Phil Collen - Def Leppard/Manraze - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby   
Saturday, 07 December 2013 03:00

For the past 31 years, Phil Collen has been one half of the guitar attack in Def Leppard. However, for approaching the past decade he also has been one third of Manraze, a project which has re-united with his former Girl bandmate Simon Laffy, as well as one time Sex Pistol Paul Cook. Uber Rock’s Mark Ashby fired up the trans-Atlantic ‘phone line for a chat with the affable guitarist, and talk about Manraze’s new EP, ‘I Surrender’, and to get the lowdown on Collen’s next project – as well as, of course, what’s next on the horizon for Def Leppard…

 

Manraze 4 Ash Newall

 

First of all, our man in Norn Iron can’t let conversation move forward without first enquiring after the health of his fellow Belfastard – and Collen’s axe-slinging partner in crime – Viv Campbell, who recently underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…

 

“He’s great. I saw him last week, actually, [when] we did a thing with Nikki Sixx on his radio show. So, he’s doing great: he’s in remission with the cancer and everything, so he looks great and he’s in good spirits and doing great. Couldn’t ask for better.”

 

I point out that Viv had played a handful of dates in the UK in August (with Last In Line), when he was about half way through his treatment, and the energy he displayed on stage was such that you wouldn’t have known what he was going through at the time.

 

“Oh absolutely. We played some dates in the summer [and] you know he was doing amazing. Obviously, he was right in the middle of his treatment and we were playing some pretty big places - and he really stepped up to the plate. It was great…”

 

We’re here to talk about Manraze and the new EP. What is the spark or is there an alignment of the stars that says to you ‘I’ve got to do some more Manraze stuff’?

 

“Well, with this song in particular, it’s kind of a weird one. Because we actually started this one about eight years ago… We actually did it in a demo studio in London, and we got this really good groove: Paul (Cook) had done this amazing drum groove, so we wrote the song around it - but we couldn’t quite finish the chorus off: it wasn’t as good as the groove of the song you know - the lyrics were wrong and we kept revisiting it for the next year or so and it just didn’t happen…

 

Then, all of a sudden, last year I was on tour with Def Leppard: I was sitting on a seat outside, just next to the swimming pool, with no-one around and I just started humming this thing and singing these lyrics – and I went ‘ah that’s that song that we never finished off!’ So, we went back and just re-wrote and re-recorded the whole thing and that’s really what happened there. So, this particular song kind of pursued us if you like: it wasn’t us doing what normally happens… it was like a song waiting to be born or get out there – so, it was an interesting experience, I got to say, the whole thing. ‘Cause, like I say, it’s usually the other way round - but this one pursued us!”

 

 

I put it to him that the lead song, ‘I Surrender’, has got a very Leppard groove to it…

 

“It does,” Collen readily admits.

 

“I mean, I’m the guitar player in Def Leppard - so [when] people go ‘its sounds a bit like ‘Hysteria’’ [it’s] yeah, well there’s a reason for that you know... Normally, with Manraze we kinda pull it back a bit if it starts sounding a bit Def Leppard-ish - which very rarely happens. But with this one, we just felt that the song was what it was, so we just kinda allowed it to happen - and when Joe McDonnell mixed it, he heard it that way: he mixed it that way, he changed a few things on it and we loved it so much and said ‘you know it’s fine it’s works really special that way’.”

 

The track that comes with it, a re-recording of ‘All I Wanna Do’, from Manraze’s second album, ‘Punk,Funk,RootsRock’, is a completely opposite feeling track: it’s very soulful, very bluesy…

 

“Yeah, yeah - that’s Debbie Blackwell-Cook” – godmother to Phil’s wife, Helen – “who actually sings at the end of ‘I Surrender’: the solo vocal part right at the end… that’s her on that track as well. We’ve actually been [working together for a while]: we did a charity event and we’ve done a couple of TV things as well - and we are going be doing an album next year called ‘Delta Deep’, which will be an extreme blues album. She’s got this killer voice and we blend really well together…”

 

The two tracks on the EP (which is completed by a ‘live in the studio version of the more punky ‘Connected’) have got a very relaxed feel to them – almost as if the guitarist is very much at peace with himself…

 

“Yeah absolutely: it’s great. I’m just in a really good place.

