"Not Dead Yet...Going Live" - The Not Dead Yet live press conference at the Royal Albert Hall, London, Monday 17th October 2016. Transcription by Alan Hewitt. Photos by Stuart Barnes.
JH: Thank you all for coming out. We are here where everybody from The Beatles to Michael Jackson have played and the artist that I am going to be introducing has also played here. They say you should only perform at the Albert Hall twice in your career, once on the way up, and once on the way down. Well it’s good to be back! (laughs). So I am delighted to say that the artist we have here is an extraordinarily talented man, I bought his records as a fan and he has lots of modern admirers and contemporary artists. He is one of only three artists to sell over one hundred million records, both as part of a group and as a solo artist. He has won Grammy’s, Brits, Golden Globes and an Oscar, and he has had more top forty singles than any other artist in the 1980’s and I think his music has been the soundtrack to lots of people’s lives. Please welcome Mr Phil Collins….
So, I suppose… you are going to be returning live so first of all what shows will you be doing?
PC: Well, we are doing a week here… five nights anyway and we are doing five nights in Cologne, in Germany and then five nights in Paris and then I am going to have a lie down but that is as far as we have got so far. It’s just… I was brought up old school to think that when you went on tour it was like going to war, you were never quite sure if you were ever going to come back. Now it is a little bit different so…
JH: All in June? The Albert Hall, Paris and Cologne. I mean, you haven’t toured since 2007 and then after that you said you were going to retire. What has happened to make you change your mind and want to come back?
PC: Well, actually, the First Final Farewell tour which was in 2004/05 was meant to be me stopping. We did do the 2007 Genesis reunion tour because we thought, I certainly felt and I think the other guys would agree, that we never really said goodbye properly. You know, after I left, they did a n album and it kind of fizzled out and so to go back out there and say goodbye properly, that was why we did the reunion tour. But I have been trying to stop the oil tanker since 2005. It took a while and I was also doing the Broadway musical and that was very exciting, for Disney and that was something very different. Yeah, I retired, which is a kind of funny word retired… I stopped work because I wanted to be a dad at home and as bad luck would have it, as soon as I retired, my family, you know, split up. So I didn’t have anything to go home to really. And that is when I started drinking and that’s all in the book.
In terms of why I changed my mind and I think that is what it is, I am living with my young kids and they want me to go out on the road and do some new things and so there is no reason why not.
JH: Will any of your family be playing with you onstage?
PC: Yeah, Nicholas who is fifteen now, he is a fantastic drummer . I mean my oldest son, Simon is also a fantastic drummer but he has his own career and has his own firm views about what he wants to do. Nicholas is in the learning stage and he is already a fantastic drummer, we did three shows in Europe this year, charity shows and he played and he was fantastic and all the band were very impressed. So he will be going out with me and he will be sixteen by the time we do this.
JH: So, will you be playing the piano more or will you be just singing?
PC: I think I will be just singing. Nic might play piano on something. But I think I will just be singing. I have a drum kit in the garage and I will be getting to that to see if I can play dah da, n da dah n da dah… if I can do In The Air Tonight then that will be something that I feel I should do.
JH: One of the most noted drum intros or drum pieces of all time really. Is it physically OK for you to play?
P C : Yeah, it is just that I play with my fingers and different drummers play in different ways but a lot of what I do comes from the dexterity of the fingers and that is the thing that has clammed up over the last few years so it is just a question of getting strength back in those fingers and doing it.
JH: And the tour is going to be called Not Dead Yet …Live and that is also the title of your book, isn’t it?
PC: Yeah… Not dead Yet … Live… a bit. The translation of this title will be of course, by the time you get this in Polish and Czechoslovakian and German and French and Spanish it loses a bit of the humour, I have to say! (laughs). But it is English humour … not dead yet live… work that one out! I decided to call the book that because a lot has been made of my health and also because there are still some things to do so it was more like not dead yet…still got more things to do.
JH: Was it an enjoyable process doing an autobiographical book and with all these things coming out you have had to look back, did you enjoy that?
