Phil Collins talks ahead of Birmingham gig
The big guns love him. From Adele to Pharrell, from Lorde to Dermot O’Leary and from Kanye West to Beyonce – there is no greater love than that for Phil Collins.
The reluctant superstar – he didn’t want to be the lead singer of Genesis and retired in 2011 – occupies a rarefied space in the rock’n’roll pantheon. He has sold more than 150 million solo records and, along with Sir Paul McCartney, is the only artist ever to sell more than 100 million as both a solo performer and as the member of a band.
He has won seven Grammy awards, six Brit awards, two Golden Globe Awards and in 1999 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 – and yet no one seems to divide opinion as much as Phil.
To some, he’s a genius. To others, he’s the dullest man on the planet. And the question is, does he really care?
The thrice-married, thrice-divorced singing-drummer started his career as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! and was an extra in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night before working as a percussionist with George Harrison and joining prog rockers Genesis in 1970 as their drummer. When Peter Gabriel left five years later, Phil was moved to centre stage as his replacement.
The band took a break in 1978 and Phil began to work on his first solo work, as his first marriage crumbled. The result, Face Value, made him a superstar as it racked up five million sales. That, however, was as nothing compared to albums three and four: No Jacket Required and. . . But Seriously.
Both were number one hits in just about every country on the planet, while earning Phil a colossal 31 platinum discs in the US and UK alone. Blimey.
For a while, he was the most famous and successful man on the planet. When Live Aid hit in 1985, Phil didn’t join the ranks of other mega stars like Queen and David Bowie, who simply played to 72,000 fans at Wembley. He flew via helicopter and Concorde to a twin gig at the J F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia so that he could play on both sides of the Atlantic – to a global audience of 1.9 billion people in 150 nations.
By 2007, he’d had enough. He stopped touring and four years later, following the release of his Motown tribute Going Back, he retired altogether.
Except rock‘n’rollers never really retire, do they? And Phil returned in 2015 to do a charity gig before playing the US Open Tennis championship in 2016 – which inspired his present headline tour. His teenage son, Nic, plays drums so that Phil can focus on his singing.
“I didn’t plan on this,” he says. “Myself and Tony Smith, who’s been managing me and Genesis for 40 years, talked about it before but I kind of decided not to do it. We rehearsed a couple of years ago for three weeks but I wasn’t into it and nothing came of it.”
“I’d done some charity shows for the Little Dreams Foundation, which myself and the missus started, so I’d kind of done a few songs every year in Switzerland. The last one we did, I really enjoyed. Nic was on drums. Touring is different nowadays than it was one when I last did it, where you felt you had to do months. Now it’s possible to do it differently, with just a few shows. We have to enjoy it. If we’re not enjoying it, it won’t be long before it’s over.”
Phil remains confounded by his success – and isn’t surprised that he was the target of many critics.
“I’m eternally grateful that I did so well. Selling 100 million records with the band and by myself is pretty special. I’m very honoured to be part of that little club, y’know. But the audiences have been fantastic. It’s wonderful when you walk on stage now and people really want to be there. I did retire and I meant it, but I missed it so I came back.
“When I look back at my era of solo success, the first word that comes to mind is ‘apologetic’. I do realise from a distance why people got p*****d off with me. And why I maybe rubbed people up the wrong way because I was always everywhere. It was just my enthusiasm for what I was doing. I was being asked to play with people who were heroes. But I could see, or I can now, how the other side of that is ‘oh for f***‘s sake, go away’. It wasn’t meant to be that way. I was just being asked to do all these things as an enthusiastic musician, I couldn’t resist.”
Phil charted the highs and lows of his life in his autobiography, Not Dead Yet, which has incurred the wrath of at least one of his ex-wives.
“It was eye-opening as to how much I did work. When we were trawling the internet, I’d see how many dates I’d done in 1984 or 1977, it’s scary. But the book was good fun to write. Being honest about things didn’t bother me at all.”
He’s flattered that the likes of Adele, Lorde and Beyonce rate him so highly, though he covets his semi-retirement in Miami, with his ‘they’re-back-together-again-but-not-married-again-yet’ third Mrs Collins, Orianne. Phil became an alcoholic after they’d split up and he’d forked out £25 million in a divorce settlement – but they’re happily living as man and wife once more.
“I’m living with the family in Miami. It’s great. The boys come home from school and I’m a dad. I went to see their teachers the other day and am involved with their life. I wasn’t able to do that for various reasons with the older ones. I’d say that my life is biased towards family rather than music now. It’s just great to be here to give them a hug when they come home from school and to help them with their homework. So that’s important. That’s a normal life, that’s what I retired, for.”
He fondly remembers Live Aid: “It was a day of logistics, about helicopters and Concorde then running around the cabins saying hello to Eric Clapton and his band. It was the notorious Led Zeppelin. It was great fun to do.”
And he’s chuffed to be back on the road, at Birmingham and Manchester, Sheffield and elsewhere. “I can’t remember the last time I played there but those places all figured very strongly in the early days of Genesis and my solo tours.”
Would he change anything, looking back? Fewer wives, less ubiquity, a lower profile?
Nah. He’d leave things as they were. “There’d be a few songs that I probably wouldn’t write again, not songs that anybody else would probably even notice. But no, not really, I’ve never had regrets. It is what it is, it was what it was and I’m grateful for it.”
Phil Collins plays Birmingham Genting Arena on December 3.