A hobby band? A side project? Hardly. In fact, it’s been 32 years and, with the release of Let Me Fly on April 7th, eight albums since Mike Rutherford formed Mike + The Mechanics, to complement rather than replace Genesis.
“In 1985 we were having the best time in Genesis,” he remembers. “But after 28 years, myself Phil and Tony wanted variety, so we ran our band and our solo careers side by side happily for many years. To be honest, it saved Genesis. The fact I’m still doing it with the Mechanics just makes me smile.”
Mike Rutherford has much to smile about right now and Let Me Fly distils everything that’s right about Mike + The Mechanics: the songwriting, the life-affirming uplift and the undercurrent of quirk.
Let Me Fly began to take off as the band toured 2011’s The Road, the first album featuring the current line-up: Rutherford himself (guitar/bass), Luke Juby (keyboards), Gary Wallis (drums), Anthony Drennan (guitar), plus vocalists Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar.
“The Mechanics hadn’t played live much, so we started to do what I’d done 40 years ago and build a name. We did Euro festivals, UK tours and small places and, yes, I really did wonder at my age if it was OK to be at Portsmouth Guildhall, but we got to be a great live band. The chemistry works because we’re all very different people, who’re fun and quirky - if there were any personality problems I couldn’t deal with that, I really couldn’t. We needed new songs though.”
Mike’s friend Brian Rawling, producer of David Bowie, Tina Turner, Cher’s Believe and the Mike + The Mechanics’ hit Now That You’ve Gone played the role of Let Me Fly’s sounding board. Rawling introduced Mike to former Johnny Hates Jazz singer Clark Datchler and, in December 2015 a new songwriting partnership was born.
“We sat down together and from day one it worked. Clark’s a proper writer and he brought something new. I’d send him lines and he’d bring them to life. We never had a slow day.”
Along the way, Mike also collaborated with old friend Fraser T. Smith (Kano, Kaiser Chiefs, Adele, Sam Smith) and Ed Drewett (One Direction, Professor Green), while both Mechanics singers collaborated too. Big studios were out. Instead, Mike and one of the singers would make a demo which would be passed around for the others to embellish and layer by layer, the songs evolved into something special. “You don’t go into studios any more: doing it this way feels like you’re working on the good bits all the time, but the songs really have to deliver.”
The results pleased even the chief Mechanic himself. “The Road didn’t move anyone’s world as we made it just after we’d met. We’ve learned to play together now. For me, it’s about proving I can write a good song, but the older you get, the less you let yourself off with ‘it’s not bad’, the less you pretend and the tougher you are on yourself. The hardest part of the whole process is staying relevant, but anyone who says success doesn’t matter is a liar: what you really want is people to like it. Then you feel it’s all been worth it. It’s as simple as that. Oh and my wife loves it, more than she’s loved an album of mine for a while! Trust me, that’s a really good sign.”
The title track, Let Me Fly, performed by Andrew Roachford provided the album’s title and its emotional centre. “For the sleeve, we used a base jumper leaping around on a trampoline. He had to shave his head for the shoot. The phrase has a lovely, aspirational feel, but the song isn’t just about love, it’s about life. It’s got a great Roach vocal, a choir and it sounds fantastic. I imagine a guy on a hill just letting go and seeing what happens. If you don't try things, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Elsewhere, Let Me Fly overflows with the sense of joy that’s defined the band’s entire existence and, as ever, there’s a host of characters, not all of them upstanding citizens, such as the hapless philanderer of Don’t Know What Came Over Me.
“Here’s this guy who’s happily married, loves his lady and everything’s wonderful. Then, one night, he goes AWOL and loses everything by having a one-night-stand. It was a moment of madness and he’s beyond remorseful. Was he forgiven? The song just leaves him hanging. And no, it’s not autobiographical!”
The Letter is based on the Sliding Doors principle.
“Someone finds a letter in a drawer. It’s from his wife and it says things about him she’s never said to his face. His whole life turns around. If he hadn't opened the drawer everything would have carried on the same. Once he’s done it, it's too late. He's left hanging too by the way.”
In contrast, Save My Soul could have slipped into mawkishness.
“The chords and melody were great, but I couldn’t find a setting to it take away from sounding like a corny Michael Bolton ballad. I asked Fraser T Smith’s beats guy, Zak Kemp to have a little mess around. He used a couple of R&B loop ideas and it came to life. Its whole feel and texture changed and it has space now. It’s about people who ride roughshod over others because they can. Believe me, they never get away with it.
Are You Ready is the most uptempo song of a mostly uptempo album.
“It works on two levels: are you ready to stand up and say we’re a couple? But also are you ready to be who you are, to admit what you are and what you do?”
It’s been a long and fruitful journey. Not bad for a band who were formed to offer its leader “variety”.
“I never imagined Mike + The Mechanics would last. Then again as a 15-year-old I never imagined Genesis would last.”
And there’s The Living Years, the song of loss and joy for which Mike Rutherford will always be remembered.
“I know I’ll never write another song as far-reaching. It’s part of people’s lives, but I never feel weighed down by it, especially when I see the response it gets. I massively appreciate everything it’s done.”
“I’ve never had a long-term plan, even with Genesis. I’ll put Let My Fly out and I’ll see where it goes. What happens this year will tell me what to do next. I like that!”
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