It was very surprising to learn of Phil’s intention to return to live performance, which was announced publicly on the 17th October 2017 during a live stream (and Q & A) with Jools Holland. From this we learned there would be a series of dates in London, Cologne and Paris. As soon as tickets went on sale I was lucky enough to obtain one for the Sunday show at the Royal Albert Hall.
My journey with Phil Collins began through Genesis. My step-father would play the Genesis album Invisible Touch over and over. Phil then released a live album called Serious Hits Live in 1990, which was around the same time I became aware of Genesis. With the Serious Hits Live CD I then became aware of Phil’s own catalogue. Fast forward to 1996 and Dance Into The Light came out after the single received heavy airplay. Tickets went on sale in November 1996 for the December 1997 shows. I bought my first ticket for the show at Earls Court on the 17th December 1997. After an uneventful coach ride to the show I was in for a treat that night, one that would remain one of my most favourite concert experiences. After seeing Phil a couple more times over the next 10 years (2002 at La Scala and 2005 in Glasgow) I bought my ticket this time with no expectations, albeit a few concerns over his health.
Although a really big surprise was the announcement of the first show of the tour being in Liverpool, tickets were more affordable for that show compared to the London shows, but it gave people with tickets for the Royal Albert hall a chance to check out any tweets or videos online about the opening of the tour.
Day Of The Show
After arriving at Euston station I met up with Chris Simmons outside the entrance; proceeding to ride the tube to Charing Cross where we changed and grabbed the number 9 bus. The nearly new bus drove past the Royal Albert to its stop and the moment we got onto the pavement we were approached by a ticket tout, predictably. This happened three more times before we got around the opposite side of the hall. It was at this point I spotted the drummer and percussionist from Mike and The Mechanics, Mr Gary Wallis. We had a great chat with Gary. Of course he has not only worked with Mike and The Mechanics but also, Pink Floyd, Spinal Tap, and, as we later learned, The Style Council with drummer Steve White.
Gary is a friendly guy and it was great to chat about music, I mentioned that we saw him earlier in the year at Birmingham with The Mechanics. We left Gary too it when production manager Steve “Pud” Jones called him over to discuss his after show arrangements. We found our entrance into the venue where security was very tight due to the unfortunate terrorist attack the day before. Bag searches and photo ID confirmation in place to match the tickets to the name on the ticket. Once inside we made our way downstairs to a desk where we were given a VIP laminate which was ornamental rather than having any functional purpose and a black bag with a boxed item in it, more on that later.
We returned to the merchandise desk, purchasing an obligatory T-shirt and a coffee mug, proving to be quality items. They must have done a hefty trade, because more than once did a few of the staff have to go somewhere deep into the venue to return with more and more stock. That matter concluded it was time to queue up for our seats. We were held back until 19:20pm because those with the highest level ticket also had access to the sound check and our tickets did not cover that access level. We got into the venue and we found our seats. I wandered off and found Volker Warncke ten rows ahead of us closer to the stage and we discussed the show, the venue and what he witnessed in the sound check.
The soundcheck sounded like an interesting moment to witness. Whether its value was worth double our ticket (£256.00) is something that could be debated until the end of time. Meanwhile Volker and I discussed many things but mostly how good it was to be at a Phil Collins show again. We mused about how nice it was to see Phil doing shows of this size when a year previous it seemed like a distant possibility. Especially if you read some of Not Dead Yet, the official Phil Collins autobiography, where Phil details his struggles and ailments all honestly bared.
Whilst we were in the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, someone in the production team had thoughtfully placed a huge drape/screen to display photos of Phil from a large portion of his career.
The slide show covers a whole range of era’s from Phil’s career with some photos even this seasoned fan had not seen, therefore a surprise to everyone from a wide range of photographers and even some from Phil’s time in Genesis.
There was a large number of these slides, and it was a well thought out moment from the tour production. Soon enough it was time to take our seats for the show and the venue continued to fill up. People had travelled all over the world to attend. We chatted to an Australian couple whilst we queued to get in; our friend Volker had flown in from Hungary; and the couple sat next to us were from Argentina, a truly global audience.
The First Set
Soon enough Souareba (Salif Keita) came on over the PA. It’s an African song that Phil has used as his intro music on previous tours such as the But Seriously tour in 1990, where he also played the Royal Albert Hall. The house lights dimmed and the applause started. Phil made his way cautiously to his chair in the centre of the stage and the applause grew louder whilst people started to stand and before long everyone was up on their feet giving Phil and the band a standing ovation before a note was played or a lyric uttered.
