Phil Collins – Not Dead Yet (Book Review)

When someone announces their retirement, typically you expect that to be a permanent state almost a rigid declaration. Phil Collins on the other hand is stepping back into the world of music, especially in the realm of live performance. This year saw the re-release of his albums followed by his first autobiography. Phil Collins – Not Dead Yet, released on Thursday 20th October 2016 both as a book and an audio book, is Phil’s first hand account of his life and career over 65 years.

The hardback version has 414 pages of original text, with additional pages made up of index and other elements. The hardback version of the book is a quality item, printed on good paper stock and cased in a hard back shell, however it uses a glue binding instead of laced, so it might become looser as time goes on.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, so onto the contents. How exactly does Mr Phillip, David, Charles, Collins who is 65 years old manage to fit in a substantial career in music and at times acting over a time span of 60 years?

Something to consider here: From June 2004 until September 2006 Phil Collins on his official website (in a former guise, under a different webmaster) would indeed commit Question and Answer sessions. These were revealing and allowed Phil to open up. Sadly Phil seems almost 10 years later to be different in the way in which he engages his audience, especially with this book. An example is the following question about surround versions of albums. In November 2004 he was asked about the possibility of surround remixes and here he answer’s…

3 albums have been already remixed, Face Value, NJR, and But Seriously. Allen Sides did them a couple of years back. I have put them on hold because to my mind the only reason to put these CD’s out AGAIN, would be as part of a COMPLETE set of PC CD’s. It seems though that the Record Company jury is out as to whether a box set that includes less “popular” CD’s like Both Sides and DITL is worth it…my feeling is that any kind of box set is not complete unless it IS complete.

This revealing conversation displays the openness that is far better than some of the subjects addressed within the biography. So we now begin to look at Phil’s life in his own pen (with assistance from Craig McLean).

Family Life

Typically a good starting point for any autobiography is the meat and foundation, the family life. Phil covers his upbringing, Mum and Dad, the boat club, Phil’s dad passing away in 1972, and much more. He speaks calmly and hopefully realistically about this aspect of his life. The story of misfortune in Southend is a Tragicomedy

Early Bands

Phil’s early work included, Random Hold and then Flaming Youth, Flaming Youth being filmed on a TV show in Holland is something Phil own’s up to. Here is one example taken from 14th May 1970 the Dutch TROS TV Station broadcasted of the young English band called Flaming Youth.

Naturally though these hazy distant bands are a footnote to his more formidable career, although still covered.

Genesis

We hear about Phil reading Melody Maker and seeing that advert that would change his life forever. Meeting Tony Stratton Smith and the audition for Genesis, going for that swim, and Ronnie Caryl not getting the gig, Rehearsing at The Farnham Maltings, early gigs, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, when Peter first put on the red dress in Dublin, Selling England By The Pound etc, surprising to learn that Phil can remember the hotel and city where he was told by Peter that he was leaving.

Nothing is revealed in any great detail though nothing too deep in layers so it is not a warts ‘n’ all of writing sessions, recording sessions, promotional tours, tour rehearsals, tours et cetera. Sadly leaving nothing much in the way of new details in this section that can’t be found through interviews or other books, or in the old posts from 2004 to 2006 on the former official site.

Brand X

Sadly we get the well trodden story of Phil’s entrance into the group, no mention of Phil Spinelli whom Phil Collins replaced. Nor do we get to hear about how Phil later offered Spinelli a chance to work with him but Spinelli blew it out for a good night in (from an interview we had the chance to listen to with PS). Certain aspects about Brand X are omitted.

For example we do not get the story about how Phil flew back mid Genesis Wind and Wuthering tour to play a small gig in London because Joe Blocker was not working out (23rd April 1977), or the fact that Phil made a guest appearance at the Hammersmith Odeon show in London dressed as a theatre caretaker coming on mid set with a sweeping brush (5th August 1977). We get a snippet about the sessions for what would become 1979’s Product album and the outtakes which would make up the 1980 album, Do They Hurt. Although we get told about how some of Brand X ended up living at the Old Croft during 1979. Whilst Brand X might have been the mistress whilst Genesis was his wife, Brand X dissolves into nothing and Phil still does not explain why?

