"In conversation" - Phil Collins talks exclusively to Alan Hewitt about his current tour, future plans and the joys(?) of the Internet. Interview conducted at the MEN Arena 28th June 2004. Photos by John Wilkinson.

TWR finally gets another crack at Mr Collins before his final UK show at Manchester, here is what he had to say…

AH: I am sure you have probably been asked this question at every gig where you have spoken to people so far, Phil …

PC: Yes it is! (Laughter)

AH: the one thing that intrigues me about this tour is why the "First Final Farewell Tour"? Dare I ask; have you thought about something with the other guys...?

PC: Well, we were all together last night actually Mike and Tony and Chester and Daryl and we made a presentation to Tony Smith who last year was celebrating thirty years of managing us both individually and as a band and we finally got the thing we had made for him; he finally got it last night so we presented it to him. Every time I see the guys I bring it up because I get asked all the time and Mike gets asked too I am sure. Tony doesn’t do that much so he probably doesn't get asked.

Let's get back to the question; the "First Final Farewell Tour" the reason for that is really just English humour. I could easily have just called it the "Farewell Tour" but that is a little bit to the point and a little bit sentimental. So we thought; me and Smithy started thinking "what can we call it?" and we came up with all these stark (laughter) and it is taken from Monty Python …a sort of nod in their direction. It is meant to be funny but at the same time it is also a way of saying; it is a joke with a serious message. There WON'T be a second one it is really the last tour as far as I am concerned. We are doing it in America and then next year; probably towards the end of next year we ..

AH: I was wondering if there was a plan to take this further to any of the other territories; Australia etc…?

PC: We were originally going to go this November and this December but we are going to have another baby and that will be in December. AH/JW: Congratulations! PC: And actually I am just starting to tell people now. We have not announced it but it is going to start looking obvious soon! (Laughter) We shelved, we postponed those tours which we had planned for South America and the Far East until really the same time next year. Really I suppose the tours were just going to be cancelled because of the baby but actually the Tarzan musical has moved back a bit so that has left me with this time where I would like to honour the commitment that I made to myself to go to the Far East and South America and Australia and play for the last time because those were the first time ,…apart from Australia, the first time I played there was on the Both Sides Tour and I haven't played there since and I felt that was a shame for the people over there. So, hopefully we will honour that commitment at the end of next year.

The idea was to play everywhere for the last time. Originally when my hearing problem happened I figured that that would be it; there would be no more touring and when I was out on Testify and Tarzan I suppose, and Brother Bear although by the time we did Brother Bear I knew we were doing this. People were saying: "When are you going to be on the road next?" and I said: "I'm not going to be doing it because of this.." and everybody in different countries seemed so disappointed so I started to think about it and I felt it was a shame to have done your last tour without knowing it was your last tour and I thought it would be nice to do something and so I said to Tony (Smith) "can you work out something; can we go to South America for a month?" and that month became four tours; separated by a month and a half each tour. So, I put it to my wife and she said it was a good idea.

What it is; I am not promoting an album here; I know the Platinum Collection has been in the charts which is fantastic but that wasn't the plan. I am not promoting anything it is just me going around saying: "Here I am playing the songs and saying goodbye" So it is kind of turning a page and full stop. Every night it gets very emotional at the end and at this stage it is the last tour but it isn't the LAST performance.

AH: I was just going to say, are you going to do one- off performances?

PC: Yeah, exactly. If I do an album which I am sure I will do then I will do shows and those shows will be here and there but not like a tour. Maybe a week of work and a couple of days to rehearse the band because everybody knows the stuff apart from any new stuff. I have… because I DO look on the web site …

AH: Just to interrupt you there Phil, that is the one thing I gather that there has been a lot of criticism about the set list; about the fact that this is the last tour is there a rationale behind …the songs that you select for a tour..?

PC: I have to say that I enjoy reading The Waiting Room and Dusk and the German magazine… I don't speak Italian or German but I have copies of The Waiting Room and I enjoy reading them and see what everybody else is doing but the Internet fan sites… you either get involved and you live through it and you become like Pete Townshend or other artists but that is all he does … he does that and occasionally he goes out with The Who. I do lots of different things; I am still very active artists so I tend not to worry about that. I would rather be doing something new that would then be talked about than being there and not doing something.

