“Smallcreep's tale” - TWR in conversation with Noel McCalla about working with Mike Rutherford on both Smallcreep's Day and Acting Very Strange. His current involvement with Rocking Horse Music Club. Memorabilia: TWR archive. Photographs by Kenny Brown and Tony Bridgeman.
TWR: You were vocalist on both of Mikes pre-Mechanics solo albums. How did that come about?
NMcC: After my last album, Night Time Emotions with Epic Records which was produced by Trevor Rabin I sought release from the label. Unknown to me, as I knew very little about Genesis, except for their massive success and that Peter Gabriel was leaving the band. After leaving Epic I formed a London circuit band that went through a few transitions. It was then that I heard the rumour that I was shortlisted for Genesis and so was Paul Carrack but as he was unavailable to do the vocals on Smallcreep's Day that meant that I was the next choice. Paul is an amazing singer and a great writer so I was lucky to get a look in!
TWR: Were the songs on both albums already completed before you did the vocals or were you able to give your input on how the songs developed?
NMcC: The material was pretty much sorted by the time I was called in. There were adjustments made along the way as melodies were adapted. We must remember that we didn't have the technology to transpose keys at the touch of a button back then. Mike would only have a rough idea of my vocal range so my input was coming up with alternative melodies.
TWR: What was it like working with Mike?
NMcC: To be honest, I found him somewhat dour, friendly enough but distant. Working on this album, being a concept album needed everyone to be focussed so there wasn't much room for fun and laughter. There was a lot of hard graft from beginning to end. To this day I can't remember how long it took me to complete my parts.
TWR: Were you surprised that Mike opted to sing for himself on Acting Very Strange?
NMcC: No. Looking back on why he chose to sing himself the only conclusion I can come up with is; why not? He doesn't have anything to prove, so why not? Either that or he wasn't very happy with what I did. He never as far as I am aware has been forthcoming about what he felt about that project.
TWR: How did you become involved with the Rocking Horse Music Club tribute project?
NMcC: Brian confided to me that Smallcreep's Day was one of his top albums of all time. So, me being part of that album and Brian nearing the end of the Anthony Phillips tribute thought to himself; I wonder if Noel would be interested in a cameo part on the album? As I always say; if you never ask, you never know. So here we are down the line forging friendships and awaiting a release from the Rocking Horse Music Club.
TWR: How did it feel to finally be able to sing those songs live after all this time?
NMcC: Smallcreep's Day to this day is on the lips of many a Genesis fan around the world. So when Brian suggested we revise some of the songs my first thought was should I just let it sleep? The second, could I even do what I did forty years ago? So Brian sent me some rough remixes to sing to. Then to make sure I avoided the songs that would have been vocal suicide. The end result turned out not so bad and so hence the shows in the UK at Trading Boundaries.
TWR: You have your own Quartet too these days. How do you balance that and working with Brian and other projects?
NMcC: Yes, I have numerous projects currently being performed and developed and I love the diversity, variety and challenge of this while still being creative at this stage of my life. It can be hectic and demanding but it is a way of working which inspires me. My new album: Count All Your Blessings out at the end of last year was a culmination of my original songs and some co-written songs which I had finally had time to complete due to Lockdown. No artist is ever completely happy with any finished work, however, I am delighted with people's reaction to it, especially the live show. Juggling projects can be heaven or hell all wrapped up in one but what I do isn't a job, it's a vocation of joy and pain and I feel blessed that after all these years I am still able to enjoy it.
TWR: Future plans?
NMcC: Just to keep on enjoying what I do. The one thing about me is you are never going to know what I am going to come up with next. And that is what makes me different from many other vocalists. It doesn't do me any favours commercially but it keeps me busy!
Our thanks to Noel for this chat and good luck with the next project!