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Mike + The Mechanics at the Guildhall, Portsmouth (28th May)

Last Sunday evening the Mem Sahib and Yours Truly travelled to the Portsmouth Guildhall (capacity 2,500) in order to attend the last concert of the current UK tour of the musical combo known as Mike + The Mechanics.

Rusters of a certain age (mine is 71) are unlikely to need it, but for those visitors to this website who may be aged 40 or below, I shall begin my report upon the expedition with a passage of background history.

The English band Genesis has a place in popular music history as one of the earliest exponents of what became known as “Progressive Rock”, which might best be described here as a change of direction/development beyond the “3 minute” hit single-type pop music of the 1960s as popularised and provided to the British public and TV audiences by the BBC via its radio station Radio One and its BBC1 Thursday night pop chart TV show Top Of The Pops and also pirate radios stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London which evaded some of the rules & regulations of the British Government by broadcasting from ships moored off-shore in or just outside UK waters.

Progressive Rock was (if you like) a movement aimed at taking the standard chart-topping pop fare to a more significant and elevated place in which artful, artistic, questioning, challenging and potentially political influences might produce more “grown up” music that would appeal not just to teenagers but to those in their twenties and beyond.

Along with bands like Pink Floyd – which produced its magnus opus Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973 – King Crimson, Procul Harem, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Jethro Tull, Genesis was at the forefront of the movement in the UK.

Originally formed in 1967 by pupils at the public school Charterhouse – with an early core membership of Tony Banks (keyboards), Mike Rutherford (bass/guitarist) Peter Gabriel (vocals) and a succession of drummers – Genesis gradually grew into a global brand that has sold in excess of 150 million records.

Gabriel left the group in 1975 to go solo.

The following year a new drummer – Phil Collins – also took over Gabriel’s role as lead vocalist and thereafter Genesis enjoyed a period of almost uninterrupted success until Collins also left to go solo in 1996 when (in effect) the band ceased to operate as one, despite occasional reunion activities over the decades since.

And so where do Mike + The Mechanics fit into this story?

Well – in 1985, during one of the frequent hiatuses in Genesis activities – Mike Rutherford had become bored and, in the cause of writing more music, began working with songwriter B.A. Robertson to record new songs.

Later the “Why Not?” notion of going out on tour and playing some of them took off and thus the Mike + The Mechanics project was born.

Their first album was an immediate commercial success and they became a global phenomenon in their own right. The original incarnation of the group – including singer songwriter Paul Carrack – stayed together until the mid-1990s but since then Mike + The Mechanics has also turned into an occasional project that gets together and records new songs – and plays gigs – whenever Mike Rutherford and his wide circle of musician pals sense the mood is right.

During the 1990s I saw Mike + The Mechanics twice live in concert and they were simply outstanding offering, as they did, a heady mix of memorable anthemic songs and brilliant musicianship.

Which brings me to last Sunday’s concert.

For me, the evening – like the concert itself which lasted two hours in length to 9.45pm, interrupted by a 20-minute interval – was, like the proverbial football match, a game of two halves.

The first stanza was disappointing – later after much heartache I gave it but a 6.5 out of 10 – for a pot pourri of reasons. Firstly, and tellingly, despite my own advanced years, inside I still regard myself as an timeless and immoveable example of true rock & roll authenticity and as the auditorium gradually filled I was disappointed to the point of dismay at the apparently   ancient average age/physical health of my fellow punters and their conservative (with a small “c”) attire.

With the unforgiving lights up collectively we resembled nothing more than an Old Folks convention who’d been taken on a seaside outing and none of us knew where to.

The on-stage performance was also a little underwhelming, this a subjective and perhaps jaundiced view because, for me, neither of the current vocalists – Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar – are in the same class as Paul Carrack.

Further, although I hadn’t expected the somewhat stolid audience to jump to its feet, riot and rip their seats to shreds to register their appreciation of the occasion (as would have been the case in our heyday), their default reaction to even some of the greatest songs was distinctly muted.

Thankfully, post the interval, things took a turn for the better. The band had plainly given itself a pep talk during the break and came out for the second half full of energy and purpose, a tactic that worked because before long the audience was on its feet, clapping along and roaring their version of the lyrics as we enjoyed a succession of the Mechanics’ belters. Nothing at all to complain about there – and I gave the concert overall a metaphorical 8.5 out of 10.

Since attending the concert and looking back I have formed the view that there are two types of “old” bands still on the road.

Firstly, there are those who perhaps had a purple patch of pop hits – over say a five year period in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s – and who stay together (or have reunited) as paunchy, balding, dyed-hair caricatures of themselves as they “were back then” – in order to make a living by touring clubs and pubs and other venues who will have them by supposedly helping oldies “relive their youth”. Of those currently advertising tours in the Sunday paper colour supplements, I’d cite The Hollies as an example.

Secondly, there are other bands – some great, some not so – still out there on the road, not so much because they’re doing it for the money (albeit I’m sure than in many cases they’re enjoying the considerable fruits of their labours harvested over the past forty years), but because – in a real sense – playing music is what they do.

I would suggest the Rolling Stones are an example of this type.

The likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and Ronnie Wood are steeped in the music they play and its origins – in their case jazz, blues in all its forms and rock & roll – as often played by legendary black exponents such as Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. They’d still be playing it even if one day it fell totally out of fashion and they had to go busking or worse.



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About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts