By Damian Fanelli
Late last year, Phil Collins published his autobiography, Not Dead Yet: The Memoir, via Crown Archetype.
In the book, the drummer pulls no punches—about himself, his life or the ecstasy and heartbreak that’s inspired his music. He starts things off with his brief appearance in the Beatles’ 1964 film, A Hard Day’s Night, works his way through the Genesis years, producing Eric Clapton in the Eighties, his successful solo albums and beyond.
But he also touches upon a little something called Live Aid. Or, to be more exact, Led Zeppelin’s much-maligned reunion show at Live Aid.
In past interviews, Collins has revealed that he considered quitting—mid-performance—during Led Zep’s show in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985.
In 2014, he told Q that he realized “this is a mistake” just as the set got under way. Collins was filling in, along with Chic drummer Tony Thompson, for the late John Bonham, who died five years earlier.
“It was a disaster, really,” he said. “Robert [Plant] wasn’t match-fit with his voice and Jimmy [Page] was out of it. It wasn’t my fault [that] it was crap. If I could have walked off, I would have. But then we’d all be talking about why Phil Collins walked off Live Aid—so I just stuck it out.”
“I know the wheels are falling off from early on in the set. I can’t hear Robert clearly from where I’m sat, but I can hear enough to know that he’s not on top of his game. Ditto Jimmy. I don’t remember playing ‘Rock and Roll,’ but obviously I did. But I do remember an awful lot of time where I can hear what Robert decries as ‘knitting’: fancy drumming. And if you can find the footage (the Zeppelin camp have done their best to scrub it from the history books), you can see me miming, playing the air, getting out of the way lest there be a train wreck. If I’d known it was to be a two-drummer band, I would have removed myself from proceedings long before I got anywhere near Philadelphia.”
“Onstage I don’t take my eyes off Tony Thompson. I’m glued to him. I’m having to follow—he’s taking the heavy-handed lead and has opted to ignore all my advice. Putting myself in his shoes, he’s probably thinking, ‘This is the beginning of a new career. John Bonham isn’t around any more. They’re gonna want someone. This could be the start of a Led Zeppelin reunion. And I don’t need this English fuck in my way.'”
BY THE WAY: Here’s the band’s complete Live Aid set: