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. Still, 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 huge success, showing that Genesis could survive the loss of their lead singer Peter Gabriel. Phil Collins demonstrated his singing skills and his variety of range on heavy tracks like ‘Dance On A Volcano’ and softer songs like ‘Ripples’.
There was still a problem: 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 when the band planned to tour the new album, he became very reluctant. 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 in the end convinced him to become their proper frontman.
Bill Bruford of Yes was going to be the drummer for the tour. With a drummer like him onstage, the band and also the audience knew that Genesis could not fail. Their first gig of the tour was in London, Ontario, on 26 March 1976.
Could he replace Peter Gabriel?
Having listened to A Trick of the Tail, the audience knew that Phil Collins could sing.But what about the older songs? Could Phil replace Gabriel and sing his songs? Of course he could. Not only had they similar voices, Phil had always accompanied Peter as a backing vocalist. It 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 songs were received very well. On ‘Robbery, Assault & Battery’, Phil showed his acting skills from drama school and brought the Victorian story to life onstage. The instrumental ‘Los Endos’ became even more adventurous than on record: Onstage 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. It was something new for Genesis to hve two drummers onstage and they truly celebrated it. During the instrumental parts, Phil joined Bill and the two drummers added a new dimension to the music. On later tours, they would bring the double-drumming to perfection, when Phil played with Chester Thompson. Whereas Bill and Phil played more against each other, Chester and Phil played with each other.
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 sang together with Mike Rutherford into the microphone. And he invented his famous tambourine dance during the song which even made Tony Banks smile onstage.
Whereas Peter was the mysterious traveller, Phil was the bloke next door. He did not tell strange stories but communicated with the audiences directly. Peter Gabriel often statedt that he was happy when Phil replaced him. He knew that technically he was a better singer 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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