought they might have problems filling venues, because certainly at the two gigs I caught on this tour; in Manchester and Newcastle, there wasn’t a seat to be had! The band even extended their tour in the USA as well with a second round of gigs in the late summer once again to enthusiastic receptions. Sadly though, gigs pencilled in for the beginning of September 1989 in Australia were subsequently cancelled.
So, with a hugely successful album and tours under their belts, the Mechanics ended 1989 satisfied that their brand of music had a enthusiastic and growing audience all that remained was to continue onwards and upwards with the next album, but that, dear reader is another story!