“The Mike & The Mechanics Story“ - Your grease monkey in chief Alan Hewitt takes a look back at the band‘s career. Photographs by Ted Sayers, Jon Guntrip, Lee Millward, Stuart Barnes, Andrew Nagy, Jill Walker, John Swannell, Michael Muller, Dean Freeman, David Scheinmann, Andy Earl and Stephanie Pistel. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
It is difficult to credit that next year Mike’s part-time band will have been in existence for thirty years! Some bands these days don’t even last a fraction of that time. With the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the seminal Living Years album now well under way, I thought it might be useful to reflect and take stock of the amazing career of Mike’s “other” band.
The Mechanics’ story begins in 1984 when, after trying his hand at two solo albums: 1980’s Smallcreep’s Day and 1982’s Acting Very Strange both of which were quite well received by fans and critics alike, Mike opted to go back to basics and find a song writer’s co-operative with which to work and write material which would most likely not find a home within the Genesis set up.
Mike was lucky in establishing contact early on with Chris Neil, whose production work was to grace several of the band’s albums and it was through him that Mike also recruited songwriter B A Robertson. Taking advantage of a lull in Genesis’ recording/touring schedule, Mike, BA and Chris got together at Mike’s home to thrash out some song ideas and see where that took them. According to Mike’s recent autobiography, one of the first songs to emerge was All I Need Is A Miracle. Taking the basic ideas with them, the trio then took themselves off to Montserrat - as you do - where the realisation suddenly dawned on them that they were going to need some singers to make this material work. As luck would have it, both Chris and B A knew singers who might be interested and so it was through their auspices that the remarkable (and it has to be admitted unlikely) pairing of Paul Carrack and Paul Young became involved in the project.
Carrack’s credentials as an R & B singer didn’t lend themselves obviously to a project such as this any more than Paul Young’s Rock ‘N’ Roll credentials did either but once the pair were given their first songs to sing: in Carrack’s case, Silent Running and in Young’s, All I Need Is A Miracle, it was obvious to all who heard them that both should feature on the as yet un-named project. Paul Carrack’s audition wasn’t even the standard one, as he recalls… “I bumped into B A Robertson who asked me to sing on a demo for him; he tracked me down. And I did that and he mentioned that he was writing with Mike for a solo album he was doing and would I be interested in coming down? So, B A drove me down there one day and I went in and on Silent Running they didn’t even have any lyrics and I just sort of la, la’d and made it up and I guess that was my audition…”
Paul Young’s introduction to the as yet un-named band was just as low key as he recalled in an interview with TWR back in 1996... “I got a ‘phone call from Chris Neil and he said; ‘I’m doing a solo album for Mike Rutherford do you want to come down and sing on it?’ 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 said it was cool for me to do a couple more and so I did and got a nice cheque and then thought that was the end of it! (laughs). Then I got a call about three months later saying that Silent Running and … Miracle had been top and five respectively in America and we had another on the boil and did I want to go over there and tour with them? And we went over and became Mike + The Mechanics the touring band almost by default really…”
It was Mike’s manager, Tony Smith who coined the name Mike & The Mechanics and thank goodness he did, because apparently Mike’s idea was to call the putative band Not Now Bernard! The new name also gave Mike a chance to have his music judged solely on its own merits without the “From Genesis” tag which in some circles would have most definitely mitigated against the band.
Even at this stage, no record deal had been signed and Tony Smith was uncertain of the reception the new project might get from record companies. He needn’t have worried. Atlantic Records liked what they heard and in October 1985 the public finally became aware of the new band when the first single, the dramatic Silent Running was released on 9th October 1985. It reached number 21 in the UK charts but did significantly better in the US where it was a radio favourite for several months. The success was no fluke, as the subsequent single, the marvellous All I Need Is A Miracle achieved similar success over there proving that the pairing of Carrack and Young was an inspired one. The album’s lowly number 78 position in the UK charts belied the success of this debut effort and in the USA, the album did much better prompting a series of shows to support it in the summer of 1986 prior to Mike’s return to work with Genesis.
In addition to Mike, Carrack and Young, the debut live line up of Mike & The Mechanics also featured Ashley Mulford (another ex- Sad Café colleague of Paul Young’s) with keyboard duties being taken by Adrian Lee and drumming by Peter Van Hooke. The shows that took place during the “Miracle Tour” featured the new album plus the only live performances of material from Acting Very Strange with both Maxine and Half Way There thus far along with the old Spencer Davis Group classic: Gimme Some Lovin’. The shows were very well received in the US but sadly, that success could not be emulated in the UK or Europe as Mike had to return to recording and touring duties with Genesis for what later in 1986 would prove to be their most successful album to date: Invisible Touch.
