Phil Collins, drummer, songwriter, record producer, actor and singer chats with Kevin Cooper about an incident at Nottingham’s Boat Club, the possibility of a Genesis Reunion, his recent health issues and his forthcoming tour dates in the UK.

Phil Collins, LVO, is an English drummer, songwriter, record producer, actor and singer. Born and raised in West London, he played drums from the age of five and completed drama school training, which secured him various roles as a child actor. As an adult he also starred in Miami Vice and the film Buster. Pursuing a music career, Collins joined Genesis in 1970 as their drummer and became their lead singer in 1975 following the departure of Peter Gabriel.

Collins began a solo career in the 1980s, with his successful singles including In The Air Tonight, One More Night, Sussudio, and Another Day In Paradise. Inspired by his marital breakdown and love of soul music, he released a series of successful albums which included Face Value, No Jacket Required, and …But Seriously. He has sold over 150 million albums worldwide making him one of the world’s bestselling artists. He has also won seven Grammy Awards, six Brit Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, one Academy Award and a Disney Legend Award.

In 2003 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010, the Modern Drummer Hall Of Fame in 2012 and the Classic Drummer Hall Of Fame in 2013.

Following a sabbatical to focus on his family life, he released his autobiography, Not Yet Dead in October 2016 and at the same time announced that he would be touring Europe with his Not Yet Dead Tour. After some dates were postponed in June 2017, he rescheduled them for November.

Whilst getting ready for the remainder of his tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Phil, good afternoon.

Hi Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No, you are very welcome.

I have to tell you that I have been a massive fan of your work both with Genesis and as a solo artist for many years now. I could never manage to get tickets to see you here in the UK so on Tuesday 25th November 1986 I finally saw Genesis on the Invisible Touch Tour at the Sydney Entertainment Centre over in Australia.

Oh wow, really. Well thanks for that, it’s always nice to hear from someone who is genuinely a fan of my work. I have to say that they were good shows in Australia because those entertainment centres are very intimate despite holding twelve thousand people. It was a good tour so you managed to catch a good show.

The one thing that stands out in my mind is just how good your lightshow was at that time; it was fantastic.

That’s very nice of you, thank you.

Before we move on I have to ask, how is your health now?

(Laughter) oh it’s okay you know. How can I put this; a lot was made of it and I have to admit that when you get to your mid-sixties various parts start to wear out. As you will know I did have to undergo back surgery and I guess that is down to me playing the drums for all of my life, from the age of five. I think that and a bit of bad luck caused me to have the back surgery which in itself wasn’t initially a problem. However, it did lead me to having problems with my right foot, my left arm; some nerve damage raised its head on the Genesis Reunion Tour, which all means that I can’t really play the drums anymore.

All of this means that I now sit down on a stool whenever we play a concert and touch wood, no one seems to have complained yet (laughter). I have got a pretty active band on stage behind me so I have to say that despite all of that, all is good. It’s all good.

You mention not being able to play the drums anymore, does that frustrate you?

Well what I would say to you is that I would like to be in a position where I have the choice, because at this moment in time I am simply stuck with what I have got. It’s funny you asking me that particular question because only yesterday my son Nick, who is now my official drummer, well, his drum teacher came over to the house and gave me a pair of my drum sticks. He also said that he is going to get me a practice pad and he has given me a few exercises to do in order to get the muscle memory going again. So being honest with you, it doesn’t really bother me. I have played the drums all of my life so it doesn’t really bother me. But again, I will say that it would be nice to have the choice and still be able to play whenever I want to.

You are about to undertake eight days here in the UK on your Not Dead Yet Tour. Does touring still excite you because it seems a lot for you to be undertaking again?

(Laughter) I actually said that to my Manager but no, I have tried to re-educate myself that touring today doesn’t have to be the way that touring was back in the 70s and 80s. Back then you said goodbye to the family and then when you came back off the tour, if you were lucky, the kids would be driving (laughter). So my Manager and I decided that if I am going to do this again then we need to do it in nice, presentable packages of shows that mean by the time that you stop you are still enjoying it. And of course this little run of shows is quite different in the fact that we will be playing Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle and even Birmingham.

Back in the day Birmingham used to figure because of the NEC which was a large venue, but in all honesty we haven’t played some of these places for years. That will be great fun in itself; to be able to actually play to people who Genesis and I used to play to back in the 70s and 80s. And it’s nice to go back and play for the people who can’t get down to London. It’s nice to be able to bring the show to them and I am really looking forward to it.

You mention playing here in Nottingham back in the 70s; were you not involved in an incident involving the staircase at The Boat Club (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) how the hell can you remember that (laughter). I have to be honest and say that I was actually thinking about that very incident (laughter). I remember playing the Nottingham Boat Club with Genesis back in the early 70s complete with the Mellotron (laughter). I remember trying to get the Mellotron up the stairs and it was so heavy that we had to take part of the staircase down in order to get the Mellotron up (laughter). Those are great memories.

You have called both your autobiography and the tour Not Dead Yet. It is obviously a tongue in cheek comment; whose idea was that?