That is where my kind of interest is but I have to admit that on the Both Sides tour we were getting some funny reviews in America and someone suggested to me "why don't you go on the web site?" which probably wasn't the same web site because it has changed format and so I went on there and actually saw these reviews which were the kind of reviews you would LIKE to read from people that actually care about what you do rather than from some journalist that doesn't like you anyway.

And this tour… I know it exists and I have got it book marked on my computer (laughter) and I started to look through it after the first show and the review of that show was by this guy called "Rad" and it was very good but I noticed this sort of sub-text that was there when I went through the pages,… yeah it's safe; I've seen it once why doesn’t he change it from night to night? And I started to reply but I bit my tongue and thought this was a shame because I actually avoided reading the newspapers and went on the web site to get some constructive stuff … I am not saying it is destructive; but I went on there to get cheered up and ended up going there and getting miserable!

JW: We haven't got a drummer and we play the hits so it is the same but… When I go and see Phil Collins I want to see the hits … God forgive me I don't want to see you do Colours; I want to see you do True Colours or Something Happened On The Way To Heaven or Two Hearts …

PC: Yeah, that is the majority we are talking about but there are probably about thirty active people who write and who keep popping up on the site from different continents and I have nothing against it at all and that should be stressed. These people mostly have a great deal of love for me and love for the music but… "I wish he would play Survivors" and my reply … I wrote this because eventually I got this note … I didn’t but it was on the site saying: "Peter Gabriel respects his fans more than Phil Collins does…" and I just thought.. that is going too far now just because he works with his site more. To me, that is a side thing; that is a place where people can go and talk about what they enjoy but it is not necessarily MY outlet. It is not something that I need to be associated with. Some of these people want access to tickets which they may even have and I don't have much of a role in it. My secretary; Annie (Callingham) who you know well; she has a relationship with some of the people and she knows what to tell people.

In my reply basically…the gist of it was I do a set list you go through the list of songs that you think people want to hear, obviously. Some songs that you think are great stage songs just to be seen once which was the most important bit. Most people, and obviously there are exceptions; get a ticket for one gig they can only afford a ticket for one gig if they take their wife and their kids; and they go to one show so this is a one-off experience. If they are really ardent fans with multiple tickets for multiple shows; then I'm afraid and I said this in my reply; they are going to have to expect the probability of the same songs because not only does having a different set mean you have a different lighting cue you have all that and basically the stuff gets assembled and taken down in just about enough time without having to reprogram another song. Gradually we can bring in another song and I have brought Always into the set on his tour which wasn't even rehearsed and it wouldn't take too long to work on other tunes but some of the other tunes that the real die-hards have come up with are tunes… and they have come up with a set list but most of them would be set lists that I would love but would have seventy five; eighty percent of the audience scratching their heads and saying "I've never heard this" you know? A lot of people… I would love to play We Fly So Close and Can't Turn Back The Years unfortunately that is another ballad and most of the hits are ballads and so to balance the set I brought in Hang In Long Enough and the response was… "Hang In Long Enough? That shouldn't have been in the set last year!" but at the end of the day I am sorry; the audience go ape-shit during that one.

AH: I suppose at the end of the day as you have just said; for the people who go to just one gig it is the technical responsibilities but also there is the fact that you have to get up there and sing the songs and they have to be ones that you enjoy playing…

PC: I sing Against All Odds every night but I could live without it myself but most people would be disappointed if I didn’t sing it. There are certain songs like A Groovy Kind Of Love… I didn’t write it. I did it for "Buster" and it was great at the time but people like it and people want to hear it and people have been looking forward to this concert for a long time; they have paid a lot of money … not as much as for some people… I try to keep the ticket prices down… In the end the set list has to be what it is. If I was promoting a new album I would be playing a whole bunch of new stuff that would not get applause because people always are like that. So, one of the criticisms was that there were no "surprises" well… we start off with the drum thing and do the whole of One More Night and True Colours as you have heard; Come With Me we do, which we have never done. There are some things in there that are different. And if other bands manage to change their set more often then that is great…

JW: I Cant think of any bands that have as many hits as yourself and what happens with us (Face Value) is some people might come up and say "Why didn't you play Fading Lights?" and my reply is; "We play what people want to hear; we play the hits.."

AH: Speaking of novelties though, the one thing that has surprised me is having Mike on the road with you as your support act. A Lot of people are surprised that he isn't opening for you at these UK shows is there a particular reason for that…?