 

“I think one of the main reasons is that, if you’re lucky enough to become and artist or musician, or whatever, the most fulfilling part is being able to pretty much do what you want and actually get something out of your system… when I first started playing, when I was like 16, when I didn’t really realise that that’s really what it represents - fulfilling something that you can’t quite get out and when you can do that and you lots of ways to get it out, like Manraze or Def Leppard, or writing, recording or whatever, you kind of become relaxed. [It’s an] interesting theory: I totally go along with that!”

 

With your own commitments to Leppard, and your new project with Debbie, Paul’s commitments with Edwin Collins and Vic Goddard, and Simon off writing, can we assume you don’t have any Manraze touring in the near future?

 

“The thing is you have to be asked to do something… You know, we get this with Def Leppard a lot: you get people they almost get offended… they go ’why didn’t you come to Chile?’ or ‘why didn’t you come to Canada this year?’ - and we go. ‘well we have to be asked to?’ The promoter has to ‘phone our manager and say we wanna do some dates there and that’s what a lot people don’t really understand.

 

Manraze 6 Ash Newall

 

Fans don’t get that fact that you gotta be asked: we can’t just turn up with your gear. We’ll play anywhere at the drop of a hat! I was talking to someone from Hong Kong yesterday and he was saying ‘would you guys be up for playing out here?’, and we said absolutely so you know it’s just waiting for that ‘phone call really…”

 

I think if you just pulled up outside the Limelight here in Belfast and said we wanna play you’d get a gig just like that.

 

Collen laughs: “That would be great - and it doesn’t take much, because you know we’ve played tiny little clubs just as a combo - and it just sounds killer. It would be easy for us to do, I gotta say…”

 

The conversation inevitably turns to the guitarist’s day job and particularly the release of the ‘Viva Hysteria’ live DVD package - the first really proper live visual release that Leppard have done in years…

 

“We’ve done ‘Mirror Ball’ but you can’t see it [because] it was just audio… with this it’s the first thing we’ve done since ‘In The Round, In Your Face’ - and I actually think this is the best live thing we’ve ever recorded.

 

You know there was a fire in the band when we played Vegas: I don’t know whether that was the fact we’d just got the news about Vivian - I’m sure that had a contributing factor to it. But it’s the best we’ve ever played… even the set list: we had a 35 song pool that we could draw from. We obviously had to do ‘Hysteria’ in its totality - and that was a brand new thing for us: we’d never done an album all the way through - and we did it so it was actually like the album: we didn’t do extended parts. We actually really tried to nail it like it was on the album.

 

And we opened up for ourselves, with all these other songs: B sides: [stuff like] ‘Wasted’, stuff from ‘Pyromania’, ‘Adrenalize’ and stuff we don’t normally play… and we’d change it every single night, so it really gave the whole thing an excitement that you don’t usually have. When you’re on tour and you’re playing the same songs every night is one thing – but, when there’s a chance that you may fuck a song up completely, it’s kinda cool.

 

There’s some of these songs, like ‘Good Morning Freedom’, Viv had never played it before, and so it was interesting! I think that’s really cool and that fact probably contributed to the extra kind of aggression that we had when we played these songs live.”

 

Manraze 2 Ash Newall

 

Obviously it’s the sort of thing you couldn’t recreate again: it’s just that one off snapshot in time?

 

“We’ve been asked back to do another residency in Vegas - so we may do that again… perhaps a different album - maybe ‘Viva Pyromania’ or something like that… that would be cool!”

 

Maybe I could talk the editors of Uber Rock into flying me out to review that one!

 

“That would be great. And it was real good experience, you know: we were there for a month and they filmed it, and there’s a documentary there if we want at some point… so, yeah, it was all real good!”

 

Of course, there are rumours of some new material in the offing from Def Leppard as well..

 

“Yeah, but we’re gonna be doing some new music come February. We’re going over to Joe’s: I’ve got loads of new ideas. I don’t know whether it’ll be a single or an album, but we’ll just keep recording ‘til we kinda stop really. But, definitely, new Def Leppard material for sure…”

 

An EP, single or album just depends on how much Guinness the rest of the guys have when they’re in Dublin (where frontman Elliott lives these days)…

 

“Absolutely! You know that’s the thing in this day and age: it’s tough doing albums… they’re really expensive they don’t usually make their money back - unless you’re someone like Rihanna or Eminem. But, yeah, we do wanna make new music - and I think that’s really important for any band: we don’t want to be a nostalgia band - which we’re not! Even ‘Viva Hysteria’ was a brand new thing for us, because we’d never done anything like it.

 

So, 30 years in, we’re still doing brand new things - still getting inspired by it as well!”

 

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Photos courtesy of Ash Newall

 

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