Quite incredible to think that Phil Collins as a 25-year old was on his fifth American tour. Amazing! Personally, I didn`t even know what to do with my life at that age. But I guess it is easier when you have a lot of talent, meet the right people at the right time and live in exactly the right place. And more. Because there are a lot of stars that need to align for this to happen to anyone.
Certainly an interesting article to read, so enjoy!
Can little people rock `n` roll?
The Great Sequel to Can Public School Boys Rock`n`roll?
With reference to GENESIS, Prof. STEVE CLARKE answers a question that`s been worrying the diminutive all the world over.
It`s all a question of size, really. Seems that almost everywhere you go in America there`s the biggest something or other. Take New Orleans for instance, the deep, deep heart of Dixie, which boasts America`s, or quite possibly the world`s, biggest indoor sports complex, the Super-dome – a building that outsizes Houston`s Astro-dome by several square-feet or whatever.
Move up several states north to St Louis (the `s` is stressed), Missouri, the very centre of America itself, where the old Mississippi (itself high in longest-river chart) seems omnipresent and you`re confronted with what is apparently the world`s largest manmade structure – an absurd arch which straddles the riverfront like the perimeter of some gargantuan disembodied spoon.
The Arch is monstrously pointless, other than being a tourist attraction and symbolic of the city`s geographical position as “Gateway To The West”.
St Louis also has the world`s largest Holiday Inn complex, a minute part of which is being occupied tonight, this Thursday in late April, by Genesis, that most English of English rock bands who`re approximately two thirds of the way through their fifth American tour and not a little knackered.
And just continuing this bit about size, brings us to Phil Collins, whose amazing transformation from Drummer With The Group to Lead Singer on their last album, “A Trick Of The Tail”, represented something of a triumph for the little guy.
Collins` physical stature cuts a radical contrast with the St Louis Arch and everything (and isn`t everything?) big in America.
Moreover he`s no punk, like the other little guys in rock, but a 25 year-old musician with an extremely endearing temperament.
I remember my first, rather uncomfortable meeting with Genesis two or so years back when I wrongly came away with the impression that the boys in the band were, with the exception of Honest Phil, somewhat coldly diffident individuals. Others in the music biz would agree, saying, “Oh Phil, yeah, he`s all right.”
When I bump into Collins in a lift (or should I say elevator?) in the world`s biggest Holiday Inn complex, he`s genuinely friendly and in the absence of an on-the-road publicist (no-one`s trying to hype Genesis, never have and never will) it`s the drummer who hospitalitises me.
But to get down to business, can Phil crack it onstage as a singer, and more pertinently, as a front-man? Like I said, he is a little guy with a likeable, if basically anonymous face. Peter Gabriel, he isn`t.
Moreover, the group`s decision to have Phil sing in front of them was more one of expedience than anything else. Going back to last autumn and the recording of “A Trick Of The Tail”, Collins was down to sing a mere two acoustic songs, and as far as singing on the heavier numbers he was an unknown quantity.
Since joining the group in `71, Collins had always sang back-up to Gabriel on album and onstage – singing along live even when his vocals weren`t miked up to the PA. On Genesis`s 1973 album, “Selling England By The Pound”, he sang lead on his pretty, acoustic song “More Fool Me” which was also featured onstage.
After some 400 applicants for the job of Gabriel`s successor brought no joy, Collins thought it was about time he had a go at singing all of the album. “It was very frustrating,” he says. “I was singing and teaching them and none of them were coming up to scratch. We even went into the studio without a singer. It got to the point where we had to do `Squonk` (the album`s heaviest cut) – and I had a go. Obviously it went okay, so we went through the rest of the album.
“At that point we felt very confident. We knew that as far as the studio went we could exist as a four-piece without any hassle.”
The stage was another thing altogether, but with the encouragement of his wife, Phil suggested to the rest of Genesis that he should take care of all the vocals live. They weren`t convinced, but two months later when there was still no sign of anyone to take over on the vocal front, Collins put it to the band again.
This time they acquiesced, and the search for a drummer was on.
