In his new memoir, “Not Dead Yet” (Crown Archetype), pop star Phil Collins recalls his drumming audition in 1970 for the group Genesis, the British rock group formed in the late sixties, whose original band members included Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel and Anthony Phillips. They would go on to sell more than 100 million records worldwide:
Peter appears, brandishing the as-yet-unreleased Trespass. He plays three tracks: “Stagnation,” “Looking for Someone,” “The Knife.” Truth be told, I don’t quite know what to make of it. I don’t think much of the drumming -- it’s a little clumsy, and there’s not much groove. There are some soft harmonies that remind me of Crosby, Stills & Nash. But the whole record seems like a ... blancmange. You could put your finger in it and it would somehow reseal.
Ronnie [Caryl] goes off to give it a shot on the 12-string with Mike. Then, once Mike reappears, I finally get my turn. We move on to the terrace. Based on that quick, one-off exposure to the tracks from Trespass -- an album with only six tracks, each averaging seven minutes -- I’m trying to get a feel for Genesis. Now, as Tony starts on piano, Mike on guitar and Peter on his bass drum (he reckons himself a drummer, which will prove perilous in the months and years ahead), I have to join in with whatever I feel appropriate at the required moments.
We do three or four songs, including Trespass’s epic closer “The Knife,” and some acoustic bits, to see how sensitive I really am to acoustic music.
I’m the last drummer that day and I’m trying to divine how well -- or otherwise -- I have done. To no avail. These are tightly wound English public schoolboys, and reserve and politesse are their key fighting skills. They will, they say gravely, “let me know.”
Ronnie and I gather up our guitars and drums, load up the Morris Minor and start heading back to London, back to the real world.
“Yeah, I think you blew that,” offers Ronnie helpfully. “I think I did well, but you definitely blew it.”
“Really?” I reply. “No, I thought I did all right.” We’re arguing again already.
But as we approach the outskirts of London I start to feel less sure about how well I did. I couldn’t read those guys. Neither Peter nor Mike nor Tony said, “That was really great!” No one was going to speak up; it’s not in their make-up. They’d have a serious conversation about it afterward. In their own good time, without being rushed by anyone -- and certainly not an eager jobbing drummer from Hounslow -- Genesis would reach a decision.
I later learn that Peter knew the moment I sat down that I was the guy; seemingly the assured way I set up my kit was telling. Mike was less convinced. Tony felt quietly confident. History does not record the opinion of Mrs. Gabriel.
Genesis in 1974. From left: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett. Credits by Charisma Records
On August 8, 1970 the phone rings on the red leatherette and white wrought-iron telephone seat at 453 Hanworth Road. A voice I’ll get used to hearing over the next few years says down a crackly telephone line, “Er, um, ah, hello, Phil? It’s Peter Gabriel here. From Genesis. You’ve got the gig, if you want it.”
“Yeah, Peter, thanks a lot.”
I try to play it cool, but inside I’m jumping. I’ve finally found a band; or a band has found me. At last I’m going to play drums in front of people. It doesn’t get much better than that.