Tales From The Long Lost Drummer:
An Interview with John Mayhew

     John Mayhew may not be the first drummer you think of when you think of Genesis, but he was the first drummer to appear on what would be a major turning point in the band’s evolution into superstardom. Mayhew played drums on the group’s landmark sophomore album, 1970’s Trespass, a project heavily entrenched in a (then) new genre of rock music, known as Progressive Rock. 

     Much like other late 1960s and early 1970s period British rock contemporaries like King Crimson, ELP, and Yes, Genesis pioneered this new style of music, and this album, while not a massive commercial success, set the foundation for future Progressive influenced Genesis albums like Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and served as a catalyst for the many other Progressive Rock bands that followed in Genesis' footsteps. 

     Following his departure from Genesis, John Mayhew seemed to vanish from the public eye with not even his former Genesis band mates aware of his whereabouts... Until now. On June 10, 2006, World of Genesis.com’s own Dave Negrin sat down with John, who has rarely granted interviews in the past, to talk about that fateful year in 1970 with Genesis, and his life following his departure from the band that would eventually go on to sell in excess of one hundred million albums worldwide and become one of the biggest acts in the history of rock music.

WOG: Do you recall the exact date when you joined the group?

JM: Not the exact date. I do remember it was a beautiful summer’s day here. I remember it was just the same on the day that I arrived at this little garden country railway station in a small town in the south of England. I can’t remember at the moment what the name of the place was but, hopefully, I will. I arrived there, and I had all my drums and everything in those hard fiber cases, and they were black, and I was dressed all in black. There was a London taxi that all arrived in that was black. I got in and stashed all the drums in the storage space, got in, and there was Peter Gabriel writing notes on little scraps of paper. So, I do remember meeting them for the first time… in the back of an old London cab.

WOG: I interviewed Tony Banks back in 2004, and he mentioned that back in 1971 during the making for Nursery Cryme, which immediately followed Trespass, that the band would sometimes have very passionate, creative arguments that might lead to the occasional storming out of someone in the band during recording sessions or songwriting sessions. Was that a common situation during the making of Trespass?

JM:  No, it wasn’t common. It was very civilized. There were tensions and fears and the unknown was there. Of course, they didn’t know that they would be as successful as they were… or are. 


World of Genesis
: At what point did you start playing drums?

John Mayhew: When I was 16, a friend of mine at school had a father that played several stringed instruments and he played rhythm guitar in a band, and they had a drummer who wasn’t fitting in too well, and he asked me if I would join the band. Granted, I had never played drums in my life! 

I just went down to the practice hall, you know, I think it was near The L ab or Party in Britain , and I played with them (John reminisced momentarily ab out the rhythm he played as a demonstration). It went on from there.

WOG: Did you play in any other band before joining Genesis, or were they your first foray into a proper group?

JM: I had played in lots and lots of bands prior to [Genesis]. What seemed to be happening was that there was a steady rise. I went from smaller bands to what would be seen as more significant bands in my area, or my county, of
Suffolk and the city that I lived near, Ipswitch. 

I was never out of work as far as being a musician was concerned. I just seemed to go and go and go. Now, that’s looking back at it, but in retrospect, I think I took it for granted that I was always playing with a band, you know? Now, I can see that there was growth going on there.

That was an unknown at the time, so the tension was there. Oh, there were tensions alright. I was nothing but a knot of tension, myself. 

I’ve since learned from Anthony Phillips that he had absolute stage fright over the prospect of playing live. So, people storming out and stuff like that, no. I didn’t see anything like that at all, actually. Of course, they are but flesh and blood, and after my departure they may have had arguments and left the studio over it… I might have done it on occasion!

WOG: Anthony Phillips mentioned that the evolution from the group’s initial acoustic sound to the more electric sound on Trespass came as a result of a need for amplification when they were playing live for audiences.

JM: Yes.

WOG: When you started playing with Genesis, were they still in the acoustic style of the late ‘60s or had they transitioned to the electric sound of the ‘70s already?

JM: They hadn’t made the transition. I lived with them through that transition. I think relates back to what I was saying about their music being so precious to them. It was just so gentle and soft and so ‘un-Friday night-ish,’ if that makes any sense. You know? People get through the week and then they meet this amazing band at the end of the week and all the tensions come out over a couple of beers. But that would tend not to happen with the softer songs. 
WOG: Were there particular albums or drummers at that time that you feel influenced you as a drummer?

JM: Just the whole ‘60s crowd, I mean, although I would love to explore… A friend of mine in Australia has got a magnificent record collection. I would like to explore that. Before I left Australia, he turned me on to some music… Lebanese Blonde and a few other bands. As 

Genesis was starting to hear bands on the scene other than themselves, for one thing, on a regular basis. They were noticing how strident these bands were by comparison with their own sets which were very touch sensitive things that didn’t fare well in a sweaty crowd on a Friday night at nine o’clock. Of course, [in addition to the evolving to electric music], the element of theater awaited and Peter Gabriel stood up to the mark, was not found wanting, and what came out, came out. The rest, as you know, is history.

