Tony Banks (musician)
Anthony George Banks is an English musician, songwriter and film composer primarily known as the keyboardist and founding member of the rock band Genesis. Banks is also a prolific solo artist, releasing six solo albums that range through progressive rock, pop, and classical music.
Banks co-formed Genesis in 1967 while studying at Charterhouse as their keyboardist and one of their principal songwriters and lyricists. He became a prolific user of the Hammond T-102 organ, Mellotron, ARP Pro Soloist and Yamaha CP-70 piano. In the band's earliest years Banks would play acoustic guitar for some of the mellow and pastoral songs.
In 2010, Banks was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis. In 2015, he was named "Prog God" at the Progressive Music Awards. Banks is ranked No. 11 on MusicRadar's greatest keyboard players of all time.
Early lifeAnthony George Banks was born on 27 March 1950 in East Hoathly with Halland, East Sussex as the youngest of five children. He cites his mother, a pianist, as being particularly into music, and first listened to classical music albums that she owned from around six before he moved to musical theatre compositions by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Banks's elder brother introduced him to a wider variety, naming "Sixteen Tons" sung by Frankie Laine as one of the songs, and said, "By 1961, and for the next five to six years, I was music mad!" Banks started piano lessons at school at eight with the headmaster's wife, but did not enjoy tuition at first because he was "quite forced into it" by his parents until he grew to enjoy it. He considered himself an average piano player, and learned to recite pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Maurice Ravel, his two favourite piano composers, by ear. At 13, he began lessons with an unsuitable teacher who made him lose interest in classical music, but he then started to recite songs by ear that he heard on the radio. Months later, he acquired a new piano teacher who sparked his interest in classical compositions once more, which became a deciding factor for Banks's decision to pursue a career in music. In addition to the piano, Banks taught himself to play the guitar.
At seven, Banks began six years of study at Boarzell Preparatory School, a boarding school in Hurst Green. In September 1963, Banks began study at Charterhouse School, a private school in Godalming, Surrey. He studied classical piano as an extracurricular subject. Shortly after his arrival he befriended fellow pupil and future Genesis bandmate Peter Gabriel, initially over their general distaste for the school's environment. They went on to play in Garden Wall, a school band with drummer Chris Stewart. In early 1967, they merged with guitarists Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, two members of Anon, another school band, to record a series of demos which led to the formation of their new band Genesis.
Banks originally planned to study mathematics in higher education. After leaving Charterhouse, Banks began studying chemistry at Sussex University but soon switched to physics and philosophy. After a year at Sussex, he took a leave of absence in 1969 to explore a career with Genesis since the group had split but decided to reform and become a full-time professional band. Banks never returned to the university.
1967–2007: GenesisBanks's elaborate arrangements and keyboard solos – such as the piano introduction to "Firth of Fifth" and the instrumental sections of "The Cinema Show", "Watcher of the Skies", and "Supper's Ready" – helped to establish Genesis's sound. In addition to playing keyboards, Banks contributed to Genesis's 12-string acoustic passages in songs such as "The Musical Box", "Entangled", "The Cinema Show", and the beginning part of "Supper's Ready". Banks also was an occasional back-up vocalist and sang co-lead vocals on "Shepherd", an unreleased track from 1970 which finally surfaced on the Genesis Archive 1967–75 boxed set. Notable Banks-penned Genesis songs include "Mad Man Moon", "One for the Vine" and the anthemic ballad "Afterglow", which remained a popular coda to the Banks-driven medleys that the group played during live shows for years.
In 1997, Banks turned down an invitation to play on Steve Hackett's solo album Genesis Revisited as he disliked going over past material and an appearance would have added confusion to the fact Genesis were close to putting out Calling All Stations.
After Genesis split in 1998, Banks's career stagnated, and he considered retirement from music. It was during this time that he began composing, titling an early piece "Black Down" which led to his decision to pursue orchestra composition.
1978–present: Solo projects
Rock albumsBanks first thought of making a solo album in 1975, following Gabriel's departure from Genesis. He had a group of songs in development at the time which were used on A Trick of the Tail, their first album recorded without Gabriel, including "Mad Man Moon" and sections of "Entangled" and "Ripples".
In 1979, after Genesis had entered a break in activity, Banks and Rutherford travelled to Polar Studios in Stockholm and recorded their first studio albums. Banks's album, A Curious Feeling, was released first in October of that year. It was originally meant to be based and titled after the short story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and Banks had written a complete set of lyrics for the story, but shelved the idea after he was made aware of an upcoming musical about the book. In addition to keyboards Banks plays the guitar and bass as he wanted the album to be "As personal as possible". He enlisted Kim Beacon of String Driven Thing as vocalist.