PC: Well, no the reason we… well I will just get back to the other thing closing… Genesis didn't change the set list because once you get a set list that works and you get the rhythm of a show it is like a house of cards; you take one card away the whole thing falls apart. Getting a show balanced so that they do go away saying "I had a great time" that ISN'T luck.. you move things around, you try some songs in different place because some songs sound better; some songs sound slower if they are played after something else and there is a lot of psychology that goes into it. It isn't brain surgery, don't get me wrong; but once you get it right and it works and you are dealing with an audience a night you tend to keep it.

We have never had support acts apart from very rarely, out of necessity with Genesis … I have never had one and when we have had to have them I have always tried to choose someone that I really like and that I think the audience will like invariably that hasn't worked (laughter) because the audience isn't really interested apart from Richie Havens who transcends that… at the time everybody… you couldn't fail to like the bloke. If I was to bring John Martyn on the road, not everybody is as big a fan of John as I am and I don't want to do that to my friends.

So, when it came up that we needed support acts or the festival shows; the open air shows for which the doors open at four or five and we don't go on until eight thirty then the idea was that we have someone to entertain the audience and Tony Smith mentioned that Mike was getting ready to go out and what did I feel about having The Mechanics? And I said I felt a bit funny about having Mike "open" for me having been in the band for so many years and suddenly; he is the support act and I feel uncomfortable about that; how does he feel? And Tony said that he had asked him and he had said "that's fine, I don't mind at all… all I want is to play forty five minutes of my music and we know that the tour is Phil's tour…"

I also said that a lot of people are going to come to those gigs thinking there is going to be some kind of Genesis reunion the four fifths of Genesis are there… (laughter) I have sung and played with Mike in Geneva a couple of times for charity gigs and we have done I Can't Dance; Throwing It All Away two times at least for different occasions so we know that we are all friends but I have enough of my music to play without dipping into the Genesis songbook and then of course you open up another can of worms; what songs do you play? And you piss off another bunch of people! (Laughter) Because you are not playing the right kind of material, so this is all coming off sounding like the fans are playing me up. That is not where I am coming from at all; I am just playing the things that some people don't think…

AH: Speaking as one of these people who monitors the Internet and tries to answer a lot of the questions that people are asking; which you guys sometimes get asked, The fans can be a pain in the arse (laughs) and I am speaking as one! Their expectations are very unrealistic and their demands can be unreasonable…

PC: I don’t see it like that I have to say this letter…which you should read, because it is well written; I thought long and hard about it; and it covers a lot of points; why I am stopping why we chose to do this; why we aren't doing that… The response afterwards was great you know; Phil…thanks for knowing that we are here and also thanks for giving us some answers because a lot of people don't understand the difficulty of choosing the right set list and why you keep it the same once you have got it right. I would love to bring a couple of those tunes in but one of the main things actually which I haven't said here but I said in the letter … to me the whole idea of doing this was for kind of a closure in some respects and I thought; wouldn't it be nice just to go out there and celebrate? And have a celebration of the music that people have loved. So I went through all the albums and I looked at the covers and wrote down all the songs I had to play or should play and on Hello, I Must Be Going really there is only You Can't Hurry Love… I could have played I Don't Care Anymore and by the time I got to the end and included Brother Bear because we are doing Tarzan and all that; I had enough songs and I thought wouldn't it be great and it is proving to be; to just go on stage and play; apart from the drum thing or Come With Me which is a personal song and when you see it tonight you will see why; it is the two hands that are slowly coming together (on the video screens) and that is touching for me; because it is about my son and so there were certain things that I wanted to put in for me but just to have Bang… Oh I remember that! Bang… I remember that! (laughs) and like that (two fingered archers' salute gesture) to the critics and the fans will say this is the body of work and I am saying goodbye to the fans; you know?

AH: From my perspective certainly… I have followed you in concert with Genesis since '78 and I have seen ever solo tour that you have done and that is what I am going to be thinking tonight when you play… Sussudio, I am going to be remembering when you played that at the Manchester Apollo in …1985 and yeah… great times; great songs and that is what it should be ALL about..

PC: Most of the people on the web site have come on and agreed with me and I have not read anything negative but I am sure there are one or two things on there and everyone has come back; not just because they think I am listening (laughs) but now they understand and so there you go.

Yeah… I have a question for you … in the book (Opening The Musical Box) you don't have the shows where I played drums with Peter….

