"Something happened on the way to Birmingham" - Phil talks about his new album and future plans. Interview by Alan Hewitt, conducted at the Hyatt Hilton Hotel Birmingham on Saturday, November 8, 1997.

TWR: So, Phil, when did you start working on the album...?

PC: "Dance Into The Light"? I started writing on the '94 tour.

TWR: While you were actually out on the road?

PC: Yeah, I took out a Korg synth on the road which is a sequencer as well, and because of all the tabloid attention to what I was doing, I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms and I've never really written on the road before, but this time I was learning how to operate the thing, and that was good fun as well and I just... After shows, before shows I would sit there and fool around with it and a lot of ideas came at that point, and then I was accumulating all these bits that weren't songs, and at a point after the "Both Sides" world tour finished, I took six months away from really seriously doing anything, and I needed to keep away from it so that I would come back to something fresh and so, I think it was the beginning of 1996 that I started to put all these bits that I had into some... what could I do with all these bits?

Some of them I still haven't used, and it all came together very easily, although there are a few songs, "It's In Your Eyes"... I had written on that tour. Some of the guitar-y type ones like "It's In Your Eyes", "Love Police", "No Matter Who"; those were written at home during the sessions, when I was getting everything together.

TWR: It has to be said that this album is a more up beat affair than "Both Sides". Is that simply a reflection of your personal circumstances at the time...?

Phil in conversation with Alan Hewitt
(Photo - J. Guntrip/TWR)

PC: Yeah, I think probably it has to be these things go deeper than you intend to do sometimes. I did want to do something that was... you know; keep away from the ballads and I have read a review of last night's concert which said; "It's not a surprise hearing the ballads..." and I must remember that that is what my career is based on and yet it is something that I have always tried to get away from... not always but on recent things... "Both Sides" was an album that I donít think was full of ballads. Ballads to me are "Against All Odds", that is a ballad; a hit song if you like. Whereas "Both Sides" stuff is more introspective and slower songs but I am always... and I guess it is self defeating to try and go against what people think you are, and what you have done already while you want to try something new and the fact that people like you is for what you have done and then if you try and take these people with you somewhere else, they don't always let you, and they don't like you to do something that they are not expecting.

TWR: They get comfortable...

PC: Yeah. I used to do the same thing with bands I liked you know; or things I liked. Bruce Hornsby for example; is someone whose music I really love and I worked on an album of his called "Harbour Lights". I wrote to him saying how much a fan I was and he invited me to sing on his record, and I went to his house and I heard the stuff and it was the newer Jazz stuff, and I said to him "Well, where's the song that I like...?" You know (laughter) and he said "Well we've got one or two of these..." and it was like "Oh, good..." (laughter) and so I was feeling exactly the same and so I am not surprised by it and people do like what they like, what they know and that's why newer songs never go down as well on tour as older songs. People always like what they know which is fair enough.

TWR: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the tracks on the album. Where the ideas came from and so on...?

PC: Yeah, its such along time ago! (laughter)

TWR: One in particular, "Wear My Hat", was that written about anybody or any bodies in particular?

PC: No, but do you know "Wear My Hat" was one of the songs that I wrote when I was listening to a lot of Youssou N'Dour and Salif Keitah, very "up" African stuff and I was listening to a lot of that and it started with the idea of lots of guitar rhythms, and they have a slightly different attitude towards playing culturally, so I just had that one eight bar sequence that goes round and round. It is just one sequence and so that was hard; what do I do with it? So, when I got into the preparation for the record, if you like and was mucking around with all these ideas that I had written. I got it on a loop and I had a complete guitar phrase which goes all the way through it which was the introduction, and then I just started singing and the words you hear are the words that I started singing, and I don't know what they mean. I didn't write them down and sing them, I mean; why "Wear My Hat?" Every time I came to the end of this verse, it was "You can wear my hat/you can take my shoes..."

The thing is, usually within the process of the way I write the stuff that I write initially will be discarded and the things that I sing I will keep, because the things you do spontaneously, the music suggests what you have sung. I would say that almost 100% of the lyrics on "Dance Into The Light" and "Both Sides" were not written down, they were sung, and sometimes when I am writing or I am just on my own in the studio, I will just set the microphone up and I will sing and even if I donít sing a line and I'm just singing, the melody will come that way or sometimes you will listen back to it and think that bit of melody is nice. I wouldn't normally have thought of that so you keep the elements of what you have done and you may have four or five tracks of vocals and you may have one line on one track, five lines on another track and it is where you fit these bits together that you get some sense of what the song is actually going to be about and you keep them and if you havenít actually got a key word, if the sound that you make sounds like a word, then you write down a few words ... to watch it is a lot easier than to describe it but, "Wear My Hat"... "She came looking for me with her arms open wide..." that was all improvised. I just sat down and sang it and in a way it is saying if you think this is easy then "You can wear my hat" was after all that tabloid stuff, it isn't easy... it wasn't easy to be me at that point... I didnít really want to be me and so if you want to be me, then "wear my hat" you fucking try it! (laughter).

