Today, side projects are all the rage, with artists like Damon Albarn and Jack White achieving success in a number of different bands.
But when Genesis co-founder Mike Rutherford decided to start another band in 1984, it was still something of a novelty.
Mike + The Mechanics went on to sell more than 10 million records worldwide, with hits including The Living Years and Over My Shoulder.
Now, following the success of 2007’s Genesis reunion tour, Mike has reformed his Mechanics.
But the songwriter and guitarist says his forthcoming Mike + The Mechanics tour will be entirely different from his last outing with Phil Collins and co.
‘The best thing about doing The Mechanics is it’s so different to Genesis,’ he tells me from the West Sussex home he shares with his wife of 34 years.
‘The Genesis tour had a cast of thousands in stadiums. The Mechanics tour has two lights and a backline and we play at theatres and festivals.’
Mike was born in Guildford, where he formed Genesis in 1967, but before that, he lived in Portsmouth from the ages of three to five.
‘I used to live on Whale Island. My father [Crawford Rutherford] was captain of the island and I went to the Gunnery School,’ remembers the 60-year-old father of three.
He continues: ‘I remember cycling round the island and getting into trouble, being dragged back from the far side of the shooting range.
‘It was a fun place to be and it would be fun to visit now.’
Mike may well get the chance to return to Whale Island when he brings his Mechanics to Portsmouth on May 11.
But, in the meantime, he’s making his way round Europe and America.
‘In the mid-80s The Mechanics started off in America more than Europe. We had three top five singles there,’ explains Mike.
But The Mechanics of today are not those of the mid 1980s.
After the death of original co-lead singer Paul Young in 2000 and the departure of fellow frontman Paul Carrack in 2005, Mike told the press that his band had run its course.
So, what made him change his mind? ‘It was a couple of people,’ says Mike.
He names one as Brian Rawling at Metrophonic in Guildford.
‘They did James Morrison’s album and Cher’s new single. He’s a big fan.
‘He said “why don’t you go back and write some songs and see if the sound is still there”.
‘To me writing is like a drug that I can’t do without. I need my fix,’ explains Mike.
So, in 2009, Mike announced to Rolling Stone magazine, that he was working on new material for Mike + The Mechanics.
The new album, The Road – their first since 2004’s Rewired – was released last Monday.
It may seem like a long time in the making, but Mike says that’s normal. ‘Me writing just means me doodling at home,’ he explains. ‘We started recording in 2009 and got going properly in 2010.
‘Of course, it was a slower process because I had to find the singers.’
The singers Mike enrolled to replace longtime bandmates Young and Carrack were 1990s UK R’n’B act Andrew Roachford (of Cuddly Toy and The Way That I Feel fame) and Canadian actor and singer Tom Howar, the Van Tramp frontman who starred as Rod Stewart in Tonight’s The Night on Broadway and in the West End.
‘I already knew of them both when they were recommended to me,’ says Mike of his next generation of singers.
‘I’m a fan of both of their voices and I met Andrew way back. The new line-up came about the same way the old ones did – I just bumped into a couple of new writers.
‘When someone comes down to write, it’s like, let’s try it out and see.
The Mechanics is rounded out with Gary Wallis on drums, Anthony Drennan on guitars and bass and, of course, Mike himself on guitars and bass.
Life with the new line-up is going swimmingly. ‘It just works. We write differently, but together it sounds Mechanicsy,’ says Mike.
‘The singers each have a different character to their voice and together a great energy.
‘I’ve done a couple of showcase gigs, like the Princes Trust concert at the Albert Hall, and I was blown away by the energy of these singers. I’m really excited about it. The two singers feed off each other. There’s a connection.’
Mike says his new bandmates have given the band a new direction and that, as a result, The Road is ‘a little braver’ than previous Mechanics albums.
‘We started with a clean sheet and tried to find a common ground. That common ground is a little braver, because we’re so different.
‘The Mechanics sound is there. I don’t try but it comes out, because I’m in it. When you put two people together to write, what comes out is what they love and do.
‘I’m a songwriter. You’re always trying to perfect and improve your skill. The older you get, the tougher you are with yourself,’ Mike reveals.
For the Hit The Road tour, Mike + The Mechanics will be drawing from a huge pool of music.
Says Mike: ‘With The Mechanics, there’s a lot of material to chose from. Seven albums. It’s a big back catalogue.
‘We’ll do a Genesis medley with songs like I Can’t Dance and we’ll do a couple of Genesis songs that sit right and a couple of Andrew’s.’
After the tour comes the festival season when Mike + The Mechanics will be appearing at Hard Rock Calling and the Isle of Wight Festival.
And what about plans beyond that?
‘I think I’d like to carry on,’ says Mike, understandably nonchalant given that he joined The Sunday Times Rich List in 2009, with a fortune of over £30m.
He continues: ‘I started off on my own writing. I’ve got an album I’m pretty pleased with. I’m on tour with a band. The songs are very strong live, so it should work well.
‘We’ll reconfirm that it still works and see what happens.’