DUSKday 2006
23-24 sept. 2006

John Mayhew interview

John Mayhew was invited as guest at the second edition of the Duskday.
The drummer has been interviewed by Mino Profumo and Mario Giammetti.

- transcription by Roger Salem


Mario Giammetti: How did you end-up working for Genesis?

John Mayhew: Playing in a band had become a lifestyle thing,. it had become a way of life. I played in a band so it was very obvious that I went to play in other band. I had been playing in blues bands, just rockíníroll bands, pop bands, any sort of band that I could come across. Not with any idea of becoming rich or famous or anything like that, but just to carry on playing in a band. It had become a lifestyle thing. So I told everybody I was in a band. So in London I must have told the right person because they got in contact with this unknown band called Genesis who were looking for a drummer and I was working as a carpenter and I came home from work one day and my girlfriend said: Ďa guy called Mike Rutherford has telephoned you and he is calling back at 6 oíclockí. So when he called back at 6 oíclock I ran downstairs and picked up the phone and he tried to persuade me to join Genesis (laughs - ed), because at that time they werenít very famous or very well known. And, I was very interested. As soon as I heard that name Genesis I somehow knew, I somehow felt, donít ask me how, that this was going to be something. It just had the right sound about it and so I went for an audition and got accepted into the band and the rest is history!

MG: Is it true that you rehearsed for 11 hours daily for 6 months?

JM: Well we never really stopped rehearsing. Whenever we had a day free we rehearsed for 11 hours a day and everything was absolutely perfect. Nothing that you hear is a chance thing. It is not improvisation. It was all worked out perfectly.

MG: Do you have any memories of the time spent at the MacPhail cottage?

JM: Quite a lot actually. That was where the main event took place. I rehearsed for a short time at Anthony Phillips home and then a friend of the band, Richard MacPhail he had a cottage, a small house and we rehearsed there probably for about 10 months and there was a small library there, I read George Orwell and I read all these booksÖ What else happenedÖ ha ha... long walks. It was in the countryside where in the morning we would take a nice refreshing walk. It was winter as you can probably see from the photographs. And when we went out in the mornings to go for a walk there would be animal footprints on the snow I remember. It was a very happy time although I had some problems, but it was basically a very happy time. We didnít have any arguments, flair ups or any of these sorts of things. It was very civilised really.

MG: Who was the driving force of Genesis at the time?

JM: I think it might be true to say that there were really four driving forces. I donít think that nobody was hanging around waiting to be told what to do. To this day I donít know how they arrived at the melodies, because Tony Banks used to turn up at rehearsals and start playing and he had all the song worked out. All I had to do was play along to the song. He probably had had some interaction with Peter Gabriel as far as the words were concerned, but I think the music got written first and then words came later, I donít think that the words came first.

MG: How did you work the drums on the songs? Was it your intuition or was there someone telling you what to do?

JM: It was largely worked out by myself what I was going to play and if they objected to something then I changed it. Sometimes they told me what to do and mostly I played along to the songs the way I felt.

MG: In the song Looking For Someone did you contribute some lines?

JM: No, I think I best not lay claim to that, because I canít really remember. Itís like in normal conversation when you have a word, you know you say: ĎOh hey I have this or whateverí, but to say that I actually wrote or helped to write the songs isnít true.

MG: No, not the song but just part of the lyrics.

JM: Not really no, not to say that I actually had anything to do with the writing of the songs. As I say, it might have been a couple of words or a line or something like this.

MG: So did you have any involvement in the writing process of the songs?

JM: I canít say that I have any strong recollections of being responsible for anything to do with the words, although I suppose there were times. Musically I know me, I probably at the time, but I canít really remember it, said what I had to say as far as the creation was concerned. But I wasnít responsible for huge chunks of the songs. As I say there were four very talented writers who were trying to protect themselves and had very strong feelings about the way the music should go, so I was very tentative about actually saying too much. When I had something to say, I never thought of myself as a writer, although I later went on to do some writing at that time. But to say that I actually had anything to do with the construction of Genesis music, I would say no.

MG: Letís play a little game. I will mention each Genesis member and if you could tell me something about them both as musicians and as personalitiesÖ Letís start with Peter Gabriel.

JM: PeterÖ he was very, what is the word hereÖ he stuttered and he found it very difficult to be open and effusive. He was not a loud person, but he was very hard working. He was always writing little notes on pieces of paper, lyrics for songs. I arrived at this railway station in the South of England when I went down to have the audition and they were in a London taxi cab and I got into the cab, and there was Peter Gabriel writing on a scrap of paper some lines for a song for example. He had a very strong character but he wasnít loud.

MG: Anthony Phillips.

JM: Anthony was the one that I was afraid of the most. He was so hard working. He was so determined that the guitars had all been tuned. He was the one that I thought, well Iíve got to be as good as he wants me to be or else Iím not good enough. But he was so very sensitive, you could see it in his face, you have these very refined features and he is a very delicate guitar player. He was something to look up to.

MG: You met Anthony in May, which were your impressions?

JM: For thirty six years I carried around with me this idea that somehow I had let Genesis down and when we met in London, Anthony just said a different story completely that I hadnít let Genesis back, that I wasnít responsible for there creative flow being lost or whatever. Yeah, he really put me at ease.

MG: Mike Rutherford.

JM: Mike Rutherford, the gentleman! He always wore a black suite which was not very fashionable in those days, in the Sixties. But he was always calm. He could always think problems through. He was never difficult. He always remained the same. And at dinner, when we would sit around the table, we didnít eat very good food incidentally, we survived (laughs - ed), he would peel, you know that Dutch cheese with the wax, the Gouda, he would peel it up into a little ball and flick it across the table.