Solo Career

Face Value and In The Air Tonight are covered in fair detail. It’s interesting to learn Phil is not enamoured by most of the material on Hello I Must Be Going but then it’s the difficult second solo album supposedly, but then how difficult with the third one being No Jacket Required or the fourth one …But Seriously and why is there so much affection for Both Sides his least commercially successful album. The book tries to explain that but the reader is still left wondering why?

Live Aid / Led Zeppelin

Looking at the footage of Led Zeppelin at Live Aid on youtube, I can clearly see what Phil is alluding to. Jimmy Page looks like he has taken a cocktail of something yet somehow still managed to drag himself on stage. Robert looks like he has taken something and his voice is completely hoarse for the first song Rock N Roll. This set is a disaster with Phil struggling to work with Tony Thompson who clearly thought this was a career break and treats it like an audition. At one point during Stairway to Heaven Phil isn’t actually drumming but Tony Thompson is going for it, simply showing off. No wonder Led Zep vetoed it from appearing on the Live Aid box set that came out many years later. But instead of holding up their hands they blame Phil’s performance which is low considering the fact he seems the most sober and straight on the day trying to give the performance some semblance of professionalism.

Sessions

A few of the many sessions that Phil has taken part in are mentioned, but not many by a long shot. Whilst some elements of live performances are missing as well for example Phil played drums live at The Half Moon, Putney, London for a John Martyn gig on the 27th November 1979. With regard to studio sessions, Phil has played on Eric Clapton albums, Robert Plant albums, even on a Thin Lizzy song and with Tears For Fears yet non of these sessions are discussed or mentioned. Although elements of Phil’s first foray into production are covered but again small details such as working with Frida of Abba fame and one of the Stig Anderson’s getting a bit silly after a few drinks and one of the Genesis roadies having to be calmed down.

That Fax

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Front page of The Sun – 30th September 1994

Well we finally get told the side of Phil’s version of events surrounding the infamous break up fax. As a fan myself I have never been that interested in Phil’s personal life nor that of any of the people I regard as famous and or talented. Much as I would not want anyone snooping around my private life I can understand why Phil felt the need to set things right from his side. The truth is a fax was sent to Jill Tavelman, the next minute it’s on the front page of The Sun. It’s only now after the Leveson enquiry into the press intrusion that light has been shed on the fact that not only could moody and desperate journalists hack voicemail and answer phones, they could with the aid of dodgy private detectives or ex Bt technical guys circumvent faxes too. Maybe this is how Phil’s private but to the point fax went public.

Note: The Leveson inquiry is a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, who was appointed in July 2011. A series of public hearings were held throughout 2011 and 2012.

It didn’t make me the reader or the fan feel uncomfortable but it should lay to rest the spectre of “The Axe by Fax” to bed now.

Drummers

Phil has worked with or employed the following drummers and percussionists: Phil Spinelli, Morris Pert, Bill Bruford, Chester Thompson, Ricky Lawson, Steve Forman, Louis Conte. In the book there is very little in the way of how Phil came to know them, work with them, audition them, gel with them, drum with them, teach them certain passages.

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Chester Thompson – 1981 /1982 – Pearl Drums promo photo

We do not get the story of how Phil approached Elton John’s drummer in 1976 before he chose Chester Thompson. This is an area that had it been expanded upon and light cast upon it in a more meaningful way could have been an interesting and critical subject matter in the book. Unless I am mistaken we do not get the known story of how Phil admired Bill Bruford and how Phil on one occasion was a drum tech / roadie for Bill at a YES gig because he respected his work and talent.

