Interview with Phil Collen (Def Leppard/Manraze)

After a busy year with Def Leppard, guitarist Phil Collen found some time to record new material with his side project Manraze. Mick Burgess caught up with Phil to chat about his new EP, Def Leppard’s Vegas residency and his early days in Girl.

You have a new Manraze EP out called “I Surrender.” Are you pleased now that it’s finally released?

It’s finally out and we’re really excited. It’s been 8 years in the works. We actually started recording it 8 years ago but it wasn’t quite right. The lyrics, the chorus and everything like that. Then last year I was on tour with Def Leppard and I had a day off and started singing this chorus and I thought that was it. We kept Paul Cook’s original drum track and re-recorded the guitars and new vocals and Simon put some bass on it and we mixed it in Dublin and added a few things to it and it turned out great. We love it and think it’s just about the best thing we’ve ever done.

We had a similar thing with “Animal” by Def Leppard. We had that idea for three years and started recording it and Mutt Lange said that we should just keep the vocal track and we redid the whole of the rest of the track and that ended up being our first hit in the UK. When it’s right it’s right and when it’s not it’s best to let it sit for a while and return to it later. It just took 8 years for everything to fall into place with “I Surrender”

Why did you decide to do an EP at this stage?

The song had taken so long to do that when it was finished we just wanted to get it out there. We have a few half ideas kicking around at the moment that we’ll work on and that could form the basis of a new full album but at the moment we just wanted to put an EP out.

“All I Wanna Do” is a new recording of a track on your second album Punkfunkrootsrock. Why did you decide to revisit that one for the EP?

I’m actually doing a Blues album with Debbie Blackwell Cook who sings on that and at the end of “I Surrender” too. She’s the Godmother to Helen, my wife. She has sung for years in the church and has backed up the likes of Michael Buble. She has so much passion, power and pain in her voice and she sings her ass off. We’ve performed acoustically together a few times covering “Muddy Water Blues” by Paul Rodgers and some Manraze songs and she gave them a real soulful twist. It sounded so great that I thought it would be good to record her singing one of the Manraze songs and I think it’s ended up being super cool.

How far are you on with your Blues album?

We are doing an album together which is going to be called Delta Deep. We are working on four or five songs at the moment and it’s really coming together. Paul Cook will be on the album too. I love her voice. It’s great and it’s been brilliant working with her. It’s going to be extreme Blues too, not this nice sort of stuff. She sings the Blues so well. I’m really excited about the whole thing. I injured the tendon in my finger recently and since the cast came off all I could do was play the slide, which is something I hadn’t done before so I’ve been enjoying playing that style until my finger recovers.

The third and final track on the EP is “Connected”. This is a live in the studio recording. Where is this recorded?

We recorded that live in the studio in Shepherd’s Bush in 2009 and were really pleased with how it turned out and we thought it would be cool to put that on the EP. We had recorded that for a podcast but it was never released. We recorded that on the UK tour we did with Alice Cooper so it was a great time to capture us live. We did that the day after the show at the Hammersmith Odeon. We also have a killer version of Hendrix’s “Fire” that we may put out at some point.

Is the EP available as a physical product or is it download only?

It’s only a download at the moment but we are going to press some CD’s up at some point. We might make some signed copies available on our website as well. It’d be great to do some vinyl as well.

Talking of podcasts and downloads must be a world away from the first recordings that you did with Simon Laffy in Girl back in the early ’80’s. Do you remember much about the recording sessions for Sheer Greed?

I still think it’s black magic, the fact that you can record on your laptop. For “I Surrender” I did all of the guitars and vocals in my living room which is insane. With Def Leppard we’re doing these re-records and we’ve just started doing “Love Bites” and yesterday I was doing vocals into my laptop. Recording has come so far since those first recording sessions that I did. It’s amazing for the artist as it cuts out the middleman. You don’t need to go into the studio to work on material and you don’t have that huge expense that goes with it. I do remember that first session with Girl though and going into Battery Studios was so exciting for us. I actually recorded the guitar parts for Pyromania in that studio and in the same room actually. So it’s interesting to see the whole thing go from two inch analogue tape to recording straight into a laptop. The fact that a hammer fisted musician like me can now record my own guitar and vocals is absolutely brilliant. If you’re inspired you can get on with it straight away

Did you know each other before you joined Girl?

I got to know Simon through joining Girl. He wasn’t actually the original bass player. There was another guy on the first single and Simon came in and finished the album off. We became good friends and stayed friends even after the band finished.

You made quite a wave in the early ’80’s and were very different to the NWOBHM that were popular at that time. Was the feminine image a conscious effort to distance yourself from the pack?

We weren’t really anything to do with that movement. We just happened to come out at the same time but we all got lumped together. The big difference for us was that we had a lot of girls at our concerts whereas with other bands it was all 17 year old boys so it was a whole different thing for us.

Do you think it helped get you coverage or did it work against you?

It was a bit of a double edged sword but I’m glad it turned out like it did. It got us the right kind of interest. If it hadn’t been for that then I wouldn’t have been noticed by the guys in Def Leppard.

You appeared on a UK TV show, Swap Shop one Saturday morning of you performing the Kiss cover “Do You Love Me”. That was quite a coup, for a Rock band back then to get on national TV. How did you manage it?

I have no idea how we got onto that show but we were with Jet Records that was owned by Don Arden so maybe that connection opened doors for us. It was kind of cool to get onto a show like that and it got us some great coverage. We also got onto The Old Grey Whistle Test, which was my favourite TV show. All of this really helped us.

You only made one more album together in 1982 and split after Wasted Youth was released. Why did you decide to call it a day?

