Tony Banks should need little or no introduction to most of our readers. Since the earliest days of Genesis throughout the many changes of members, music and direction, Tony’s intelligent, musically strong composition skills have been a cornerstone of their excellent music. Sadly whilst both Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford have had highly successful and acclaimed solo careers, this has somehow never been the case with Tony, and most people are not that aware of his own solo career. On the occasion of the release of the Vaults 8-disc reissue of his collected solo works, TPA’s John Wenlock-Smith had the opportunity to talk with Tony about this reissue and also get some idea of where he will go next musically.
Good morning Tony, thank you for taking time to talk with me, mainly about this Vaults reissue.
That’s fine, ask what you want, I’ll try and remember if I can of course!
Why release this set now?
Cherry Red asked me basically, and as several of these albums have been out of circulation for 25 years or more I thought ‘Why not’, it might drum up some interest in the music and possibly those who aren’t aware may take the chance to have a listen for themselves and hopefully will like what they hear. Obviously, I’m not anticipating massive sales but perhaps a bit more recognition may come of it.
Some may not be aware of all of these albums. The first, A Curious Feeling, was originally released in 1979. Probably some folks weren’t even born then.
Possibly not, but that one especially probably bears the most resemblance to what we were doing with the main band (Genesis) and the Then There Were Three album, that this is almost a companion piece for it in that it has a similar tone and styling.
Over the years you had some significant collaborations with folk like Fish, Nik Kershaw and Jack Hues. Tell me about your experience of working with Fish.
Fish is an interesting chap, he tends to do his own thing, as he did on Another Murder of a Day and Shortcut To Somewhere, but on Angel Face I made him learn the melody as as it had quite a strong melody it had to be sung the way I’d written it, so it took quite a long time to do but it was a fun way of working and well worth it, his natural approach is to sing what comes to him without really thinking about it, on top of what you have, but this really worked out well. He was pretty easy to work with really in the end.
Well Nik Kershaw was seen very much in the Pop world at the time as he’d had a little moment when he was a teenybop idol and stuff which was a strange thing in a way because he’s an incredible music chap, one of the most musical people I’ve ever worked with in fact. He’s also very talented as a guitarist. I liked the way his voice sounded, it was good. I’d particularly enjoyed his album The Works, and also on that album was drummer Vinnie Colaiuta so I decided I really wanted to try and work with these two guys and I got them in for the album Still. At that stage, I’d decided I didn’t want to work with just one singer and would try different people, so I rang him up and said what do you think and he said, “Yeah, let’s do it”. I like the way he writes songs because there’s always a little element that’s slightly unusual and always well performed and sounding. He’s very easy to work with, we got on fine.
I Think Nik got a little bit trapped in a certain area of music really and there was always a little bit more to him than that. I would call him sophisticated pop, in the same vein as people like Queen or 10CC where the songs have a little bit more going for them but still sound very commercial, and I think that’s a real gift. He’s great and very easy to work with and we got on fine.
Jack Hues of Wang Chung?
Well he was suggested to me by Nick Davis, a producer who, I’ve worked with for many years. He’d done some work with Jack outside of his Wang Chung stuff and he thought we’d get along OK, so I listened to a few tapes and I thought his voice was kind of interesting, so we got together and got on well so I thought it would be fun to do something just the two of us so we did the whole album together and whilst he’s a guitarist he didn’t feel confident in doing exotic things like the big solos on the big song An Island in the Darkness, so I got Daryl Stuermer in for those parts as I’ve always loved his playing and I’ve obviously worked with Daryl for many years.
So of your albums, do you have a favourite?
As a totality it would be A Curious Feeling, but the individual songs on some of the others, especially An Island in the Darkness where I made a conscious effort to hark back a little bit to my earlier days and allowed myself to do a fifteen-minute song that went through sorts of changes, the sort of thing we’d done on Firth of Fifth where we had a soft melody that repeated and guitars that were big and loud, I think that sort of thing works really well, well it did on Firth of Fifth so I thought I’d try that again and I think it worked pretty well on that song.
It’s something I’m particularly proud of, that song. The trouble is I do tend to like most of the things I’ve done. I listen back to them and I’m pretty proud. There are a few things I regret but in the main, and that applies to Genesis as well, I’m not one of those people who listen to their stuff cringing, I can listen to anything right back to From Genesis to Revelation and still hear some good stuff on that, I don’t have that problem and sometimes I’m just amazed by what I’ve done really, and that’s a strange thing, especially with the classical stuff, I often wonder what that came from.