In June 1983, Banks released his second studio album, The Fugitive. It remains unique as his only album to feature himself as lead vocalist on all of the songs; a role he considered after recording guide vocals for Collins to sing for "Me and Sarah Jane" and "Keep It Dark" on the Genesis album Abacab. Banks has employed guest vocalists on his solo albums; these have included Fish, Nik Kershaw, Toyah Willcox, Jack Hues and Jim Diamond.
In 1988, Banks recorded a pop and rock-oriented album under a group identity named Bankstatement, featuring guitarist and co-producer Steve Hillage and singers Alistair Gordon and Jayney Klimek, plus additional musicians. Banks felt inspired to pursue the project having witnessed Rutherford enjoy the success of his own group, Mike + the Mechanics. Their same-titled release was released in 1989. Banks himself also took the lead vocal on one track
Banks released his fourth studio album, Still, in April 1991. In contrast to his previous use of one or two vocalists on an album, he chose a greater number for Still as he saw little point in restricting himself and selected different people for tracks they suited best. As on the previous album, Banks took the lead vocal on one track
Banks formed his second group project outside Genesis in 1994. He initially wanted to name the band Incognito, but found out there was another group with the name and chose Strictly Inc. It featured himself with Wang Chung vocalist Jack Hues, and their same-titled album saw a UK release in September 1995.
In 2004, after recording his classical album Seven, Banks expressed an interest to record another rock solo album but said the environment is becoming increasingly difficult in terms of securing a deal, yet the likelihood of it solely being an independent or online release does appeal to him. He added: "I'm not trying to prove anything. I haven't got to convince anybody. I don't have to worry about reviews or anything like that. You are just doing it for people who are familiar with what you are doing".
Film scoresIn 1978, Banks and Rutherford were asked by musician and producer Rupert Hine to write music for the horror film The Shout, after David Bowie was originally booked but failed to attend sessions. Hine recommended Genesis, and organised recording in a church without Collins as he was unavailable at short notice. The main theme that they developed was later featured on "From the Undertow" on Banks's solo album A Curious Feeling.
Banks's first major film score was for the 1983 loose remake The Wicked Lady, for director Michael Winner. The soundtrack was released in April 1983 on Atlantic Records.
Around 1983, Banks was asked by director Peter Hyams to score the soundtrack to ', the sequel to the popular science fiction film ', having liked his work for The Shout. However, the "masses" of music Banks had written was poorly received by Hyams which led to his departure from the project, leaving Banks disappointed. With months to spare, Banks accepted the job of scoring another science fiction film, Lorca and the Outlaws, which came with no salary. Its low budget prevented Banks from using a professional studio, so he wrote the music using his own 16-track machine. Banks was also a contender to compose the music for The Terminator and was sent the script.
His next soundtrack was the drama film Quicksilver. Banks recalled the directors were more supportive towards him and the process went smoothly, but disliked their demand for more straightforward songs on the soundtrack in order to have a hit single that they could release. Among the tracks recorded was "Shortcut to Somewhere", a collaboration with Marillion singer Fish, which became the only single from Banks's solo career to chart in the UK when it reached number 75.
Selections of music written for Lorca and the Outlaws and Quicksilver were later released on Banks's compilation album Soundtracks.
Classical albumsBanks became interested in the music of Gustav Mahler after hearing it in Death in Venice. He also cites Dmitri Shostakovich and Erik Satie as composers whose music he has enjoyed. He identifies Symphony No. 4 in A minor and Symphony No. 7 in C major by Jean Sibelius, and Symphony No. 5 in D major by Ralph Vaughan Williams as favourite pieces. Critics have noted that Vaughan Williams and film composer John Barry are notable influences on his own orchestral compositions. Banks has acknowledged similarities in style between his orchestral works and those of Vaughan Williams, Sibelius and Barry.
In March 2004, Banks released his fourth studio album, and first of entirely classical music, entitled Seven: A Suite for Orchestra on Naxos Records. He had the idea for the album around six years prior to starting working on it, and felt encouraged after hearing the orchestral arrangements of his compositions for the soundtrack to The Wicked Lady. It features seven compositions performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Banks on the piano for three tracks with conductor Mike Dixon.
On 26 March 2012, Banks's second classical album was released, entitled Six Pieces for Orchestra, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Englishby. Tracks are: "Siren" featuring Martin Robertson on alto saxophone, "Still Waters", "Blade" with Charlie Siem on violin, "Wild Pilgrimage", "The Oracle" and "City of Gold".
Banks's third classical music album, Five, was released in February 2018. This work's origin was, as he related in the album's booklet, " the writing in 2013 of a piece for following year's Cheltenhan Music Festival, as a great oportunity for me to have one of my orchestral pieces played live, which had not happen before ". It features five pieces performed by The Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir conducted by Nick Ingman, and Banks on piano and celeste.
Other recent projects includes writing music for operatic tenor John Potter and to a Shakespeare sonnet.
