Mike Rutherford: "I was beaten for playing Sgt Pepper"

A press shot of Mike Rutherford

This reminds me of the old days, being on the road, supporting Lindisfarne,” reminisces Mike Rutherford. He’s gazing out of his hotel window at a grey, rainy Newcastle, where tonight he will perform with his band Mike + The Mechanics, who are currently touring their new album Let Me Fly.

It’s probably not really that much like the old days. Since then Rutherford has sold millions of records with The Mechanics and around 150 million with Genesis, and for him, Transit-van life has long been history. But probably what hasn’t changed is one of the things you need in order to be that successful. “You need good songs,” he says. “Without a good song you haven’t got a chance.”

Why is the album called Let Me Fly?

It’s an aspirational song. If you don’t try things in life, if you don’t go for it or take risks, you’ll never know what you can achieve.

Have you been allowed to fly?

Absolutely [laughs]. I look back with wonder and appreciation at the last forty to fifty years.

Do you believe in God?

I don’t believe in God as he’s portrayed, but I believe in a higher spirit. Actually, the Buddhist area appeals to me.

What was life like at your public school, Charterhouse?

Without the music, I think I would have struggled even harder. It was an old style of school, trying to create men as though it was still the old Empire days. And it wasn’t a happy time, but music got me through.

Did you get the cane?

I was caught playing Sgt Pepper in the recreation room after hours and I got beaten for it. I got beaten quite a lot.

What’s your biggest regret?

That my father died quite early on – I was thirty-five. I was very busy having a wonderful career, travelling the world, having children, and there wasn’t a lot of time.

Did your parents prefer the Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel era of Genesis?

Both, although they saw more of Pete than Phil because they were a little frail [by then].

Do you have a preference?

The Peter era was fantastic. You’re young, five guys together, travelling the world, going to America for the first time, and it’s incredibly exciting. It was probably easier, though, being a three-piece. Five people having all those ideas, it was never going to last, otherwise we’d have killed each other.

What was your worst drug experience?

I saw Cream at the Marquee and someone spiked my Coke with acid. I had the most horrendous bad trip. The next day I was due to go to Paris with my family, and my mother took one look at me and sent me to bed, thinking I had flu.

How about the time you took morphine and it was so good you thought you were in a different town?

In those days bands took drugs on the road just to keep going. But there was no social pressure, just curiosity.

Do your kids know their dad got busted for grass at Heathrow airport?

Well, they’ve read my book [The Living Years, 2014], so yes.

Are you surprised by the extent to which Genesis appealed to Americans?

I’m surprised how big the cult thing got going with Peter. Playing the southern states in seventy-three, I think the American kids wanted something different. We appeared with our long hair and flowing velvet trousers… We were from Mars. But they loved it. And then with the Phil era it tied in with the rise of MTV, and we toured a lot.

On your first visits to the States you encountered a gunman in your New York hotel, and had an affair with a woman twenty years your senior in LA. Which was more terrifying?

They’re comparable. But probably the guy with the gun. In England we had bobbies with truncheons. You go to America, and in the first twenty-four hours you go to a hotel and there’s someone with a gun threatening people… It was a bit of a culture shock. But it was exciting. You were living the dream.

What will be written on your tombstone?

I haven’t thought about it.

Do you make every moment count?

You try to hold that thought… It does make you think about your health. While it’s all functioning, you should do everything you can.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The fact that the songs you write in your little music room at home have been been heard by people years later, all round the world. That feels great.

Let Me Fly is released on April 7 by BMG.