PC: As I said to you a little earlier, I don’t want the book to be lumped together with the reissues because that was a different idea and the singles thing, the big multiple CD thing where you have all the singles, the hits and the misses it is just a complete collection of all the singles and that kind of tops off the year of the re-issues with the new covers and n extra CD each time. But the book has taken, I stared it in 2010 and it has taken a while to do an I feel very responsible for it and I did have bit of help from Craig McLean who is a great journalist and who has become a great friend and just to put the things in order because I wrote the early days and then when I go to the music, I just got bored because I have told some of the stories quite a lot and didn’t know if I could handle it again but we did it and with his help it came out very well. It is a very honest, funny as well as being sad sometimes…
JH: And when you look back particularly over the music and bearing in mind you are going to be out on tour, is there something from all of that that stands out as something you are most proud of?
PC: yeah, the ones I am most proud of are the ones that nobody every really takes any notice of. I have never made a secret that Both Sides was my favourite record because I did everything myself and the music just came out and I was doing things I had never done before. Of course people know me for some of those things that were on the tape and I can’t do a concert without doing some of those but some of them if I didn’t have to song them again that would be OK too . It is my job to put in things that people want to come and see me play and they have to have some of the things they have grown to like.
JH: Yeah, the soundtrack to their lives but it is not just the older audience there is a whole lot of contemporary artists who have expressed admiration for you like Adele and Pharrell and Kanye West and Beyonce and people and having all of these young artists does it surprise you that they are admirers of yours?
PC: Of course. I usually hear about this stuff third hand and Lily my daughter usually calls me or texts me and says have you seen what so-and-so has said? And I say no and she will tell me what this person has said and I will say that’s nice, thank you and it is very mice to be thought of in those terms because I grew up a rhythm and blues fan and The Beatles were there, of course, but for me other than that it was all rhythm and blues and Stax Atlantic and Motown and so having these guys see through the bad press, see through the opinions and all the negative stuff, they just hear it and like it or hear it and don’t like it and they really took to it and if they say I am one of their influences then I am very proud of that.
JH: Especially to have lots of generations enjoying your music and you are about to go out and you are playing five nights here and in Germany and in Paris and have you been doing any particular preparation? Have you been going to other shows and think about how you might set things up for the tour, the staging and everything?
PC: I suppose I should have done. I am certainly I guess I should see what’s out there. I have heard great things about Adele’s show who I think is one of the strongest artists we have had for a long time and yeah, I have worked forever with Patrick Woodroffe who does the Olympics, he does The Stones and think he even did Adele but I have been working with him as Genesis have always worked with him and we have been starting work early on what the show could be and how it can take form. Usually these kind of things are a little late but we have started well early and so here are thoughts on how it can be but it is going to be a stroll or a romp or a tromp (laughs) through my .. Stuff that people know .
JH: And are you, do you think, as an artist are you spontaneous or are you well rehearsed, which category do you fit into?
PC: Well, when you have a twelve piece band you cant be too spontaneous. The show grows and things develop within the rehearsal period and a lot of my stuff, of course, I played myself and then brought people in to ornament if you like, when you have got a song that I played on my own on the record and you give it to twelve great musicians it is going to sound different so that there is spontaneity but changing a show every night that is a bit more difficult because there are lighting cues and stuff and sometimes and if you haven’t done it for along time you cant get it to work. What can happen between tunes is spontaneous and there is obviously the way it can be set up. I think a lot of people tend to think of me as shiny BMW music and if the truth were known, I am actually completely the opposite of that and the way I work is improvisation and I sing… the story about In The Air Tonight that is true, I was just in my studio and I just sang those lyrics and I didn’t sit there thinking what’s going to sound great. I just sang the lyrics and then wrote them down and that is what nearly all of my work since then has been like that. Whether it was the Disney stuff, the spontaneity and I think that is a little bit of a misconception of me really.
JH: Are you nervous about coming back live after all this time or are you looking forward to it?
PC: Oh I am looking forward to it and the reason I have kind of bitten the bullet because I have done these shows albeit in fun places and seven song sets and charity events for Little Dreams which I have been doing this year and when you first go out on stage and you haven’t done it for ten years, certainly on your own, the reaction was very warming and the band play better than I do so it is really something I am looking forward to. And especially having Nicholas behind me on drums because of his influences; Bonham, Chad Smith and me there’s lot of balls and we have this little kind of shorthand between us and he knows. He takes notes very well, he doesn’t get offended because that is one of the things you have to be careful of when you have family in the band, you don’t fall out over the smallest thing but he is a fantastic drummer.
