MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Phil Collins brought Motown to the Montreux Jazz Festival, giving a sell-out crowd a preview of his new album of classic hits of the 1960s by legends including Steve Wonder, the Supremes and Smokey Robinson.
The eight-time Grammy Award winner, whose career has spanned 40 years, was accompanied by 18 musicians and singers in a nostalgic pre-festival tribute on Thursday night to the Detroit-based R&B, soul and pop label.
The exclusive concert in Europe, “Up Close & Personal: Phil Collins Plays ‘60s Motown and Soul” gave the audience a taste of material from “Going Back,” his first album in eight years, ahead of its planned September release.
The former Genesis drummer and six purple-clad backing vocalists sang smash hits including “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes), “Uptight” (Wonder), “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (The Temptations), “My Girl” and “Get Ready” (Robinson).
Three female singers in sequin dresses took center stage, Supremes-style, for a sizzling rendition of “Heatwave,” formerly a hit for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
“The truth is two years ago I decided I wanted to make an album of songs I grew up with as a teenager. All these songs are very much a soundtrack of my life,” said the 59-year-old Briton, making his sixth appearance at the Auditorium Stravinski on the shore of Lake Geneva.
It will feature cover versions of classics from Motown’s heyday. The label, founded by Berry Gordy, signed primarily African-American artists who had crossover success with whites, contributing to racial integration at a turbulent time.
The thrice-divorced Collins failed to convince on some of the more high-energy numbers including “Can’t Hurry Love” — a number one UK hit for Collins in 1983 — and “Jimmy Mack,” perhaps best left to female vocalists.
But his ballads soared, including “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” (Wonder) as well as “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
“It was grandiose, his voice is still quite extraordinary. He also knows how to find excellent musicians,” said Michel Gravier, a French fan who said he had attended about 10 Collins concerts over the past 30 years.
Collins was accompanied by 18 musicians including the now aging Motown studio band Funk Brothers — bassist Bob Babbitt and guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette — and a five-piece brass section.
Looking stiff in a black suit and tie for the 90-minute concert, he finally loosened his tie during “Uptight.”
Legendary record producer Quincy Jones appeared on stage to praise Collins as sounding as if he was from the “south side of Chicago,” while Montreux festival founder Claude Nobs said: “He was magnificent. There was a lot of emotion and sincerity. And it’s only the beginning of the festival.”
The 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, which runs until July 17, formally opens later on Friday as British art rockers Roxy Music make their first appearance at the festival in 37 years, while U.S. multi-instrumentalist Norah Jones headlines on Saturday.
Collins was inducted in March into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with other former members of the English rock group Genesis, including Peter Gabriel whom he replaced as singer.
A recent grandfather, he has been battling health problems and did not attempt to play the drums or keyboard on Thursday.
In addition to having lost his hearing in his right ear a decade ago following a viral infection, his hands have been badly affected by a chronic spinal injury.
“If I was able to play the drums on my album it was thanks to a French engineer, himself a drummer. When we started recording sessions, I realised that I could no longer hold the drumsticks. I had to scotch-tape them onto my hands and we recorded the songs by bits and put them together,” Collins told the Swiss daily Le Matin in a May 30 interview.
“I can no longer play the drums. I’m considering whether I could benefit from new surgery, but the nerves have to heal. Maybe in a year’s time,” said Collins, who has five children from his three marriages.
“But to be honest, it’s not losing music that hurts. It is not being able to play with my kids.”
Editing by Jason Rhodes