Enter Bill Bruford, one of our finest players, late of Yes, Roy Harper`s excellent Trigger, Pavlov`s Dog and National Health. Bruford had first played with Collins in Brand X as a percussionist alongside Collins` drumming – Collins formed Brand X about a year or so ago to play small clubs and pubs when Genesis aren`t on the road.
It was at one of the Brand X rehearsals that Bruford asked Phil how the search for a drummer was going. When Phil told him it wasn`t going well, Bruford wanted to know why he hadn`t been invited to join.
Says Collins: “I didn`t think he`d be into the gig after playing with whom he`s played with.” But after one rehearsal with Genesis, it was obvious that Bill did fit in.
Meanwhile back in St Louis, it`s just turned six in the evening and the temperature has cooled off to the lower 80s. The local FM radio has been persistently advertising a full day`s programme of Simon and Garfunkel for the coming weekend (they don`t believe in doing anything by halves) and tracks from Peter Frampton`s live album dominate the airwaves.
For Genesis it`s sound-check time and Mike Rutherford drives the band to this evening`s gig which is just a few minutes away from the world`s biggest Holiday Inn Complex. A 3,000 seater, it`s called the Ambassador Theatre, and very English it is too, with the kind of rococco splendour I hadn`t associated with American rock gigs. Suits Genesis down to a `t`, it does. It could have been air-freighted straight from London Towne. And probably was.
Genesis are not a huge act wherever they go in the States. Their biggest following is in the North-East and over the border in Canada where, after rehearsals in Texas, they opened this 30-date tour. After four warm-up dates in the Ontario area (“They knew us there, but they didn`t know any tunes,” says Collins) the tour started with two shows at Toronto`s Maple Leaf, a 9,500 seater hockey stadium.
An average sized gig for the tour, which ended in Los Angeles earlier this month, would be 3,500 with the vast majority of gigs having been sold out or almost sold out.
Collins opines thus about why Genesis are Big In Canada: “I think it`s because they follow European taste. When you`re there you could well be in Europe. I don`t actually like playing there because it`s like playing Europe. And I don`t like playing Europe.
“As far as album sales go, their penultimate “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” made the top 40 and while “A Trick Of The Tail” has done better, going to number 31 on some album charts. They haven`t as yet had a hit album in America.
This tour is very much a consolidatory exercise – “putting the full stop at the end of the sentence” as Collins puts it – and when the band return in October, they`ll be playing bigger gigs in several places.
Genesis might be a popular punters group in Canada, but the gigs there this time didn`t pick up ecstatic reviews. Over to Collins: “I thought we were really good. No way did I think we were bad, but the reviews sounded as if they were written by people who prefered the other show. They called us mediocre. Actually, I had a very down period at the beginning of the tour.
“I thought I was doing right, but I wasn`t sure because the only important feedback, apart from the audience reaction, was that I was weak. They (the press) said the music was okay, but that we`d definitely lost a singer. But in one place we knew for a fact that a paper had sent a gardening expert – I`m not joking. They sent a gardening expert to cover the show because the music correspondent was ill.
“This person reviewed the gig and I kind of started to love the idea of ignoring reviews.
“In the past I`ve always been an avid reader of our reviews. `The Lamb Lies Down` had some bad ones when we started. We played our first date in Chicago and the album hadn`t even come out yet. We got some awful reviews…
“The guy who reviewed us in Montreal this time said he was into James Brown. We expected a bad review from him and we got one.”
The Ambassador apparently isn`t sold-out, but looking around the theatre you could have fooled me. The audience is predominantly white, but there are more blacks than you`d expect for a Genesis gig, and the black guy in his late teens sitting next to me is well excited at the prospect of seeing the band.
Missouri as a state is neither north or south sociologically speaking – in the Civil War they couldn`t make up their mind which side to take and ended up on the fence.
The audience are a mixed bunch, some long-hairs, some short-hairs and there`s one guy who sits over to my left who`s most definitely got it right – with the following printed on his white T-shirt; Fuck the Bicentenary. Easily the funniest thing I`ve seen all week and in welcome contrast to the patriotic banners in the world`s biggest Holiday Inn Complex`s drug store which proclaim 200 years of freedom and democracy.