The success of that album effectively precluded any further activity by the Mechanics until the furore had died down and it was to be a further three years before Mike was able to get the Mechanics together again for a new album. With the line up now established and with strong song writing links established with both B A Robertson and Chris Neil, working with the band, a magical partnership looked in the offing. However, as Mike’s recent autobiography reveals, it certainly wasn’t that obvious at the time.
1986/87 was an exhausting and traumatic time for Mike. In October he lost his father while he was on tour with Genesis. In 1987 his wife Angie had almost lost their second child and both this and the enormous Genesis tour which had culminated in the record breaking four night stint at Wembley Stadium had left Mike emotionally and physically drained.
Emotion was definitely to be the inspiration for what proved to be the band’s biggest hit to date. The Living Years which subsequently became the title of the band’s second album, was the result of the mixed emotions that both Mike and B A Robertson had experienced as a result of the loss of their fathers. Add to the mix, the fact that Paul Carrack had lost his father when a child, and you had the recipe for either an emotional masterpiece or a ghastly sacchariney monstrosity. Thankfully, Living Years was definitely the former, a truly remarkable evocation of the emotions that such a situation bring out. It was a song that almost didn’t make it though, as Mike recalls…
“I don’t think that 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 fathers, so it was a very emotional time. The song was so emotional that we thought it might not work and B A and I said we’ll try it and if it comes out sugary and sickly, we’ll forget it…”
The album was heralded by the release on 19th October 1988 of the Nobody’s Perfect single, an excellent slice of rock a-la-Mechanics which served as a good indicator of the direction the new album would take. The Living Years album itself was released a week later and went straight to the number two position in the UK charts. Living Years was subsequently released as a single in the UK on 27th January 1989 and hit the number two spot propelling the album back into the charts at the same time on the back of its enormous popularity.
The popularity of the album and especially the single, took everyone, Mike included by surprise and the handful of UK shows which had originally been planned in order to promote the album was hastily extended into a much fuller UK and European tour with two tours of the USA into the bargain. Shows in Australia which had been pencilled in too, were subsequently cancelled.
An unlikely release also happened during this period when Mike & The Mechanics recorded a cover version of The Beatles’ classic Revolution as part of the soundtrack for US comedy duo Cheech & Chong’s latest film: Rude Awakening. The single was released in several territories and as a promotional one-track single but it did not achieve any notable chart success.
The resulting Living Years tour drew exclusively on the band’s two albums. Gone were any references to either Genesis or Mike’s previous solo career despite the shouts by one member of the audience at the gig in Newcastle for Working In Line, those days were firmly behind the band now. The support act for the UK shows was IQ; members of the new wave of British Prog who were themselves flirting with commercial success on the back of their are You Sitting Comfortably and Nomzamo albums.
“I decided to make a change in the choice of producer. Russ 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’… Sometimes things would go great but after about two and a half months, I wasn’t enjoying it and found myself driving to work very slowly! (laughs)…”
|Word Of Mouth upon its release on 25th March 1991, failed to emulate the enormous success of its predecessor but that is not to say that it was a failure. Among its tracks are several which fans have regularly listed as among their favourites none more so than the title track which was released in advance of the album as the first single on 4th March 1991. With time limited before Mike was once again due to return to the Genesis fold to work on the follow up to 1986’s enormously successful Invisible Touch album, there was no time for any live shows to be put together in support of this album and instead, a series of singles were released over the succeeding eighteen or so months both in the UK and elsewhere. Most intriguing of these was the Get Up single which was pressed up as both a 7” vinyl record and CD single but was withdrawn from stores for reasons which to this day are unknown!|
Once again, it was the enormous success of another Genesis project which was to keep Mike from reactivating the Mechanics for almost a further three years but the wait was well worth it.