Phil on-stage with his band in 1997
(Photo - J. Guntrip/TWR)

That's what I was kind of trying to say in a way, but I didnít think about that and I think now, in retrospect, that's probably what I was meaning. Of course, it is meant to be a light hearted look at fans and I have had letters from fans saying... "You know, we put you where you are..." which, of course is quite true which is why I always sign autographs. The "Wear My Hat" thing is; there are three different things going on; there's the media thing I did not at that point... I wanted a hole to open up for me and to just get on with my life and everybody else to go away. The other part of the sing is about the lady coming up to me and saying... "You met me fifteen years ago... remember?" and of course, you don't and it was meant to be... I call it my Benny Hill song; it is not that far away from "Ernie" it is a funny song. It is meant to be a funny song it is not meant to be my views on fans at all. I know probably more than most people in my position how loyal my fans are, and why they deserve the time and respect which is why Annie (Callingham Phil's PA and chief organiser of this interview) answers all the letters and gives them to me which makes it a lot more personal than many people, and so that is why I hope the fans aren't offended by it.

Of course, everybody will say; "that's not me; I wouldnít do that..." it's like when John Cleese did "The Accountant" sketch and was very upset wondering "What is he going to think...?" and the accountant said; "It was very, very funny..." and so the fans don't think it is about them; it is about somebody else. It is like in America you do get more people trying to seduce you and trying to find out the room number of your hotel, and someone the other day at about three o'clock in the morning in Brussels the buzzer went and I opened the door and there's a girl all dressed in leather and she said; "Oh, I'm sorry!" (laughter) I donít know if she was expecting me or if she had gone to the wrong room and I was wondering which other member of the band has a room number vaguely like mine? (laughter). This stuff does happen, not to me much because people know I am in a relationship, and the guy in the last verse; "Hey buddy, can you sign your name for me?" and it is that little scrap of paper that you think is going into the jeans pocket, it is going to be forgotten about, it is going to be washed and this is a ritual with some people and it is meant to be a bit of reality but it is also meant to be funny.

TWR: We always knew that you like to cover other people's songs, but why did you choose to cover "The Times They Are-A Changin'"?

PC: No, it was nothing to do with personal circumstances, although I can see where some people might think that... I didn't realise what kind of thing I'm unleashing when I do this. Dylan is something that. As I have read in record reviews, some people hate it; some people think it is a great cover. Live everybody picks it out as but they hate it; reviewers say; "I loved the show but he did a deplorable version of Dylan's..." because you can't mess with God you know? I guess that is what some people think and if you are a Dylan fan that is the way it should be. It's not quite as bad with The Beatles but with Dylan who is supposed to be one of this century's greatest poets, you donít mess with it and I actually... the reason I did the song was because I was in my attempt to, just as I always do, just to try and do something I haven't done before, to write the kind of things I'd not done before.

I didnít want to write about the divorce for a variety of reasons and I wanted to try and do something else, and I surrounded myself with different music; things I wouldnít normally listen to and I had bought the record as a single, and I had bought a couple of Dylan albums over the years and I have about six compilations in my car and I just thought the lyrics to that song are as relevant; they could have been written yesterday, and so I thought wouldnít it be nice, because I like covering other people's songs and I didnít realise that it would affect other people, and that they would be bothered by my doing it other than hearing me pay tribute but I didn't do it because the times were changing in my life, it was just because I liked the song.

TWR: Are there any other songs on the album that were written for a specific reason or that have specific significance?

PC: Well... "The Same Moon" I guess that is the one song that is romantically related to what happened. It was me and Orianne cramming as many moments together as we could. She would fly across the Atlantic to be with me and then she would go and it would be "wow!" the bags were gone and everything. And it was a song about that; that we couldn't be together and so if you looked at the moon, you could connect because somewhere in the world, wherever you are, you can look at the moon and you can connect through that and it is a way of being closer.

There are some songs on the record like "Love Police" which is one of my favourite songs on the record and that is; there is probably more going on in the lyric that I actually thought there was at the time and sometimes psychiatrists and people like that can analyse them and say "Oh that's what he meant" and sometimes they might be right and sometimes in the past they have been wrong, but all the songs are based on what I feel or think about certain subjects. "River So Wide" and "Dance Into The Light" are about racial issues really, and I do think that with "River So Wide" in particular if we donít start building bridges between each other then it is going to get so difficult to build that bridge that it will never get done and it ultimately will lead to war and racial intolerance, and the kind of things like you have in the Middle East. You have countries that won't accept the fact that they believe in different things and it is one of those things that I as a human being find frustrating.