WOG: Anthony also shared that there were a number of those more acoustic songs that were written after Jonathan King and DECCA Records parted ways with Genesis and before Trespass was recorded that kind of fell by the wayside.
for influences when I was much younger, it was just the music of the time, and that was almost enough. Between the revolution of the ‘60s and all of the new sounds that were coming out. There wasn’t any shortage of that. So, to say if one drummer was more influential… I think they all were. It was an amalgamation. Like The Beatles themselves. They played so many gigs in sweaty clubs and so on, that when it came time to play their own stuff, they were pretty well versed in how to bring a sound out… To make a sound like a pantomime or a circus or something like that, you know?    

WOG: How did you first come to get involved with Genesis?

JM: To my certain recollection, I did not take out any ads in Melody Maker. I just put my telephone number around London, and I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I thought another band would pop up and it would be just another band. 

I was at work, actually, and I got home around four o’clock or five o’clock in the afternoon. My wife to be, Nikki, said to me a guy called Mike Rutherford called you on the phone this afternoon. He’s calling you back at six o’clock. He wants you to join this band. At six o’clock, the telephone rang, and I raced down the stairs, and I spoke to Mike on the phone. He was more trying to persuade me to join them rather than me trying to convince him and hoping it was going to be me… But, as soon as I heard the name Genesis, I had an intuitive feeling about it. It just seemed right somehow. It was quite strong at the time, and now, of course, enough time has passed to be able to look back on that time and say, “Yes, that was how I felt at the time when I heard that name.”   

JM: Yes. I’m glad that “Pacidy” survived. That was my favorite at the time.

WOG: Did any of those early songs that did not resurface on the first Genesis Archive box set, get recorded or were they mostly just performed live?

JM: Well, “Pacidy” certainly was recorded, because I heard it recently [from the Genesis Archive box set]. Were the other songs recorded? On that point, I wouldn’t be too sure. Truth be told, I wasn’t always party to cabinet meetings within the band. There was this obvious bond between them and their background, their attitude towards their music, and so on. What’s been recorded, I don’t know. 

To be honest, I am re-discovering Genesis actually at the moment. I didn’t have to take too much of an interest, because they were everywhere including the Muzak in the supermarket! At least, Phil Collins was. So, I’ve had a bit of a parted history with Genesis, really. Long periods have gone by where I haven’t listened to any of their music, but I have been listening to it just recently.

WOG: During Trespass and that acoustic period prior to it, were there more dominant songwriters in Genesis or was it more democratic? 

JM: I think Tony, Peter, Mike and, of course, Ant all would say that they thought it was reasonably democratic, or it would not have worked in the first place. It was only when another figure came in to somehow change that…

I believe Steve Hackett tried to write some music and record it, and I think there were some differences there. But as for the writing partnership, it felt very democratic to me. I don’t think anybody strove for total dominance. There certainly wasn’t one of those total situations there.

"...as soon as I heard the name Genesis, I had an intuitive feeling about it. It just seemed right somehow."

WOG: So, in terms of guiding the direction of the band, it was
equitable as well?

JM: It felt that way, yeah. I mean, I was young and just so much less aware. I’d had a few experiences by that time, but Genesis was certainly a new type of experience for me. Of course, then, unfortunately, Ant was leaving the band, you know?  He kind of kept that balance – almost literally… A counter balance there with Peter.

WOG: So, Ant left the band prior to your departure from Genesis?

WOG: What were your recollections of that first meeting with the band? Was there an audition or was it more of a formality?

JM: More like a formality, looking back on it. I was auditioned and found not wanting. I remember that they were very possessive of their music. I think, probably more than they realized at the time. It was very precious to them and I felt very sensitive to that right from the start. We did this audition and then subsequently practiced up in the music room at what was Anthony Phillips’ place. That’s where I was auditioned.

Mayhew and Phillips May 2006 

JM: Oh, there was a bit of a sort of a dry period there for a while where we didn’t gig much. People were coming backwards and forwards. Did he technically leave before me? I’m not sure. I will have to ask him for another question and answer session later. 

WOG: When you say that the guys in Genesis were possessive, do you mean that they wanted you to play the drums in a specific way, like they had something in mind, for a given song?

JM: I wasn’t always entirely sure about that. I didn’t talk about that. In fact, so much did not get talked about. Perhaps, it will now?

What happened was that I locked horns with myself, really, and I thought, “Oh goodness, I can do anything to spoil or inhibit their musical flow” or whatever and deferred to the music itself and cut everything down to a very spare way of playing in consequence… I realize now.

I wasn’t consciously aware of him leaving. I suppose you could quite completely say that we left together before any further work progressed. They were reshaping the band. Everything was on hold and people came and went and we signed a few bits of paper and made their excuses and left. 

WOG: Signing ‘bits of paper’ as in signing away your rights to royalties with the band?

JM: I remember a couple of paper signing sessions. To be honest with you, I don’t recall precisely what they said at the time, as I wasn’t looking to pursue any financial gain from the band. It just so happens that I am in the middle of negotiations at this time with Genesis about payment from Trespass. So, if you’ve wondered why I sort of drifted off their a bit and didn’t talk about it, it’s because I am waiting for a check from the post. I know, it sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

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