Mike Rutherford: ‘At my age you’ve got to do something – you can’t retire’

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He’s in one of the world’s biggest bands, Genesis, but Mike Rutherford also has his Mechanics. Chris Broom talks to him about music and his naval roots.

As a child, Mike Rutherford spent a couple of years living on Whale Island here in Portsmouth. His father, Captain Crawford Rutherford, was a gunnery captain.

But it wasn’t until the Genesis guitarist and Mike + The Mechanics main man was researching his autobiography, The Living Years, that he really delved back into his roots.

And when he spoke to The Guide, a posthumous Arctic Star had recently been awarded to his father.

The Arctic Star was created for those who served in the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War. The News was key in the long and ultimately successful campaign to get the veterans recognised.

‘My father died in ’86, but it just arrived at my sister’s house about three weeks ago,’ says Mike.

Mike with Genesis

Mike with Genesis

On being told of The News’s role in getting the medal created he adds: ‘Well, thank you – it’s nice to have it.

‘He didn’t mention his war years at all, he was in the Korean war too. When I read his memoirs, I learned a lot more about him.’

Researching his book, released last year, and going back to Whale Island was an eye-opener for Mike.

‘I hadn’t been back for years, but I went back there last year for my book.

It was interesting to go back to Whale Island – when you’re young it all seemed so huge

Mike Rutherford

‘I got in touch and I was a bit more involved with the navy archive, and George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord, became a good pal.

‘I went to see the commander, Martin Evans, and he gave me this wonderful guided tour all round the place and one of the old boys who looked after the field gun was there when my father was. It was amazing.

‘I was there from about aged three to five, so I do remember it. It was interesting to go back – when you’re young it all seems so huge.

‘And it was nice to see how busy the island was, at the moment it’s buzzing. It’s quite a centre now.

‘I did go for a naval scholarship, but my father wasn’t that bothered, he wasn’t especially pushing me.’

But the navy wasn’t for him and he ended up at Charterhouse School, where he met the other members of what was to become prog-rock pioneers Genesis.

‘Hence my other career,’ he laughs.

But for now Rutherford is back with Mike + The Mechanics and will be playing Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday.

The band originally began in 1985 as an outlet for Mike’s songwriting away from Genesis, but went on to score multi-platinum hits of their own such as The Living Years, All I Need Is A Miracle and Over My Shoulder.

The band has always been unusual in having two vocalists – originally Paul Carrack and Paul Young.

When Young died suddenly in 2000, Carrack and Rutherford released one more album before shelving the project in 2004.

In 2011 the group returned, with two new vocalists, Andrew Roachford (of Cuddly Toy fame) and Tim Howar.

Mike recalls reviving the group: ‘The thing was, it was like going back to being 19 years old.

‘The Mechanics hardly ever toured, so there was no real track record of us as a touring band, so we kind of had to go out and prove we were good.

‘And it’s funny, we came out the first year, people knew all the songs, but they weren’t quite sure who the band is. We’ve had to go round a bit like I did in the early days of Genesis – this is our third tour now – and prove that it’s good.’

For someone who’s played arenas and stadiums all over the world, he admits to some doubts about bringing the group back.

‘I was wary, I did think ‘‘hang on, are you sure this is the right thing to do at your age? Am I past my sell by date?’’’

He’s 64.

‘But it’s been a lot of fun, the guys in the band are great players and a lot of fun to be with.’

So two frontmen doesn’t mean double the ego, then?

‘People often say to me ‘‘oh God, having two lead singers, isn’t that a problem?’’ But it’s a fantastic energy.’

Seeing as the band had been on the shelf for seven years, why did Mike decide to bring it back?

‘Paul Young died and with Paul Carrack, it felt we’d come to the end of an era.

‘Then about five years ago I had a bunch of songs and I thought they sounded like Mechanics songs – it’s such a good vehicle. It’s a great sound. I thought, well, let’s start with the music, and here we are.’

The new line-up released an album The Road, in 2011, and a new one is in the pipeline.

‘I’ve been a bit slow getting myself going because we’ve been so busy on the live side of things,’ he explains, ‘but we’ve got a bunch of new songs, and we’re probably going to play one of them on the tour.

‘It’s very unrehearsed, but I think the audience might like to be part of something brand-spanking-new that’s barely out of the wrapping paper.

‘I want to do this album, but to be honest, in this day and age who knows what you do with an album? The consumer isn’t buying records.

‘Some guys live to be on the road, but my real passion is writing.

‘But I think it’s important for Mike + The Mechanics as a band and touring to do a new album. It will be good for us to do a new bunch of songs, for us and the audience.’

And as to his other group?

‘There are no Genesis plans at the moment. We did the documentary last year.

‘But who knows what lies around the corner? We’re all still alive. I’m finding at my age that you’ve got to do something – you can’t retire.’

Mike on...

...eating out

Last year I had a wonderful dinner on the Victory. George Zambellas was very helpful and invited me to dinner there, it was fantastic. Candlight dinner. Tell you what, the navy do it well, don’t they?

...performing at the Olympics 2012 closing ceremony

That was the young and the old – me and Ed Sheeran. Initially I wasn’t going to do it because I had a show in Germany the night before. And my wife said, what do you mean you’re not going to do it? It’s a moment of history.

...Fly Navy Heritage Trust.

I’m an ambassador for them – that came about through Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, who’s a good mate.

Where & when...

Mike + The Mechanics are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Sunday, support comes from James Walsh. Doors open 7pm. Tickets cost £38.50. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk 
or call 0844 847 2362.