I did the Billboard Awards Show - I was hosting it and Doctor Dre and some of his guys came up to accept awards and the atmosphere suddenly got very dark; very menacing and when I came back because I was hosting the show, I said: "Boy, didn't it suddenly get dark in here?" trying to lighten things up because it was supposed to be a happy evening; and I got taken to task for saying it was "dark" because they thought I meant black and I meant dark like an Englishman would say "Hasn't it got dark in here?" to lighten it up, but the sensitivity is such that it gets out of control and it is not so bad now but at the time may of these Rappers, I felt where I was talking about building bridges, these guys seemed to be digging ditches and making things more difficult, which is not really the way for people to try and understand each other.

TWR: You have said that you normally get basic ideas, but were the band more involved in the creative side of this album after your total control of "Both Sides"...?

PC: Well, they weren't, no. I mean that is one of my... it is something that is both positive and a failing of mine. I don't at the point of writing the songs and getting them the way I want them; at that point I can't see it any other way and so I tie all the musician's hands and say "Can you play this?" because "this" is what I want to hear. Now sometimes, these musicians will come in and they will play... bass parts for example, as time has gone on, bass parts have much more care taken over them; and I actually write bass parts that I think work and even Nathan will come in and say; "Well, I wanna do what you do because that's great" and he will play something else and it will be like; "Wow!" That has added to it.

Sometimes I feel like I know what I want to hear and I am beginning to realise that maybe it would be nice to have somebody else produce an album instead of me because on more than one occasion the band has been much more involved in the live stuff such as song like "Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore" which we were mucking around with in sound check and we weren't going to play it and suddenly it became this great piece of music. It was a totally different tempo and atmosphere. Brad had his harmonica part and so on and suddenly it was wonderful and I thought "Wow, this is a great example of why I should get the band in more". At the time of recording, people were coming in, in singles or pairs. Nathan would come in and work on the bass parts after I had done the drums and guitar, so there was never really, apart from "Lorenzo" which had a band in there. There was never really a band in the studio at any one time, and there has only ever been a handful of occasions on any of my records, "You Can't Hurry Love", "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven", there were three of us, but most of the time, it is just me and another musician. I did think about getting another producer for the last album but in the end you start to get very precious with it and you donít want anybody else to do it and you know what you want to sound like and on "Both Sides" it was obvious that I had to do that and I love it and it is my favourite album but you know, we are already talking about the next album with maybe somebody else co-producing.

TWR: How did you get back with Ronnie Caryl...?

PC: Well, during the course of the last record, I was... because a lot of the stuff was inspired by listening to people like Youssou N'Dour, I said to him is there any chance of using a couple of your musicians on my album? And he said; whatever you want to do, and I was thinking of percussion and I was thinking of rhythm guitar and I suddenly thought one day a lot of these guys in their own environment with ten other guys who are playing the same kind of music, there is a kind of empathy, but take them out of that context, it might be a little bit tough, so I thought; wait a second; I know a great guitar player who I have known all my life but never thought of using. And I phoned Ronnie and asked him do you fancy having a go? And he has done an album which I played on and we have kept in touch and he was amazed that after thirty years I had got round to asking him! (laughter). He came in and played on the record, he played the rhythm guitar and it gives me an amazing amount of pleasure on stage, I look down and I see Ronnie there and I think "thanks" you know, I probably get more pleasure seeing him there than he does! I am really pleased that at this point in what I am doing, he is involved.

TWR: Do you have any further plans for the Big Band project?

PC: Yeah, well the album that I hoped would have come out this year from the last tour that didn't get done this year for one reason or another, so next year we are taking it out again to the Jazz Festivals. I don't know if we will play in England. If there is a festival we can play, then we probably will. It would be nice to play because I think people would like it. It is all my tunes - Genesis tunes arranged by established arrangers, and people when they hear this, they realise they like it because it is a sound they haven't heard before and there will be a record from the best of last year and there is a video from Montreux which is ready to go out. That is a whole concert which I want to put out warts and all, and that is something that for me, is great and which I can see myself doing forever.

TWR: Is the tour finished at the end of December, or do you plan to take it further afield next year?

PC: At the moment it finishes in December, at Earls Court. We haven't taken it around the rest of the world apart from America because I have other things that I want to do, although I would like the chance to take it elsewhere but I think the next thing we do may be a Greatest Hits album which we have got to do at some point, and we may tour those other places with that.

I think that what has come about is that working in the round definitely works, and we are doing it very successfully, and even the reviewers have been saying so, and so working in the round issomething we may do again.

And there you have it; an insight into Phil's latest album and future plans. I hope that you found it interesting. My thanks to Phil for giving up so much of his time to talk to us, and to Annie Callingham for organising everything for us, and to Jon for becoming our resident photographer at such short notice.