“On the road again with Mike & The Mechanics” - A brace of the band’s current UK shows reviewed by Alan Heiwtt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt and Lee Millward.
Another year and another tour by Mike and The Mechanics, the band which reformed in 2010 is going from strength to strength after a shaky start which was to be expected when trying to re-establish such an iconic brand. They have certainly found their feet since then as these gigs demonstrated.
First up my home town of Liverpool and the wonderful setting of the equally iconic Philharmonic Hall. I was lucky enough to squeeze in a few minutes’ chat with Mike before the gig to get the lowdown on the new album and was also introduced to a genuinely new experience - watching a Welsh Tour Manager go wild as his team beat England at the Rugby - thanks, Pud!
|Anyway, on with the show and the first thing I noticed on entering the hall was the new stage production. Four balloons, complete with baskets of varying sizes and each adorned with a different Mechanics album cover, were strung up above the stage. Interesting I thought… The band took to the stage at 7.30 prompt and got the evening under way with a storming The Best Is yet To Come - prophetic words in an evening which was to be jam packed with best bits. Tim Howar was in his element here, roaring out the vocal like a wounded lion . Another Cup Of Coffee was delivered piping hot (sorry!) by Andrew Roachford and once again, the combination of these two incredible singers really is a joy to behold. Beggar On A Beach of Gold was equally sublime and by now those ballons had come into their own with lighting effects projected onto and around them making this by far the most visual Mechanics show ever.|
First of the new songs next, One Way, a typical Mechanics ballad and nor which I am sure is going to go on and become another addition to their stable of stage favourites. Try To Save Me and Let Me Fly book ended the band’s output since the reformation and if the former still sounds a little staid at times, the latter simply gets better every time I hear it.
A couple of nods to the other bands hat have featured in the lives of several of the protagonists next with Land Of Confusion eliciting the expected cheer from the crowd. Me? I can take it or leave it personally, it never was my favourite from the Genesis canon and it still doesn’t really do anything for me I’m afraid. At least Tim Howar’s histrionics during it were a lot more reserved than Phil’s used to be - thank goodness for small mercies, eh? Cuddly Toy on the other hand is a bona fide barnstormer in which Roachfored gleefully whipped up both the band and the audience .
The first half of the show finished with the second of the new tracks and album title track; Out Of The Blue, another mellow effort and typical Mechanics fare.
|After a twenty minute interval, the band were back and we were treated to a truly delightful acoustic medley of songs beginning with Follow You Follow Me, which, with Anto Drennan and Mike on acoustic guitars took me back to the heady days of the Calling All Stations tour when the band first stripped it back acoustically. It worked a treat and was followed by an equally impressive Don’t Know What Came Over Me from the band’s last album and with Gary Wallis seated centre front playing electric drum pads and a Cajon, this too worked extremely well. What Would You Do, had seen the light of day previously back on the Let Me Fly tour in 2017 but has been reworked,. The riff will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Mike’s second solo album (Acting Very Strange) which is where it originates from (cue everyone scurrying to dig out their copies now…) . Everybody Gets A Second Chance brought the acoustic set to a close in fine style, I have always felt that this one works better acoustically and tonight I was proven right.|
Then, what was for me probably the highlight of the entire show. Silent Running, complete in all its magnificent glory. Various permutations of this one have been tried by the band over the years but the original still works best. With the combination of both Howar and Roachford on vocals and the rest of the band in magnificent for and the lighting being used to stunning effect, this was a treat both musically and visually.
The hits kept on coming however, the injunction from Tim Howar to Get Up was obeyed by a sizeable proportion of the audience (me included) and this one is another favourite. Then came the moment in the show which I had both been looking forward to and dreading in equal measures; Living Years. Such a powerful and emotive song and in the hands of a consummate professional as Andrew Roachford, it was never going to descend into sentimental mawkishness and instead, rose in full majesty whilst reducing me to a blubbering wreck as usual!
Coming after such a sublime moment, I Can’t Dance was something of a jarring anti climax but the crowd loved it so what do I know? All I Need Is A Miracle was much more my cup of tea (or coffee) and the evening came to a close with a rambunctious performance of Over My Shoulder where Mr Luke Juby, whose already considerable talents on keyboards, vocals and saxophone were augmented by his whistling skills - way to go, Luke!
Encore, of course we were going to get an encore and what else but the rip roaring Word Of Mouth, complete with full audience participation. As usual, band incorporated little solo vignettes such as Roachford incorporation a few bars of Very Superstitious into the extended jam section but Mike’s choice took us all by surprise and was not instantly recognisable but yes, he DID perform the guitar solo from Firth of Fifth - badly it has to be said but there you go.
Anyway, just over a week later and I find myself in the salubrious surroundings of the Victoria Hall in Hanley another fine but sadly underused venue these days. Another excellent turn out took their seats and got ready for tonight’s merriment.
Show wise, the set was identical to that one which had been performed in Liverpool. But having a second chance (and everybody gets one, remember?) it was easier to digest especially because, unlike Liverpool, the venue’s no photography policy meant I was not trying to capture moments for posterity through the camera lens.
When you have so many bona fide classics in your ammunition locker, you really can’t go wrong and the band did not put a foot wrong tonight with a show that was musically, vocally and visually polished to perfection. Once again there were so many highlights but four in particular stood out for me : Follow You Follow Me, which I just love in its acoustic setting, Let Me Fly which is to my mind one of the best songs the band have ever recorded and performed stunningly well here tonight. Silent Running did its usual job of ripping the hair off the back of my neck whilst Living Years pressed all the usual emotional buttons.
One thing had changed between the two gigs however, when it came to the vignettes during Word Of Mouth, Mike had (wisely in my opinion) decided to drop his attempt at Firth of Fifth and restored Purple Haze instead which was a relief!
There you have it, two incredible shows performed by an absolutely amazing band. The sheer energy coming off stage from each and every member is astonishing and the fact that they do it night after night simply beggars belief. The Mechanics are definitely back and if you can, try and catch this show as it is definitely one worth seeing.
My thanks to everyone involved with these gigs and in particular to Jo Greenwood, Steve “Pud” Jones and Lee Millward for their help with everything and to all the guys in the band and their road crews without whom magic such as this simply does not happen - thank you!