Phil Collins Recalls Being Fired From His Role As George Harrison’s Conga Player In Unearthed Interview

Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Press

His first interaction with the Fab Four when the 13-year-old Collins, then a child actor, appeared in 1964 Beatles film A Hard Days Night.

The performance took place in front of 350 fans, each of whom was paid a standard union fee for their appearance.

While Collins didn’t make the theatrical cut, the former Genesis drummer does recall rediscovering the scene for a making-of commentary for the film’s rerelease.

I was in it, but not in it,” shared. “Walter Shenson [the producer] asked me to narrate a ‘Making Of’ [feature] for its 30th anniversary in 1994. And I said, ‘I was in it but they cut me out. ‘ He gave me the outtakes of the concert scene at the end and I went through it frame by frame and I found myself! On the [rerelease] I circle myself on the screen.”

He then playing on George Harrison’s crowning achievement as a solo artist, 1970’s All Things Must Pass.

Our manager got a call from Ringo Starrs chauffeur,” Phil recalls, “who said they needed a percussionist, and he suggested me.”

“So I went down to Abbey Road,” he continues, “and Harrison was there and Ringo and Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann and Phil Spector, and we started routining the song.”

Things didn’t run smoothly: “No one told me what to play, and every time they started the song, Phil Spector would say, ‘Let’s hear guitar and drums,’ or ‘Let’s hear bass and drums.’ And I’m not a conga player, so my hands are starting to bleed. And I’m cadging cigarettes off Ringo – I don’t even smoke, I just felt nervous.”

As with A Hard Days Night, Collins again failed to make the final cut.

After about two hours of this,” he reflects,  “Phil Spector says, ‘Okay congas, you play this time.’ And I’d had my mic off, so everybody laughed, but my hands were shot. And just after that they all disappeared – someone said they were watching television or something – and I was told I could go. A few months later I buy the album from my local record shop, look at the sleeve notes and I’m not there. And I’m thinking: ‘There must be some mistake!’ But it’s a different version of the song, and I’m not on it.”

This isn’t where the story ends.

Years later,” Collins adds, “I bought [former race car driver] Jackie Stewart’s house. And Harrison was a friend of Jackie’s, and Jackie told me George was remixing All Things Must Pass. And he said. ‘You were on it, weren’t you?” And I said, ‘Well I was there.’ Two days later a tape’s delivered from George Harrison with a note saying: ‘Could this be you?'”

Upon listening to the recordings Collins came to the realization that his omission might not have been so bad of an outcome.

Straight away,” he explains, “I recognize it. Suddenly the congas come in – too loud and just awful. And at the end of the tape, you hear George Harrison saying: ‘Hey, Phil, can we try another without the conga player?’ So now I know, they didn’t go off to watch television, they went somewhere and said, ‘Get rid of him,’ cos I was playing so badly.”

After this Harrison got in touch: “Jackie rings and says, ‘I’ve got someone here to speak to you,’ and puts George on and he says, ‘Did you get the tape?’ And I said, ‘I now realize I was fired by a Beatle.’ And he says, ‘Don’t worry, it was a piss-take. I got [famed English session drummer] Ray Cooper to play really badly and we dubbed it on. Thought you’d like it!

Phil’s response was a simple one: “You f***ing bastard!

Read the full interview here.

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