by Rick Krueger
“Wait … Phil Collins was in another band at the same time as Genesis? And melancholy ballads weren’t involved?”
by Rick Krueger
“Wait … Phil Collins was in another band at the same time as Genesis? And melancholy ballads weren’t involved?”
Phil Collins, Not Dead Yet The Memoir (Penguin Random House, LLC, 2016)
Few people in the music industry have reached the same pinnacle of success that Phil Collins has achieved. Even fewer have sold over 100 million albums as both a member of a band and as a solo artist. This is a man who “fought in the prog wars,” hobnobbed with Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela, and who wrote and sang hit tunes for a best-selling Disney movie, for which he happened to also win an Oscar. Seemingly, the man has everything, yet this is merely the public “Phil Collins.” Philip Collins is a much more complicated man, and life isn’t as easy as he made it look over his long career.
If I were to describe this excellent memoir in one word, it would be “honest.” Two words – “brutally honest.” Collins holds little back. He invites us to come in and look at his struggles, hopefully understanding more about him and his music as we do. What stands out the most, however, is how down-to-earth he is. Unlike Genesis bandmates Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, Collins was not raised in a ritzy upper middle-class British school. Instead, he was raised in a sturdy working-class family at the “end of the line” outside of London. Indeed, as a child he lived just far enough away from anything exciting as to make it a big effort to get anywhere. This didn’t stop young master Collins, however. Many of his formative teenage years were spent milling about in music clubs in Soho, where he saw bands such as Cream, the Yardbirds, The Who, and Yes (who would later offer him a job as drummer). He was even present the first night Led Zeppelin ever played a live show. Did I mention he was in the crowd for the Beatles A Hard Day’s Night? Yeah, he got around.
Collins, as you might recall, is a drummer and singer who once was part of a legendary prog-rock group. In recent years he has kept a low profile. Why? An August 17th piece in the New York Times catches up with Collins:
After decades as the drummer and post-Peter Gabriel lead singer for Genesis, as well as a commercially dominant solo run as the poster boy for pillowy ’80s pop excess, Mr. Collins retired as a not-quite-beloved rock elder in 2011. As with most musician goodbyes, the dormant period didn’t last. (Presciently, Mr. Collins had called his tour in support of the 2002 album “Testify,” his most recent release of original material, the “First Farewell Tour.”)
Since announcing his resurgence last year, Mr. Collins, 65, has performed at a handful of charity events, in addition to starting the process of reissuing eight of his solo albums.
The piece is a lead-up to an August 29th performance by Collins at the opening ceremony for the United States Open tennis tournament in Flushing, Queens. Collins explains that he’s been busy with family, recovering from “war wounds” including surgery on a bad back, which led to foot problems, which was then followed by some problems with his left hand. He’s also been working on a memoir, which appears to be quite open and honest about his failed marriages (three of them), drinking problems, depression, and such. Of his varied career, he says:
I think, with some critics, I became synonymous with an era of music that they didn’t like, and they were suspicious of all success, which is understandable. You end up painted into a corner that it’s impossible to get out of. I don’t lie awake and think about this, but I withdrew in 2005, and I think I was quite honest about why: I wanted to write myself out of the script.
When the reissued albums came out — which I was reluctant to do at first, until I found some way I could be proud of it — I thought, “This is exactly what I’d hoped for.” Of course, records sell differently now than when I was making them, so it wasn’t a question of cashing in. It was giving people a chance to re-evaluate this person that had become a whipping boy for the ’80s. I was so pleased that people were able to say, “I re-looked at this, and it’s better than I thought.”
All of which leads up to this video of Collins performing yesterday in NYC at one of my favorite sporting events, The U.S. Open (yes, tennis is a favorite sport; I own 68 rackets). The first song, “In the Air Tonight”, is very well done; note the drummer, who is Collins’ 15-year-old son, Nick. The second song, “Easy Lover”, is performed with Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and is utterly boring.