AH: (Stunned silence while he thinks of an excuse which John W enjoyed immensely… bastard!) That's because I never got details of them…

PC: First of all there was the Reading Festival when I sang with him and I played with him. We did Brand X and Brand X supported supporting and I went on stage because I have a picture of it and we did The Lamb… and then…or maybe it was one of his slow songs which I did at the side of the stage with him . Anyway, on the third album I was his drummer on the road and we did a little tour while he was writing that and I sang and played drums and we did about ten shows one was down where he lived, another was at Friars Aylesbury and it was about ten shows and I played drums; it was Jo Partridge on guitar; John Giblin on bass; Jeff Westley on keyboards; Peter and me and we played things like Biko; No Self Control which was then called Marguerita; and Family Snapshot and stuff like that and I sang with him at the end because we also had Jerry Marotta and I was thinking… that tour to a Genesis fan must have been heaven! (laughs)

AH: (still in a state of shock) No… I never even knew about that… apart from Reading, because I was at the Reading show…

PC: I only mentioned it because I looked through it and it is the most … you know interesting looking at this stuff… the gigs back to back. It was not a complaint because the thing is so dense with everyone doing so many things …

AH: What future plans do you have after this tour… Is there anything concrete… you mentioned the Tarzan musical…?

PC: Well, the musical has just gone back a bit but it is very much happening and I have written seven or eight new songs and re-arranged some of the old ones and I will be monitoring it as much as I can it has moved back a bit and with the baby …and Nicholas is due to start school. If it goes back a year it will be roughly when Nicholas is due to start school. I will be as involved with it as I can because I am very proud of it and the new music is great.

AH: I certainly think it is something that will lend itself very well to a proper musical.

PC: It is difficult.. I mean, The Lion King would have been difficult and then when someone does it you think …"Of course!" (laughs) but we have to have a guy who looks right, physically and who can sing while doing all this flying around. That’s if you find one guy like that and if he leaves you have got to find another … and all the apes have got to be mobile it can't be people with zips up their back and that is one of the reasons why it hadn't been done before by us was because we couldn't find a way of doing it and they had taken the idea and kind of abstracted it and so until we found another way of doing it we couldn't do it. It will probably be some time in 2006 so I will be sitting at home writing and accumulating material for an album.

JW: How difficult was it writing with computers on Testify compared to..

PC: Oh, it is so much easier. I didn’t know anything about computers which made it harder at first. I had never had a computer previously …I had a game system but I had never used one for music and Tony (Banks) used to use one towards the last days of We Can't Dance and I felt that I was so far behind that I would never catch up and it is surprising how quickly you can get into it. I started doing my thing which we actually used on Brother Bear and when they asked me to do that because I was doing the score music it was imperative that I got involved with computers because the changes they want are so easy to make on a computer.

With Tarzan, all my stuff I had to re-record everything every time they wanted a change and that got very time consuming and it would sometimes work the first time and the beauty of it is that I can keep every first take. Testify was a very spontaneous album; the vocal on Testify the track is the only time I sang it. I wrote those words as I sang them… I didn't write them down and then sing them I just improvised it and that is what you hear. Of course, that is the first couple of verses; the first couple of choruses then you realise that you have got something and you go back and revisit it but the vocal on that is spontaneous which was the way it was when it was written.

Both Sides was a lot like that as well and most of my stuff is first takes and me writing as I sing but the computer thing just freed me up completely and you could say I don't like that guitar bit; let’s change the sound and then add another guitar part with the MIDI information and just change the sound.

AH: You say you will be writing; is that for something specific: another album? Something for the Big Band because that project was such a surprise…

PC: Well, the Big Band … I did have something planned for… I guess it was 2001 but that was just after the ear thing and I had to commit to doing it right when the ear was bothering me and I had to bailout because I wasn't sure if I would be able to play or not and I haven't really thought about it since then because other things have occupied that time. I would be open to doing a bit more acting … I would say that the Big Band thing is something I would probably do again but I don't know quite when. I am quite happy to do another record but I don't want to have to go round the world doing the promotion even though I won’t tour for it they will still want you in Sweden for a night and it would be like being on the road! I will be writing and the musical is very important and really if I have no solid plans… I will be busy.

And there we had to wind things up to allow Phil to get ready for the show. Our thanks to him for giving up so much time and to Annie Callingham for organising the interview for us and to Tim Brockman and the other members of staff whom we met at the show for their kindness. My thanks also to John Wilkinson for his enthusiasm. All of us at TWR would like to take this opportunity of wishing Phil every success with the tour and his future endeavours and to congratulate him and Orianne on their impending new arrival.