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Phil Collins is back...singing the Motown hits he grew up with

Phil CollinsPhil Collins came of age to the sound of American soul music. As a teenager in London, he collected seven-inch singles on the Motown, Stax and Atlantic labels.

And, in later years, as he became one of British pop’s most successful exports and an unlikely hero to America’s R&B community, he retained an affinity with soul, going on to conquer the charts with solo renditions of You Can’t Hurry Love and A Groovy Kind Of Love.

But, earlier this year, when the chance arose to perform his favourite tracks live in New York with an 18-piece band, even Collins almost succumbed to stage fright.

‘Numbers like Dancing In The Street are among the greatest singles ever made, but doing them live was terrifying,’ he admits.

‘I kept forgetting the words. I ended up having to use a little lyric book.’

Chatting in London’s Air Studios, Collins - who has sold 250 million albums and won eight Grammys plus an Oscar - is on a roll as he enthuses about the merits of Motown.

He has reason to feel excited, too. As the drummer and singer in Genesis, he ended 2007’s Turn It On Again tour in discomfort after a chronic spinal ailment left him unable to play drums: he took a break and spent time with his two young sons in Switzerland.

But his love of soul prompted a return to action, and his new solo album - his first in eight years - pays tribute to the songs of his youth.

‘As far as I was concerned, I’d retired,’ says Phil. ‘I just wanted to be with my kids.’

Instead, Collins, 59, found himself in a studio with three members of Motown session band The Funk Brothers - bassist Bob Babbitt and guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette - working on Going Back, which revisits standards such as Martha Reeves’s Heatwave and Stevie Wonder’s Uptight (Everything’s Alright).

‘Going Back is an accidental child, but these tracks were the backdrop to my teens. It’s selfish. I made it purely to sing these songs.’

Phil Collins

Stage fright: Despite an international career with Genesis and as a solo artist,
Collins admits that he was nervous performing his favourite Motown songs live

Collins’ spinal ailment meant he could play drums on the album only by gaffer-taping the sticks to his hands.

For a musician famous for his thunderous drum rolls, he is surprisingly phlegmatic about this loss.

‘Four vertebrae in my neck had gone out of alignment, and they were crushing my spinal cord,’ he says. ‘I’ve had operations to sort out the nerve damage. But, sitting here, I can’t feel the ends of my fingers. Luckily for me, the drumming on most classic soul is light, so it didn’t present a problem.’

Genesis: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks
On the road: Touring with Genesis bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks
cost him one marriage but left him with a chronic spinal condition

On Going Back, Collins excels on slower, mid-tempo songs. But his understated, blue-eyed soul voice also shines on The Temptations’ Girl and The Ronettes’ Do I Love You?.

The singer’s desire to spend more time with his family is understandable. He has been married, and divorced, three times - to Canadian Andrea Bertorelli, Jill Tavelman and Swiss-born Orianne Cevey, the mother of his two youngest sons - and is keen for stability.

He has lived near Lake Geneva for the past 16 years, though he also keeps a flat in New York, where he dates local newscaster Dana Tyler.

Phil Collins with his girlfriend Dana Tyler
Can't Hurry Love: Collins with his girlfriend Dana Tyler. He says he has no plans to marry for a fourth time

‘I’m happy being at home,’ he says. ‘I’ve said yes to things all my life. Now I’m learning to say no. I stay in Switzerland, as Orianne is there, and we share the care of the two boys.

‘I’m not totally happy being on my own, though. I’d rather still be married and I think Orianne feels the same.

'She’s re-married, but we have a fantastic relationship. I get on well with all my ex-wives. They also get along with each other and my girlfriend. It’s a picture I never thought I’d see, but it works well.’

That wasn’t always the case, though. He said:  ‘In the Seventies, Genesis did three American tours a year, three European ones and a trip to Japan. My first wife, Andrea, told me if I toured like that, the marriage wouldn’t last. When I got back, she’d left me. If I’d known touring would cost me so dearly, I wouldn’t have done it.’

So, would he marry a fourth time?

‘I don’t think so. I have a commitment, but I don’t see the point. I don’t like being away from Switzerland and the boys for too long.’

Yet Collins won’t rule out a return to playing live. For a man once deemed to lack musical credibility, he has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in recent years.

Loved by the hip-hop community - 2001’s compilation Urban Renewal featured the cream of American R&B covering his songs - and the cornerstone of the iconic Dairy Milk ad (the one in which the drum rolls of In The Air Tonight are mimed by a man in a gorilla suit), his reputation has grown during his exile.

And the desire to sing Dancing In The Street one more time may be hard to resist.

Collins's popularity was revived with links to R&B stars and a Cadbury's TV advert featuring 'Drumzilla' playing In The Air Tonight
Collins's popularity was revived with links to R&B stars and a Cadbury's TV
advert featuring 'Drumzilla' playing In The Air Tonight

‘A lot depends on the record,’ he says. ‘If it does well, I might do some shows with The Funk Brothers. I’m supposed to be unhip, but people can now see through that fog of bad press.

‘I read an interview with La Roux. She said I was a balding, old guy from Genesis, but added there is nothing like a Phil Collins moment to make a crowd go crazy.’

Collins's first single, Heatwave, is out on Atlantic on September 6. The album, Going Back, follows a week later.

© Mail online, by Adrian Thrills

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