Mike and the Mechanics: Mike Rutherford’s “Living Years 25” for South Africa

Mike and the Mechanics skipped Cape Town when they played in South Africa in 1995. Now Mike Rutherford, who owns a house in Cape Town, rode the Cape Argus Cycle Tour last year and is involved in a music education project in Darling, plans to set that right with “The Living Years 25” tour – and include some Genesis songs.

Mike and the mechanic: Jeremy Clarkson reads Mike Rutherford the rules for a forthcoming episode of "Top Gear". Mike did a lap with The Stig. Courtesy Mike and The Mechanics and "Top Gear".

Mike and the mechanic: Jeremy Clarkson reads Mike Rutherford the rules for a forthcoming episode of “Top Gear”. Mike did a lap with The Stig. Courtesy Mike and The Mechanics and “Top Gear”.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus of 2013/07/21

Mike Rutherford, who formed Mike and the Mechanics in 1985 as a solo project 18 years after co-founding the massively successful Genesis, plays three shows in South Africa in August with a new touring version of the band that includes Andrew Roachford (you may recall his songs “Family Man” and “Cuddly Toy” under the name Roachford) and vocalist Tim Howar (fresh from his Broadway role as Stacey Jaxx in “Rock Of Ages”). Rutherford‘s 1995 tour took in Johannesburg’s Sandton Towers, Durban’s Village Green and Pretoria’s Saambou Arena, before covering much of England and Europe – an an early “Earth Day” festival in Boston. But it skipped Cape Town. Now, on a world tour that celebrates 25 years of “The Living Years”, Rutherford is bringing his band’s music to a city he considers a second home.

“I’ve got a lot of history with South Africa – my father’s mother is from one of the early Cape families, so one of my christened names is Cloete”

– Mike Rutherford of Mike and Mechanics, and Genesis

“I bought a plot of land in Cape Town when I came out on the first Mechanics tour, from a cousin of mine, and then built a house on it about 5 years ago,” says Mike Rutherford from his other home in England. “I love Cape Town: what appeals to me is there’s a lot there and, from it, you can go and do so much – it’s just a two hour flight if you want to go on safari in Botswana. I might drive to my own home after the gig – that happens very rarely, and I’ve always wanted to do that in Cape Town. I’ve actually got a lot of history with South Africa – my father’s mother is from an old Dutch family, one of the early Cape families, so one of my christened names is Cloete.”

Rutherford’s Cape connections continue to this day. For the 25th anniversary recording of his hit song “The Living Years” (first recorded in 1989, reaching No.1 across the world and being awarded a Broadcast Music Inc “4 Million Airplays” citation in 2004), he used the Cape Town based Isango Ensemble. “You can’t beat the original, so I wanted to record it differently,” explains Rutherford. “I used the Isango Ensemble, who are much better known outside South Africa. They’ve just been at the Globe Theatre with a version of ‘La Boheme’, which was great. We recorded a bit of it in London, and then a bit in a studio in downtown Cape Town – a great facility with a nice, big room.”

Rutherford is also a donor for Pieter-Dirk Uys‘s Darling Trust, although he downplays it. “I’m a little bit involved in a music thing there, with Pieter-Dirk. Trying to get something going with young kids who want to learn guitar, and music. I’ve gone there with my good friend Arno Carstens (the Springbok Nude Girls co-founder has written and performed with Rutherford for a number of years). It is an arts and music centre and it just felt right to do something with them. It’s always nice to do something for a charitable cause.”

Mike and The Mechanics for "The Living Years 25", 2013. Mike Rutherford (seated), Tom Yowar ("Rock Of Ages") and Andrew Roachford (remember "Family Man" and "Cuddly Toy"). Courtesy Mike and The Mechanics.

Mike and The Mechanics for “The Living Years 25”, 2013. Mike Rutherford (seated), Tom Yowar (“Rock Of Ages”) and Andrew Roachford (remember “Family Man” and “Cuddly Toy”). Courtesy Mike and The Mechanics.

Good news for long-standing fans is that a few Genesis-era songs may well creep into this Mike and The Mechanics show. “When we first started touring Mike and the Mechanics, we didn’t want to play any Genesis songs,” says Rutherford. “The reason we did our solo projects wasn’t about dissatisfaction with Genesis, it was just for the variety. If all you’re doing is Genesis songs, show after show and album after album (the band has sold in excess of 150 million albums worldwide), it feels sort of limited. The solo projects helped us all carry on with Genesis, but that was a long time ago. Now, 25 years after Mike and The Mechanics had ‘The Living Years’, it feels fun to do a few Genesis songs.”

“Music should be a bit of a challenge; you shouldn’t just get up on stage, or sit down to write, and just bang it out.”

– Mike Rutherford of Mike and Mechanics, and Genesis

With hits like “The Living Years”, “All I Need Is A Miracle” and “Over My Shoulder” for Mike and The Mechanics, and “Land Of Confusion” and “Follow You Follow Me” for Genesis, has Rutherford ever had a sense of what the song might become, even as it’s being written or recorded?

“I can look back, maybe two years after an album, and say what was good and what was bad, but you don’t really know while you’re making it, no,” he says. “Sometimes you have an inkling. I think I knew that ‘The Living Years’ was special. But not knowing is half the charm. Music should be a bit of a challenge; you shouldn’t just get up on stage, or sit down to write, and just bang it out. Nowadays, albums are a different thing. Then, an album was a possession – you treasured it. I’m rather glad my era is what it is. It was very exciting to be the first generation of pop-rock musicians, and to be making it all up as we went along. In the early days, there were no corporates and no shareholders – just a bunch of guys who could play music and some managers to book them. It was an exciting, unplanned time. I’m still making music forty-plus years later, and that is very special too. The CD-length was always a funny format. I think albums are too long to make, and too long to listen to for today’s audiences, and I enjoy that too. I’d rather do a bunch of songs now and again – rather do three EPs a year – than one long album.”

Rutherford is also involved in a much more personal element of “The Living Years” 25th anniversary: a book under the same name, which explores the divergent journeys to manhood that he and his father experienced. “I was asked to do a book, and a book about me would be pretty boring, I thought,” he says. “I thought of my father, who wrote his naval memoirs which were never published. There are also all these photo-albums of me from age three to twenty. At twenty, he was involved with the sinking of the Bismarck, the German battleship, and I had long-hair, a double-necked guitar and I was wearing brogues. It’s a story about a man who was involved in the British Empire, and the end of that, and in two World Wars – and the contrast with that, and the changes that happened in the 1960s. He died in 1987 while I was away, on a tour, and the book is also about a fathers and a sons in general.”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus of 2013/07/21

Mike and the Mechanics play their “”Living Years 25” tour at Grand Arena on Tuesday 20 August (Grand West, Goodwood, doors 8pm, tickets R285 – R485 from Computicket.com), as well as at the anniversary celebration of Harley Davidson motorcycles (33 years in South Africa, 110 years as a company) at Sun City on Saturday 17th August (doors 8pm), and in Johannesburg on 18 August at Carnival City (doors 3pm). The concert is in support of the M-Net Naledi Children’s Literacy Project: concert-goers are asked to bring a children’s book and donate it in the “M-Net Cares” boxes for distribution to libraries in need. A portion of ticket sales also goes towards building more children’s libraries. More on MikeAndTheMechanics.comIsangoEnsemble.org.za,TheDarlingTrust.co.za and MNetCares.DSTV.com.

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