John Mayhew: Drummer who played with the fledgling Genesis on 'Trespass'
Monday 20 April 2009
As one of the biggest British groups ever, Genesis have sold in the region of 130 million albums worldwide. Both the original vocalist Peter Gabriel and the drummer-turned-lead-singer, Phil Collins, have enjoyed hugely successful solo careers, while the keyboard player Tony Banks and the guitarist Mike Rutherford, the two mainstays of the group, have also reaped the benefits of the work the band did in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies. The drummer John Mayhew was only with them between August 1969 and July 1970, but he contributed to the recording of Trespass, the group's pastorally tinged second album, and their first for the Charisma label.
While Trespass didn't chart when it was first released in October 1970, it helped to establish Genesis as the most original band of the progressive rock era. The album's tour de force track, "The Knife", in particular, became a concert favourite, while gentler songs like "Looking for Someone", "Stagnation" and "Dusk" have endured well.
Although he had more experience of gigging when he joined, Mayhew wasn't on the same wavelength as his band-mates and made way for Collins in 1970. In recent years, as Genesis reissued their back catalogue and compiled box-sets featuring early material that Mayhew appeared on, their former drummer enjoyed something of a windfall by way of royalties cheques. He also had a brief, belated taste of the limelight, appearing at Genesis fan conventions, including one in London where he was reunited with Anthony Phillips, a founder member of the group, while in 2006 he sat in and played "The Knife" with the Genesis tribute band ReGenesis.
Mayhew was born in Ipswich in 1947. His father was in the army and his parents saw little of each other during the Second World War and later separated. He took up the drums at the age of sixteen and played in a succession of local groups in Suffolk before moving to London.
When he was interviewed in 2006, Mayhew corrected the canard that he was recruited by Genesis through an ad in Melody Maker. "I just left my telephone number with people all over London," he explained. "I came home – I was working as a carpenter in the West End building this boutique – and my girlfriend said: 'A guy called Mike Rutherford has called you. He's from a band called Genesis.' He called back at six o'clock. I had never heard of Genesis before, but I had the impression that it might be something good."
Mayhew went to meet the group in Surrey, where the audition proved a formality. He was actually the third drummer that Genesis used. Their school friend Chris Stewart played on their first two singles in 1967, while John Silver drummed on their From Genesis to Revelation debut, recorded in 1968 and released by Decca the next year.
Mayhew's tenure coincided with the group's transition from wannabe songwriters to professional, performing musicians. They spent several months rehearsing material at a cottage owned by the parents of the unofficial sixth member and road manager, Richard Macphail. They played universities and colleges, testing out the songs that would eventually be on Trespass, and supported Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and Fairport Convention. At the beginning of 1970, they signed to Charisma, the label run by Tony Stratton-Smith, who proposed putting them on a weekly wage of £15 until Mayhew pointed out that they could manage perfectly well on £10. They recorded their first BBC radio session, as well as four tracks for an aborted TV documentary about the painter Michael Jackson which were recently unearthed, remastered and included on the Genesis 1970-1975 box-set released at the end of last year.
Phillips suffered from chronic stage fright and, when he decided to leave in the summer of 1970, the other three rang the changes and asked Mayhew to step aside as well. "I just technically wasn't good enough, that's the truth of the matter," admitted the drummer, who had fond memories of his eleven months with Genesis. "No band that I had ever been in was like Genesis, so I was always trying to figure out where they were coming from. It was a stylistic metamorphosis I had to go through.
"But no, I don't have any big regrets. It was very hard work, but it was one of the best years of my life. We just rehearsed and wrote songs and went for walks. We went over the songs again and again and again. We lived like monks in the cottage."
Following his departure from Genesis, he played in several bands, including stints playing in Germany and Poland. He fetched up in Norway and then moved to New Zealand and Australia where, in 1982, he made the decision to stop playing the drums and concentrate on making furniture.
Five years ago, Mayhew returned to the UK and settled in Glasgow. He had a history of alcoholism and died of a heart-related condition just as his older brother, Paul, launched a search to locate him last month.
"We were very sorry to hear about the death of John Mayhew, who had only recently appeared back in our lives after over thirty years," said Tony Banks. "His time with the group was short, but it was a very crucial period and his contribution was very important. How we must have appeared to him, I hate to think. We had all been to the same school, so we were a very closed unit, and we were very inexperienced. John was a bit older than us and had played live in the group Steamhammer, so he had some knowledge of what was expected on stage.
"He was a very solid drummer, but not really a writer: a lot of his parts came from the rest of us, particularly from Ant. This was really why we decided that if we were to continue after Ant left, we had to find a more creative drummer, a hard decision because by this time John had become a friend."
John Mayhew, drummer, carpenter: born Ipswich 27 March 1947; twice married; died Glasgow 26 March 2009.
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