JH: And nice to have your son on tour with you as well… And when you are on tour and as an example I asked Bjork once what she took on tour with her and she took a primus stove and she would set that up and make sort of beans on toast in her hotel room. Is there anything you like taking with you when you are on tour?
PC: No, but it’s a nice idea (laughs) you know beans on toast when you are paying three thousand dollars for an egg! Yeah that does sound like an interesting idea. We have never had particular riders. At one point, this is back in the Eighties I developed a taste for steak tartare but it has to be prepared well, it is not just raw meat. Anyway, I said I liked it once and \I got it every night in the dressing room, raw hamburger patty that had never seen any seasoning had never had any of the things you are supposed to have with it and I got so fad up with seeing it in the dressing room that one night I just put it on the wall as a warning to others (laughs) and so I never saw it again.
JH: So you have to be so careful if you had said the wrong thing today you might have had ten thousand primus stoves …Well I think I am going to throw over now to the ladies and gentlemen who are gathered so if any of you would like to ask my client a question….
INT: Was there any medical advice to you that you could never play drums again and is it particularly painful for you to play drums or are you able to build it back up the way that you used to?
PC: I don’t think I will ever be able to play the way that I used to. Something happened and I can remember it was on the Genesis tour around the time of the drum duet into Los Endos and the drum duet would get… pushing it and pushing it as we used to, Chester and I. Something happened one night and at that point it never came back and I tried to use heavier sticks, I tried to use thicker cymbals but I just couldn’t get any power with this hand. So it is a little bit of a mystery as to why it happened but I am 65 and I have been playing since I was 5 years old and I would like to have the choice but I am not going to lose sleep over it.
INT: It is well documented, drink, divorce, and now disability what are you doing to prepare yourself for the rigours of a new tour?
PC: Yes, what am I doing? The state of play at the moment is, I had back surgery because of this sixty years of drumming it has really messed my back up and it messed my hips up as well and I had back surgery to sort that out but it has left me as of now, a year ago it has left me with what they call “drop foot” which is where my right foot doesn’t have any up and down motion or any feeling. That I am hoping in time will get better as the nerves regenerate so I will be…its on the top of my to do list in terms of getting some physical stuff done I am doing therapy which is very good and it is high on my to do list. You mentioned divorces and drinking, that doesn’t get in the way of this and I am back with my third wife so I have only really been divorced twice you could say…if you were GENEROUS you could say that (laughs) and she didn’t give me the money back! (laughs) Nevertheless, we are not downhearted.
INT: It is well know that a lot of pain contributed to the massive hits of the early Eighties, in your personal life, now that you are hopefully very content, what will inspire you to write music?
PC: Well, it all starts for me when you put the hands down on the keyboard and something happens …or it doesn’t and then the lyrics that you will come up with will be in sympathy with the music that you have written so even if it is a slightly sad piece of music you will recall certain things that go with the music . It all happens spontaneously and on some of the early albums. On any album I think you can tell what’s going on in my life and I am pretty direct about it and that doesn’t bother me but in terms of being inspired for new material it all depends on what happens and what comes out when you put your hands down there and what comes out, you know. I don’t anticipate going through that again please god! (Laughs)
INT: You mentioned Genesis earlier on and bringing it to an end does that mean Genesis is over once and for all? Or wouldn’t you rule out that something might happen a piece of music or something because I know Mike Rutherford for example doesn’t rule it out once and f or all.
PC: Yeah, well doing the book I was reminded of just how good friends we are you know quite often I would return to the fold if you like and we would do something. That kind of changed when I moved to Switzerland because of the distance and I must say Tony and mike said ‘our kids are grown up, we’ll come to you’. I just don’t want to get busy … I don’t want to get too busy and I know how things are, you write a few pieces of music and then you do an album and then you and talk about it and suddenly there’s a tour and suddenly you look back and its six months, you know and I don’t want to do that but I would say that I consider what we had as pretty special in as much as the three of us would just sit down in a room with nothing prepared. There wasn’t one writer, there wasn’t two writers we would just come in with nothing and we would just start playing until something happened and we would recorded it and then we would come back to it a couple of weeks later and from there songs would develop and that is pretty special to have a relationship with guys and do that or can do that so I wouldn’t rule it out, you know.
