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Phil Collins as a “Backseat Driver” – Melody Maker 1975

Written by on May 10, 2019

Melody Maker April 26, 1975

BACKSEAT DRIVER
Genesis isn’t all funny masks and Peter Gabriel. Behind the effects is a group of fine musicians – and drummer Phil Collins for one is not too happy with the way they’re often overlooked, as he tells Chris Welch

It is surprising, but true, that even in this enlightened age, when modern rock progresses by leaps and bounds (hey up, thud, crash), there are still those who sit and see only the imagery, while the music falls on deaf ears.

This is the only explanation for the treatment given Genesis in some quarters. No so much from their fans as from those who are supposed to be analyzing their work for the purposes of a review. While every Genesis adherent knows just how good is the musicianship of the entire band, there have been suggestions in some quarters that only their skill at presenting visual effects holds the attention of audiences.

They say little, but it upsets the band, and has sown the seeds of dissent. There is a feeling afoot among the musicians that their efforts are ignored, or overlooked, while all eyes are on the show. It would be a tragedy if this affected their judgment or future together, because Genesis have evolved in painstaking fashion over the years a wholly individual approach to music making, that could not be recreated by others.

One of the key members of the band is Phil Collins. Originally inspired by Bill Bruford’s work with Yes, he has developed into an outstanding drummer, capable of great taste, power and precision, whose inventive skill brings light, shade and dynamics to the Genesis arrangements.

After a spell as a child actor, Phil first drew attention to this percussive talents in the short lived but celebrated band, Flaming Youth. During his five years with Genesis his technique has flourished and his personal drive remained unabated.

And yet he is not entirely satisfied with the way the musicianship in Genesis is sometimes overlooked, and often seeks musical satisfaction outside the group. Apart from drumming, he is also a remarkably good singer, whose back up work behind Peter Gabriel does not go unnoticed by the discerning.

When he met the MM this week, he described how the various members were getting frustrations out of their system. “Steve Hackett is really coming out of himself. He’s started doing a solo LP and I’ll be helping him on drums, while his brother plays flute. Mike (Rutherford) will play bass, and he’s doing his own LP with Anthony Phillips who was our first guitarist on the ‘Trespass’ album. Steve will be playing guitars and keyboards on this album.

“When we’ve finished this tour, I’m going to have a blow with another band. I don’t stop. But it’s hard on my lady and little girl when I’m away so long. Last year I did an LP with David Hentschel which came out on Ringo’s label, and I’ve done his next LP, which is a film score, and I did a few things with Peter Banks for his new version of Flash.

“I did some of the sessions for him in London, and also between Genesis’ American and European tours I did an LP with a bass player I met who used to be in the Liverpool Scene. The band hasn’t got a tour or anything, we just had a blow at Island and did an LP. I like playing with other bands because it keeps me fresh.

“I’d like to do more sessions with other bands. In Genesis I’m not pushing myself more than 60 per cent, and with other bands I can get out the other forty per cent. The session band isn’t just a blow, it plays songs, but they are not tight arrangements. It’s more like Return To Forever.

“The Hentschel album was done at Ringo’s house, and it was very professional and melodic.”

When was Phil going to do his long promised solo LP?

“It’s about time for everyone to do one. Tony Banks has been approached by Strat (Tony Stratton-Smith), to do an orchestrated LP of Genesis songs. Hopefully, all the solo LPs will surface at the same time. And people will be very surprised at what comes out.”

Did all this indicate unrest? Were Genesis happy together?

“Oh, the band is together and we’re all happy, but there are frustrations and disappointments. The reviews of the band are upsetting. One national paper devoted most of its review of the band to explaining that Peter’s wife was the daughter of the Queen’s secretary…it’s a problem that you can’t put into words.

“I’m not p—–d off, it’s just that I find it incredibly frustrating to play say very well one night, not very well the next, and for people not to know the difference. I’d like to get booed on an off night!

“Of course it’s a good thing that the show can get across by the visuals, but a lot of people don’t listen to the music. That’s a bit of a drag. No, it’s not jealousy. If it were, I’d feel it towards Peter, and I don’t at all. It’s as big a drag for him as it is for us.

“I’d like to see Mike and Tony come out more. After all, they started the band for the songwriting It must be frustrating for them when they write a lot of the music and get very little of it out.”

My own impression is that most hard-core Genesis fans appreciate the combination of talents that goes to make up their music, and a hopeful sign for an easing of tension and a more balanced approach, is the development of Genesis’ ability to improvise as well as interpret the arrangements.

One of the highlights of their Empire Pool concerts was the remarkably inventive collective improvisation that stalked a path midway between free jazz and electronic music.

“That’s Genesis delving into improvisation. We got into a lot of blowing during the ‘Lamb’ rehearsals and we all enjoyed it. It was very strange. We have been restricted in blowing, because we had no confidence, and that came mainly from Tony and Mike who’d say: ‘How can you just go on stage and blow?’ I was always keen on it and as it has transpired that section has become one of the best things we do. We call it ‘Evil Sun’.”

Phil’s drums are set out in unorthodox fashion, with the hi-hat virtually at the centre of his kit instead of the snare drum.

“That’s not intentional, but because there are so many drums on the other side, it puts the hi-hat in the middle. I’m using Premier drums now. I was a bit wary at first, but they are settling in. I’ve got a Kenny Clare outfit with double shells. And I’ve got vibes and a glockenspiel as well.

“I’ve got four timbales, descending in size and three tunable tambourines.”

Miraculously, Phil is one of the few (if not the only) British rock drummer to capture the Billy Cobham sound of booming, gong-like tom-toms, best described as a “bleough”, rather than a “blam”.

Apart from his drumming, Phil is also a fine singer, and manages the trick, like Carmine Appice, of doing both at the same time. “But I don’t get much pleasure from doing both. I’d like to keep it separate if I do my own LP. What I’d really like to do is play with someone like Carlos Santana and push myself to the limit.”


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