In 1988 Mike Rutherford, bass player, guitarist and songwriter in Genesis since 1967, wrote a song with the Scottish musician BA Robertson called The Living Years.
A huge hit for Rutherford's "bit on the side", Mike + The Mechanics, the song was partly inspired by his regret at the words and emotions left unexpressed following the sudden death of his father in 1986.
Perhaps aware that the message struck a universal chord - the song was a number one in the US, Australia, Canada and Ireland, and number two in the UK - Rutherford has now written a book which has the same name and pursues the same theme, though not exclusively.
In part The Living Years is a brisk, wryly humorous trawl through his life in music, tracking the Englishman's evolution from youthful Cliff Richard fan to gentleman prog-rocker, holed up in Sussex with his horses and home recording studio. It is also, however, a further attempt to explore the relationship between Rutherford and his late father, a high-ranking naval officer who clearly loved his family but found it all but impossible to express it.
"My kids are big now, and we talk and we share and discuss things," says Rutherford. "My father's generation just didn't do that. It wasn't the way they were brought up."
The immediate impetus for writing the autobiography was the discovery of his father's own attempt at a memoir, bundled in a trunk in the attic. "I found this manuscript and I thought, There's some kind of legacy that I really should consider here. My father's book was unpublished, there were letters turning it down, and I thought it would be nice to involve it in my life in some way."
The Living Years quotes frequently from his father's book, weaving Captain Rutherford's recollections of work and family life into his son's journey from unhappy schoolboy to noodling hippie globetrotter. The contrasts depict two men cut adrift by both the times and the generation gap.
"In my 20s I had long hair, a double-necked guitar and drugs," says Rutherford. "At the same age my father was taking down the Bismarck. I've always been fascinated by the change that happened in that era. Until my generation, the ambition of most young men was to become their father, having the same tweed jacket and the same lifestyle. Suddenly we came along, and for so many reasons we wanted to be anything but our parents. It's not written about all that much. This book didn't begin from me being in a band, it started from my father. That was the reason to go there."
Nevertheless, Genesis are inevitably at the heart of the story, and while there's plenty of rock and roll, there's very little sex and drugs in this tale, and no salacious inter-band score-settling. Were there things he swept under the carpet? "Of course there were!" he laughs. "Anyway, after Keith Richards's book, you can't compete with that. That stuff has all been done. My story is a bit different."
Have his band mates read it? "Before Christmas I sent a copy to Tony [Banks], Peter [Gabriel] and Phil [Collins]." And? "And I haven't heard back since, but I'm sure it's all fine. Writing the book I came away with such nice feelings about the band. We're all still friends, we don't see each other all the time but the memories are still special to me."
There has been speculation recently that Genesis may be seeing a lot more of each other in the near future. Their Turn it on Again reunion tour of 2007 looked certain to be a swansong, particularly following Collins's subsequent retirement. However, in recent weeks Collins has been making positive noises about returning to music, and perhaps also reuniting his old band. Rutherford sounds cautiously, if vaguely, optimistic.
"I've always said never say never, so who knows?" he says. "There is nothing planned, but it's interesting to hear that Phil quite fancied the idea. There is too much good music in him to retire, and having seen him a bit over the last two years I think he took it hard, he sounded a bit down. Now he wants to work, and whatever it involves it's good to hear that. It's nice to see him sounding positive."
Meantime, Rutherford is having fun with the latest incarnation of Mike + The Mechanics. Back in the days when songs like The Living Years, Over My Shoulder and All I Need is a Miracle were hits, the band consisted of Rutherford, singers Paul Carrack and Sad Cafe's Paul Young, and a fluid group of supporting musicians. After Young died in 2000 and Carrack began concentrating on his solo career, "it felt like the right thing to just wind it down," says Rutherford.
"Then about three years ago I had a bunch of songs and I thought, They sound like Mechanics songs." He hooked up with Andrew Roachford, who scored a big hit in 1989 with Cuddly Toy, and Mike + The Mechanics were back in action.
"We came in a bit cold, but suddenly this last year it's been like the old days," he says. "We're selling out places, there's momentum, and here I am at 63 feeling that I'm doing something exciting again. It's become a really fun, good band. Everyone comes to the shows nowadays and says, 'My God, we know all those songs but we didn't quite know it was all you.'"
Rutherford seems downright pleased that "no one ever quite knew who we were", but then he does appear to have raised self-effacement to an art form. "I'm really not much of a writer", he says with one breath, and with the next explains why solo stardom has never appealed. "I'm a songwriter, and if I write a good song I want the best singer in the world to sing it. That rules me out straight away, which isn't a problem at all. I'm not a front man." The book makes this clear. It may be Rutherford's name and face on the cover, but at heart it's a family affair.
The Living Years is published by Constable on January 23.
© Herald Scotland
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