There is no support act and when Genesis take the stage around 8.30 they stay there for the next two hours and more. Collins has said that Gabriel`s departure has subconsciously lifted a weight off the band`s shoulders and everybody in the band will come over as more of a personality. And no-one is pressuring him to be another Gabriel.
And that`s how it appears as the gig gets under way, even though a little of the natural reserve common to Steve Hackett, Rutherford and Tony Banks transfers itself to the stage.
Collins, of course, is as different a front-man from Gabriel as Paul Rodgers is from Mick Jagger (no parallels intended), other than in his voice. His phrasing is almost identical to the Big G`s, but his voice lacks the breadth and power. However, the way he makes Genesis a much more human band more than makes up for it.
Phil Collins, quite simply, makes Genesis more accessible – to this writer at least. He has presence – amazingly enough, when you consider the man physically, but whereas Gabriel was always something of an awesome figure (maybe sublime is a better word) Collins is much more touchable.
Like the rest of the band (excluding Bruford, but that`s something else again), Collins is tastefully dressed. He wears sharply pressed cream pants and a tastefully coloured T shirt. Rutherford, Banks and Hackett, the latter of whom, in a loose fitting white blouse and with pants tucked into his boots, comes on like some ever-so slightly degenerate 18th century cleric, are also tastefully dressed.
Rutherford also has stage presence now – his entire visage fixed in a splendid expression of upper-middleclass suppressed sarcasm. There`s definitely something of the John Cleese about this fellow.
What`s more, Hackett no longer sits down all the time. He stands up for at least half the set. He doesn`t move much, though. You don`t expect miracles, do you? But he does come up-front to introduce his song – the very excellent, ethereal “Entangled” from the last album.
Likewise Rutherford, who introduces some song or other.
Collins is a bodyful of energy on stage. He runs, sometimes on the spot in mock keep-fit type movements and sometimes from the mike out-front to his drum-kit, larger than Bruford`s and stage left. He scampers, leaps, scurries, feigns a ballet-dance and pirouettes all over the place. He uses hand-movements and facial expressions to bring over the point of the song.
For “Robbery Assault And Battery” he puts on a cloth cap and an oversized coat and becomes the small-time working class rogue the song portrays.
His only other costume change is a white smock which he puts on for another song, the title of which I`ve unfortunately forgotten.
Visually and musically this Genesis is excellent. Throughout their lengthy set they continually demonstrate the musical and compositional skills that have made them a first division band.
Their melodic flair comes across in songs like “White Mountain”, “Supper`s Ready” (which fulfils all its promise) and so many other songs which got lost in the pure enjoyment of it all.
The dynamics of their music is quite staggering and each musician plays his chosen instrument with a rare degree of technical prowess and taste. Nothing is overplayed or under-done. Everything is constantly creative and imaginative.
Yes, I liked them.
Slides, movies, graphics and cartoons are used throughout and are always totally in sympathy with the music. They make, say, the Floyd`s attempts at similar visual presentation techniques look silly by comparison. Ocassionally the visuals are a little too obvious, but even then acceptably so.
Apart from the numbers mentioned above, Genesis`s set also included “Dance On A Volcano”, “Squonk”, and “Los Endos” from “A Trick Of The Tail”, the title cut from “The Lamb Lies Down”, plus “Carpet Crawler” and “It” from the same album.
The latter segued into “Watcher Of The Skies” for the encore. There`s also the band`s only British hit “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, “Cinema Show” and “Firth Of Forth”.
Those of you who`ve bought tickets for the band`s sold-out five days at Hammersmith Odeon in June are in for the proverbial treat. Really.
Apart from the back projections, actual smoke belched from the stage for the climax of “Supper`s Ready”. That might have been a little over-done, but, `struth, at least it wasn`t dry ice.