Instead we get a well trodden story about how Chester came to be in the band although missing some elements this time and that’s about it, pretty disappointing when you consider how much of a drummer and percussionist Phil was and how that was his life before he became known as a singer. We also do not get any real story on why Chester Thompson and Phil Collins will not be working together in the future, Phil should be honest about this.

We also do not get any information about Phil’s choice of Jason Bonham whilst there was something in the 1980’s in the media about how Phil was supposedly mentoring Jason it’s only due to the interviews Jason was giving in 2014 that his involvement came to light. Jason worked hard through the rehearsals that did not go further than just rehearsals despite Phil abandoning these rehearsals, this was back in August 2014. Maybe this was for the aborted Not Dead Yet Live shows that were eventually announced in October 2016? especially with the reveal by Phil on the Chris Evans breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 that Phil had tried booking The Royal Albert Hall a few years back but he’d changed his mind then.

Personal Life

Phil’s break up with his first wife barely made the press if at all but the rumour of that decorator and that paint pot on the black and decker workmate on Top Of The Pops are explained by Phill not that I felt compelled to have him explain this to me, but it is his biography so I stick with it. Although there is an early draft of the lyrics to In the Air Tonight on a decorators quote.

Despite working hard in music and sometimes attracting the moniker of “Workaholic”, Phil has had some very public pitfalls especially surrounding the termination of his three marriages, in particular the termination of his 10 year marriage to Jill Tavelman in 1994. Phil was dubbed a “nice guy” throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s by any journalist that took a shine to him but whilst the press build you up they will always be looking for a way to knock you back down and it seems in 1994 they found a way to do that almost to the extent of annihilation. Again it seems bizarre that this marriage started to unwind during the 1992 Genesis tour of North America when a former girlfriend Lavina was invited to the show.

Fast forward to 2006 and the woman Phil met in 1994 during the Both Sides tour Orianne whom he married in 1999 is now divorcing him. How unlucky does Phil have to be? Again we are taken through a roller coaster of emotions that seems more efficient than the demise of the second marriage.

Finally and the most harrowing is the development of his alcoholism. Either through sheer boredom or through depression when the children he had with Orianne upped sticks and move to Miami, which on top of Orianne’s post natal depression means that they end up getting divorced, with Phil in Switzerland the country he moved to be with Orianne in the first place.

Alcoholism, I do not know where to turn here should I feel anger, rage, sympathy or pity that Phil Collins the man with so much talent and enough money to live one hundred life times in reasonable luxury develops alcoholism to the extent he nearly died twice and has had two or three accidents. I have so many questions as a fan with sufficient knowledge of Phil and the people he employs.

How did Tony Smith let this happen?

How did Steve “Pud” Jones let this happen?

How did Danny Gillen let this happen?

Where was Annie Callingham his PA since the early 1990’s?

In the end its the nanny of the children who seems to raise the alarm and realise Phil is spiralling, along with Dana who had all of this on top of her maintaining her job in American media; this becomes a real shame but then in the end alcoholism is the responsibility of the person drinking it not those around them. It is still astonishing and perhaps a miracle that somehow this was kept out of the press. Being weird or obnoxious on that plane flight or being taken out of a major hotel via stretcher or spending that time in the drying out clinic in Wiltshire.

I’m not being blinded by some fan appreciation here. Phil is no angel nor a totally clean living individual he is a male adult able to experience anything, but come on alcoholism? At least he gets the treatment and understanding he needs and things are starting to move forwards.

Audiobook

This is voiced by Phil and is unabridged so runs up to 12 hours in length across 10 CD’s. Phil narrates every aspect of the book and he even adds in his personal impressions of a variety of people from George Harrison to Bob Geldof and many more in between, there is emotion and humour all mixed in. This is another way to absorb the full length autobiography with Phil pulling no punches nor adjusting anything that is written in the book. Whilst priced at £20:00 it is still of great value for money when you consider you’re getting a 414 page book verbally retold by the actual person who authored the book about his life. At least this audiobook made it to the shelves in the shop, supposedly there was an audiobook complied around the time of the Genesis book Chapter & Verse and voiced by David Baddiel but I have never encountered a copy.