The album didn’t end up how we wanted it to. It didn’t sound great. It ended up being a bit of a mish mash and we didn’t have the right producer. Girl needed someone like Mutt Lange to bring us on. We lacked people around us who could really nurture the band. That just didn’t happen and we ended up going in the opposite direction and we got dropped by the label. The first album had a lot of promise but the second was too one dimensional and everything started fizzling out.

Have you crossed paths with Phil Lewis recently?

I see Phil occasionally. I was at the Guitar Centre in LA a while back and Phil showed up and we had a really nice time catching up and hanging out with me and my wife, Helen. It was great.

Would you like to play together again sometime just for fun?

I would love to but I just don’t think we’d get the time what with Manraze and Def Leppard taking up so much of my time I just couldn’t fit it in.

Why did you decide to work again with Simon in Manraze?

It sort of just happened. I was in London seeing my Dad as he had terminal cancer and was given two months to live in 2004. My Dad asked me to get him out of hospital as he didn’t like it so we took him home. I had a brilliant time with my Dad and just hung out together. It was probably the best time we ever had which is ironic as he was bedridden and very ill. We laughed our asses off and talked about life in general. It was during that time that I reconnected with Simon. When my Dad was sleeping Simon would come over and we started writing songs. Strangely enough when we’d finished writing one of the songs I said that I’d love to have Paul Cook playing on it and I actually saw Paul walking down the street a few days later. I knew him already so I stopped him and asked him to join us and that’s how it all started off.

Do you all contribute to the song writing in the band?

We all do and we all do our bit. We split the song writing three ways as we all contribute to the ideas.

You toured the UK opening for Alice Cooper a couple of years back and you all seemed really up for it. Did you enjoy doing that tour with Alice?

That was a great tour and I really enjoyed going back to some of those places that I’d started out playing when Girl opened up for UFO like the City Hall in Newcastle. That’s a classic place and I love playing there.

Was it a strange experience for you handling lead vocals on stage?

The strangest thing for me is remembering the words. Even in Def Leppard with songs that I’ve written and we’ve been playing for 30 years I can forget the lyrics. It’s a weird condition. When we started Manraze I used to have these bits of paper all over and I’d be completely messing it up all the time. After a while you make so many mistakes in front of a live audience that you automatically correct it and hope that no one has noticed. I’m a lot better at it now though.

Do you hope to do some more shows in the near future?

It all depends on the success of the song and if there’s demand for it. We’ll see and if someone offers us something then we’ll see.

Just a couple of questions about Def Leppard. How did someone from London fit in with a bunch of Yorkshire lads at first?

When I joined the band I couldn’t actually understand some of them. I remember standing in Kings Road and lip reading Rick as I didn’t have a clue what he was saying. What’s interesting is that over the years our accents have blended into one another’s now. When we tour in The States we can pretty much understand everyone and most people can understand us. We have this Def Leppard-ese language that people can understand. Even Vivian, he’s lost his broad Belfast accent after he moved to the States.

Working with Mutt Lange produced some of the biggest selling records of all time in Pyromania and Hysteria. How was it working with Mutt?

I found it to be the most inspiring time I ever had. He was so amazing at hearing things, a rhythm or melody and combining it into something special. He encouraged me to try things on the guitar that were well out of my comfort zone and he helped me to develop as a player in a way I never would have without his help. I also learned to sing because of Mutt and the techniques he taught me. It was a wonderful learning process for me being around Mutt.

You recently had a residency in Vegas performing Hysteria in its entirety. How did you end up doing an 11 night residency there?

They just asked us and it seemed a cool idea. Motley Crue had just done one and it’s a lot different now to what it was like 30 years ago. The Who were in just before us and Prince was due in after us so it’s become something quite special. We’ve never done anything like this before and we recorded all eleven shows and captured some amazing stuff. I think that is some of the best live recordings we’ve ever done.

As well as Hysteria in its entirety you played some vintage songs you haven’t done in years like “High ‘n’ Dry”, “Wasted”, “Mirror Mirror” and “Rock Brigade.” How did the crowds react when you played those?

They loved it. We did it in a different way by being our own opening act by putting a curtain in front and using a different backline. We did a 45 minute set and changed it every night. For those fans that say “why don’t you play the old stuff” or “why don’t you change the set list”, well we satisfied everyone with our Vegas shows to the point where people would come every night to see us perform different songs. Then we played Hysteria in its entirety with a huge production behind it.

Do you think you’ll dig into the vaults more when you do your next tour?

That’s a little bit different as when you play in Vegas everyone is there just to see you. When we have toured recently with Poison, Cheap Trick or Heart their fans are in the crowd too so if you throw rare tracks in that they don’t know they tend to get a little upset and we’ve actually had that so we need to play the hits and there’s also new songs that we have to fit in too so there’s not too much time left. We have rehearsed them though and they sound cool so maybe we will throw a few rare songs in from time to time. It’s hard to keep everyone happy.

Just a quick word on Vivian. It’s great to hear that his Hodgkins is in remission. That must have been a big worry for you but a relief that he’s getting better by the day?

It’s brilliant that he’s making such a good recovery. Me and Vivian did a Nikki Sixx radio show the other week and he looked radiant and so happy. It’s wonderful to see him looking like that. He ‘s enjoying his life so much more now and doesn’t seem so stressed. It was a big learning curve for him to come out of and I think it’s made him a better person and I think he’ll be the first person to tell you that.

What are your plans for 2014?

We go into the studio in February in Dublin to work on new Def Leppard material. I’m really excited about the ideas that we have. I saw Joe, Viv and Rick a few weeks ago in LA and we have some great ideas to take into the studio. We have been offered another residency in Vegas so we might be able to do that later in the year as well as some touring in the summer. It’ll be a busy year, that’s for sure.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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