In part I of this review, I attempted–and I hope succeeded–in professing my respect for Genesis, 1978-1983, while admitting my disappointment in INVISIBLE TOUCH (1986) and my nearly complete ignorance of anything the band released after 1986. When Steve Hackett first introduces the [insert positive descriptive] Ray Wilson on one of the Genesis Revisited concerts, I had to google the guy. I had no idea who he was. This, for better or worse, probably tells you how little I know about Genesis’s later history. I also noted that there were a few good things about the documentary the BBC made a year or so ago, Genesis Together and Apart. Some of the questions, the footage, and the memories truly moved me. I’d never heard of one of the talking heads, but, frankly, they were pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed their enthusiasm.
Overall, the BBC narrative just infuriated me.
Some smart guys meet in an elite school. They really like one another, except for Tony, whom everyone simply tolerates because of his talent. Oh, and when there is disagreement, Tony gets grumpy. Rather than backing down, everyone gives into Tony. His moodiness isn’t worth combatting. The friends write music that taps into nostalgia for pre-industrialized, Edwardian England. From there, they create complex, artful tunes and dress in funny costumes. Along for the ride comes some guy–who according to Tony–plays the guitar “stiffly” and another guy who plays the drums fiercely but who also smiles a lot and loves fun and gets along with everyone. Weirdo costume guy leaves the band and becomes happy, even writing a pop anthem. Stiff guitarist guy leaves the band and no one really cares one way or the other if he is happy or not.
The musician also said he’s planning a new solo album and a tour. His last studio album was 2010′s collection of Motown covers, “Going Back.” Before that, he briefly reformed with Genesis in 2007 and released a solo album, “Testify,” in 2002.
He warned Genesis fans not to get their hopes up, though. Collins wants to see how the solo tour goes first.
As a teenager I was a big fan of Genesis (and still am), and as a budding, slightly obsessive completist I sought out the solo material and extra-mural projects of band members as well as the group recordings (as much as my limited income at the time would allow). It was through this route that I had my first real encounter with Jazz Rock Fusion, in the guise of Phil Collins’ solo project, ‘Brand X’.
I was quickly blown away by the virtuosity, energy and inventiveness of Messrs Collins, Goodsall, Lumley Jones & Pert, with later contributions from Robinson, Giblin & Clark. This was exciting music, which took me to places that Prog rock didn’t, and I loved it (and it took me into the multi-faceted realms of more conventional jazz, too). I even managed to catch the band on tour in 1980 at Bradford University, sharing the bill with Bruford, which was a particular joy.
I was delighted to discover that some of the band’s rarer material had become more widely available recently. One was a live recording of a show the band performed in September 1979 at the Roxy, LA. Most of the material here is from the ‘Product’ album (the first of their recordings that I bought, and which they were promoting at the time), and the recordings are of a slightly poor quality, probably being audience-recorded bootlegs. There is a good interaction between band and crowd, with some attempts at Pythonesque humour in places (the band had Michael Palin write sleeve notes for ‘Do They Hurt’ in 1980), though there are some slightly annoying ‘whoops’ from the audience at times: throughout, the musicianship is first rate, as one would expect.
The other is a collection of early session recordings from 1975 & 1976 with early versions of tunes from their first couple of albums, and other material which never made the official releases. So we have ‘Dead Pretty’, which became ‘Born Ugly’; ‘Why Won’t You Lend Me Yours?’ which emerges as ‘Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You’ve Broken Yours Off Already)’; and an early version of live standard ‘Malaga Virgen’, which begins life as ‘Miserable Virgin’.
An interesting couple of collections, which give some insights into the workings of this great group of musicians.
Every once in a while, an album from my past jumps out at me. How much thought, perspective, and perception went into it, I wonder? What did these folks think as they were making it? Did they think of it as a job? Did they think of some abstraction such as Art, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, hoping against hope for the approval of the gods? Did they make it to satisfy themselves or their friends or their families or their producers or their record label or their fans or some combination of all of these things?
Did they know it would still be touching the lives of others thirty-four years later?
Thank you so much, Phil, Tony, and Mike. Whatever your intentions, Duke still speaks to me. In volumes. Yours, Brad
It is written in the book.