The title was mine. Because as I said to you just now, a lot has been made of my health and it wasn’t really like I had cancer or major problems; I was just falling apart (laughter). A lot was being made of it because as you will know the bigger story is always better than the smaller story. So it was just a ‘Pythonesque’ kind of title. The publishers hated it at first but I tried to show them that with the right photograph it could actually be seen as funny rather than morbid. And I am pleased to say that worked.

You have mentioned great memories of previous times spent here in Nottingham, the Not Dead Yet Tour actually kicks off here in Nottingham at The Motorpoint Arena on Wednesday 22nd November, just what can we expect?

Oh the same old boring stuff (laughter). Obviously you have got to play the songs that people want you to play, as well as putting in a couple of things that you wish that they would want you to play. At the moment up until now we have been doing a show of two halves. However, whether that continues or not with the next lot of shows will all depend upon the rehearsals that we are going to be having prior to the Nottingham show. We are intending to rehearse for a week in order to brush ourselves up a bit but at the moment it is a lot of the stuff that people would want me to play. I have obviously got new people in the band together with Nick playing the drums so it has actually got an exciting edge to it now.

We are all looking forward to it; we have all had a great time on the first batch of shows and we are all looking forward to this next batch of shows here in the UK. They are usually all great fun places to play but I’m not quite sure about playing them in November (laughter). Let’s just hope that the weather is good.

Will we ever see a new Phil Collins studio album?

Being honest with you I would have to say that at this moment in time I can’t see it. But that is only because I have become a bit lazy of late I think. I have got a small studio in my house and it needs to be operated just by me. You need to whizz around it in order to do your own thing and write songs and I must admit that I have got terribly out of touch with doing that over the last few years. So in the foreseeable future I would have to say no. However, I have learnt to say never say never because I would never have been sitting here talking to you about playing a show in Nottingham two years ago. However, that has all changed, my attitude towards playing live is back, I have found that hunger again and who is to say that it couldn’t happen once again regarding me writing some new stuff.

Taking you back to your childhood, you were playing the drums whilst also attending drama school. Was there ever a time in your life where you had to make the decision, drums or acting?

Oh no, it was always music really. However, back then you couldn’t play music professionally at a young age, you kind of had to go through the school and get to a certain age. Whereas I think that it was mainly by luck rather than by choice that my mum got involved with the drama school and shortly after that I started auditioning for roles and I started to get them. However, all of the time drumming was my main thing. So for me it was always music and there was never a choice. Acting for me was never an option. In fact to be honest with you I hated acting even when I was doing it. It was only when I did Miami Vice and Buster that I started to realise that acting could actually be fun (laughter).

I remember seeing you in Miami Vice very well (laughter).

Well I am living in Miami now and I don’t recognise any of it from back then in the Miami Vice days. A lot of people remember that episode and it was great fun for me to actually do something like that. It was only a week’s work; it was great fun to do and it was at that point that I realised that actually I was okay at it which opened my ears to certain things that might come my way and sure enough, Buster came my way. After Buster I did a few other things and it was all good.

I have to tell you that you and I have something in common.

Do we, what’s that?

We are both lovers of all things Motown.

Well what can I say, we both have the most impeccable taste in music (laughter).

Knowing of your love of Motown I wanted to ask you, did William ‘Benny’ Benjamin, Richard ‘Pistol’ Allen and Uriel Jones; three of Motown’s most famous Funk Brothers and drummers, all of whom are sadly no longer with us, influence you in any way?

Oh yes, most definitely, without knowing it I think they did for sure. However, it was only when I began studying Motown because like most people I had just enjoyed it back in the 60s but when I went back and studied it for the Going Back album, that’s when I realised who these guys were and who did what, for example Benny Benjamin did most of the shuffles. They were great players and the sad thing is that they have all gone now; even Bob Babbitt has now left us.

You mention Funk Brothers bassist Bob (Babbitt). How was it having Bob, together with guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette playing on the Going Back album?

For me it was a wonderful experience playing on that record with, at the time, the three remaining Funk Brothers. It really was great for me to be able to say to them “is that actually what happened” or “is that actually the part that you played” and all three of them would always say “yes, it is” and there was no arguing with that (laughter). There was, as I am sure you will remember, a documentary released about Going Back and the guys used to say to me that I had nailed the three of them because I really listened and I really studied. It was a great exercise for me and great fun.

You have mentioned the Going Back album. Was that an album that you had always wanted to make?

Yes it was and as you will well know, I have always loved covers. I have always recorded covers, from The Beatles to covers of songs that I love, like You Can’t Hurry Love, Groovy Kind Of Love and many more. However, with Going Back, for me it was a case of trying to recreate the vibe of that Motown era. A lot of that is sound, a lot of it is sonic and not just down to the playing or the composition, it is actually down to the way that it sounded. I had a wonderful engineer working with me on the album, who managed to get all of the lo-fi stuff happening because it was all distorted, and that was the charm of it. It was something that I really had the best time doing.

