When Phil Collins was 7 years old his uncle built him a drum set so he could play along with the music on television. 30 years later, the millionaire musician has emerged as one of the biggest names in the rock business, first with the group Genesis and more recently as a solo artist with 50 million records sold worldwide. Now PC is tackling a new challenge, co-starring with Julie Walters on a love- on -the-run movie about the life of the Great Train Robber, Ronald Buster Edwards.
Collins had already played a cameo role in the hit series Miami Vice as a drug dealer, but unlike many musicians/actors he did not want to appear in Buster as a music celebrity. As he says himself, " I did not want it to be a PC package: the film, the music, the video, the hit single..." , so at first he refused to have anything to do with the music. But as time went on, he found, perhaps inevitably, that he did become involved. He ended up writing nearly all the original songs himself, one of which is performed by the legendary Four Tops.
Speak UPs Tristan Ashman met PC in the lobby of the Waldorf Hotel in London and began by asking him what had prompted him to accept the role as Buster.PC: Well, there's 2 reasons why I decided to do a film, let alone Buster. One was that after having done a Miami Vice - it seems an eternity ago now but it must only be about 3 years ago - I enjoyed that very, very much. And I said to Tony Smith, my manager, you know, "If you hear of anything..." , because scripts were coming in anyway, but you know, " If you hear of anything, then let me know if its good" . Because he usually reads them first, because I've got an attention for things like that of 10 minutes: if I don't like it in 10 minutes, forget it! Anyway, Buster came along and he liked it and he said I should read it cos Id like it, and also that Julie (Walters) was being talked about as June. And because it was real, I mean before I even read the script, because it was real and it sounded like something I could relate...- in the 60s, you know, I love that period - and it just seemed like a good idea. And we went from there and I sat on it for about a year and a half because I already had commitments to do a Genesis tour, which was 10 months, and a Clapton album which I was finishing, so there was quite a bit to do before I could start.
Speak Up: There's no way...you're not now going to become an actor and not a musician?
PC: Oh no, no. No, I mean, I enjoyed it so much that Id like to do it again and if the experience is god the second time. I mean, I'm not a professional actor, that's not how I make my living. So therefore, Ill just keep doing it for as long as it becomes enjoyable. You know, if I say the next film, after the next film, I say, "Well, I'm going to give it a break for 2 or 3 years", you know, that's what Ill do. As it is, the next thing on my agenda, apart from promoting the film when it comes out, is a solo album which Ill start recording in January/February (1989). And that will go on for as long as it takes and then after that Ill either go on the road with that, with my own band, or Ill do another film. But, I mean, music is still what I do.
SU: It must have been quite fun writing a song for the Four Tops.
PC: Yeah, believe it! Originally I said to David, " No, I'm not doing anything to do with the music" , because I don't want people to think its going to be like Phil Collins - The Movie, Phil Collins - The Video. So, I said. I'm serious about this acting thing. I mean, I'm not doing it, as I feel some musicians-actors have done it, you don't really forget that they're musicians. Because it is hard, sort of, when you see this very glamorous, good- looking bloke like Sting, for instance...when you see him doing anything you cant forget that its him. My image is that of a non-image, you know, I haven't really got an image. So, its no...people should be able to forget, hopefully people better forget, that its me. But the music was, because of that, I wanted to be taken very seriously, although not like Lawrence Olivier, but, I mean, seriously and not in musical terms.
SU: When you're writing songs generally, do they come easily?
PC: Sometimes it comes very easily. I mean, sometimes Ill be up there all day in my little studio and Ill be tiddling about and nothing happens. And then Ill come downstairs and Ill, dunno, watch a bit of telly, go upstairs and within 10 minutes you just put your hands on the piano and there's a little bit. And you think, " Well, that's something!" , so then you start fooling around. I'm not a work to rule guy: some guys go up there 9 to 6 and just work and then stop at 6, no matter what's happening, you know. I tend to just sort of keep going until I'm fed up with it.
SU: Are you surprised at your success, because I can remember Genesis playing for hours...?
PC: The band, you know, has gone from strength to strength, really. I mean, obviously you lose people on the way because people grow up, their musical taste change; mortgage, 2 dogs and you know 2 kids and all that kind of stuff. They don't buy albums like they used to and they sort of automatically blame the band for changing, and in fact everybody's changed. You just develop and change new ideas about what you want to do. But we actually have gone from strength to strength and, unusually, my sort of solo thing has done the same without harming the band; you know usually people get successful on their own, they leave.
SU: Did you find it a surprise, as I think most people did, that after PG left, Genesis actually went even bigger?
PC: Well, we were surprised, yes. I'm sure everybody else was surprised too, because they didn't really think anything was going to happen. The public image of the band was that Peter did everything, so he had more to live up to in a way that we did. And we came from an underdog situation and surprised people and did very well. But it surprised us as well; I mean, we knew we could do it, but it surprised us that actually the public accepted it.
SU: How have you coped with the fame and fortune that's followed?
PC: Well, I had to park me own car this morning! Nothings changed really, to be quite honest. That sounds like a cliché if ever I heard one! I mean, never having had, you know, a lot of money when I was... you know, we weren't born into a family with money, so if you didn't earn it you didn't have it. And I work as if I didn't have money, really; I mean, I work all the time doing this and that, and its just nice to know its going into a bank account somewhere. But I mean I don't really use it particularly: I have a couple of vices, but that's about it.
© Speak Up, by Tristan Ashman