Phil Collins recalls the time George Harrison played the biggest prank on him

31 January 2020, 10:32

Phil Collins recalls prank George Harrison played on him
Phil Collins recalls prank George Harrison played on him. Picture: Getty

By Sian Moore

The moment when Phil Collins thought he’d been fired by ex-Beatle George Harrison…

When the Beatles had split following their final album, Let It Be, and each member started to pursue solo ventures, George Harrison started work on his album All Things Must Pass – and Phil Collins was drafted in to help.

At the time Collins was in Flaming Youth – a British rock band from the ‘60s – when their manager got a call from Ringo Starr’s chauffeur who was looking for a percussionist, and Collins was put forward for the job.

“So I went down to Abbey Road and Harrison was there and Ringo and Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann and Phil Spector, and we started routining the song,” Collins recalled in an interview with Classic Rock.

Phil Collins in the band Flaming Youth
Phil Collins in the band Flaming Youth. Picture: Getty

"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."

Despite two hours of Collins' enthusiastic conga contributions, it was all seemingly a wasted effort when Phil Spector asked the congas to be played – and everyone realised Collins' microphone had been turned off for the entire two hours he'd just been playing.

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George Harrison listens to the tape of his album 'All Things Must Past'
George Harrison listens to the tape of his album 'All Things Must Past'. Picture: Getty

"And just after that they all disappeared – someone said they were watching TV or something – and I was told I could go," Collins added.

"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."

And just when you think it couldn’t get worse for Collins – it does.

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Phil Collins playing the drums in the early '70s
Phil Collins playing the drums in the early '70s. Picture: Getty

Years later when Collins bought former F1 driver Jackie Stewarts house, it transpired that Jackie and George were friends.

"Jackie told me George was remixing All Things Must Pass," Collins continued. "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?'"

Collins rushed off to listen to the tape, and instantly recognised what he was hearing.

George Harrison performing on stage in 1971
George Harrison performing on stage in 1971. Picture: Getty

"Suddenly the congas come in – too loud and just awful," he said. "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 TV, they went somewhere and said: 'Get rid of him,' cos I was playing so badly."

But all was not as it seemed. Not long after Collins found himself on the phone to Harrison – thanks to their mutual friend Jackie – who was keen to hear if the tape had arrived.

"'Did you get the tape?' And I said: 'I now realise I was fired by a Beatle.'

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"And he says: 'Don’t worry, it was a piss-take. I got Ray Cooper to play really badly and we dubbed it on. Thought you’d like it!"

"I said: 'You f***ing b*stard!'"