“Big Bands, The King Of The Swingers and Willing Testaments” - The Phil Collins Story reaches the Tarzan, Testify and Brother Bear albums. Your narrator: Alan Hewitt. Memorabilia: TWR Archive. Photographs: Jon Guntrip, Albert Gouder, Lasse A Huhta, S Holmes.
By the end of 1997 Phil must have taken great delight in his continued success with another hit album and massive tour under his belt. The years which were to follow were surprisingly to see his career reach what many fans regard as its nadir.
Having already indulged his love of Big Band Jazz back in 1996, Phil decided to return to that form of music in 1998 with a further tour with his Big Band. The initial tour in 1996 had been restricted to some of the more prestigious Jazz festivals in Europe. This time round, Phil was to take the tour further afield with shows in the USA and Europe, culminating with two shows in the UK.
Many fans, (myself included) were somewhat reluctant to get behind this aspect of Phil’s music but speaking from a personal point of view, the resulting show was one of the most enjoyable that Phil had ever staged. Mixing some of his own solo material and tracks from Genesis alongside established Big Band Jazz classics might not have worked had it been anyone other than Phil in charge of it. The results were sometimes surprising, even bemusing at times as even Phil admitted that fans might not necessarily recognise some of his own tracks so radical was the arrangement! What surprised fans the most was Phil’s declared intention not to sing at the gigs, that was left to the truly awesome Oleta Adams whose performance at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham is still something that I remember vividly!
The tour resulted in a live album; A Hot Night In Paris which was released in 1999 to critical acclaim. Sadly no official film was made of any of these shows with the exception of the TV broadcast of the show from the Pori Fest in Finland, which if you have seen it, will give you some idea how enjoyable these gigs were.
Phil and controversy have never been strange bed fellows and during February and March of 1998 the national press here in the UK ran two stories in which he featured prominently. The first of these was a report that Phil was seeking to reclaim overpayment of royalties to members of the Phoenix Horn section which had accompanied Phil on many of his hits although the claim was, according to the report, centred round their appearance on 1990’s Serious Hits Live album although in rebuttal of the claim, Phil’s manager, Tony Smith stated that the musicians had in fact, sued Phil! Who’d be a musician eh?
The second story centred around Phil’s refusal to appear as part of the tribute concert that was held in honour of Princess Diana on 27th June 1998. Phil reportedly refused to appear as part of the line up of the concert as a protest against the excessive cost of the tickets.
During the interim, Phil began to experience health problems which would have long term consequences for him as a recording and performing artist. The first of these manifested itself with hearing problems which resulted in a drastic reduction in Phil’s hearing in his right ear, and medical advice being received for Phil to refrain from live performance. This must have come as a blow to someone as dedicated to the art of live performance as Phil and so he scaled back rather than curtailed his performances entirely and during 1999 onwards performances were mainly restricted to showcases for his Tarzan soundtrack which was his next project after the completion of the Big Band tour.
Film work has become a staple for many artists over the years and Phil has been no stranger to this as his contribution to the Buster soundtrack had demonstrated. However, here he was working at the behest of Disney with all the demands that such work places upon a composer as Phil himself explained….
“With Tarzan 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 sometimes it wouldn’t…”
The resulting film was a huge success and Phil was awarded an Oscar for his soundtrack so he must have been doing something right!
Phil was quoted in the press at this time as having no intention to release another solo album much to fans’ despair and critics’ relief as by now, Phil’s stock with the music press had reached an all-time low.
However, a new relationship was to be the inspiration for what has proven to be Phil’s last solo album to date: 2002’s Testify. Testify was to be what so many of Phil’s previous albums had not been; a happy and up beat affair. Even so, the processes involved in creating it remained the same as Phil outlined in the EPK which accompanied the album…
“The album was written over a couple of years; a period of a couple of years and I was on tour with Both Sides and I took with me a keyboard; a sequencer and I started writing bits, loads and loads of bits ; 16 bar bits; 32 bar bits and saved them on this keyboard and I didn’t know what to do with them. Then I did Tarzan and Disney asked me to do another film and at that point I felt I had to get stuck into this computer world because the way film music is, they will ask you to do it shorter; longer; can we hear it faster? Can we play it without that verse? So I thought it was time to get my feet wet with the computer and with that I could finish these bits I had written in 1994 and they became Testify; Wake Up Call ….”
Considering the fact that the album was, if Phil is to be believed, constructed from bits and pieces, there is a vibrancy to most of the material which belies that fact. Phil’s writing processes hadn’t changed that much though as he conceded on the EPK…
“It’s simple and the best way to understand the way I work. I don’t sit down and say, ’I know what I am going to do,; I’m going to write a love song for Orianne ’ I don’t sit down and write it. I have the music or what is gradually becoming a song and because I work on my own; I don’t have anybody hanging around operating equipment and I push play and record and I sing and what you hear, lyrically, is what I sing . Sometimes a whole verse, a whole chorus or a whole song comes out. In the Air Tonight was completely improvised … I have always written like that…”
With touring restricted, Phil put in a handful of shows in various locations including one at the Scala Club in London in November 2002 which yours truly was fortunate enough to attend. The emphasis of the shows was surprisingly enough on Phil’s back catalogue with a mere two tracks from the new album performed as part of the set. Fans were also shocked to see Phil resort to the old folk singer technique of finger-in ear as a result of his hearing problems.
Critical and fan reactions to the album were mixed and the album was Phil’s first not to reach the top of the UK charts. After these various promotional duties were completed, Phil withdrew from public view having gone on record as saying that he had no intention of releasing a new solo album and thus far he has been true to his word much to the disappointment of his fan base.
Film work beckoned though and Phil was soon at work on the follow-up to the hugely successful Tarzan soundtrack. Working once again for Disney, Phil eventually produced the soundtrack for their latest animated feature; Brother Bear which featured Phil and several other musical alumni including Tina Turner. The film and its soundtrack failed to emulate the success of its predecessor but gained a fair critical response. No live performances were undertaken in support of this album but Phil had one more surprise up his sleeve but more of that next time, folks…