A Profile of Phil Collins’ early career by Peter Morton. Photographs and Memorabilia: TWR Archive.

Phil Collins is today one of music’s most respected and loved musicians. As a highly successful solo artist and also through his work with Genesis and his numerous sessions and production work for artists too numerous to mention, he has made himself one of the most sought after people on the music scene. 1987 saw Phil turn his talents once more to acting, when he got the lead in a film called Buster, in which he plays Buster Edwards, the Great Train Robbery gang member.

While the success of Phil continues, let us not forget it has taken many years of hard work to achieve the status he has today. The following article takes a look at Phil’s early career before he joined Genesis. The successes and the failures, with a particular emphasis placed on his work with Flaming Youth, the group that nearly made it.

Phil was born on 30th January 1951 in Chiswick, London. His introduction to music started when he was just five years of age when his uncle made him a home made drum kit that he would play constantly at home in front of the television. However, it was his mother who in 1957 introduced Phil to acting through her theatrical agency. One of his first leading roles was in Humpty Dumpty when he was six years old!

Phil was educated at Chiswick Grammar School and even while he was at school he fancied himself as a footballer, drumming would only become his main interest in life later when he would dream of the day when he would play drums onstage. In 1960, at the age of either nine or ten he fulfilled that dream performing at the yacht club which his parents were members of. It took a further two years before he got his first real drum kit.

By the age of thirteen, Phil was modelling knitwear patterns and doing voice-overs for television adverts. He also played an extra in such famous films as The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang in 1968. At the age of fourteen, Phil joined the Barbara Speake Stage School and soon after was successful in the auditions for the part of the Artful Dodger, replacing Jack Wild in the West End production of Oliver!

Phil’s school became unhappy about his spending so much time in Oliver! And because his voice broke he decided to leave after nine months. During 1967, Phil starred in a Children’s Film Foundation movie called Calamity The Cow. Unfortunately Phil fell out with the director and was written out of the script. Shortly after this Phil joined another stage school where along with a guitarist friend of his, he formed a band called The Real Thing. In addition to playing the drums Phil also sand with the band. The majority of their live performances consisted mainly of cover versions of their favourite Beatles and Motown tunes.

One night after performing with The Real Thing, Phil was introduced to Ronnie Caryl who had previously been playing with another group. Both Phil and Ronnie became friends and started playing together in such bands as The Charge, Freehold and the Cliff Charles Blues Band. For a short while they performed as a backing band to a group called The Gladiators but realising that they were better than that band, Phil and Ronnie decided to leave and form their own group, calling themselves Hickory. It was after they had done a few gigs supporting Johnny Walker that the keyboard player with Hickory; Brian Chatton, met Howard Blaikley and ken Howard, two successful songwriters who had this idea to write a concept album. Offering the group this idea, both Blaikley and Howard approached Phonogram Records who agreed to back the idea and renamed the band Flaming Youth and call the album Ark Two, issuing it on their own Fontana label.

The band consisted of the following members: Brian Chatton (Keyboards), Flash Gordon (Guitars), Phil Collins (Drums), Ronnie Caryl (Guitars). On Thursday 2nd October 1969, two weeks before its release, Flaming Youth premiered their new album at London’s Planetarium. The press attended the concert and gave the band excellent reviews, awarding them the coveted “album of the month” placing in the October issue of Melody Maker. Prior to the official release of the album on October 10th 1969, a single was issued coupling Guide Me Orion with From Now On (Immortal, Invisible) as its B side.

On Thursday 17th October Ark Two was finally released and getting relatively good reviews from the music press. The NME said; “A group which could go a long way” An ironic statement as by this time the group were finding it extremely difficult to get gigs. It took until Friday November 15th for their first public performance at a gala show at London’s Lyceum Ballroom. Around 22nd November an hour-long TV special was filmed of the band performing Ark Two. The film was shot either in Holland or London (at present I am unsure of exactly which venue) in colour for subsequent sale to worldwide TV networks.

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However, during the early part of 1970 the problems set in within the band. The group members fell out with their writers over which direction they should take and with the addition of new members in the band the music began to get “far out and weird” to coin a phrase. Gigs were still few and far between and for a band who in October 1969 had been one of the most talked about new bands in London, the group were becoming stagnant and both Phil and Ronnie realised that the band had gone as far as it could in its existing form and that the time was right for them both to leave.

During the summer of 1970 Phil noticed an advert in Melody Maker that said : “Tony Stratton- Smith requires drummer sensitive to acoustic music and acoustic guitarist”. Phil decided to go down to the famous Marquee Club in London where Strat spent most of his time and ask him about this group. The group in question were, of course, Genesis and the following morning Phil telephoned Peter Gabriel and got an audition. This took place at Peter’s parents’ home in Chobham. Ronnie Caryl had also auditioned for the guitarists’ role replacing Anthony Phillips but he was unsuccessful. For Phil Collins however, it was a different story. Both Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks were very impressed with his drumming at the audition and with his excellent personality and charisma he seemed the ideal choice for the band.

During the summer of 1970 Phil began rehearsing with Genesis in a disused oasthouse in Farnham and performing with the band at one or two gigs during the early autumn of 1970 at the Marquee Club in London.

Phil had now joined his first successful band and for the next few years improved his musical ability not just being able to master complicated pieces of music, but also having the ability to write outstanding music for Genesis which would stand him in good stead for the success he would attain in the following years.

It is an interesting thing to note that around the same time Phil nearly got the job as drummer with Yes, as their drummer Bill Bruford had left to continue his studies at university. Phil met Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes backstage at the Marquee during the summer of 1970. Jon asked Phil to give him a ring to arrange an audition but Phil never rang! The Yes/Genesis connection was briefly restored in 1976 when Phil asked Bill Bruford to guest on their forthcoming tour in support of the A Trick Of The Tail album.