Mike Rutherford have shared a number of special moments over the years. In fact, in his new memoir The Living Years, the guitarist credits the city as one of the first markets that gave his band Genesis the crucial radio airplay that helped to launch their now legendary career. So as he launches his first American tour in 25 years with his other band, Mike + The Mechanics, it’s very fitting that Cleveland is one of the cities that they’ll visit during the 17-date run that’s been a long time coming for his fans.
As Rutherford points out, even with all of the success that the band had with hit singles like “Silent Running” and “All I Need Is A Miracle” in 1986 and the deeply emotional title track from their 1988 album The Living Years, they didn’t have many opportunities to play shows in America.
“Basically, the history of the Mechanics, we never really toured much in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Rutherford explains. “We sort of did two mini-tours in ‘85 and ‘89. It wasn’t really part of our makeup. Then when Paul Young, one of the main singers died, myself and [singer] Paul Carrack kind of thought the energy had changed a bit so we stopped for a bit.”
After a break, Rutherford found himself turning back towards the idea of further activity with the group. “A few years ago I wrote some songs and thought, 'Well, they sound like Mechanics songs.'" Carrack was wrapped up with his own activities, so Rutherford went back to the initial formula that had worked so well for assembling the original group as he worked to recruit a new group of players. “I knew we needed to have two singers, a rock voice and an R&B voice. That’s the Mechanics makeup in a way. So I found Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar and wrote some music.”
New Mechanics vocalist Andrew Roachford had his own chart success in the late ‘80s with the R&B group Roachford, which scored a Top 5 single in the U.K. in 1989 with the song “Cuddly Toy,” and the band found additional Top 40 success with the songs “Family Man” and “Get Ready.”
Rutherford says it was a mixture of luck and working with longtime associates that helped him to fill out the rest of the necessary players.
“Gary [Wallis], the drummer, has been around for a long time. He’s been in the Mechanics for a number of years. In the middle, keyboards and other guitars have always been sort of changing. [Keyboardist Luke Juby and guitarist/bassist Anthony Drennan have been working with the group since 2010]. The other singer, Tim Howar, came via a recommendation of a friend of mine who was a producer, who sort of knew Tim. Tim had a background of everything, from rock music to ballet to heavy metal to the theater world. So in a sense, he’s quite well-versed [for this band].”
He played some shows with the new lineup in support of their 2011 album The Road to test the waters and was pleased with the results. “I was very surprised at how well the songs worked on stage. Songs like “The Living Years,” “All I Need Is A Miracle,” “Word Of Mouth” and “Silent Running” — these songs kind of had a perfect sound on stage and I’ve kind of followed that through for the last couple of years. So when someone came and said, ‘Why not try an American tour and see,’ I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be great.’”
A new expanded reissue of The Living Years album features a freshly recorded version of the title track, featuring the current lineup. Reflecting on the original version, Rutherford recalls that he was keenly aware that “it was a tall task to write a song about death and families.” He knew that he had to get it right. Rutherford had a personal connection to the track, having recently lost his father (Carrack, who sang the lead vocal, had also lost his father when he was 11 years old) and the subject matter is something that resonated strongly with the listening audience, with the single eventually climbing to No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
“You know, you kind of forget that time [with family] is valuable and of course then they pass. My father passed away, and you kind of go, 'Oh, I just missed that moment,'” Rutherford says. “So in a way the song and the book too really is to remind people that your parents, they’re very important and their stories — once they go, the stories are gone, really. So you’ve got to make sure that you do engage enough.”
Speaking about the new version of “The Living Years,” Rutherford is quick to acknowledge that it wasn’t an attempt to better the original, which remains a fan favorite.
“The original one is very strong, so we’re just trying to celebrate the history,” he says. “With the passing years, it’s something a little bit different, a different take on it. I had some friends who had an African ensemble, so we used them to sing along and it’s interesting. It’s a celebration of the song, really.”
The band’s show at Hard Rock Live will feature a mix of favorites from the Mechanics catalog and even a couple of Genesis tracks. “I Can’t Dance,” “Follow You, Follow Me,” “Throwing It All Away” and “Turn It On Again” are some of the prospective tracks that have made their way into the set list over the past couple of years. For longtime fans, it might be the only chance to see Rutherford play Genesis songs, a real treat since the group doesn’t have any immediate plans to tour.
“You know, you can’t force [something to happen] Phil’s drumming ability is not where it should be, so that puts sort of a big question mark on that area,” Rutherford explains when asked about a possible Genesis reunion. “You’ve got to look back that it’s been 43 or 44 years that we’ve been doing this. If something comes along someday, they’re good friends — there’s no problems between the people. If it’s for a reason or something happened, whoever knows? I would say that we don’t know what’s going on, so who knows? There are no plans really. But they’re good friends. I always said ‘never say never’ for years and then the ‘07 tour happened. So there you go…..whoever knows?”
Mike + the Mechanics, Daryl Stuermer, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 15, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd, Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $37.50-$75, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.