ReceptionBanks pioneered many unique keyboard and synthesizer sounds throughout his career; music historian Wayne Studer has referred to him as "the most tasteful keyboardist of prog rock." One of his achievements was the technique of using the trigger output of a Linn LM-1 drum machine to have the hi-hat pattern trigger an ARP Quadra synthesizer, creating such parts as the pulsating drum sound in "Mama" and "By You" on The Fugitive. Another unique synth technique was used on the track "Who Dunnit?" from the 1981 album Abacab; a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 was programmed with a few sounds, and the patches were switched manually while he played.
Known for his lack of flamboyance on stage, Banks did wear a snorkel for performances of "Who Dunnit?" on the Abacab tour.
InstrumentsBanks achieved a distinctive sound by running all of his keyboards into a mixing board and then running the signal output of the board into a Leslie speaker. This can clearly be heard on everything Banks plays on the Genesis Live album.
Banks's earliest setup included a Hammond L-100 organ, a Hohner Pianet N and a Mellotron MkII, all of which are first heard on the Trespass album. Banks used the Pianet as both a substitute for a grand piano, and also as a lead instrument, with the use of a fuzz box. He would often duel with Hackett's guitar, as heard on tracks like "The Musical Box", "The Return of the Giant Hogweed", and "Supper's Ready". Banks in 1974 switched from his Pianet to an RMI 368x Electra Piano and Harpsichord, which was soon integrated into the sound of Genesis, as first heard at various points on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album. It was often effected with the homemade fuzz box and an MXR Phase 100 – later these pedals were inserted in the panel of the Electra Piano.
In 1978, the RMI was replaced with the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano.
The first synthesizer used by Banks was the monophonic ARP Pro Soloist, which Banks first acquired in 1973 along with a Hammond T-102 and a Mellotron M400 for the Selling England by the Pound album, replacing the Hammond L122 and the Mellotron MkII. With the release of the Trick of the Tail album in 1976 and onward, Banks made use of the ARP 2600, a semi-modular synthesizer, in the studio as well as live on stage. On 1978's ...And Then There Were Three... the Polymoog was integrated into Banks' expansive array, which enabled more expressive and highly layered "colorful" textures along with his unique use of MXR Phase 100 and Boss CE-1 Chorus effects pedals on the Hammond T-102 organ. During this time, he also added a Roland RS-202 string and brass synthesizer to mainly replace the Mellotron, though not used live. He also briefly used a Fender Rhodes electric piano. He also acquired a Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano, which, when put through a Boss chorus, would become a signature part of Banks' 1970's - 80's sound.
He used this technique all the way up to Duke in 1980, when he made a major overhaul of his rig, dropping the ARP 2600, the ARP Pro-Soloist, the Mellotron and the RS-202 in favour of a Yamaha CS-80, a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, an ARP Quadra and a Roland VP-330. On Abacab in 1981, the organ was no longer featured; organ sounds were emulated using a Sequential Circuits Prophet 10 synthesizer through the Boss CE-1. For the album Genesis in 1983, he replaced the Polymoog with an E-mu Emulator digital sampler. He also added a NED Synclavier II, which also has had prominent features in Banks' career, such as on "Home by the Sea". His final changes in this rig were replacing the E-mu Emulator with an E-mu Emulator II+ and the Roland VP-330 with a Yamaha DX7 for Invisible Touch. Since the We Can't Dance album, Banks has favoured Roland and Korg synthesizers, such as Roland JD-800 and Korg Wavestation.
Evolving technology and sampling has allowed him to use a smaller rig of 4 or 3 keyboards with an array of rack mounted synth modules to emulate many of the earlier sounds. His concert rigs since When in Rome 2007 include Korg Wavestation and Roland A-90 keyboard acting as MIDI controllers for rack mounted Korg Wavestation SR, Roland JD-990, Yamaha TX7, E-mu Proteus I and II, and E-mu EIV, as well as Korg OASYS as a master keyboard.
Personal lifeBanks married Margaret McBain on 29 July 1972. They had a one-day honeymoon as Banks was too busy with finishing the Genesis album Foxtrot. Banks said: "The band felt sorry for me so they paid for her to come on the next tour". The couple have two children, Benjamin and Emily, and live near Godalming, Surrey.
Solo albumsStudio albums
- A Curious Feeling
- The Fugitive
- Seven: A Suite for Orchestra
- Six Pieces for Orchestra
- The Wicked Lady
- A Chord Too Far
- Banks Vaults: The Albums 1979–1995
- Strictly Inc
- "For a While"
- "The Wicked Lady"
- "This Is Love"
- "And the Wheels Keep Turning"
- "You Call This Victory"
- "Shortcut to Somewhere"
- "I'll Be Waiting"
- "I Wanna Change the Score
- "The Gift"
- "Still It Takes Me By Surprise"
- "Only Seventeen"
- "Walls of Sound"