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Tony Banks talks about reunion

With a BBC documentary, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford talking 'about various things' tongues are wagging about a reunion. Keyboard player and co-founder Tony Banks tells all.

The hearts of progressive and pop-rock music fans were aflutter last week at the sight of the reconvened classic line-up of Genesis, peering down the lens for a jovial photo opportunity.

It signalled an upcoming BBC documentary on the band, and inevitable global twittering about the possibility of a reunion tour by Messrs Collins, Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford and Hackett.

But amid all the speculation, keyboard virtuoso and co-founder Tony Banks has an entirely different performance on his plate, courtesy of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Early next month at the 70th Cheltenham Music Festival, Banks will premiere his new orchestral work, commissioned for the event.

He’s created a substantial classical oeuvre in recent years, but this is the first time one of his orchestral works has been performed live. It’s all quite a long way from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.      

"This is almost going naked, as it were, which is quite an interesting thing for me to do," says Banks, a spry 64, when we meet to discuss the project in London. "In the group, you’re so used to making a record, everyone hears it, and anyone who likes you will give it more than one go.

"When we were doing the later Genesis albums, in particular, the tracks would evolve. You’d start off with a real skeleton thing, then it would slowly get bigger and bigger. By the end of three months, you had an album. Doing the classical stuff is different for me, because you go in the studio and you pretty much record it then and there. If it doesn’t sound good on the day, tough, that’s it."

After a variety of solo albums, film soundtracks including 1983’s The Wicked Lady and other endeavours, Banks’ first classical venture, Seven: A Suite For Orchestra, was released in 2004, featuring the London Philharmonic. Six Pieces For Orchestra followed in 2012. What can people expect this time?

"I think the piece is good, but then I would, wouldn’t I?" he smiles. "I use this arpeggio motif that goes through it a lot, and the beginning starts with big chords, which I suppose is slightly reminiscent of early Genesis. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s how it’s worked out."

But the sum total of the brief from Cheltenham was the duration. "15 minutes, that’s what I was told. What was extraordinary was, when I wrote the thing first time and stuck it on the computer, it came in at exactly 15 minutes. It’s now a bit longer, because I’ve elongated bits and pieces.

"I’m a long-winded sort of chap, as you know, in music," he says drily. "I like the discipline sometimes of writing a three or four minute song, that’s great. But left to my own devices, I sprawl all over the place, and I like to bring in more elements to a piece. So working in classical is great, because in terms of chords, I can be much more adventurous.
I’m always pretty much up for anything, I don’t see any reason why not to. I really don’t know. We never say no. We all get along fine. Don’t hold your breath
"I used to be like that In the early days of Genesis, but Mike and Phil would get that look - ‘Too many diminished chords in a row, he’s off.’ Which is fair enough. I needed a bit of controlling."

With Collins and Rutherford, Banks mounted the hugely successful Genesis reunion tour Turn It On Again in 2007. Collins "retired" in 2011, citing health and other reasons, but was filmed performing In The Air Tonight and Land Of Confusion in a concert at his sons’ school in Miami last month, and has said that he’s written with Adele for her next album.  

Together with the forthcoming BBC documentary, all of that has, predictably, set tongues awag about a new Genesis get-together, perhaps even of the vintage five-piece line-up of the 1970s. Banks handles the question calmly.

"We have talked about various things," he says. "A year ago I think Phil would definitely have said no. But he’s probably not quite capable of playing Duke’s Travels [from 1980’s Duke] any more. I think that’s what did him in a bit the first time around.

"But they’ve got [the BBC] documentary coming out, and we had a meeting, with Peter and Steve as well. I’m always pretty much up for anything, I don’t see any reason why not to. I really don’t know. We never say no. We all get along fine. Don’t hold your breath."

Banks was captivated as a teenage fan by the keyboards of Keith Emerson, whom he went to see at the Marquee Club, with Gabriel, in The Nice. "It was the first time for both us that we’d really thought about the idea that playing live music could be fun," he says.

He hopes the Cheltenham event will fit that description, but Banks admits to a certain apprehension at being centre stage. "With a three-piece, you always rely on each other a bit. On stage, the central focus has always been on the singer, Phil in latter days, so I’ve always been able to hide in the background, and I’m happy to do that.

"I’m a writer, I didn’t really intend to be a performer at all. But the Genesis videos, I quite enjoyed. Fortunately in Phil you had someone who could act. Mike and I could do our best, we’d wear wigs and raincoats. You can do enough, we could do the silly walk in I Can’t Dance. Some of the videos were really good."

Whatever happens down the road with the band that made him somewhat reluctantly famous, Banks is the ultimate example of someone who got out of rock ‘n’ roll alive.

"I’ve met a lot of people in rock ‘n’ roll who are surprisingly normal," he says. "That’s probably why the group has never been seen as cutting edge. I just love music, I don’t really care about the rest of it."

Tony Banks’ orchestral piece will be performed as part of the Cheltenham Music Festival’s Proms series, with classical guitarist Miloš Karadagli? and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, on July 5. cheltenhamfestivals.com/music

© Sunday Express, by Paul Sexton
Last modified onSunday, 22 June 2014 11:20

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