Mike Rutherford Smallcreep’s Day (1980)
In the beginning of 1979 the world looked rather ambiguous for Genesis. On the one hand they were enjoying a major international success with their first album as a three-piece, …And Then There Were Three… and the accompanying single Follow You Follow Me. Phil’s marriage, on the other hand, was about to collapse and brought all band activities to a halt. Genesis had not planned a new album for 1979. Phil went to Vancouver to save what could not be saved anymore. Tony and Mike were at home with lots of time on their hands, time both decided to use creatively.
Mike Rutherford Smallcreep’s Day Mike’s first solo album would not become a long-term commercial success but a cult record for the hardcore fans. Smallcreep’s Day sounds very different from his later band project Mike + The Mechanics. It is rather a lost son of Duke, and when you listen to the music there is no mistaking which band Mike plays in. It is authentic Genesis, but it contains no rehash but high-quality music. Smallcreep’s Day can actually be called a concept album. It tells the story of a factory worker who does his work every day without actually ever realizing what kind of product he helps to manufacture. He embarks on a journey of discovery into the factory and into himself, into his life, and meets lots of interesting people and new emotions. The story is inspired by Peter Currell Brown’s book of the same title that came out in 1965.
How well is the story turned into music? Mike managed to enlist some choice musicians that helped his first solo album float. The songs he wrote himself. David Hentschel was the producer and sound engineer, and he made sure that the reliable dry and bassy Genesis sound graced Smallcreep’s Day. Noel McCalla, Simon Philips and Mike’s old friend Anthony Phillips also found their way to Stockholm’s Polar studios.
A couple of words about the musicians. Simon Collins was the drummer. His work can be admired on countless records; artists like Mick Jagger, Mike Oldfield, Joe Satriani or Jeff Beck hired his service. He also drummed on I Have The Touch on Peter Gabriel’s Shaking The Tree sampler. In 1979 Mike asked him to work on his first solo record. Says Simon: “Mike is an English gentleman in the true sense of the word. I seem to remember him being open to any suggestion and really it was down to arrangement as opposed to what I should play – in other words I played what I felt was right for the song. I do remember using Tama’s first synth drums which had little triggers that I stuck to the snare drum and basically did what syndrums did – very fashionable at the time but did not last with me though!” His slightly jazzy style seems a bit agitated and even hectic in places, but certainly brings life into the music. The drums have quite a presence in the mix without dominating it the way it does on Genesis and Collins solo albums.
Noel McCalla became the voice of the album. “Noel who?” He has been the singer in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for several years. His voice is very soulful and McCalla interprets the songs on Smallcreep’s Day with feeling and the necessary vocal range.
The parts of guitarist and bassist were taken by Mike Rutherford himself – he knows that job very well. They always say that Rutherford cannot play. Though many guitarists expand their technique and speed up their playing over the years it seems as if Mike had taken a deceleration course. The older he grows the slower, calmer and lamer his style became. On all the records that would follow his guitar playing would grow less and less (and less and less exciting) – but for Smallcreep’s Day he seems to have told himself: “My record, my mistakes. If I mess this up, nobody will bother, it is ‘only’ my record.” Never before and never again did Mike play longer solos (Second Home By The Sea and Abacab excepted) or play his guitars in such a creative way.
So there is only one free slot. Mike brought in his old friend Ant Phillips to play the keyboards. Ta-daa: Two fifths of Genesis on one album, and don’t you hear it!
Let’s go. Side one, track one. The album begins with a bit of pseudo-prog; a repetitive keyboard melody prepares Noel’s first words „It’s so very dark in here“. And still you feel quite at home hearing this. Between The Tick & The Tock is a calm, atmospheric entrance to the album. The anticipation grows.
Merrily on: Working In Line, Mike’s first single, begins with strummed guitars and fidgety drums while the bass seems to mutter something. The song would not be much better than okay were it not for the superb instrumental. These are some fast fingers that touch the strings. Is this a glimpse at more to come? Working In Line fades out and gentle strings lead us unto the next track which is much more sedate and not at all as lively as the previous one.
It is actually only an intro to Cats And Rats (In This Neighbourhood) – and the beginning resembles Back In N.Y.C. or The Colony Of Slippermen in a way. The reviewer actually went back to the list of musicians to check if Tony Banks was secretly playing on this song. Or did Ant borrow his equipment? The song would not have sounded out of place on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and so it does not matter much that the next piece is another intro… or was it still the outro? Who cares, because now the big guns appear. The song that follows is a, if not –the- highlight in Mike’s musical creativity.
Out Into The Daylight is an entertaining instrumental dominated by guitars and full of keyboard melodies hunting each other. It begins with lots of riffing and rumbling drums before the first melodies come in and this swiftly flowing track develops. Mike delivers his best guitar solo ever – full of ideas and variation. He is admittedly no guitar genius, but he has a sophisticated way of playing out his ideas. Who would have expected that from him? It is, however, a pity that something this beautiful and exciting is hiding on a more or less unknown album only die-hard fans listen to. If Mike had saved this thrilling instrumental for Duke that album would have been even better – and maybe this would have happened: Out Into The Daylight inherits the position of Firth Of Fifth in concert and Mike steps out of Steve Hackett’s shadow – who knows? Who knows whether Daryl Stuermer would play this song today … but that’s another story.
At The End Of The Day closes the first half of the album. After a fairly schmaltzy start this turns into a wonderfully romantic song with a brief guitar solo. The song sits quite on the fence between kitsch and art.
The second half of the album consists of individual tracks, so the songs do not blend into the others as in the first half. It begins with an up-tempo track with lots of bass called Moonshine. Bombastic keyboard cascades remind one of Behind The Lines.
The early chords of Time And Again sound familiar, they do resemble Many Too Many. The chorus breaks out of the melancholy into some optimism. Perhaps one of the slightly weaker songs, but sung very pleasantly by Noel, and if Phil Collins had sung this there would have been a chance that this could have become a hit. The middle section has a nice brief solo by Mike. He doesn’t do things half.
Romani is tricky. The keyboards play a slow warbling into, then a new keyboard melody rises to the fore and the song reveals its real face. Interesting vocals and rhythmic niceties like frequent changes in signatures and speed make it particularly enjoyable. Two contrary melodies were wrapped in one song – this is typical Rutherford songwriting, and it sounds clever and at ease.
Calmly and happily we enter Every Road. The song is carried mainly by the acoustic guitar. It sounds like a symbiosis of Over My Shoulder and Open Door and spreads good vibrations along the way.
Overnight Job is harder again. Dynamics are what made Genesis so good, and it does not hurt Mike’s solo record at all either. The music is just bursting with liveliness. In the middle the song changes directions completely and proves yet again that one of Mike’s strengths lies in writing strong, catchy riffs. Lovely moments and happy faces at the end.
What remains is the impression that this is an album by Genesis under an assumed name. That is, of course, no problem. It is remarkable and at the same time very pleasant to see how intense an influence Mike has had on the typical Genesis sound from 1978 onwards. A larger variety of instruments was used on Smallcreep’s Day than on Tony’s first solo album, which avoids the album being swamped by one instrument. One never has the impression that something was missing that could have made it sound even better. Despite all the references to and parallels with Genesis (and particularly the Duke album) one it not tempted to miss Phil or Tony. It seems, in fact, that this album was very important to Mike, and you can hear that it is all of a piece. He brought all his strength and many interesting song ideas to it. If he had saved them for Genesis Duke might have become a double album. As it is now, Smallcreep’s Day stands for itself: a timeless gem, an interesting aspect of his solo work – and a masterpiece by underestimated song-writer genius who always stood in the shadows of Tony and Phil.
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