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Phil Collins is back and, he promises, Not Dead Yet

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019

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Walking on stage with a cane nearly a year ago at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, Phil Collins was quick to address the gorilla in the room.

"I do know that I said I wouldn't be doing this any more," he told the crowd. "Truth is, I missed you. I’ve had a back operation and my foot is f---ed. But that won't stop us from having fun, will it?"

Just a few years ago, of course, the idea of Collins, 68, taking the stage again seemed more impossible than improbable. He'd made no secret of his debilitating health issues, particularly spine, arm and neck problems resulting from repetitive strain disorders caused by years of playing and performing — with Genesis, Brand X and on his own, as well as with Eric Clapton and Robert Plant, among others. After a multiplatinum and award-winning career, particularly during the ’80s and ’90s — including some acting roles and composing for Walt Disney's "Tarzan" — Collins retired from music in 2011 and, he acknowledged, battled alcoholism as he adjusted to his new situation.

Through surgery and therapy, however, Collins came back to performing during 2017, first at a spring benefit shows in Miami Beach and Switzerland for the Little Dreams Foundation, a charity Collins co-founded with his ex-wife Orianne, and at the U.S. Open tennis tournament that fall. During June of 2017 he began his Not Dead Yet Tour — named after his 2016 autobiography — with his teenage son Nicholas on drums. He's played in Europe, Latin America, Oceania and North America, and this fall finds him returning again for another 16-show North American run.

"I'm back — a bit," Collins — who performs mostly seated and only plays an electronic drum during the shows — says by phone. "We're basically taking it as it goes. I certainly don't want to go back on tour again, but I think, y'know, two or three weeks of shows, then a month off, the two or three weeks of shows, that kind of thing might work. So I'm hedging my bets here."

The return has a heroic quality to it and has surprised many of those closest to Collins — including Genesis bandmate Mike Rutherford, who's joined Collins on stage when his Mike & the Mechanics opened for him during shows on his European tour. "Who'd have thought he'd be touring?" Rutherford says. "It's really great. He can't move around much on stage, but he does great chat, which really helps. It's about the songs and the voice, you know? It all seems to work out alright."

Nicholas, Rutherford adds, "is a lovely drummer and a lovely guy. It definitely works."

The younger Collins made his first steps toward his father's seat about eight years ago, when Phil Collins came to his son's school to sing with the band. "I sang 'In the Air Tonight' and 'Land of Confusion,'" Collins remembers, "and the band played well in its school-boyish way. It was kind of raw energy and it was good fun and it kind of went from there."

Collins adds that his oldest son, Simon, who's in his early 40s, "is a fantastic drummer, too," but was not interested in the role.

"He's got his own career and he knows what he wants to do," Collins says, "whereas Nick is living with me and there's an awful lot that can be accomplished sitting around and talking about something — and then doing it."

Besides the shows and the book, Collins' reemergence in recent years has included deluxe reissues of his solo catalog as well as some new compilations. Making new music, however, is "a big jump," he says, "I haven't really written anything ... well, bits and pieces, but nothing since 'Testify' (in 2002). So that jump, it's either going to pour out or it's going to dribble. I have no idea what to expect."

But his return to the stage has restarted a clamor for another Genesis reunion — the last took place in 2007 — and even Rutherford offers a cautious, "I don't know. Let's see. The chances of us getting back together again, having Nicholas on drums, would make it quite special, I think."

Collins, however, prefers to a healthy dose of cold water poured on that speculation, however.

"When someone says 'Is there a chance?' I guess I should say there's no chance, and then surprise them," he says. "Nothing's been talked about, basically. I know that since the last reunion tour there have been hints of, 'Well, what about another one?' or taking it somewhere else, and possibly that could happen. But the thing is that with this particular subject, as soon as you say 'possibly' people start badgering about 'when is it gonna happen?'

"I think it's safer to say it's not gonna happen and be surprised if it happens, thank you."

Phil Collins performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit. Tickets are $55 and up. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

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