A much more satisfying album than its predecessor, and no writer’s block problems this time as the whole spate of B sides to the series of singles that followed in the album’s wake demonstrated. Indeed, the sheer quality of some of these has only recently been demonstrated by their appearance on the Singles 1985 - 2014 + Rarities compilation. But before we get ahead of ourselves, back to 1995.
|The success continued into 1996 when the band released a long overdue retrospective of their career: Hits which was released on 4th March 1996. This was accompanied by the Hits video compilation which finally satisfied those among the fan base such as myself who collect promotional videos. Promoted by the re-issue of the Silent Running and All I Need Is A Miracle ’96 singles, neither of which troubled the charts, the album itself once again got into the top ten in the UK and demand to see the band ensured that a further extensive tour of the UK accompanied by festival dates in Europe was undertaken throughout the spring of 1996.|
With Phil Collins’ departure from Genesis becoming public knowledge on 29th March 1996, the following three years were to see Mike fully occupied with trying to re-establish the Genesis brand with new front man, Ray Wilson resulting in the Calling All Stations album and the subsequent Genesis Archive 1967 -75 set.
|It was to be three years before the Mechanics re-emerged with their next album: M6 which was actually (Hits excluded) their fifth studio album. No matter, the album continued the band’s evolution as one of the UK’s best pop-rock acts and once again it secured a position within the UK top ten upon its release on 31st May 1999.|
|A further extensive UK tour was undertaken and the band also performed at several festivals in Europe during the summer of that year. Touring and promotional work were set to continue into 2000 when in July the news broke that Paul Young had succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 53. Any thoughts of touring etc were put to one side in the wake of this shocking news and it was assumed that The Mechanics were effectively no more as a result.|
|The resulting album: Rewired, was to be the least successful of
all Mechanics albums and it failed to chart here in the UK. In its defence,
the music scene had changed beyond all recognition in the intervening years
between Beggar… and it would have been a hard act for the band to
re-establish themselves with anyone after such a lengthy lay -off which
is something that Mike himself acknowledges… “Paul (Carrack)
and I wrote some songs because we like writing together and not necessarily
with a plan for a Mike & The Mechanics album and then as time ticked
by, the loss of Paul Young became a little less painful and the songs started
to sound very different to what Paul does on his own and I pushed them a
but that way anyway. And then we decided; it must have been at the beginning
of last year (2003) that we should put an album out. And so it was probably
very different and probably a transitional album in many ways. Some of the
good bits were good and I am not saying that it was all great…“
Only a one track radio edit single was released to promote the album, the year’s touring activities were unexpected to say the least.
With Phil Collins embarking on his humorously entitled “First Final Farewell Tour” he asked Mike if the Mechanics would like to open the shows for him. And so, Mechanics fans who wanted to see the new look band live had to attend one of Phil’s shows. A bargain in my opinion - two great bands for the price of one! The Mechanics were not present at either of Phil’s UK gigs though, opting instead to perform a full show of their own at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre which was filmed and subsequently released as a DVD which remains the only officially released live document of the Mechanics’ career.
However, Mike is nothing if not determined, and even if the wait was interminably long it wasn’t as if he wasn’t busy elsewhere as Genesis finally gave their fans what they had wanted since Phil’s departure back in 1996: a reunion tour or as Phil euphemistically called it at the press conference: “A Selection Of Shows”. To everyone else however, the result was 2007’s Turn It On Again tour which saw Genesis perform to sell-out crowds in Europe, the UK and USA throughout the summer and autumn of 2007.
There was no further word on any plans for Mike to reconvene The Mechanics until word began to seep out in the autumn of 2010 that he had indeed got the band together recruiting two brand new singers to take over from the missing Carrack and Young. The new boys in the band were Andrew Roachford whose credentials had already been established by a string of hits including Cuddly Toy and, Canadian Tim Howar who was also well established in the world of musical theatre and who had his own band: Van Tramp.
Mike recalled how he came to reconstitute the band in an interview he gave to TWR back in 2011... “It was Brian Rawlings who suggested why not go back to the first thing: the name and the sound are there and just see what happens. Write some songs; find some new writers. Some might come on board singing wise…’ The first time we did it I had written all the songs and I didn’t know who was going to sing them! It was the same process this time round but it was kind of easier because Andrew came down earlier on and I sort of let it happen….“
Fans were understandably sceptical of the new line up until its first appearance at Manchester’s Band On The Wall club in December 2010 at which the band showcased the talents of both new singers as well as unveiling material from the band’s new album, the aptly titled: The Road.
Since then, the band have toured intermittently both at home and throughout Europe where they have appeared at most of the largest music festivals there once again re-establishing the Mechanics vibe and brand to great success.
Which brings us nicely to 2014 and the current tour. Celebrating 25 years since the release of the iconic Living Years album, the band show no signs of letting up. With a brand new track and an archival recording featuring both Carrack and Young on the recently released Singles compilation, as well as the re-issue of the Living Years album all of which only serve to reiterate just how good a band The Mechanics are, the prospects look good for a long future for this most unlikely of part-time bands!