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Q&A: Tony Banks

Tony Banks Tony Banks Kevin Nixon

Genesis’s keyboard player on classical composing, being married to Mike Rutherford and wearing a snorkel on stage.

There’s something reliable and unchanging about Genesis keyboard player Tony Banks. He’s like the keeper of the Genesis flame. Banks may have co-written such stadium pop hits as Turn It On Again and Invisible Touch, but you suspect he’s the one band member who’d throw in some extra arpeggios or a five-minute piano solo given half a chance. "I like our hits… but I did love Genesis’s prog era," he admits.

A Chord Too Far is a four-disc box set of Banks’s solo work that covers all bases: from film soundtracks to prog rock, synth pop, big ballads and, most recently, classical music. And it has clearly been a labour of love. "A lot of people might not have heard this stuff before," he shrugs. "But I’m very proud of it."

It might surprise some Genesis fans to know you’ve made nine albums away from the band.

Let’s be frank, most of my solo work has been overlooked. That’s okay, the success I had with Genesis makes up for it. But once you’ve been through all the Genesis albums, you’ve done Mike + The Mechanics, you’ve done Phil’s [Collins], Peter’s [Gabriel] and Steve’s [Hackett] solo albums… you might find my stuff is worth a listen! 

How does a Tony Banks song differ from a Mike Rutherford or Phil Collins song?

That’s where the title, A Chord Too Far, comes from. Phil and Mike used to give me a look if I’d gone too far. There’s more complexity in my songs than there is in Mike’s. I like unusual harmonies – things like the intro to Watcher Of The Skies. But I’ve written more concise songs as well. Afterglow is one of mine and that’s a very straightforward verse/chorus/verse thing.

So it’s a little simplistic to say that you do the ‘long songs’ in Genesis?

A little. I came into the business as a fan of sixties pop and Tamla Motown, and I’ve had a hand in writing the big Genesis hits. On this album, if you’re a prog rocker type, there’s a long song called An Island In The Darkness, and if you’re not, there’s Water Out Of Wine

You’ve also recorded two classical albums (2004’s Seven, A Suite For Orchestra and 2012’s Six Pieces For Orchestra). What was it like moving into that world?

In some ways it’s a natural direction. Last year I was even commissioned to write a piece for the Cheltenham Music Festival. So, curiously, my classical stuff has gone down well, even with people in the classical world who normally hate anyone who hasn’t been to a conservatoire.

You’ve written music for several films, including Michael Winner’s The Wicked Lady. What was he like to work with?

Michael was great fun. He was actually quite self-deprecating and not as pompous as he came across. The trouble is, you can’t control the way your music is used in a film. I found I had to do everything the way other people wanted and I don’t like doing that.

It must have been hard enough doing that in Genesis.

Yes. But the three of us found a way of working together. We gave each other space.

Did the band end too quickly for you?

I always thought that the Calling All Stations tour [in 1998] was an underrated escapade. But that was it. My solo albums weren’t doing much, my film music career was going nowhere, and I did think: "I’m fifty now, maybe it’s time to stop." That’s when I wrote a piece called Black Down, and thought: "This would sound good with an orchestra…" Which led to me making classical music.

Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Phil Collins

Would anything happen with Genesis again?

Mike and I would never rule anything out. But we could never do a tour like the last one [2007’s reunion tour]. As a drummer, I don’t think Phil could do it. We’ve had talks with Peter, but you can’t tie Peter down to anything. 

What did you think of Mike’s autobiography, The Living Years?

I wasn’t very happy with it. He and I get on well, so I was surprised that didn’t come across. He also changed stories to make himself look better. My wife said to me: "He takes you for granted." Which is true, because Mike and I are like an old married couple.

You’ve also been married to the same woman for ever, which is unusual in the music business.

Margaret and I married when we were making Foxtrot [1972]. We had a one-day honeymoon because I had to finish the album. The band felt sorry for me so they paid for her to come on the next tour. In fact we often had wives and girlfriends on tour. Not what some people think of as a rock’n’roll existence, but it worked for us.

Would it be fair to say you’re rock’n’roll’s least flamboyant keyboard wizard? You’ve never worn a cape on stage or played a piano upside down…

I’m not a comfortable performer, no. Thankfully we always had people like Peter and Phil who did all that. I’m a writer who’s on stage because he can play what he writes. I did wear a snorkel on stage when we played Who Dunnit [in 1981], but that’s as far as it went. 

Apparently you’re a demon table tennis player, though.

Ha! When Genesis were playing big stadiums, you couldn’t go anywhere after soundcheck, so we set up a ping-pong table. Chester [Thompson, Genesis’s touring drummer] and I were about the same level. He had more style than me. I’d defend like mad but never attack. 

What’s next for you?

I could see myself making another classical album. The things I’m best at in music are harmony and melody. With classical music, it’s all about harmonies and melodies… and you don’t have to worry about chords! [laughs.] I can put as many in as I like – and I do.

© Classicrock Teamrock, by Mark Blake

Video

Genesis Live - Tony Banks Solo's Nuccio Genesismania

1 comment

  • Shirley
    Shirley Saturday, 08 August 2015 13:49 Comment Link Report

    Thank you for posting this Marcel.
    A very interesting article. Tony Banks is a brilliant musician and composer and I have noticed in several interviews and articles that he feels his music is somewhat under-rated - which I think really is true. He comes across as a serious, sensitive, musical genius and in mini films - such Come Rain or Shine - he has a fantastic relationship with Mike Rutherford & Phil Collins and clearly deeply enjoys the banter between them. His contribution to Genesis is phenomenal - his role irreplaceable - Genesis could not have existed without him - including the unique sound of the music. He has been very honest and straightforward in this interview and its a shame that he feels hurt by Mike Rutherford's book. I hope their relationship is still solid.. He also acknowledges that Phil cannot tour as a drummer again - which is so very harsh for all of them - Phil in particular of course & makes prog rock / Lamb gig quite difficult to achieve.. He talks about this in another article - how the drummer is the back-bone of the band. Tony cannot stop being a musician - playing and composing is like breathing to people who are so deeply musical,. As Genesis are not currently making music together - Tony Banks has no choice except to do other things and he has discovered that he is accepted in the classical world - where he feels he can write some pretty long pieces and stretch himself - it is indeed extremely difficult to be accepted without having a formal training at a conservatoire. It is a credit to TBs great talent as a pianist and composer that this acceptance has occurred.. Over this and several articles though he hints that he misses composing the other four main members of Genesis. In my little musical world (more jazz orientated) - my promoter friend says 'get on with it - we are all getting older - time has already run out for some people.' - indeed such as for the great John Martyn. So whatever the impediments might be - if they don't reform soon maybe with Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett on board - it may just be too late. I can perceive that because of the reasons why Peter Gabriel left the band - which was such a driver for his initial solo work - that there may just be too much closure for him in rejoining - which is a matter of taking a step - or not. For Phil its a lot more serious - he would have to adapt to not drumming as things stand. The rest - its just politics - and politics can change - it can be over-come - and in the very big picture - you know all that matters are friendships and music.

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