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Phil Collins opens up ahead of Montreux Jazz concert

Phil Collins behind the drum kit in 2005, photo by Pierre AlbouyExpat British rock star Phil Collins is trying to curtail his music career to spend more time with his school-age kids in Vaud but he cannot resist an opportunity to showcase his latest music - Motown and soul - to open the Montreux Jazz Festival. Ahead of Thursday’s concert, the multiple Grammy Award musician talks in an interview with 24 Heures’ Thierry Meyer about his roots and pivotal moments in his career.

Phil Collins has a warning for those coming to his opening night concert on Thursday for the 44th annual Montreux Jazz Festival: forget Genesis and all his hits as a solo artist.

"It’s important that people don’t come expecting In the Air, One More Night and Against All Odds because we ain’t doing any of that stuff," Collins said, referring to some of his more popular songs in an exclusive interview with 24 Heures newspaper.

Speaking with Thierry Meyer, editor-in-chief of the Lausanne newspaper, the 59-year-old expat British rock star talked about the Motown and soul music covers he will be performing at the sold-out concert at the Auditorium Stravinsky.

The resident of Féchy, a village in canton Vaud west of Lausanne, also expanded in a conversation held at a Geneva hotel on his love of the jazz festival, where he has played several times before, and of his struggle to limit his performances to spend more time in Switzerland with his sons.

Although Collins has scaled back his public appearances, he decided to perform at Montreux, in addition to New York and Philadelphia later this year to support his latest album, set to be released in September.

"I feel it’s a very special thing for me because this could be the last time I put out a record . . . this could be the last time I do live performances," he said.

Collins said he was going to a doctor’s appointment when he realized that Montreux would be the "perfect venue" to showcase his newest music.

Montreux Jazz Festival director Claude Nobs "is always saying to me if anything you ever want to, you want to put this group together, that group together, you can always come to Montreux," he said.

"I’ve known Claude since the 70s and I love him dearly. And it suddenly occurred to me that this (the Motown music project) was tailor-made for the festival."

Rather than performing with his regular band, he is playing with a new group, including three members of the Funk Brothers, session musicians who provided the backing for dozens of Motown songs in the 1960s.

"Those guys are very special - to see those guys play up close is a thrill for me let alone the audience," Collins said.

Bob Babbitt on bass and guitarists Ray Monette and Eddie Willis, veteran members of the Funk Brothers, are among those joining him on stage.

Collins shot to fame as the drummer for the progressive rock band Genesis in the early 1970s but his music evolved to a more popular style, leading to chart-topping albums and seven Grammy awards.

And in the past few years his song-writing and performing has extended to Disney animated films such as Tarzan (for which he won an Oscar) and the Broadway musical adapted from it.

"I listened to everything as a teenager," Collins recalled. His tastes included the Beatles and other English bands, but also Motown and jazz - Count Basie, Buddy Rich and John Coltrane.

"Being a drummer I was trying to just absorb everything," he said.

"I think that’s what’s different about drummers, we tend to want to hear everything because whether we’re listening to the drummer or just listening to the music, we’re a bit wider in our tastes, I believe, than other musicians, the guitar players, the singers, whatever."

Collins said he got his first drum when he was just three and "uncles" (not real uncles, but friends of his family) bought him first kit when he was five.

He attended drama school and carved out a brief career as a child actor, including a role as the Artful Dodger in the West End musical Oliver.

But music won out and at the age of 19 he was playing drums for Genesis.

Collins said the departure of lead singer Peter Gabriel from the band in 1974 marked one of the big turning points in his career.

"When Peter left I did not really want to become a singer," he said.

The band auditioned dozens of singers (by one count a total of 400) while the members were writing the songs for the Trick of the Tail album.

In the end, Collins, who had done backup singing for Gabriel, gave it a try.

"There were smiles in the recording room and we just carried on from there," he said.

"I would say the defining moment was me becoming the singer because that led to me being more aware of the vocals in the music, because prior to then it was only the music that counted," he said.

"I was forced into an attitude change and that enabled me, I suppose, to eventually write music of my own instead of just inside Genesis."

With the band and in his solo career, Collins has sold more than 150 million records, with his popularity peaking in the 1980s when he had a continual flow of top 10 hits.

He said another pivotal moment in his career was his first divorce, a bitter affair that occurred after his first wife left him for an interior decorator.

"If that hadn’t happened, I may never have started writing songs."

Collins has undergone two other marriage breakups, including the most recent one in Switzerland involving Orianne Cevey, whom he married in 1999 and divorced eight years later, paying a reported 25 million pounds in alimony.

"I still get along great with Orianne," said Collins.

""We’re best of friends in spite of the fact we’re not married any more. I sometimes wonder why we’re not, but we’re great friends and that’s great for the boys."

Collins said his desire to be around while his boys grow up is one reason he is curtailing his music career.

The impact of spinal surgery has also left him with a loss of sense in his hands, which has prevented him from drumming and playing keyboards.

He said he still plans to write music, though not necessarily for recording.

"I just thought about it today. When the kids get to be 18, 19 they don’t really need Dad any more; I’ll go out on the road - by that time I’ll be 70."

© Swisster, by Thierry Meyer

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