"A peak behind the scenes" - Phil Collins rehearsals for the 2005 First Final Farewell Tour at the Patinoires Du Littoral Neuchatel Switzerland 8th October 2005. Report and photographs by Stuart Holmes.
The Patinoires Du Littoral isn't actually a concert hall, but a large sports centre situated on the beautiful banks of Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. Naturally, I had been waiting for this moment to come round since seeing Phil back in July 2004 at the Geneva Arena, the last European show with the main stage and just prior to the Montreux Festival gig. Since that time Phil has completed a hugely successful American tour and put the finishing touches to the Tarzan musical which now opens in Broadway in May 2006. Also, let's not forget that the size of his family has increased as well with the birth of his son; Matthew Thomas Clarence on December 1st! So, things have been busy in and around the Collins household that's for sure! And you thought he was slowing down!
With the 2005 dates announced for Autumn kicking off on 13th October in Tallinn Estonia, it became clear that rehearsals were undoubtedly going to take place in the same hall where they rehearsed for the European 2004 shows. Now, this is where I gave to say a big thank you to Annie; Phil's PA in London for putting up with my requests for some very VIP tickets! It was indeed worth cutting short my holiday back to the UK and the costs incurred for doing it! This was an opportunity no Phil fan should pass by lightly!
The band were due to start at 3pm in the afternoon so there was plenty of time to check out the local Saturday market stalls in the old part of town. The weather couldn't have been better either with blue skies and sailing boats out on the water. Quite a perfect and relaxed setting for the crew who had assembled at the main hotel nearby.
My wife, son and I were asked to check in with either Danny Gillen, Phil's assistant or with Tim Brockman. Tim confirmed that the rehearsals would start at 3pm and we should return a bit before if we wanted to see Phil warming up on the drums! We arrived back after lunch to see that a small group of hockey players had assembled around the exit trying to fathom out why all the glass doors had been blacked out with cloth and who exactly was making such a din in part of their sports hall!
Waiting patiently at the entrance, I suddenly saw the foreboding figure of Tony Smith coming straight towards us. "Hello there, looking for Danny? He's in the production room" said Tony. "Err, thanks Tony" came the timid reply! The Production Room was actually the sports office which had literally been taken over by Phil's crew and Danny was perched over his laptop, alongside a complete row of computers which had been set up during the last week or so. Danny kindly gave us the OK and led us through to the seating area for approximately a hundred or so people.
Phil and Chester were running through part of the drum solo as we took our seats. Gerald Albright and Harry Kim could be seen at the side of the stage running through sections of Don't Lose My Number. Everyone looked relaxed even Steve Jones, Phil's Production Manager was in his shorts! Now if he looked relaxed we knew we would be witnessing a special gig. For a sports hall although almost devoid of any kind of audience I was actually impressed by the sound and simply in awe of Phil pounding away and his elaborate drum rolls.
The lights dimmed at near 3pm as Phil re-entered the stage from our right. The drum solo intro was amazing. This was Phil fresh from a summer's break and sounding awesome! He ripped through his piece and Chester obliged with an equally impressive solo before Luis Conte rounded things off on the percussion. Then a burst of brass led us into Something Happened On The Way To heaven and the small audience probably made up of record company staff, friends and relatives applauded politely in what was a truly unique atmosphere.
Against All Odds is a track I know Phil loves playing to his audience but would drop from the set if he could. Having met him a couple of years back he mentioned at that time that whenever he plays the song, memories of the video still haunt him. The video has Phil with a water panel running as a backdrop. Apparently he had to stand in water most of the day before the film was finally in the can and the combination of electricity; overhead lights; cameras and water made him a bit edgy needless to say!
Hang In Long Enough sounded really punchy and gave the backing singers a chance to stretch their legs. The horn section were just electric and joined in the fun of following Phil around the stage. Another highlight was A Groovy Kind Of Love, with Phil singing this one pitch perfect. A false start at the beginning of We Wait And We Wonder brought a smile to everyone's face. With Phil shouting and using his hands as a megaphone, he apologised that his drum intro wasn't how it should be. Two red snare drums; one left and one right at the tip of the stairway were set up for Phil and Luis to break into We Wait And We Wonder but somehow he just wasn't happy. A count in to four and things were quickly back on track. I have to say though that programmed bag pipes were pretty painful to listen to in a near empty hall. Piercing was not the word!
Wear My Hat never sounded so good on record in fact I always thought it was a pretty weak track but live it turns into a real highlight with the band swapping hats and parading up and down the steps and back gangway at every opportunity. Truly great to see a band having such fun on stage. I was waiting to see which Genesis track would be performed instead of Misunderstanding and we all now know it is the welcome return of Invisible Touch, sounding funkier than ever and given a big backing vocal send off. With a new lease of life it certainly sounded brilliant to these ears with trumpeter Harry Kim and co in particularly great form.
No audience participation during Sussudio. Now that would have looked weird if Phil had come down to greet such a small audience! A super drum intro led us into Take Me Home and to the red curtains closing on yet another superb performance. If the band sound like this on tour the fans are in for a real treat. I was told the lighting had been subtly changed although I didn't notice any real difference. It was nice to see that the dry ice machine was working even if this was a rehearsal.
Afterwards, Chester and Amy from the band chatted with friends who had gathered to see them at the sports centre entrance. With the lights up, Phil still had his mind on improving things and chatted with Gerald and guitarist Daryl Stuermer who had put in another flawless performance. Throughout the concert, Phil "Mr Perfectionist" made notes every so often, wearing his glasses and drinking ginger tea from his now customary blue flask.
This was a great gig and one which I feel really privileged to have attended. Once again a massive thanks to Annie and I hope that my token of Swiss chocolates went a little way in showing my appreciation!
The Set List:
Drum Intro/Something Happened On The Way To Heaven/Against All Odds/Don't Lose My Number/You'll be In My Heart/One More Night/Can't Stop Loving You/Hang In Long Enough/True Colours/Come With Me/A Groovy Kind Of Love/Another Day In Paradise/We Wait And We Wonder/Separate Lives/In the Air Tonight/Dance Into The Light/You Can't Hurry Love/Two Hearts/Wear My Hat/Invisible Touch/Easy Lover/ Sussudio/It's Not Too Late/Drum Intro/Take Me Home.