Review by Katherine Stratton for MR Net, photos by Stuart Barnes.
One would think that as the owner of a Mike Rutherford fan site, I would have years of Mechanics shows under my belt. In actual fact, this tour was my first live Mechanics experience, and what an experience it was. Over the course of a week I was fortunate enough to get to see the band three times, at Llandudno’s Venue Cymru, the Liverpool Philharmonic and Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall, with the only disappointment being the postponing of the Leicester show due to Storm Doris and some inconveniently aggressive roof tiles on the De Montfort Hall meaning it was too dangerous to enter the venue.
Opening the evening on this tour is Ben McKelvey, whose previous outing on tour had been as support for The Overtones. While his set-up was minimal, just Ben and an acoustic guitar accompanied by percussionist Marc Danecker on the cajón, he did not need more in order to easily deliver a performance that was intense and immensely enjoyable. His style is reminiscent of acts like Stereophonics or Jake Bugg with songs about, to quote his album title, life and love in England. “Only Here Once” and “Stay Young” were definite favourites, but all of his songs were memorable. In addition to his excellent presence as a musician, Ben did well to keep the banter up with Marc and the audience between songs, including a well-handled moment when he had technical difficulties during the Nottingham show. They were certainly good enough to make me not want to miss them on any of the nights I was there, and succeeded in getting the well-sized crowd good and ready for the main event.
That moment finally came half an hour or so later when, to the sound of a low hum interspersed with shouts and applause, the Mechanics took their places.
The set opened with “Are You Ready”, a strong, rousing song from their new album, Let Me Fly. Tim Howar is a natural frontman, and from the beginning you can see why they call him Tim “The Power” Howar. His voice is commanding and impressive, and he easily engages the room. There is something in the sentiment of this opening song, which deals with rekindling a relationship and taking a chance on starting again, which on reflection feels appropriate as an introduction to the evening and eventually to the band’s new material.
We were then settled in with a few trusted hits – “Another Cup of Coffee”, “Get Up” and “Silent Running”. The only shame about seated venues like these is that while you may want to “get up” (and it’s difficult not to, especially when Anto Drennan really gets going on guitar), it’s still a bit early in the night to be blocking someone’s view. All the same, the songs were as solid as ever and the audience energy was certainly mounting as it came time for the next offerings from the new album.
Andrew Roachford took the spotlight (literally) for “Save the World”, a soulful ballad that is the kind of song only Andrew can deliver so brilliantly. A lovely addition to this number was a delicate acoustic solo from Mike, which elicited a few cheers from the audience. We were then back to another upbeat song, where the hopeful theme of “Are You Ready” was reprised by Tim in the irresistibly catchy “The Best Is Yet To Come”.
The first deviation from Mechanics material of the night was to a number by Mike’s “old school band”, Genesis. Tim did a cracking job of “Land of Confusion”, which went down very well and got the audience participating.
At this point drummer Gary Wallis was invited to the front of the stage for an ‘unplugged’ interlude where we heard two more new songs, “High Life” and “Wonder”, both of which fit easily into the Mechanics catalogue. For me, this segment was one of the highlights of each night. Tim’s vocals on the quirky yet serious “High Life” were charming, while Andrew’s warmth and compassion on the smoother “Wonder” left me feeling a bit teary-eyed.
It was then time for the big one from the new album, the title track “Let Me Fly”. Mike himself has said this one is his favourite, and it’s easy to hear why. The version we get here is slightly stripped down (the album version will feature a backing choir, as have live festival performances that I’ve heard), but the power is still all there in Andrew’s voice. No one does this big, stirring sound quite like the Mechanics, and as it ended I found myself feeling like I needed a moment to recover.
I ended up doing so during the next song, “Beggar on a Beach of Gold”. On the back of those three spectacular new tracks, I was surprised to find that “Beggar” felt almost ordinary in comparison. It was still great, but for me it was that moment I needed to catch my breath between what I had just heard, and the song that was about to kick us all into a higher gear, the classic from the Roachford files, “Cuddly Toy”.
“Cuddly Toy” is just plain fun, and it’s difficult not to smile as Andrew works the crowd. By the end of it, everyone was worked up and ready as Mike took centre stage to slam out the riff of “I Can’t Dance”. The playful tone that started during “Cuddly Toy” continued as Mike and Tim played off of one another, smiling their way through the famous walk.
The rest of the set was crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser, with “Over My Shoulder” leading into a sing-along version of “All I Need is a Miracle”. Everyone remained standing as they awaited the encore, which featured Andrew’s gorgeous rendition of “The Living Years” and Tim’s indomitable treatment of “Word of Mouth”. It was really nice to hear each member of the band take a moment to show off their skills at the end, particularly in the case of Luke Juby whose expert contribution to the band goes much further than his whistling solo during “Shoulder”. Gary Wallis is a powerhouse, to the point where it’s almost exhausting to watch him. I also enjoyed Anto Drennan’s little nod to The Adventures of Robin Hood during the Nottingham show.
Overall, this was a set that was perfectly paced. At no point did it feel there was a lull, which can often happen when an audience is unsure of a band’s new material. I was also pleased to remark that no one talked during the new songs at any of the shows I attended. The balance of slower to faster songs, new material to classics, Mechanics to Genesis to Roachford, was precisely appropriate.
The joy of seeing this band is not solely down to the superb song writing and performances, but also in seeing and hearing how much you can tell they enjoy playing together. There is a lot of laughter and camaraderie on display, which makes you feel like you are a part of something special. The new songs have a quality that is reminiscent of the Mechanics back catalogue, but without ever being a pastiche. This is a band that’s found its new voice(s), and come back with confidence and strength.
At the end of each night I found that the songs I had stuck in my head were not the old hits at all, but what will hopefully be the new ones.
The tour of the UK continues throughout the month of March. For dates and tickets, visit mikeandthemechanics.com. The new album Let Me Fly is available now for pre-order, and will be released on April 7.
Are You Ready?
Another Cup of Coffee
Save the World
The Best Is Yet To Come
Land of Confusion
Let Me Fly
A Beggar on a Beach of Gold
I Can’t Dance
Over My Shoulder
All I Need is a Miracle
The Living Years
Word of Mouth