Funny coincidence. Ten days after the public appearance of the first singer of Genesis in Quebec, his successor visited Montreal in order to promote his new album. That Peter Gabriel was in the Old Capital isn't astonishing considering his ties with Robert Lepage. That Phil Collins took the time to meet everyone in Montreal: television, radio and newspapers in a one day marathon without even stopping to eat; is a bit more surprising.
The big pop stars who agree to do these promotional tours are rare. The general rule is that these tours are put in place to promote a new artist... or to push the disappointing sales of the last disk of a previously popular singer. Phil Collins doesn't enter in the first category. Let's not jump to conclusions too quickly. His solo career, it is true, was running out of steam since the release of Both Sides in 1993. On the other hand, he had great success in the movies. His song 'You'll Be In My Heart', written for the Disney's Tarzan won him an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. These prizes assured him of more work with the giant of family entertainment.Why, then, did Phil Collins agree to leave his house in Switzerland to do a North American media tour? Because it is like that. "Don't people do it anymore? It's always been my way of working. When I make an album, I go out to meet people", he explains.
Maybe there is another explanation for this sudden stopover. As he has decided not to tour, then this constitutes the only way for him to promote Testify to the media. But, nearly the only way, as his re-make of 'Can't Stop Loving You' is being used to advertise a car. That helps to sell records, just ask Diana Krall.
There are several reasons why Phil Collins has given up touring. The main is medical. The musician has a serious hearing problem. An infection contracted two years ago affected his right ear considerably. "I had the impression of having water in the ear", he explains. "While listening to some tracks that I had recorded in Los Angeles, I realized that I couldn't hear anything in the right ear anymore. It is the strangest feeling I have ever had".
"I believed that it could be the end to my career", he continues. "But with the passing of the time, the brain adjusted and the left ear makes up for it. Today, it is no better or worse, I am used to it. It doesn't affect my work in studio. The only thing is that I would not trust myself to mix songs anymore".
Appearing on stage, as opposed to the studio, could aggravate the situation. "One doctor informed me that it could be dangerous", he said. "The last doctor that I saw told me that he would not tour if he were in my place. In an uncontrolled environment an accident could occur". He had a foretaste of it at the time of the Queen's Jubilee concert where he had to sing 'We Are the Champions'. In fact, it was so painful that he decided to withdraw from the performance.
Now he has to turn his back on more than 30 years of his life. He doesn't seem too angry. He is going to miss contact with the public, he says, but he is going to reduce his thirst for applause by giving some concerts here and there, in an unplugged format and in smaller venues. Maybe some big concerts also. But never again a world tour. Before finishing Testify, he made his manager and his record company promise that no one would force him to take the road.
As with a lot of men of his age who have worked so hard, Phil Collins wants to catch up on lost time. With his third wife, Orianne, a Swiss lady aged about 30, he now has a boy aged 18 months. "I want to do what fathers usually do", explain the man of 51 years who regrets not to have been around enough for his three other children. "I am at a moment in my life when I don't need to work anymore. At last, my work doesn't even take me out of the house (where he has his studio).»
Family life is so good that he and his wife are already thinking about giving their son Nicholas a baby brother or sister. No, his wife is not pregnant, but they are already decorating the room of the future child. A work in progress, as his friend Peter Gabriel would say. "We re-decorated the house, and we decided to do the room at the same time", said the singer laughing.
Far from being in retirement - his projects with Disney keep him occupied - Phil Collins seems like a man free and happy. Even the success of Testify doesn't worry him too much. "I doesn't matter what happens with the album, it's all the same to me", he asserts. "A lot of people are going to write that they don't like my album, even though a lot of others buy it."
"Most people who write about me only have a preview of my career", he states. "The opinion that they have of me is based on what they heard on the radio. But it is only the tip of the iceberg." His image as Mr Nice Guy weighed him down a long time, but no more now. At the moment, he is enjoying his freedom. "I don't do anything anymore because I have to, but because I want to", he says. "That's where the pleasure is.
© La Presse, by Alexander Vigneault