MG: Tony Banks.

JM: Well, Tony was born on the same day as me and he had very little to say only when it was absolutely necessary but he was obviously the driving force behind Genesis with those marvellous licks, those riffs he played, he came up with something fresh and new every time. It was exciting. It was colourful yet he always wore a grey pullover. He just sat up there on the keyboards and just turned out this steady stream what obviously were brilliant licks and riffs and his music was of a standard above the average I would say.

MG: According to certain voices it was Tony Banks who decided to change drummerÖ

JM: Well I really donít know whose actual decision it was and who was for and who was against. I suspect that there were more for then against, but anyway I was eventually asked by Peter to leave.

(audience member): Have you had a chance to see Genesis live after you left?

JM: No I havenít.

MG: Do you remember other songs that you recorded in that period which were not on Trespass and on the boxed set?

JM: Well apart from the tape that was done for the BBC, I donít recall that there were any other demos. The Moody Blues wanted us to join the Moody Blues label. We did some recordings with them but I donít think there was anything precious. We were just doing things which we intended to record anyway. If there was any other material I really canít recall at this stage.

(audience member): Are you aware of the Jackson Tapes auction on Internet?

JM: No, Iím a recent Internet user for one thing and I havenít heard anything.

MG: Did you know that some of the material from the Jackson Tapes were later used by Genesis and fragments can be found on the song The Musical Box and moments on the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway?

JM: No, I was not aware.

MG: Did you ever sense a difference between the Genesis members and yourself from the fact that you come from a different class?

JM: Obviously there were problems which both sides attempted to overcome. They were still carrying traces of their training and their up-bringing from school and I was trying to better myself by not giving in to apathy as far as my class was concerned. I didnít think there was a glass ceiling. I just wanted to go up and out. You just have to overcome these things. You find yourself in a set of circumstances and both sides try to work out a way of meeting each other in the middle as it were. We both knew what the score was. They tried. It was for me to try to come up to their level but of course it was of course for them not to be too high and mighty, and they werenít, they were really nice with me. They didnít abuse me, they didnít do anything. They really tried really hard to overcome the obvious differences.

MG: Did the Trespass royalties over all these years reach you in the end?

JM: Yes, six weeks ago! Anybody want to borrow a Euro?

(audience member): You can bring all of us to the restaurant!

JM: First I would buy the restaurant.

MG: You disappeared for more than 30 years. What did you do during this period?

JM: Well, I immigrated to Australia as many of you know. I got married twice. I never had any children. But I always had a love of making things with my hands, manually. I am a carpenter by trade but I am also an artist and eventually I went to a college in Australia and learnt to be a scenic artist for film and theatre and a designer and so on just working in film and theatre but there is not a lot of work in Australia for many of us and it is an over-populated profession and so I eventually ended up designing a range of 17th and 18th Century French painted furniture. But a lot of this French art has its roots in the Italian design too, which I have discovered. So that is basically what I have been doing, searching for myself, finding out for myself what makes me happy and what is going to make me happy as an old man. I am now 59.

MG: No more drums?

JM: No more drums. Maybe for the fans, yes!

MG: You told us in May of this trip on the train when you had so much baggage to carry!

JM: There was too much baggage carried around with me. It was like a piece of furniture wherever I had been I had to carry this great big thing with me. Even if I had a car you couldnít leave the drums in a car because they would get stolen.

(audience member): Do you remember the brand of drums you had?

JM: Yes, I had a Ludwig and my favourite cymbals were Zildjan, not Paiste, they are too soft. Zildjan have that nice little ring to them. It was just the basic kit, one tom.

MG: What are you doing now?

JM: I am living in Britain for the moment, in Glasgow, Scotland. Donít ask me how I got there, itís a long story and it has nothing to do with Genesis. Iíll go back to Australia now that I have the money. Iíll go back and a friend of mine has a huge property. About 5 hectares of land with a house on it up in the mountains in the back of Sydney and Iíll go back there and Iíll go and live in the house. I will build a workshop and Iíll start making my furniture again. Itís my plan. If somebody came up to me with a sensible and workable plan for me to record again I would. but I donít know if it would have any commercial value. Look what happened to Dale Newman. He is an excellent musician and so on, and he now finds it difficult to sell his stuff because perhaps Genesis have kind of moved on a bit or rather the public have moved on, not Genesis, but I think there is every possibility if Genesis reforms that they will have some success. But as for me recording (laughs - ed) I donít know, there is nothing on the cards, nothing!

(audience member): What kind of music do you listen to?

JM: I am not seriously listening. I just listen to the radio and I mainly leave it to other people to change the channels. I love to go searching but I have many people in my house everyday (laughs - ed). They come in and they sit around and they drink, they smoke and I just let them put on what music they want on. But as I was coming here I was playing more Genesis music more often but believe it or not I am just discovering Genesis. I had just kind of put it behind me.

(audience member): Do you remember anything of the Genesis live shows?

JM: I remember feeling confident about how all of the rehearsal had paid off. You know, we were absolutely certain about what we were doing because there was no room to go left or right. We played everything just as how we rehearsed it and I liked that. I donít like to much freedom to improvise. There are lots of people that do like, that but I liked the way Genesis worked. It was just a pleasure to play.

(audience member): Do you remember anyone filming one of these shows?

JM: Yes, yes! At Chalk Farm I remember being filmed and at the Round-House in London we were on the same bill as David Bowie and Black Sabbath.

(transcribed by Roger Salem)

John Mayhew in his own words:
Listen John's voice interviewed by Mario Giammetti and Mino Profumo at the Duskday 2006.