Mike & The Mechanics in concert at the Albert Halls Bolton on Friday 21st February 2014. Review and photographs by Mike Ainscoe.
The Bolton Albert Halls - normally a venue associated with appearances by the Bolton Symphony Orchestra, middle of the road purveyors of light entertainment, and of course, Peter Kay, who famously spray painted over the final ‘s’ from the cover of his DVD filmed there some time ago in an attempt to allude to that the hall’s more prestigious southern cousin was indeed the venue.
However, that’s not to say that Bolton’s version ( the one with the ‘s’) is in any way a shabby relation. In fact the Mechanics must have noticed that it was certainly one of the more plush venues on their lengthy trip around the British Isles. From the smart and polite venue staff, to the carpeted floor and the vast ornately carved ceilings and chandeliers to the rich red velvet curtains which framed the stage, it all pointed to a sophisticated evening out.
Returning to the fore in 2011 after a short hiatus with ‘The Road’ album and a new song writing partnership with the redoubtable Andrew Roachford, Mike Rutherford has had something of a second wind with his Genesis side project. With his well received autobiography in the shops, it has been a bit of an Indian summer for Genesis fans, who having to face the fact than any semblance of a reunion of any description still seems far off, despite a positive affirmation from Phil Collins of his ability and desire to work again in some form, the recent outings from the Hackett and Gabriel camps have more than satisfied the cravings. Both players have used the opportunity to revisit and celebrate their pasts, in Hackett’s case it being an ongoing salutation to the classic Genesis period, while Gabriel’s acclaimed solo album ‘So’ has been the focus of his landmark performances. Similarly, with no ‘new’ musical product to promote, Rutherford has chosen to mark the present outing of the Mechanics to highlight the 25th anniversary of his breakthrough Living Years album among other things, which see his profile and stock as high as it has been for some time.
It was a familiar opening trio of Beggar On A Beach Of Gold, Another Cup Of Coffee and Get Up which gave Anthony Drennan the chance to deliver a stinging solo and both vocalists, Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar a chance to open their pipes - a pair who have made the Mechanics vocal slots their own and have provided an easy transition from the time-honoured pairing of Young and Carrack. Howar in particular has an infectious enthusiasm and provided a bit of eye candy for the local Bolton talent who were more than happy to respond to his stage front flamboyancy and audience participation tactics.
It’s a pretty solid and steady band which are The Mechanics these days. As well as Roachford and Howar bedded in, long time drummer Gary Wallis remains the backbone and there’s Anthony Drennan picking up the guitar and bass parts which Mike chooses to pass over - becoming “quite a good bass player” these days too, apparently, having had the chance to practice with The Mechanics. Luke Juby as the youngest member of The Mechanics also got to make his mark with not only the main keyboard role, but also with his sax (and bass) playing, but most impressively on his whistling solo in ‘Over My Shoulder’.
Yes, there was a focus on The Living Years period, what with it being the anniversary, but also the classic early Mechanics material wasn’t going to get its nose pushed out. Silent Running still has that dramatic atmosphere about it , and there was an outing for Don’t and Nobody’s Perfect from The Living Years album, the latter seeming a little underplayed, perhaps missing the clout of the juggernaut keyboard intro, this time played on Roachford’s keys, which always made it an effective opening number.
Of course (or maybe not?) there had to be some nod toward some ‘G’ music. Whether, or not The Mechanics should be doing Turn It On Again or I Can’t Dance may be debatable, yet there was certainly some element of bemusement during the latter - a familiar few steps of “the dance” were accompanied by the sight of the ultra cool Mr Roachford checking his moves in the shadows - surely if anyone can dance, he can?! All the while, Tim Howar belting out the famous Genesis parody lines. Of course there was going to be prog (not that the two Genesis tunes could be classed as such)the trade off was that Andrew got to sing a couple of his own tunes and for a short while, The Mechanics turned into a funky soul outfit while he sang about cuddly toys and the Bolton faithful got on their feet.
There was naturally a merch plug for the current re-issue of The Living Years album (complete with its extra CD) and the singles collection which is also available in its extended format with what we used to call all the B sides. Of much more interest to Tim, who was keen to point out, ‘don’t forget the book - there’s a book’ and also gave a taster in telling Bolton that they would finally get to find out how they (Genesis) got all their gear up to the cottage back in those long forgotten but hastily remembered days of yore; all before Mr Roachford stopped him giving too much away.
So, all in all it was good to see The Mechanics and our hero back out on the road. Critics might suggest it was a safe set with all of the “hits” played as expected and nothing new to get particularly excited about. There was the added bonus of the new song which has been added to the singles collection CD ; When My Feet Don’t Touch The Ground and sure, the Genesis numbers were crowd pleasing, but if it’s a show which showcases Mr Rutherford’s musical career, then a retrospective look back to his early solo days of Smallcreep’s Day and Acting Very Strange wouldn’t go amiss. If it’s simply Mechanics, then some would argue it should be kept strictly to Mechanics material and unearth some of the more recent material from the M6 album (nothing sadly played from that) or some of the newer songs from The Road as well as the featured Try To Save Me. Nit picking but someone always will.
But let’s be thankful for small mercies. While the Genesis behemoth seems a thing of the past and it is left to Mr Hackett to celebrate its legacy for all its worth before it is all too late, and while the other former members fade into oblivion, give praise to Mike Rutherford for doing his bit and giving fans the chance to dance once more.