Phil Collins’ departure from Genesis in 1996

On 28 March 1996, Phil Collins’ departure from Genesis was officially announced in a press release: “Genesis end twenty-year experiment, decide to replace Peter Gabriel as vocalist.” It was the end of an era. Here’s the story of his (temporary) departure.

Phil Collins decided to leave Genesis in 1993

In 1993, Genesis were at their peak. The group’s “We Can’t Dance” tour in 1992 had been huge. They could not become much bigger. In autumn 1993, they played a concert in Cowdray Ruins. It was a charity gig with acts such as Pink Floyd, Queen and Eric Clapton. Genesis played four songs and joined the whole lot for the encore. Nobobdy knew that this would be Phil Collins’ last gig with the band for a long time.

By this point, Phil Collins was writing what would become his most personal solo album Both Sides*. On this he played all the instruments and he produced the album all by himself. Both Sides was similar to his first solo album Face Value and reflected his situation: His marriage with his wife Jill was going to pieces because he had an affair with an old girlfriend from school, Lavinia Lang. His family was about to break once more. So he felt he could not sing Genesis songs anymore. He wanted to sing things he could relate to. Also, he was tired of having to wow whole stadiums with the band. He felt that he had come to the end of the road with Genesis.

On his solo album “Both Sides”, Phil Collins played all the instruments, sang and produced

So after the gig at Cowdray Ruins, he told manager Tony Smith about his decision. Smith, being a manager and businessman, advised him to do his solo album and tour and then think about the matter again. So Phil Collins went on a world tour in 1994 and 1995. In Switzerland, he met a young woman named Orianne Cevey. He fell in love. His marriage with Jill was over and he moved to Lake Geneva to live with Orianne. For this (and for his music), he was heavily criticized by the British press. Phil got to hate his public “Mr Nice Guy”-image. There was no space for Genesis in his life at this point. And so he flew to England to talk to Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, his oldest (musical) friends.

Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford decided to carry on

The group met in manager Tony Smith’s kitchen in 1996 and Phil told them that he wanted to leave. Tony Banks’ replied with true British understatement “It’s a sad day, a very sad day.” And Mike Rutherford was actually surprised that Phil stayed that long in Genesis, having enjoyed a successful solo career for 15 years in 1996. Phil’s departure was announced twenty years and two days after his first gig as a vocalist with the band. With him leaving, the band not only lost their superstar singer and entertainer, but also a great composer and drummer.

But Mike and Tony decided to carry on and search for a new singer. Phil Collins continued his solo career, but not as successful as in the 1980’s. The three of them remained friends and saw each other every now and then. It was not until the early 2000’s that they started to appear again as a trio for certain occasions. Finally in 2006, ten years after Phil’s departure, they reunited officially as a group to go on tour. But that is another story.

Title photo: The world famous band – Genesis. Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford. (Photo 1991) . Source: Wikimedia Commons, David Scheinmann / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

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Phil Collins’ first show as frontman

In 1975, Peter Gabriel left Genesis. After unsuccessfully auditioning for a new singer, drummer Phil Collins took over and sang on “A Trick Of The Tail“* (1976), the first album after Gabriel’s departure. But he did not want to sing on the following tour. This is the story of how he became Genesis frontman.

Phil Collins did not want to be the singer

The album “A Trick of the Tail” was a big success and showed that Genesis could survive the loss of their lead singer Peter Gabriel. Phil Collins showed his singing skills and his variety of range on heavy tracks like “Dance On A Volcano” and softer songs like “Ripples”.

But Phil Collins did not want to be the singer. He wanted to be the drummer, which for him was the most respectable part of the group. In his eyes, the singer was only up front to wiggle his bum and look good. So he was very reluctant, when the band planned to tour the new album. Would he sing? Who would play the drums? Who would be the singer if he played drums? Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett already knew the answer and convinced him to become their proper frontman.

Bill Bruford of Yes was going to be the drummer for the tour. With him in the band, there was no chance they could fail. Their first gig of the tour was London, Ontario, on 26 March 1976. The audience knew that Phil Collins could sing. The band’s new album had sold better than any of its predecessors.

Could he replace Peter Gabriel?

But what about the older songs? Could Phil replace Gabriel and sing his songs? He could. They had similar voices and Phil had always accompanied Peter as a backing vocalist. So there was no problem when Phil Collins approached tracks like “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, “Firth Of Fifth” or the epic fan favourite “Supper’s Ready”.

Also, the new material was received very well. On the song “Robbery, Assault & Battery”, Phil could show his acting skills from drama school and bring the Victorian story to life. And the instrumental “Los Endos” became even more adventurous, when it was played with two drummers.

The addition of Bruford was the right decision at that point. Having played with Yes, he was a well-known drummer in the progressive rock world and one of the best out there. Two drummers onstage were something new for Genesis. During the instrumental parts, Phil joined Bill and the two drummers added a new dimension to the music. If compared to later shows, when Phil played with Chester Thompson, Bill and Phil played more against each other than with each other. The “double-drumming” worked much better with Chester Thompson from the next tour onwards.