You’re obviously more than the sum of the parts, as it were, you’ve worked your craft and it shows your use of harmony, melody and structure is excellent. You’ve kept your mind open and looked for new avenues to explore.
Obviously, I’ve had a lot of a variety of influences, starting with the ’60s music of the Beatles, The Kinks and the Yardbirds and all that, but what I loved most of all is when people tried to do something different. The Beatles obviously started in mainstream pop and then started using new chord sequences and arrangements, and the Beach Boys with their vocals, and having loved classical music and shows like Rogers and Hammerstein, I found that incredibly exciting really what I’ve tried to do with my own stuff where you could go a bit further with your chords and structure and move beyond writing a four-chord pop song. Whilst I like listening to them, I’m not terribly interested in writing them, I’m better when I can be a bit wilder. It’s not what I do best.
I think your use of harmony and melody is where you come across best.
Well I like to take time to get somewhere I suppose, I like being subtle, even if it sounds straightforward, and I think that’s a gift as well, and I prefer to follow in that zone rather than being straightforward.
So what’s next on your agenda, what’s next for you?
Well not much really after these reissues that we’ve talked about. I’ve done the three orchestral suites and they are actually going to re-release the third one as they think it has some mileage left in it. It did well in the classical charts, coming in at No.1 for a week before being knocked off my Alan Titchmarsh reading poetry, which sort of puts it into perspective really. Anyhow, they feel it didn’t get enough closure so they’re going to put it out again, so that’s another they’re thinking about.
I’m actually a bit dry of ideas at the moment, I don’t particularly have anything. There’s always a few ideas running around my brain I suppose, people often say to me ‘Why don’t you do another rock album?’ and stuff and I think. well I did all those songs and I’m not sure if I’d do anything better now, so I’d be more tempted to carry on in the orchestral world. I’d have to think about it. I’m so out of touch these days, I don’t know much anymore. There are a few people I kind of hear about but I don’t really listen to current pop music at all. I hear the radio and probably know more than I think I do, I couldn’t name you a Beyoncé song. For me it’s OK, I’m quite happy to hear it.
I couldn’t name you a Beyoncé song either so don’t worry!
(Laughs) Well I’m sure maybe you should, you are closer to them, I know you’re in the prog world but you are closer to the thing. I kind of sometimes, on the radio, you can press a button and you can tell who the artist is and I think I should know this and it’s some new girl, they come and go quite fast nowadays.
Short shelf life really.
Yes, it’s quite difficult for them. In our day some people lasted, and some people didn’t.
I wondered if you’d thought of recruiting, like Flying Colors have done, taking different people from different bands and making something up from it.
I don’t really think like that, I think from the song upwards, primarily I’m a writer and I think ‘What can I do with this?’. Obviously, in the early days we were writers and hoped we could get other people to do our music, and when we discovered no one else would, that’s why we did it ourselves. And it kind of stemmed from that I suppose, I don’t really think about the musician until I get the piece written. I haven’t worked with anyone else apart from the Genesis boys since the Strictly Inc album, and that was over 20 years ago now [actually nearer to 25 Tony]. Obviously the orchestras I’ve worked with, you just hire them and they say yes as they want the money.
I would love to see you have another go at a rock album.
Well I never say never, but now I’m more interested in other forms of music really.
Can I ask you a question for a friend? He wants to know what keyboard you used for the solo on Follow You Follow Me, if you can recall.
I think that was probably an ARP Pro Soloist as it was the only synth I was using that stayed in tune, being monophonic meant I had to double track it to get the sound to work, but I think it was that. I think there is probably some footage of Top of the Pops on YouTube that you could find it on.
He wondered if it was a Prophet 5.
Probably not, I think I got the Prophet 5 and 10 later than that album. I was good at miming the keyboards, of course you mimed it all apart from Phil who had to do a live vocal track.
Can I ask if there is any chance of any further activity from the main band?
Genesis you mean? Well I never rule it out, we talk about if frequently, but I really don’t know. Obviously Phil isn’t as he was and he can’t drum anymore, but he’s been out recently and so has Mike, none of us are getting any younger.
The window of opportunity is closing?
Well no one us are getting any younger and we’re all still alive so who knows, it could happen. We’ll never get Pete out again though, but the rest of us is always possible, we’ll have to see what transpires.
Well thank you very much for taking time to talk with me, you’ve been very gracious and kind and forthcoming.
It has been a pleasure.
Thanks for calling me.
No problem, thank you too.