Valentine’s Night in Buxton. You can’t get a table for a pre-concert meal without somebody thrusting a bunch of roses up your nose and insisting sir has the pink almond parfait cluster as a starter and you can’t get to the bar for snoggers, both the partnered and the furtive. Why do we keep foisting these ridiculous American celebrations of nothing in particular upon ourselves? Anyone for Black Friday….!
Gratitude, then, that tonight there’s a very trad Brit serving at the Opera House and not some awful American import. Bah, humbug.
Ben McKelvey has the task of opening for the rude mechanicals tonight and he’s clearly still trying to get over the shock of being asked to do so. His debut album “Life and Love in England” did rather well on the I-Tunes songwriter chart and you can see why. There are a couple or three contenders in his short set, hammered out with gusto and conviction on acoustic guitar, voice and tea-chest, including the rather lovely “Sunday”. Ben McKelvey inhabits a somewhat overpopulated sector of the musical universe and it is difficult to cut through the mediocrity and the ‘heard-it-all-before’; but he’s refreshingly honest, clearly delighted to be given a shot at playing some decent venues on a ‘proper’ tour and worth a listen.
And so, we present – Mike and the Mechanics. Pretty much an FM radio staple in the UK. They have been since the late 80’s. They seem to have been built on the same principle as Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, in that the Mechanics seem to change and adapt to personnel changes and the requirements of that whilst also adapting to the demands of the songs which Mike Rutherford is writing at the time, with a variety of collaborators.
The first point to note is that if you’ve come out to revel in a night of Genesis nostalgia, this probably won’t be for you. There are Genesis tunes in the mix; specifically two tonight, “I Can’t Dance” and “Land Of Confusion” but their own repertoire is too wide and varied to become overly taken up with that; both songs were extremely well played but felt rather like a crowd-pleaser for the many Genesis fans in the audience; indeed, at one point Rutherford, rather endearingly, referred to Genesis as his ‘school band’. There was also a brief interlude where Andrew Roachford, now one of the Mechanics, sang his big solo stadium anthem ‘”Cuddly Toy”; the rest, however, was an interesting mash – up of Mechanised classics and tracks from the forthcoming album “Let Me Fly”.
If I might be permitted to deal with the matter of “Let Me Fly” first, the tracks from this which were given an airing seemed extremely tidy and show yer man Rutherford still knows how to pen a tune which flatters the FM medium beautifully; “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “Are You Ready” and the gloriously optimistic manifesto title track “Let Me Fly” are well worth a listen, preferably in an open-topped car (serving suggestion).
The Mikes’ classic hits are played with verve and a tremendous ear for detail and are a timely reminder that Mr Rutherford knows the difference between an airplay confection of the highest order (eg. “All I Need Is A Miracle”; check the intro. Music radio hour-starter all century long, trust me) and a stadium anthem (eg. “Word Of Mouth”). And of course the show-stopper, “The Living Years”, which I suspect is probably a ‘Desert Island Disc’ for a massive number of people who would only claim to have a passing interest in music. And in fairness, I think this is probably the biggest greatest achievement of Mike and the Mechanics; without a screamingly strong or obvious image and with a devoted but understated fan base, they do attract an audience who, along with the expected Genesis diehards and fans enjoy the music, don’t necessarily think about it too much, wouldn’t claim tribal allegiance to any particular ‘type’ of music or specific band, but like what they like and they like this. A bit like being an ELO fan, I suppose.
Probably the greatest compliment I could pay to the current line – up is that the phenomenal talent that is Paul Carrack is not missed in the slightest. Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford bring an excellent rock / R’n’B balance to the songs and Roachford definitely adds a whole slice of soul to tunes which, in their studio manifestation, might to some ears appear as a little sterile on occasion. On “Get Up” they even seem to create a sort of Sam and Dave vibe – and when Roachford disappears off into a seemingly-effortless vocal ‘fill’, the ghost of Sam Cooke suddenly enters the room. Which might appear to be a bit weird in the context of this kind of party – but the apparition is strangely appropriate and indeed welcome.
And that’s pretty much what you get; an extremely professional, fabulously well played body of largely original but familiar hit music and some nice new tunes thrown in. If you’re looking for ground-breaking creativity, probably not for you, but only the most churlish would be unmoved by the remarkable musicianship, finely-crafted songs and careful onstage recreations of productions of the highest standard. They’re touring the length and breadth for the next thirty dates and if you miss them, it’s your loss. I will also admit I might now wish to catch Andrew Roachford on his solo tour this autumn.
What’s not to like?