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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The Rainbow shows in January 1977

Genesis started their “Wind & Wuthering” tour at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 1st January 1977. They played the venue for three nights. Those shows were the first with Chester Thompson on drums. Also, the tour was the last with guitarist Steve Hackett.

Wind And Wuthering

In December 1976, Genesis had released “Wind and Wuthering”, their second album since Peter Gabriel’s departure. The band had become a foursome the year before, drummer Phil Collins had taken over the vocal duties. He had proved that he could fill this role easily on the previous album “A Trick of the Tail” and the following tour in 1976. On this tour they had Bill Bruford of the band Yes on drums. Being a famous “prog rock” drummer, this gave the band and the fans huge confidence. It was a signal that the band was stronger than ever after Gabriel had left them.

So they went in the studio to record their next album “Wind & Wuthering” in 1976. By this point, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford were the main songwriters. Phil Collins was still more of a player and arranger. Guitarist Steve Hackett felt that not enough of his material was used. He was frustrated about his role in the group. “Wind & Wuthering” was released in late 1976. The band set out for a huge tour in 1977 that would lead them to South America for the first time.

Their new live drummer

Since Bill Bruford was busy in other projects, Genesis had to find another drummer for the tour. Phil Collins found the perfect candidate in Chester Thompson of Weather Report. Chester had also played with Frank Zappa. Phil had heard him on Zappa’s “Roxy & Elsewhere” and liked his style. So he decided to offer him the job in Genesis. Although he hardly knew the band, Thompson agreed. He came to London for only a few days of rehearsals before the tour started.

The music was totally new to him. He knew a bit of “A Trick Of The Tail” because Weather Report’s bass player Alphonso Johnson (who was friends with Phil Collins) had listened to the record on the last Weather Report tour all the time. But now he, an American jazz drummer, had to learn and rehearse a two and a half hour set of British progressive rock music in ten days. Chester wrote down the music in a little book. He learned it by night and played it the next day at rehearsals. Tony Banks was (of course) very impressed by Chester’s notes and his way of working.

Chester Thompson played with them until 2007

From the moment Phil and he played together, they knew that they had something special going on. The both of them clicked instantly. There is a greater chemistry when they play together than when Phil played with Bill Bruford. Thompson was criticized by some for these first performances at the Rainbow. Music journalist Chris Welch admitted that Thompson was technically better than Collins or Bruford but that he lacked excitement. Peter Gabriel, who was in the audiences at the Rainbow shows, felt a bit sorry for Chester, because he had to learn this kind of music and its feeling in such a short time.

But Chester became much more familiar with the music during the course of the tour and could put his own stamp on the songs. Songs like “Los Endos” or “Wot Gorilla” that were influenced by jazz rock reached another level, especially with two drummers. But also the epic fan favourites benefitted from the new influence. “Supper’s Ready”, “Lilywhite Lilith” and the ending of “The Musical Box” were played with a groove that was missing before. The band and the audiences liked Thompson’s input. The collaboration worked so well that Thompson toured with them until their last tour in 2007. Unfortunately he is not part of the “The Last Domino?” tour in 2021/2022.

Live at the Rainbow 1977

When Genesis announced the Rainbow shows, 80.000 people applicated for 8000 tickets – despite critics saying that punk killed progressive rock that year. Fans that were lucky enough to see the shows were also suprised by new visiuals. The “Wind & Wuthering” tour introduced a new light show, which included lasers and Boeing 747 landing lights.

The new songs were welcomed by the crowd. Genesis opened the Rainbow show with “Eleventh Earl Of Mar” from the new album. This song was also lifted to another level by Thompson’s playing. The jazzy new instrumental “…In That Quiet Earth” was unbelievably groovy with two drummers. At the end of Tony Banks’ ballad “Afterglow”, Thompson and Collins reproduced a drum fill that Thompson had played with another drummer on the Zappa live album.

“Best Live Band” in 1977

Tony Banks’ epic “One For The Vine” proved to work just as well as “Supper’s Ready” or “The Musical Box”. The quirky “All In A Mouse’s Night” was a humorous moment to relax between the heavy stuff. “Squonk””from “A Trick Of The Tail” suffered a bit in comparison to the album version and is a reference point for the Thompson critics. “I Know What I Like”, originally a rather short single from 1974, became even longer than on the previous tour and had much more groove. For Genesis, the three nights at the Rainbow theatre were highly successful and a strong start for a long and successful tour.

The tour would lead them through Europe, the US and South America. Genesis had reached a new peak in live performances and was voted “Best live group” in 1977. This was captured in the double live album “Seconds Out”. After the tour, guitarist Steve Hackett left the band. The three remaining members Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks returned to the studio to record their next album.

Title photo: Genesis_(the_band). Source: Wikimedia Commons, Jean-Luc / CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).