INT: You recently reissued your albums and revisiting them were there any things that surprised you, things that you had forgotten that you enjoyed or any underrated gems?
PC: Yes, I think over the years I think you tend to paint records into certain corners you know, people call Face Value “the divorce album” but actually on that there are some very optimistic songs where I met Jill and the whole writing of that and the recording and waiting for it to come out. I met Jill and so there are some positive songs and some romantic songs if you like. I feel less affection for No Jacket Required and I feel a bit more affection for Hello, I Must be Going than I did for a long time. That is kind of, you think you know what an album is about and then you go back and listen to it again and you realise that it is either better than you thought or its not as good as you thought.
INT: You did mention earlier about bad press, do you think that writing this autobiography has given you an inner strength so you can think they can say what they want now because I have already said it all?
PC: I guess. I didn’t intend it to be a get even book with anybody, I just said what I felt should be said whether it was about the f a x issues which aren’t mentioned it was just taking the lid off some things, Live Aid you know and I have been blamed for led Zeppelin at Live Aid ever since we did it and now I have had an opportunity to explain what did happen. So, things like that I feel like I have got it all out in the open and if anybody wants to check out the truth as far as I see it (laughs), you know I do put at the beginning of the book that this is my life the way I see it, it is the way I remember it, it may not tally with everybody’s memories but four people can be in a room and three of them can remember it completely differently. A witness at an accident, he wore a blue jumper, no he didn’t he wore a black jumper you know its like these kind of things, we are all in the same place but we remember different things.
INT: Jools mentioned the younger generation like Adele and Pharrell and so on have you had offers to work with them and would you be interested if the offers came along?
PC: Sure. I mean I have got Pharrell’s number and my daughter Lily got it for me because she knows him and I don’t know what to say to him you know… oh I really like you (laughs) I really like what you do man. I would work with them I think. It depends when that came up and it depends what it was. I did have this thing with Adele where she asked me if I would write with her and we met in London and she gave me a piece of music and then she disappeared! Which I believe she does quite a lot and I was frantically writing it and then she said ’I’m moving and it’s a bit early ’ so we almost came close to working and I didn’t actually finish the thing and she never got to hear what I did because it was too early for her to start work on the third album as she had just had the baby and stuff. Yeah, if something turned up it would be interesting. I don’t really just want to be an ornament on someone else’s cake but if it is a real project and we do something together then possibly.
INT: A little while ago you said you were writing a book about the Alamo is that something that is still ongoing or …
PC: No, I did it. It is a history book you know, no one pays attention to history books! I had, apparently, one of the biggest private collections of Alamo related relics and documents and effects and I just collected it because I couldn’t resist it and it was what I spent my money on apart from the divorces of course! (laughs). And then I started to wonder what was going to happen to it and so I gave it all to the Alamo and they went on to make a museum and so for me that is the full circle, that’s great from being five years old and falling in love with the story to now that’s a great story but before I let it go I did a four hundred page coffee table book about the collection and that is what started me writing this book and it was great fun to write and it was doing something different every day going down to the computer and looking up the historical stuff because it had to be right, it’s history, its documented and so that came out in 2010 and it is called: The Alamo - A Collector’s Journey.
INT: Speaking about your own history, we have had the compilation of the album and the singles and you have done the retrospectives with Genesis, is there any chance of a retrospective compilation of your own B sides and outtakes or whatever at some point?
PC: No… well I don’t know, frankly I think that most of the things that are out there people have. And there are some things out there. You know when I was looking for things to put on the second albums like the second Face Value CD etc I went on You Tube just to see what was around and I found a demo that I had made, never finished and had forgotten I had written and there is only one tape of that and I have it and yet it was on You Tube! I heard it and I thought, that’s quite good and I tried to learn to play it again but the stuff that is out there most fans that are interested in those rarities probably have them and I think after a year of reissue I don’t think I want to do any more.
And that was where our host, Jools Holland brought the conference to an end folks. I think you will find the result interesting.