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Genesis keyboardist remembers Phil Collins' Cdn debut three decades ago

Stepping furtively onto a theatre stage in London, Ont., a nervous Phil Collins made his debut as the Brit band's new frontman in 1976, keyboardist Tony Banks says in a recent phone interview.

"Those were very crucial gigs," recalls Banks, noting the band had staged a handful of warm-up shows just west of Toronto to gauge how audiences would receive Collins.

"Obviously, we were all a bit worried about him - he was out there, suddenly the drummer's out in the front and he looks a bit strange out there."

There was reason to worry - Gabriel had been a charismatic and theatrical performer, and was known for a building an easy rapport with the audience, says Banks.

Collins, on the other hand, had little experience in the spotlight.

"The thing that he was nervous about, really, was what he was going to say to the audience between the songs, you know," Banks says in an interview from a tour stop in Munich, Germany.

"Because Peter Gabriel had been very good at that side of it - he'd developed a kind of personality."

Whatever Collins said that night, he managed to find his footing quickly.

"It was good enough. He worked on the stories and he got it right," says Banks. "I think that gave him the self-confidence really, which you really need to take you through, so it was an important time for us."

Collins went on to take Genesis through a string of '80s pop hits including "Invisible Touch," "In Too Deep," "Throwing It All Away," and "Land of Confusion."

The '80s also saw band members break off into successful side projects, with guitarist Mike Rutherford finding success with Mike and the Mechanics, Collins scoring chart hits as a solo act, and Banks tackling film scores.

Talk of a reunion this year initially surprised Banks, with the keyboardist doubting there would be much demand for a return to their distinctive synth-based sound.

"We originally thought we'd go out and probably play. . .maybe the 10,000-seaters here and then we sort of talked to the promoters and they said, 'Oh no, no, no, we reckon you can do the stadiums."'

"We're an old group, we haven't played this lineup in 15 years, none of the music we're doing is less than 15 years old and yet the crowds come and they've been fantastic. It's been a lot of fun."

Banks says Canadian fans can expect a strong visual show with plenty of nostalgia. There will be an 18-minute medley incorporating half a dozen songs, a couple of instrumental pieces from the '70s and some double drumming between Collins and Chester Thompson.

Banks admits it took band members a moment or two to relearn some of the old material, noting that his recent work is more classical in nature and that Collins' had to work on building up the speed and stamina he used to have in the early days.

Aside from a few odd changes here and there, the band was intent on presenting their classic songs the way fans remember them, he adds.

"We're hoping to play them better, obviously, play them as well as we can," says Banks.

"I know when I see people, I like to hear songs pretty much as I remember them. I don't want to hear sort of like ... Sting doing his jazzy version of 'Roxanne.' I never liked that at all.

"Obviously there's a heavy element of nostalgia in this tour so, one doesn't want to fight that."

Banks says things have been going so well, there's been talk of writing new material.

"The three of us would be quite keen to have a go and see what happens," he says.

"We're getting on very well and we're enjoying ourselves a lot. We'll see what we feel, probably by the time we get to the end of the American tour if we still feel sort of the same way."

Yahoo News, by Cassandra Szklarski

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