"So, what do you want to know, you f**k?!" - Phil Collins chats to Alan and Stuart on Sunday 16th October 2016. Photos by Alan Hewitt and Stuart Barnes.
NOTE: Once we'd got ourselves setup for the interview (recording devices switched on, etc), and the intial introductory small talk was over, Phil looked at the two of us and said the phrase in quotes above. It was said in jest and was received in that way. It was an effective icebreaker.
TWR: How are you?
PC: I’m fine. I’m good, as I was saying to Alan, the medication … where do I start? The hearing there has been no change but the brain adjusted and so I am capable of doing shows and have done with in-ear monitors, no problem. The arm… I had the operation and this was a few years ago now and it could be worse but it could be a lot better but I have got a drum kit in the garage ..
TWR: So you’re not actually back at it with the drums?
PC: Not really but I should be and I will be. Back surgery. A year ago this month, My back and my hips after sixty years of drumming are shot. I am in Miami and I have one of the best spinal surgeons in the world and he is a good guy and a good friend and he took an MRI of me and he said, ‘we have got to do your back’ and anyway one day I woke up with this trapped nerve all the way down my side, absolute agony and he took me straight in and I had back surgery which was successful but unfortunately it left my right foot, my hi hat foot, numb. It’s called “drop foot” which means you can’t lift it or lower it and you can’t wiggle your toes, it is completely numb. It has taken a year and it will probably take another six months at least for the nerves to regenerate at the rate of a millimetre a week and it is a long slow process. Other than that! (laughs) I am fine! You know, the spirits are good and I am a very happy man living in Miami which is not the best place in the world to live but the good part of it is that I am living with my kids and Orianne and life is good.
TWR: I recall reading or listening to a radio interview you did several years ago and the question was would you do this (taps copy of Phil’s book) and your exact words were: ’No, I’ll never do that because I don’t think I have done anything interesting’ so what is a the idea behind this after all those years?
PC: Did I say that? I was on medication! (laughs). I had been wanting to do this book since Ray Coleman’s biography frankly. Ray approached me and I loved Ray, he was a great journalist and he had written a couple of great books and he said to me and this was at a very delicate time, this was around “Faxgate” if you want to call it that and he said I have been told to do a biography but if it is an autobiography it will be better and I agreed, because then I would have some kind of control over it. Anyway, he spent two or three months on the road with me on the Both Sides tour and sent me the publisher’s treatment and it came back and it was full of mistakes and I was going through the divorce and I was on a thirteen month tour, I can’t be doing this! So I said… and unbeknownst to me he was dying of cancer and his wife finished it and eventually it got finished and they asked me to write a foreword to it and I said ’can I read it?’ and they said ’no’ and so I said ’I’m not going to write a foreword to a book about me I haven’t seen’ and so it all ended kind of funnily and I vowed at that moment that I would do my own book but I didn’t know when. And they caught me at a time when it wasn’t right for me to do it properly and also I probably felt that there was a lot more to do. That’s what I think about autobiographies, you should almost be given ’you’re going to be gone on October the 10th’ (laughs) ’So I suggest you start writing it on August 10th’ (laughs) .
So I did the Alamo book and after writing that, which took a long time and it was very enjoyable and I just carried on writing so I was just kind of spit-balling ideas, early years, and all that kind of stuff and stuff that I could imagine writing entertainingly. Then I got to the music and I just glazed over because I had told those stories so many times. So that was that, and then years passed and hospitals came and went and I was doing interviews with Craig McLean and he suggested because we got on so well and he said if ever you want to do a book I will be happy to help you out. And we DID get on and so we did start and that has led to this. So we did a series of interviews over a period of time and he would transcribe them and send them to me and then I would mess about with them and I would make my changes and put them into “me” so this was coming, I have to say but I think the birth of it was Ray Coleman’s thing. It wasn’t a get even book, it was just an attempt to right some of the wrongs which you do in interviews and this is the time to get it all out of the way in an elegant way without offending people. Being HONEST, but not offending one’s partners.
TWR: And once again… “Not Dead Yet”… it’s the soul of Mr Hancock isn’t it?
PC: Only an armful? (for those of you not familiar with this, Phil is referring to the famous Blood Donor sketch by English comedian Tony Hancock here). I came up with the title quite early and I told the publishers and my editor who was on my side there’s me and Craig and then there’s Trevor Dolby who is a lovely guy I have got to know but the first time he was an infiltrator and it was like ‘I’m your editor’ and I said ‘Well f**k you!’ (laughs) ‘me and Craig have got what we like’ and then slowly we got some fantastic ideas and it goes to the publishers and he is on our side and I said ‘I want to call the book Not Dead Yet’ and I remember having lunch with the head woman, Sarah Sandon with Trevor and I said ‘You don’t like the title then?’ and she said ‘no’ and coming into that world from the musical world I thought that’s it but I kept at it and Tony (Smith) was a bit of a prodder and I think with the photograph and “Not Dead Yet” it will make sense you know not dead yet (cheery tone) as opposed to not dead yet (sombre tone) and anyway they came around and a lot has been made of the health, too much has been made of the health although I can understand why but it came sometime during this year when we have lost Bowie, Lemmy, Jim Diamond, Prince and it was like, I’m not dead yet! The more Pythonesque version of it. So we got it and we stick with it.
TWR: So you have probably spent the entire day answering questions about your health and the book, how do you get through that and stay sane?