Don’t miss the fascinating argument over at The Guardian: “Is Phil Collins the godfather of popular culture?”
From Joy Division and Brian Eno to the Cadbury’s gorilla, the former Genesis drummer’s vast influence far outweighs the derision he frequently attracts
Simon does his dad proud with Dimensionaut, an incredibly satisfying new concept album that instantly and undeniably enters the running for the Top Ten prog albums of 2013.
And I am happy to report that the disc was created in my corner of Canada:
In 2010, Simon, Dave, Matt and Kelly went to record at Greenhouse Studios in Vancouver in different trio combinations with engineer Chris Holmes. The music and story of “Dimensionaut” was born.
Joining the team to mix the album was veteran engineer Nick Davis (Genesis, XTC, It Bites) who came from England to Canada to mix at The Warehouse in Vancouver. The album was mastered by Gavin Lurssen and Rueben Cohen of Lurssen Mastering.
In 2012 Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner found themselves working again on a Genesis song but this time it was by the invitation of Steve Hackett who was putting together his album “Genesis Revisited 2”. The album includes both Simon and Dave participating on vocals and keyboards for the epic Genesis song “Supper’s Ready”.
Hey… no wonder it sounds sooooo good!
This is great stuff, progarchists. Crank it up and enjoy it!
I am happily giving it my top rating — five stars.
Carry on, my awesome son …
… we will have prog when you are done!
SOUND OF CONTACT – ‘Dimensionaut’
01. Sound Of Contact (02:05)
02. Cosmic Distance Ladder (04:43)
03. Pale Blue Dot (04:44)
04. I Am Dimensionaut (06:25)
05. Not Coming Down (06:01)
06. Remote View (03:54)
07. Beyond Illumination (05:53) [featuring Hannah Stobart]
08. Only Breathing Out (05:57)
09. Realm Of In-Organic Beings (02:52)
10. Closer To You (05:05)
11. Omega Point (06:30)
12. Möbius Slip (19:36)
I – In The Difference Engine
II – Perihelion Continuum
III – Salvation Found
IV – All Worlds All Times
Check out the thoughtful review over at Power of Metal by Jason Spencer.
By way of introduction, I grew up in and around Southern Appalachia. I’m as conversant on Roscoe Holcomb, Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers as Robert Fripp, Crack the Sky and Spock’s Beard. I grew up hearing pop, psychedelic and folk/country stirred together. When I was 8 years old Tommy James’ “Sweet Cherry Wine,” with its church organ, quasi-religious lyrics and Leslie speaker-distorted background vocals helped shape my standards for genre-bending music. It was fairly inevitable that I would fall in love with progressive rock. But I have a peculiar need to find harmony in disparate styles. That in part explains my choice for a first submission to Progarchy.
The most memorable mental picture I have of early Genesis came from a set played on Belgian TV: Steve Hackett, with black beard and aviator spectacles, sitting at Peter Gabriel’s hand, ripping through the furious instrumental break of “The Musical Box” on his black Les Paul. After whipping the pick up the neck Hackett dropped his hands to his knees and sat like a classical musician at rest, his section of the piece done. I’d never seen anything like his demeanor in a rock band. Hackett could have just played with the London Philharmonic.
It’s easy to forget that Steve Hackett was not the first Genesis lead guitarist. A year earlier his “seat” was filled by Anthony Phillips, classmate of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford at Surrey’s exclusive Charterhouse School, a place where future gentlemen were groomed. Among many distinguished Old Cartusians was Ralph Vaughan Williams, collector of English folk songs and hymns who melded them into memorable classical pieces like Norfolk Rhapsody and the fantasias on “Greensleeves” and a Theme by Thomas Tallis. To listen to Phillips-era Genesis is to be reminded of Charterhouse manners and influence, which included things like mandatory chapel attendance and respect for the ancient traditions of England. The medieval, the rural, and the sacred surrounded the lads as they turned their attention to becoming pop song writers in 1967.