Backstage Rutherford is quite euphoric, explaining that if he seemed a little pissed off earlier it was because the lazer wasn`t working. Laser? Isn`t that old-hat from The Who and Zeppelin? Ah, he says, the Genesis laser is different, and doesn`t merely project a static beam of light (or lights) across the auditorium. It`s much more flexible, and, they say, spectacular.
Hackett is maintaining his seemingly impregnable shyness, but when I tell him I think Genesis are a much better band for Gabriel`s going, he agrees. Gabriel sent the band a well-wishing telegram for the tour`s opening night, but still hasn`t seen them.
Banks and Rutherford are with the ladies. The excellent Bruford (damn, I`ve forgot to tell you how good he was. Still, you probably guessed) is swathed in towels, as is Collins who seems remarkably fresh after such an energetic performance.
The promoter has laid on Chinese food for all and there`s no madness. Genesis are well behaved. Didn`t you know that already? Back to the world`s largest Holiday Inn complex, where each group member retires to his own room. I go and see Phil with tape in hand. His wife and baby are in the bedroom of his suite.
Apparently his biggest worry about fronting the band was being incapable of talking to the audience, but that`s okay now. He does say he`ll keep himself just a shade more together before going on, but his new role hasn`t changed things that much at all.
“I don`t actually find it more tiring,” he says. “I`ve lost a lot of weight on this tour. Actually, I`d rather go back and play the drums than go off stage and have a drink. I`m still a drummer.
“I don`t consider myself the lead singer. I feel I have more leeway to do what I want being a drummer first, because people don`t expect a supercool, super-slick guy. They expect someone who`s just a guy and that makes it a lot easier.
“It makes me feel a lot more comfortable. I`m more excited by Genesis now `cause I can get more out of it. There were always songs that I would have loved to have sung. That`s probably why I sang along with Peter onstage. Some people might think I was sitting there plotting behind the drum-kit to get rid of the lead singer so I can take over, but that`s ridiculous.”
So does he think Genesis are a better band?
He cops out by saying, “It seems to be more musical, but maybe that`s because we`ve got Bill in the group. I have an awful lot of respect for what he does.”
Although Bruford has no thoughts of joining Genesis as a full-time member, Collins hopes he`ll be with them for their October US tour.
“I think he treats us the same way he treated Roy Harper and National Health. Bill appreciates that we`re about songs rather than techniques or solos (onstage there are few solos). I`d like to keep him into it but I realise he hasn`t got much to gain out of it. I want to make sure he`s happy musically. He seems to be.”
Collins onstage definitely becomes something of an actor and it doesn`t surprise me when he tells me that much of his childhood was spent in the theatre as a child-actor. He`s played the part of the artful dodger in Oliver, which maybe accounts for his fine performance during “Robbery Assault And Battery”.
“I`ve been on the stage in one form or other from the age of six until about 16 or 17. I feel quite comfortable in a costume like that. All the other times I feel just like a singer.
“That`s all I want to do – sing. So I try and use as much of the body and face but without actually going as far as putting anything on”.
Regarding the back-projections the group are self-critical, “We get qualms every now and then about them being like French movies, a bit electric cinema.
“Some of the film sequences weren`t as good as we hoped they`d be, things like `Entangled`, which are abstract are probably better.”
It must cost a lot to organise all that, particularly as they`re specially filmed?
“I couldn`t honestly tell you. You become immune to those sort of costs. I wouldn`t know how much a hotel room is. I don`t know how much we earn tonight. When you come to think about it, it must be somewhere between five and ten thousand dollars” – he pauses to re-collect his thoughts – “I`ve no idea… This could be a cheap gig. It could be a real expensive gig. We don`t plan to make money off our live performances. This tour might make a slight profit. Up until `The Lamb` we were writing off a debt.
“No sooner are we out of debt than there`s a tax problem. There`s no inbetween, so in effect we`ll only be as well off as we were three years ago earning 90 quid a week or something.”
Never heard of “Strapps”, but I like their promotional material.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Ramones, Ian Hunter, Erich Von Daniken, Eric Carmen, Elton John, Nils Lofgren, Stanley Clarke.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
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