Sunday 7th April 2019
Despite the fact this is the ninth time I have seen Mike and The Mechanics live, this is the first time I have ever reviewed them.
This fact hit me earlier in the evening on the hour and a half train journey from Wolverhampton to Milton Keynes, and instantly I felt rather ashamed; when someone asks what the best gig I have ever attended is, I generally say the Mechanics at the Royal Albert Hall back in 2017 (the first of three times I’ve seen them at that particular venue) and often sing the band’s praises on social media, especially when I see someone labelling them as a ‘cheesy ‘80s one hit wonder’ or something along those lines.
Therefore, having already seen the quality of the gigs on this tour, and knowing what a fantastic venue Milton Keynes Theatre always seems to be (something that surprised me initially due to its rather cold and characterless exterior), before we are even off the train I have a feeling that tonight is going to be something special.
We arrive and take our seats. Once in the auditorium, the first thing you notice even before the band come on is the stage set up; dangling precariously above the stage from the lighting rigs are miniature hot air balloons, hung in order of size and decorated with pictures of the band’s previous album covers, which most of the audience unsurprisingly seem to be studying intently from where they are sitting. The idea of this comes from the cover of the Mechanics’s latest album ‘Out of the Blue’ (released a few days previously on 5th April 2019), which contains three new songs, and re-recordings of many of the band’s classic tracks with their two new singers Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford.
I say ‘new’, but Howar and Roachford have been with the band over a decade, and from the moment they burst onto the stage- launching straight into the first number- you can tell this is the case. Though they are not the band’s original singers (Paul Carrack and ex-Sad Café Paul Young are the most well-known frontmen of the band, though Carrack departed in 2004 and Young sadly passed away in 2000), the pair are given a warm reception by the audience and know how to work a crowd.
Howar- who was obviously born to perform, and who has reportedly just finished playing the lead role in Phantom of the Opera- doesn’t take up a lot of space on stage but more than makes up for it with his incredible voice. Not only is he note perfect the entire evening but the power behind his singing is unbelievable, particularly considering the amount of energy he exerts getting the audience going and jumping around. I have seen more than one critical comment of Howar (or Tim ‘The Power’ Howar as Andrew Roachford dubs him later in the evening) on various social media pages saying that he is an ‘acquired taste’, and I still cannot believe people consider this to be the case. He belts out any number of gems from The Mechanics’ back catalogue (including ‘Beggar On A Beach Of Gold’, ‘All I Need Is A Miracle’ and the more recent ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’), as well as one or two Genesis tracks, which cannot be an easy job considering it is Phil Collins’ shoes he has to fill on that front. Without his endless enthusiasm and energy the Mechanics would not be half the band that they are, and though a comparison to a child might sound unfavourable, I would say in the best way possible- despite not being the youngest member of the band- Tim brings a youthfulness and ‘joie de vivre’ to the proceedings that would be sorely missed should he not be on stage.
Andrew Roachford on the other hand is more of a refined and relaxed presence, playing keyboards as well as leaving us in awe of his silky, soul-drenched voice. He is perhaps most recognisable for his UK no. 4 hit ‘Cuddly Toy’ from 1989, so it is unsurprising that the band incorporate this into their set too. And it’s not just any old version either- somehow they managed to make it last a good ten minutes without it becoming boring or repetitive, helped along by a good deal of humour and audience interaction.
Making up the rest of the group are drummer Gary Wallis (who has been with the band 25 years), guitarist/bassist Anto Drennan (hailing from Dublin, we are told he is a fantastically original guitarist- ‘he never plays the same note twice!’) and keyboardist Luke Juby (a man of many talents, he also steps up to sing backing vocals, play saxophone and bass guitar, and deliver an all-important whistling solo). The musicianship of these three is astonishing, as evidenced during the encore when each member of the band is prompted to take a solo on their respective instrument. I can vouch for the fact that it really is different every night; you’re never quite sure what they’re going to do next, or indeed how long Wallis will be able to play a drum solo for without being interrupted by a wash of cheers from the crowd.
And then of course there’s Mike Rutherford, who the majority of that crowd are arguably there to see. He is as tall, thin and well-spoken as ever, retaining a certain overarching presence that one comes to expect from a musician held in such high regard. It is obvious he commands the ultimate respect from his bandmates, surveying all goings-on from his side of the stage like a teacher keeping an eye on his students for a few hours.
That is, until we near the end of the gig and the band start rolling out the big hits. Cue the storming riff of Genesis’s ‘I Can’t Dance’, a spotlight on Rutherford, and him milking every second for all it is worth- and rightly so. He and Howar stand face to face- the singer’s resounding vocals close to ripping the roof off the venue, Rutherford giving it everything he’s got on the guitar- before breaking into that famous walk from the music video.
Long story short- the audience can’t get enough.
We’ve had the quieter, mellow moments, in the form of a pretty acoustic set at the start of the second half, new tracks ‘One Way’ and ‘Out of the Blue’, and of course a heartfelt rendition of ‘The Living Years’ (sung with just the right amount of pathos from Roachford) that results in more than a few teary eyes and people rushing to cheer and applaud.
But the unadulterated joy and appreciation for the band prompted by set-closers ‘All I Need Is A Miracle’, ‘Over My Shoulder’ and ‘Word Of Mouth’ (complete with audience singalongs and actions) is utterly undeniable.
Even those judgemental few branding the Mechanics as ‘cheesy 80s one hit wonders’ would have been unable to resist getting to their feet.
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Mike and The Mechanics latest album ‘Out of the Blue’ was released 5th April 2019, and can now be heard on all streaming services, or purchased on CD and vinyl.
Concert photos by Imogen Bebb. Filming/photography was not allowed at Milton Keynes so the photos with this review are from other venues!
For more information about the band please visit: https://www.facebook.com/mikeandthemechanicsofficial/