Eventually, the applause died down and the band began the first song of the evening, Against All Odds. This has been a stage favourite in Phil’s shows since he first toured it in 1985. Tonight’s version was similar to the Dance Into The Light tour version from 1997. The song was an interesting choice as an opening track, traditionally Phil has used his instrumental Hand In Hand or some kind of Drum/Percussion thing. However, on the night it was straight into this ballad. But, perhaps it was Against All Odds that Phil was on stage again, so for that reason it makes sense. Another Day in Paradise was just as appropriate now, if not more than ever, and this time Phil Collins did not ask us to put our money in any buckets or to forgo buying any T-shirts – it was just the poignant song and its meaning. The song still carries a genuine plea and it highlights the plight of the homeless, an issue that has not gone away.
One More Night was a surprised addition to the set. Of course the audience enjoyed this romantic song with George Shelby on the saxophone giving it the authentic feel, especially when you consider the likes of Don Myrick and Andrew Woolfolk had gone before him placing their stamp on this, George was given some room to add his own style whilst retaining the feel of the original section.
Wake Up Call was a nice choice from the 2002 album Testify. It was excellent to see it in the set and a real thrill. Its lyrical content is just as relevant as ever; yet, again it felt as though Phil’s forgetting of certain lyric lines was a tad frustrating considering the amount of rehearsal time he and the band have spent. My theory is this. I noticed it during Wake Up Call, there was a wavering volume, especially connected to the bass. I believe the hearing comprehension issue with Phil perhaps needed further consideration because of the on stage sound being too loud perhaps? Of course the bass guitar amp and electric guitar amps are rather small so straight away that removes a lot of unnecessary volume from the backline, but if it was not the hearing comprehension issue perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of not playing to arena’s of this size since the last Genesis tour of 2007 that might have been a cause.
Pulling out the Genesis track Follow You Follow Me where the screen above displayed a multitude of Genesis footage. It was a good surprise and an interesting trip down memory lane with every member of the band (barring Ray Wilson who he never played with) appearing above the stage in the montage. The hall mix seemed to have Phil’s vocals highest in the mix and a lower volume over all for the other instruments. The arrangement was more subtle akin to a MTV Unplugged feel, more acoustically driven. It was a pleasant experience, really enjoyable, with the audience getting into it, giving it a new dynamic and evoking a campfire feel of intimacy despite being in the Royal Albert Hall.
I Missed Again was a welcome addition to the setlist. I personally did not think we would see this live again but here it was and it made me smile. The arrangement was different on this occasion keeping the brass section in the right area; Louis Conte’s percussion seemed louder in the mix too, with a present cowbell. The audience seemed to like this trip down memory lane with them joining in. George gave a slightly different interpretation of the saxophone section. This time around there was no attempt by the production to show the original music video, with the large screen focusing on the live performance beneath it on the stage.
The weakest song in the whole set was the Stephen Bishop song Separate Lives. I can not be sure if it was the location in the set list or if I am just bored of the song, but alas this was the worst choice in the whole set. It is a real shame because Bridgette Bryant gave an emotional performance alongside Phil much as they had done during the But Seriously tour but it just felt wrongly placed. Only You and I Know was the last song before the interval, a song Daryl Stuermer composed that was on Phil’s No Jacket Required. It was a good choice for the set but perhaps again not the strongest song to end an interval on.
During the interval there was a selection of Pearl & Dean style adverts that Phil had made for the tour ranging from the sublime to the hilarious. The first of which showed a Casino but it would seem there was a Phil Collins and or Genesis tongue in cheek style pun or puns in each one!
This advert showed Phil dressed up like Des O’Conner complete with Tan shirt, a highly amusing voice gave a number of puns, this was not seen by the whole audience as Phil joked those rushing to the bar or elsewhere would likely miss it. The interval was a good thirty minutes in length giving the audience ample opportunity to do their thing.
Duke, for Menswear… proving that Phil has a sense of humour.
Another of the intermission adverts showed Phil dressed up as a house maid complete with vacuum cleaner, this was to advertise air freshener.
Again highly amusing, maybe a nod to Freddie Mercury’s appearance in I Want To Break Free.
So you get the general idea. There was one for a casino, another for an electrical shop selling TVs. The final Pearl & Dean style advert was for the local Indian restaurant, and aside from making me laugh it also made me very hungry. During all of this I had another chat with Volker and we were joined by Sabrina who was very excited to be at the show. She conversed in German with Volker for a good ten minutes before Volker told her I spoke English and we said hello and had another conversation. With the interval coming to an end people were returning to their seats and it was not long before the house lights were dimmed and the second half of the show began.
