In late February, Mike and the Mechanics will kick off their first North American tour since 1989. The group has changed a lot since then and only guitarist Mike Rutherford remains. (He'll be joined by singers Tim Howard and Andrew Roachford, who are replacing Paul Carrack and the late Paul Young.) The group plans to play Mechanics hits like "Silent Running" and "All I Need Is a Miracle" with a handful of Genesis tunes like "I Can't Dance" and "Turn It on Again." We sat down with Rutherford to look back at videos from his long career, an he unleashed five decades' worth of amazing stories.
About four months after releasing Nursery Cryme, their first LP with Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, Genesis performed on Belgium television. It's some of the only live video from this era of the group. "This is the first time I've ever seen the complete video of this and not just little pieces," says Rutheford. "This reminds me of how rubbish we'd come across in bright daylight. The songs need mood lighting. It really gives them a setting. It also makes me think of how musical these songs were, in a nice way. Also, the energy that Phil brought on drums was incredible."
Genesis played their ambitious double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway every night on their 1974-'75 tour, but they never filmed a single show. Only bits and pieces and surfaced over the years, like this footage of "In the Cage." "Ah, the young, skinny and handsome Peter Gabriel," says Rutherford. "This brings me back to that tour. We went out and did the whole double album before it was released. The first show was in Chicago and they'd never heard it. When it worked, it was really good. There were nights when not everything worked, but the energy carried it through. It's a shame we never filmed it, but people just didn't film much on those days."
Many people thought Peter Gabriel's departure would destroy Genesis, but they brought Phil Collins out from behind the drum kit and managed to become bigger than ever. Their first effort was 1976's A Trick of the Tail, and they shot a quickie video for the title track. "I watch this video and I cringe," says Rutherford. "It's just embarrassing. This was pre-MTV and we shot videos for this and 'Robbery, Assault and Battery' just to show them on TV. It's really crappy."
In 1982, Peter Gabriel found himself deeply in debt when his WOMAD festival lost a fortune. Some of his creditors were actually threatening to kill him, so Genesis gladly agreed to a huge reunion concert to pay his bills. Staged at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, England, the group played a long set of classics in the pouring rain. Steve Hackett didn't come onstage until the final two encores. "We did this on my birthday," says Rutherford. "I mainly remember the incredible mud and rain. Years later, I thought back and realized we made a mistake not filming it. The feeling was that we shouldn't record it because it won't be great live. There were rough edges, but we should have done it anyway. It was a moment we should have captured, warts and all."
Genesis began taking time off in the early 1980s to allow for solo projects. Phil Collins obviously had tremendous success, but Rutherford's 1982 LP Acting Very Strange was pretty much a disaster. "Oh God," says Rutherford. "I haven't listened to this for a long time. I don't have good memories of this album. I wanted to try singing, but I just can't sing. It was nice to have Stewart Copeland on drums, but my voice just puts me off the album so much. I had to drink some brandy to get it going on at all. One album of me singing was enough. When you write good songs, you want a good singer to sing them."
There are many, many Genesis songs that fans all around the world love. And then there's "Illegal Alien," recorded at a time when it was okay for three British guys to dress up like Mexicans desperately trying to get across the border. "We were having a bit of fun," says Rutherford. "You can't take it seriously. Phil is really the star. Tony and I are basically just props. Tony and I were always fine when we got to wear costumes. We shot this back-to-back with the 'Mama' video on the same set."
Genesis reached their commercial peak in 1986 with Invisible Touch, which pumped out hit singles months on end. The tour took them to stadiums, wrapping up with a four-night stand at Wembley. "England had four days of glorious sunshine," says Rutherford. "That's rare. This was the peak of our commercial success. We could do no wrong, really."
After the fiasco of Acting Very Strange, Rutherford realized he needed to recruit quality vocalists to sing his tunes. He wound up with Paul Carrack and Paul Young, and in 1985 they had huge hits with "All I Need Is a Miracle" and "Silent Running." Three years later they did it again with "The Living Years," which was inspired by the death of songwriter B.A. Robertson's father as well as the loss of Rutherford's own father. "My son Tom plays the little boy in this video," says the guitarist. "He's now 33 and living in New York. My dad died the previous year, so this was all very emotional. I do think the choir in this video should have been a greater mix of people. That was a mistake."
When Phil Collins quit Genesis in 1996, Rutherford and Tony Banks couldn't quite justify breaking up the band. Their last album and tour were huge successes, and they effortlessly bounced back from the departure of their first frontman. This time around, they weren't so lucky. Scottish singer Ray Wilson did a very nice job, but replacing Collins was a tall order and bands like Genesis weren't exactly the coolest of the cool in 1997. Ticket sales were so low in America that they called that leg of the tour off, but they did bring the show around Europe. Here's a live performance of their single "Congo" from the ill-fated tour.
"I enjoyed the process of making Calling All Stations," says Rutherford. "What happened was that, suddenly, the mood changed and I sort of felt that going forward to create a new Genesis required too much work. I just didn't have it in me, and I had the Mechanics. I know that Tony and Ray wanted to carry on, but I just knew I couldn't do it."
In May 2006, Rutherford was part of a stunning band at the Highclere Rocks charity show in England. He shared the stage with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Paul Carrack and many others on a chilly afternoon. "We do a show like this most every year," says Rutherford. "Eric [Clapton] is always there and Roger Waters often plays. Back in the 1970s I didn't pay much attention to Pink Floyd, but I got to know them later. I know 'Wish You Were Here' really well know because I later played it with Ed Sheeran and Nick Mason at the Olympics."
The Phil Collins-led lineup of Genesis reunited in 2007 for a 40-date tour of Europe and North America, playing to ecstatic, sold-out crowds wherever they went. Every show ended with a tender rendition of 1974's "Carpet Crawlers." Here's video of them doing it at a huge outdoor show in Rome. "It's nice how a song so simple can work," says Rutherford. "We played so many stadiums and arenas that they've become a blur, but a place like this really stands out for us. We've been popular in Italy for so many years that it was a great way to end our European tour."
Genesis' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 seemed like the perfect place for the Peter Gabriel-led lineup to finally reunite, but the timing was absolutely horrible. Gabriel was deep into rehearsals for an orchestral tour and simply couldn't get out of England. Phish played in their place, breaking out a pretty spectacular rendition of "Watcher of the Skies." "We should have played," says Rutherford. "We just couldn't get it together. I didn't know much about Phish before this and it was weird watching someone else play this song, but they did a really nice job."
Rutherford has bad luck with singers whose name begin with P. Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Paul Carrack have all quit hit-making groups where he played guitar, and Paul Young passed away in 2000. Undeterred, Rutherford assembled a new lineup of Mike and the Mechanics and hit the road in 2012. Here's a live performance of "The Road." "This is one of the first songs we wrote together," says Rutherford. "We were just finding out way with this first album, so I think we're going to get even better, especially now that we've done a lot more touring."