PC: there are different degrees, you know. First of all, if you are talking about the book you don’t know what the translation has been like because translation as I learned with Tarzan and with some of my songs that have been translated into different languages for instance on Dance Into The Light and in one language, I can’t remember which one, there is a song: Love Police which is meant to be like a god that actually directs you in emotions but it was translated as “love of the police” (Laughs) and I thought Oh my god, what do they think and it is when it goes from English to German to French and so I have no idea what the translations are like but I have been doing interviews in Germany in the last few days and I have covered Portugal and Spain and Denmark who fortunately speak good English. Different cultures will concentrate on different things. In Germany for instance they always say that I hated my father and I am thinking…’ok’ (laughs) and then you step back and think where do I start correcting this misapprehension.
The fact is I have been as honest as I can and as humorous as I can and I think English people will get the humour and obviously it is written by an English person for an English person if you like, and I don’t even know if the Americans will get the irony or the self deprecation but certainly certain countries in Europe will have a problem with it unless it is translated very well.
TWR: Without giving too much away, we have been told that there is an “announcement” being made tomorrow we don’t know what it is, but the rumour mill says that you are announcing gigs at Hyde Park and The Isle of Wight…any comment?
PC: All false. Yes, there are some shows at various places. We are doing some shows, not too many. Only in three cities, it will all be over tomorrow so thank f**k we can talk about it! (laughs). It is a question of whether to bite the bullet or not. We did a show in Miami in March and a Little Dreams gig with Nic playing drums then in June we did two Swiss shows with Nic on drums and at that point, or by that point I had decided let’s do a few things.
TWR: So, at these gigs we can’t talk about will you be just singing or will you be behind the kit as well?
PC: I am going to practice because I feel as though I have to do In The Air Tonight and I mean, Nic is perfectly capable but I feel like I should do that. We will work on that but it is early days. I really enjoyed the 2004/05 tour and Patrick Woodroffe is doing the set design again and he and I have already met a couple of times six months ahead of the shows to see what we can make it look like. I think the idea is not to tie in with the book, because the book will be dead and gone by then but just an autobiographical sort of thing. Not overly done.
TWR: Were you surprised when you went out with the boys in Genesis just how well those gigs were received?
PC: Yeah, I thought it was wonderful and it is interesting because in the time from when Genesis apparently dissolved until then, gave people enough time to forget about it and then oh… I am talking about critics here, because real fans will bring their kids along and say ’this is what it looks like; two drummers, see…Nobody f**king does that anymore this is real f**king music’ (laughs) and I knew there was an element of that or at least I hope there was! And the critics had got so used to what we were supposed to be like and the last tour I did with the band was in ’92 and so people were able to go ’wow, this IS different’ and I thought that this gave us a clean slate and I think that me going away for whatever reasons and the reissues gave a similar thing and the critics were able to say; ’oh, ok, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was’ and the fans have been loyal for so long and one of the reasons the record company said that they wanted to put out the old albums and I said, ’Wait a second, I just don’t want to remarket or repackage, we have to bring something new to it and we ummed and aahed for a year or so and we came up with the second CD idea of demos and live material… good idea of mine ! And then we had the idea about the photography and it gave it a kind of hands on…
TWR: How did they react to that idea because I thought they were amazing but I would imagine a record executive would think oh my god he’s lost the plot here …
PC: Well, different albums had different looks. Dance Into The Light looked pretty seamless and I thought Face Value looked, you know, what’s wrong with this? No Jacket Required felt slightly different because it was a full on face. The others all worked and my idea was to make people wonder what’s different about this and when you put the two together, you find out. It had my fingerprints on it and that was the most important thing. It wasn’t a record company package of reissues it had my fingerprints on it because I know, have you ever watched Barnyard? You know the bit with the dog and the old cow has died right? And they are trying to elect a mayor and the dog says ’I’d like to be the mayor’ and the donkey throws a ball and the dog looks at it and first of all they say you lick your balls and I don’t do that anymore (laughs) and the dog can’t resist going for the ball and my point is that my fans ARE fans, and they can’t resist something coming out and having the full collection and I didn’t want that to happen, I wanted to be able to say that there is something NEW here there something they haven’t got before. That was the idea and I hate to relate it to a cartoon but it was like that, I cant resist it, you know?
TWR: The liner notes on those albums were actually very enjoyable
PC: There were certain sleeve notes that went on every album but after those there were the more detailed ones of why this song was here or why that song was there and I certainly felt that with some albums such as Both Sides and I was the only musician on that album and suddenly you give it to twelve musicians, twelve TOP RATE musicians to play these songs and suddenly find out what is going to happen to them. You know the version of Hand In Hand on Face Value and then the version of it on the album I mean on the live version is like wow, it’s a different song. The original idea was to put the demos out and I said ’people have got the demos already’ I have always released the demos and that shows just where the song started but when you take it out on the road tthen it becomes something else and that was the idea behind it. The Mama thing on the Genesis box set I think, that for me was fantastic because I know how that song developed and the people will be able to hear… and we did it for days, you know and for people to be able to hear a version of that with the laughing and the sounds and the ideas coming gives them an idea of the way it was written …
And that was where we ran out of time. Once again our thanks to Phil forgiving upso much of his time on what is no doubt a pressured schedule. Grateful thanks to Jo Greenwood at TSPM for organising everything for us and for putting up with us!