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The rear of the Audiobook – 12 hours of audio across 10 CD’s

Positives

  • There are 414 pages about the life and work of Phil Collins.
  • The comparisons of the Lamb tour to Spinal Tap the film, especially the bit about how Steve Hackett and Derek Smalls are far too similar had me in stitches.
  • Some light is shed on areas or subjects that are a revelation to those who are new to his work or the most ardent of fans.
  • Phil tries exceptionally hard to fit as much as possible in.
  • Not as candid as Mike Rutherford’s book so some blushes are spared.

Negatives

  • Some stories being retold as though elements of Genesis history are scripted.
  • Could have been spread over two or three books giving time for stories to be elaborated etc.
  • Did Phil have to say so much about certain aspects of his personal life? This didn’t need to be entirely a confessional booth.
  • Nowhere nearly enough detail in terms of sessions, writing music, learning instruments, writing with Genesis, recording with Genesis, touring with Genesis, the end of Genesis, and the solo career with those subjects covered properly. Brand X is glossed over in a flash as well a real pity.
  • Not as candid as Mike Rutherford’s book so it feels as though Mike’s candid tales are his own etc.

Value

The Book was £9.99 and the Audiobook (voiced entirely by Phil) was £20.00 these are worthy items with those price tags, It is Phil in his own words or voice on the audiobook. The photos are an insight into Phil’s private life and public life, whilst it is not a photo book the photos move things along adding texture and depth at times. After listening to all the albums and feeling like Phil wore his heart on his sleeve you get a more rounded picture about certain aspects of his life. Both the book and the audiobook do indeed provide the insight for new and old fans, fans who might have followed one album / tour to fans who are into everything?

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The front cover of the book

Summing up

This book had to stand up against the previous work written about Phil Collins by Johnny Waller in 1985 and that of Ray Coleman (finished by his wife) in 1996/7, whilst the Johnny Waller book did indeed cover some ground in far more detail than Phil it has never been updated, where as the Ray Coleman book fixated on the circumstances surrounding the demise of Phil’s second marriage with Jill Tavelman including the whole divorce by fax and media fall out, whilst outing Phil as a cleanliness freak (check out the story of the mats everywhere and the cats) etc. At least Phil is finally able to adjust the myths or half truths about such matters whilst bringing anyone who reads the book up to date on his personal life and putting some matters to bed finally. But it’s just that Phil’s book seems to lack elements which would be far more interesting like the following:

    • writing music
    • learning instruments
    • writing with Genesis
    • recording with Genesis
    • devising and starring in promo music videos
    • touring with Genesis
    • the end of Genesis
    • Same for solo
    • Same for sessions
    • Same for Brand X

If you were looking for detailed accounts then you will be disappointed, but if you wanted to know how Phil has lived his life in the last 65 years crammed into 414 pages then this book is for you. Meanwhile it will remain in the domain of someone else who is more through to do a Mark Lewisohn or Hunter Davies style book about Phil Collins as we have not seen any well researched tomes yet.

It is funny reading Phil’s comment’s on snippets saved by fans from his former official site forum Phil was talking about doing a book as far back as 2004 the book was going to take a variety of guises being suggested as the following:

  • A Book similar to Ringo’s “Postcards From The Boys”,
  • A Coffee table book featuring photographs, including some photos he took from the stage on the Invisible Touch Tour,
  • A biography featuring those mini stories, expanded in an autobiography.

In the end this is an autobiography written by Phil and he lets you the reader into his memories, one hopes that the coffee table or postcards from the boys book is sill a possibility. Sometimes Not Dead Yet is candid, sometimes reserved. Worth the money if your expectations are adjusted to Phil taking you on a personal journey rather than lifting the lid on his talents, skills, musicianship, albums and tours.

Despite the muck raking that goes on, we paid for our copy of the book and audiobook.

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