Culminating act two with a drum duet between Nicholas and Louis, a wonderful surprise and great to see the Collins torch bearer filling his dad’s boots. Nic clearly has studied some of his Dad’s drum licks and patterns. Timbantiocha was given a new arrangement and spin by Louis and Nic, it was shortened and incorporated into the drum duet. Another interesting note is the fact Nic seemed to be playing his dad’s white Gretsch kit that Phil first used on the Mama tour, then on the No Jacket Required tour before giving it a final send off on the Invisible Touch tour, so it was a surprise to see it had been resurrected.
Phil returned to the stage for You Know What I Mean. This gem from Face Value has rarely been played live in comparison to most of the other songs in the set. It had been played during the first two solo tours but by the time of No Jacket Required the audiences were too restless. Here it’s brought to life some thirty two years since with the arrangement beautiful in a melancholy way. The very talented Nic Collins comes down from the drums, escorts his dad Phil to this grand piano and surprisingly Nic sits at the piano whilst Phil sits in another chair very close by. Phil sings the heartfelt words and Nic plays piano whilst the audience listen and in some cases cry. The lovely couple next to us were moved by this song, especially the gentleman who was very emotional. His loving wife held him tight and handed him a large selection of tissues to dry his eyes, a touching moment and one that highlighted the tenderness of the performance.
After the audience had stopped sobbing, In The Air Tonight followed. This version was preceded with an interesting prequel piece. Previous tours featured introductions, such as on the Final Farewell tour he song would start with the Roland CR78 drum machine pattern, on the 1997 Dance Into The Light tour most of the band would leave the stage whilst Brad Cole remained on the keyboards running through an interesting piece of music that tied in with In The Air Tonight and the nautical theme of that tour. This tour has a new original vocoder based introduction that sort of sample elements of the song whilst putting an electro pop feel to it similar to Kraftwerk. The arena was filled with an array of piercing blue lights before the actual song started. The song has been arranged down a key (from D minor to C#minor) to accommodate Phil’s older vocal.
Tonight Phil was sat firmly in his chair. It was a bit of a shock to see him unable to prowl around the stage during the menacing moments of this atmospheric song. This was a firm suggestion that he was not going to dash off to the drums and do that drum break. But Phil must have taught Nic a thing or two for a 16 year old to do that drum break with so much energy and sincerity, it was a true highlight and it raised the spirit of the thing. Nic also had a really good snare sound, nice and crisp with the single headed concert toms; it just sounded so authentic.
Massive hit Easy Lover came next. This is one of those high energy songs complete with a Keith Moon inspired drum pattern that was great to watch Phil and a variety of his touring drummers perform live. Tonight though Phil is singing this for us and his fantastic array of additional vocalists are all backing him. This makes a change because on the last three solo tours Phil’s voice would be lower down in the mix but tonight it was at the same level. The audience roused in unison to the lyrics and it showed how popular and wonderful this song still is. Like all previous arrangements of this song, Daryl Stuermer’s guitar solo is firmly in place. Arnold McCuller and Amy Keys gave a stellar performance of this song, with Phil doing the vocal parts connected to the friendly advice, “It’s the only way that you’ll ever know”.
An interesting thing to note was the amusing way the on screen graphics show what looked like newspaper headlines, the way in which tabloid papers write puns or scandals onto the front page in order to entice the reader in, here one of the lyrics in Easy Lover is written as a soundbite an interesting production decision.
Next came a personal favourite, Dance Into The Light. This song and album mean something special to me. I already had albums by Phil but DITL was the album released at a time when my interest was growing and I was aware of music, it was also the first tour I saw Phil, his band and his production standards. Tonight’s Dance into the Light was an explosion of colour, light and an uptempo feeling from the moment it began. It was most certainly from Phil’s Paul Simon / African rhythm era and it felt great to have a mood uplift.
Sussudio next. This was the signal that the party element of the show was well under way. Starting with a riot of colour across the huge screen and the rainbow of colours coming from the stage lighting. Complete with a confetti gag which I forgot would need a slight pyrotechnic element to realise, there were giant party streamers everywhere and that was before any lyrics had been sung. The Vine Street Horns were as enthusiastic as possible giving this a real lift of the mood to the show, they were bobbing up and down and sometimes independent of each other just for the amusement, a humour filled moment.
Tonight’s version came with a more prominent reggae section three quarters of the way through, but it has been transformed from a Dance hit into a more organic song again featuring at times a hammond organ sample and other styles to alter the arrangement.
Yeah alright Phil forgot some of the words, but the audience more than made up for any gaps in the lyrics by singing along loudly enough that at times Phil’s vocals were lost in the mix of the show. Best moment was the breakdown moment in the song, it’s still there in the arrangement and a real nice section of the song. Obviously Phil was not going to go around the first few rows asking for enthusiastic audience members to sing into the microphone owing to his mobility issues but perhaps this was not such a bad thing, again the enthusiastic audience sang along loudly enough to make it a rapturous experience.
