BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
English musician Mike Rutherford launched Mike + the Mechanics in 1985 as a side project during the commercial peak of his main band, Genesis. Thanks to the captivating sci-fi imagery of “Silent Running” and hopeful “All I Need is a Miracle,” the Mechanics were soon in demand themselves.
The Mechanics’ origin broke typical patterns. “Usually, when solo stuff starts, it’s because band members are frustrated,” Rutherford says. “In [Genesis’] case, we were flying. But we were spending every month, every year together and thought, ‘Let’s try bit of variety.’ It worked in a great way for about 15 years with Phil’s [Collins] career and the Mechanics. It was inspirational. For me, the Mechanics represent variety in the best way.”
Despite early success, the performance of the Mechanics’ next record was surprising. Following the band’s debut and Genesis’ “Invisible Touch,” 1988’s “Living Years” became a worldwide smash on the strength of its title track. Emotional single “The Living Years” topped the Billboard Hot 100 with its description of a conflicted relationship between father and son.
Rutherford’s creative partner B. A. Robertson had written the lyric. It nonetheless echoed some of Rutherford’s own experience, as described in his 2014 biography entitled “The Living Years.” William Rutherford had been a career officer in the British Navy. Mike Rutherford was working in Chicago during Genesis’ massively successful “Invisible Touch” tour when he learned of his father’s passing, and was unable to immediately travel home.
“In the ‘80s, all was going well and I was busy being a success,” says Rutherford. “It was great, but you tend to forget the rest of your life. You get locked up in work. My father would have been fine about it, but it was a very tough time. I can picture the view from the room when my father died that night. The street scene. It’s an image in your mind that never really goes away.”
Mike + the Mechanics haven’t toured in North America since 1989. They’ll play two nights at Park West. “I thought, ‘Let’s do a bit of touring,’ because the Mechanics never toured much ever, anywhere in the world,” says Rutherford. “I’ve found that Mechanics songs like ‘All I Need is a Miracle,’ ‘Silent Running,’ and ‘The Living Years’ are such great live songs.”
The band’s composition is distinguished by two vocalists. “Having two lead singers creates such a big buzz on stage,” says Rutherford. “Until you see the Mechanics, you don’t really understand that energy you get.”