Most Motown records feature two drummers, playing together or overdubbing one another and in fact Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine used three drummers. Did this influence you in any way to have Chester (Thompson) work with you?

(Laughter) well you certainly know your Motown don’t you. That’s right there was, and on Dancing In The Street I believe that there were three drummers too. They just dragged them into the studio from the jazz clubs and got them to play pop music (laughter). Regarding me and Chester, to be honest I don’t really know; perhaps it did subconsciously, who knows. The thing with me and Chester was actually born out of one little moment in a Frank Zappa track. Frank recorded an album called Frank Zappa & The Mothers Live At The Roxy back in 1973 which featured both Chester and Ralph Humphrey on the drums. When I heard the power of that on certain things I simply wanted some of that. I wanted to be a part of it and that is when I asked Chester to join Genesis. At that point I hadn’t even met him; I just asked him to join the band because I knew that he and I could do some good stuff together.

Have you ever received any feedback from Berry (Gordy) regarding Going Home?

Not from Berry Gordy, no. I didn’t send it to him and I don’t even know if I am in his orbit but Lamont Dozier and I were very close, so I sent it over to him and he kindly did some sleeve notes for the album. I know that we did a good job; I tried to emulate it and I didn’t try to do new versions of the songs. I simply tried to emulate what they did. Sometimes I look at it and think ‘it’s just a karaoke kind of thing’ but for me it really was the pleasure of trying to recreate the wonderful groove of those tracks and we spent a long time trying to achieve that.

You recently released your Autobiography, also entitled Not Dead Yet. Was that something that you felt that you needed to do in order to get a few things off your chest whilst putting a few things that had been previously written about you straight?

When I started writing the book I figured that I had retired from doing what I am doing and I really do not have time for people who write their autobiography when they are twenty-five. I figured that I was closer to the end of what I am doing than at the beginning. So I suppose that it seemed a logical thing for me to do. Obviously there have been a few books written together with one so-called serious biography that was written by Ray Coleman some years ago now, Phil Collins: The Definitive Biography and I wasn’t happy with any of those things in terms of it being the thing that people will read, remember and think that it is the truth.

So I just figured that I would write my own account at some point. After I had finished writing The Alamo And Beyond: A Collector’s Journey I suddenly found myself with time on my hands. I had enjoyed writing that so much that I simply decided to keep writing and a lot of what is in Not Dead Yet came from that era and then I stopped (laughter).

Will there be a volume two?

I don’t think so, no. If there is then it won’t be very thick (laughter). I think that I have said all that I want to say.

Taking you back to Wembley Stadium on Saturday 13th July 1985 and Live Aid. Do you have fond memories of the events of the day?

(Laughter) funnily enough I remember quite a lot about the day. I have a pretty good memory for detail like that. Having said that I have got a good memory; what was the question again (laughter).

Whenever I interview artists who actually performed at Live Aid they tell me that they are only now remembering the events of the day due to recent magazine articles and TV programmes re-running certain performances. With hindsight would you do it all over again?

Oh yes, without hesitation. The chapter in my book which relates to the events of Live Aid entitled ‘My Past And It’s Downfall’ is once again meant to be tongue in cheek, a Spike Milligan kind of thing, but there was another side to Live Aid which was slightly less shiny together with the logistics of trying to get that happening whilst getting through the day meant that there were a lot of, how can I put it, ups and downs.

At what point in your career did you feel the most musically satisfied?

Obviously whenever you finish an album you think that it is the best that you can do and then two years later you are doing it all over again and you think, ‘oh this is the best that I can do’ so it is a difficult question. In retrospect I think that the most fun that I had was recording Going Back. But even then that is the most recent so who is to say that’s not the same thing when you think that the most recent thing is the best thing. There have been lots of wonderful moments and I always say that playing with Eric Clapton in his band was for me one of the highlights of my career. Playing with great musicians in the four piece that we had in the late 80s was great musically but most people would say “surely it was No Jacket Required” or “surely it must have been Face Value” so as you can see, on any given day I reserve the right to feel slightly different about it.

The question that everyone wants to ask is, will we ever see Genesis back together again?

I can’t say no for sure because I have learnt, as I have said before to never say never. Mike (Rutherford) and I and Tony (Banks) and I are still all very much in touch quite regularly, Steve (Hackett) slightly less so and Peter (Gabriel) is around quite a lot but I don’t know if the original five piece will ever do anything together again. I simply don’t know.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was It Only Took A Minute by Joe Brown & The Bruvvers.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

The Yardbirds at the Marquee Club with Jeff Beck.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) where the hell did that come from (laughter). To be honest with you I can cry at the drop of a hat with a good piece of music. I have to be honest and say that I don’t know what the last piece of music was that made me cry but I always fill up whenever I hear I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt.

What would be Phil Collins idea of the perfect Christmas?

Being at home with the family. Nothing different from anybody else. We will be in Miami so it won’t be snowing but it will be being at home with the family, trying to have some sort of semblance of a normal Christmas.

On that note Phil let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you Kevin. Yes please do come along and see us, it’s a good show. Bye for now.