Take Me Home, signalled the end of the show and whilst it was sad that it had concluded so soon after it began tonight’s version came without the drum / percussion thing of the previous tour, it was from the start as though the audience seemed very involved, singing along with a degree of emotions and tears fully aware that it was the last song of the night. The final notes of Take Me Home ended and everyone gave Phil and the band a standing ovation.
Well here are a few points to raise in a summary:
Phil Collins came back to his scale of production, bringing people together to create a showcase of his talent and music taking everyone on a rollercoaster of emotions, which in turn created an atmosphere that you can only have experienced if you were there on the night.
Nic Collins, you have to feel for him so young yet he is drumming at a level far more proficient than his tender years. Not only does he have to emulate his father’s style, and at times sound, but he also has the footsteps of Chester Thompson and Rick Lawson who went before him. That could be a tall order but somehow Nic is not visibly allowing this to faze him.
Phil’s ill health is very evident now, mobility issues and we think the volume inside the venue messed about or triggered his hearing comprehension issue thus he looked to be in discomfort through some of the set. Phil did forget some words, he’s only human, but sometimes his vocals would waver in volume and we do not believe his microphone or backline was at fault. It was hard watching a man that I saw twenty years ago on the Dance Into The Light tour that was true sight to be hold with an athletic prowess, now in pain and discomfort whilst still giving it his all to entertain.
The level of production is still as high as ever, I even spotted Patrick Woodroffe on my way out and he is one of the best production guys in the world. The band were just as professional as ever and light hearted in the right places. The sound was at times a bit louder than we think even Phil was expecting and there was an annoying snare drum ring or echo during some of the songs. That aside the show was a pleasure and value for money even if our ticket was £260. If I ever met Phil I would ask him out of respect to do the remaining dates including the rescheduled ones and then retire from live performances and to concentrate on any archival projects, he simply has nothing to prove to anyone any more and he should not feel obliged to perform even if he is unwell or in visible pain.
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
Another Day in Paradise
One More Night
Wake Up Call
Follow You Follow Me
Can’t Turn Back the Years
I Missed Again
Hang in Long Enough
Only You Know and I Know
Drum Duet, containing drum and percussive elements from I Don’t Care Anyone, Timbantiocha, Dukes Travels and some new drum patterns (Nic Collins & Louis Conte)
I Don’t Care Anymore
Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
You Know What I Mean (Nic Collins on piano, Phil sat next to him)
In the Air Tonight (Atmos keys & vocoder intro)
In the Air Tonight
You Can’t Hurry Love
Dance Into the Light
If You Love (Really Love Me) (Vera Lynn cover)
Take Me Home
Phil Collins – Vocals
Nicholas Collins – Drums / Percussion / Piano
Louis Conte – Percussion
Daryl Stuermer – Lead Electric Guitar
Leland Sklar – Bass Guitar / Bass Pedals
Brad Cole – Musical Director / Keyboards / Synthesisers / Vocoder
Ronnie Caryl – Rhythm Guitar / Guitar
Lamont Van Hook
Vine Street Horns
Harry Kim – Trumpet
Dan Fornero – Trumpet
George Shelby – Saxophone
Luis Bonilla – Trombone
With the show over, a quick dash was on due to trains. Quickly grabbing a tour programme at the last minute, then dashing out for a taxi. In the end we had to walk for short period as everyone was grabbing every available taxi and when we finally got one it was a panicked rush back to Euston train station. At Euston our train departed without us and it was time for alternative strategies. In the end a train to Northampton was found and my partner drove to meet me at Northampton. On the train journey to Northampton I had a lot of time to open the white box inside the black Live Nation bag. It contained a book with a miniature drum stick, 25 pages of text about Phil and his former tours, souvenir reproduction tickets and flyers from former tours, these we are certain were sourced from our sister website The Genesis Archive with the biggest clue being that our watermark was clearly visible on a number of items. That was an annoying revelation because it would have been nice to have been asked for use of those and for our input into that hot ticket package item.
Thank you to Chris Simmons for being there on the day the tickets were on sale, for being at the show, and for taking those photos.
It was sad to read in the news as I was writing this that Phil had taken a tumble in the night on the way to the toilet, his drop foot likely gave out on him at the wrong moment. For more information on this story and the rescheduled dates please read this BBC News story.
A trusted friend of ours also explained a woeful tale of how the Sunday show was the best of the three performed at the Royal Albert Hall. They went onto say Phil’s singing became almost incoherent during some of the songs in the second set Wednesday, this was not a spiteful statement but one of concern as to whether Phil is healthy enough to continue these shows. Another trusted source tells us that the show in Cologne showed a more confident and active Phil… this is a relief.