A happy audience welcomed the “new” singer

The audience was happy. They wanted this line-up to work and they welcomed the “new” singer because he came from within the group.

They also liked Phil’s down-to-earth approach combined with a bit of Pythonesque humour. In fact, the band seemed more relaxed onstage and the focus was not only on the front man, but also on the other members. On “I Know What I Like”, Phil involved them by putting funny hats on their heads and singing together with Mike Rutherford into one microphone. And he invented his famous tambourine dance during the song which even made Tony Banks smile onstage.

Peter was the mysterious traveller, whereas Phil was more the bloke next door. He did not tell strange stories but communicated with the audiences directly. Peter Gabriel was really happy that Phil replaced him. He knew that technically he was a better singer than himself. And he also knew that Phil’s communication with the audience would work.

And he was right. Although Phil was nervous on this first show in London, Ontario, this approach worked – the band went on with him as lead singer since then, only with a short interruption in the 1990’s when Phil also left the group and Ray Wilson took over. But this is another story.

Title photo: Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins of Genesis in 1977. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Jean-Luc Ourlin from Toronto ontario, Canada / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

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Face Value (1981) – Phil Collins

In February 1981, Phil Collins’ first solo album “Face Value” was released. It went straight to number 1 in the UK charts and to number 7 in the US. His debut was his gateway into superstardom and with “In The Air Tonight” it includes his signature track. So let’s take a closer look at the album that turned Phil Collins from Genesis front man into one of the biggest solo artists of the 1980’s.

Genesis touring life

By the time Phil Collins wrote the songs for what would become “Face Value“*, he was a broken man. The drummer of Genesis had become the singer of Genesis in 1976. In 1978, the group released the album “…And Then There Were Three“*, which included their first big hit single “Follow You Follow Me”. The group had become a trio: Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on guitar and bass and Phil Collins on drums and vocals. On “…And Then There Were Three” they had moved towards shorter, simpler songs with direct lyrics.

Following the album, the band went on a massive tour that also took them to Japan. Banks, Collins and Rutherford were joined by drummer Chester Thompson, who had played with them on the previous tour, and for the first time by Daryl Stuermer, who became their live guitarist and bassist after Steve Hackett had left the band. This five-piece group would be the Genesis (live) line-up until 2007 (with a short interruption in the 1990’s, but that is another story).

Phil’s wife Andrea told him that if he went on that tour, she and the kids would not be home when he returned. He went and she made her promise come true. In an attempt to save his marriage, Phil followed his family to Canada in 1979, but things did not work out and he returned to England alone.

A broken marriage

Phil spent his time alone in his house in Surrey and started to write songs to express his feelings. He sat down at the piano and played along to the drum machine while improvising lyrics. He had not really been a songwriter in Genesis up to that point. So when Tony, Mike and Phil got back together to record their 1980 album “Duke“*, Phil brought in some demos. Tony and Mike were surprised and liked his simpler, more direct approach. They chose two of his songs for Duke: The swinging “Misunderstanding” (which turned out to be a big hit in America) and the very personal, heartbreaking ballad “Please Don’t Ask”.

When band manager Tony Smith came to visit Phil and listened to the other demos, he suggested to put them out as a solo record. Mike and Tony had already released solo albums during his time in Canada in 1979. So Phil took his demos to producer Hugh Padgham, whom he knew from working together on a solo record of his old Genesis mate Peter Gabriel, and they turned them into an album. The album became hugely successful and is considered one of Phil’s best (or maybe THE best).

In The Air Tonight

The standout track is of course the opening track “In The Air Tonight”. Its dark, eery chords set the mood for the song and the whole album. The song builds up tension over an interesting drum machine rhythm that finally bursts when the real drums come in with the famous fill-in. The lyrics were mostly improvised and the drum fill was pure coincidence. Had they used another take, maybe another drum fill would be have been considered the most famous drum fill of all time. The song went to no. 2 in the UK charts and is a rock classic today. Live it has been celebrated even more and is presented even more powerful. It reaches another dimension and has always been the highlight in every Phil Collins show.

The Phenix Horns

But the album does not only consist of “In The Air Tonight”. The next single, “I Missed Again” is a funky, up-beat song that features a brass section: The Phenix Horns, who played with Earth, Wind And Fire. The horn sections would become a trademark of many of Phil’s solo hits over the decade. And it all started here on “Face Value”. The album was therefore his gateway to becoming a huge pop star.

Apart from the hits, the album shows Phil playing with different styles. The ballad “You Know What I Mean” is only him on piano and vocals. You couldn’t show your heart on your sleeve much more. And the instrumental “Hand In Hand” plays with influences from jazz and black music and was a great show opener in later years as it showcased the talent of every musician involved.

Everything that would define the solo artist Phil Collins was born on “Face Value” and is presented here in its purest and rawest form. Maybe that’s why many fans consider it one of Phil’s best albums. And unlike some of his other works, it definitely stands the test of time.

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