"The A to Z of Genesis" - Tony banks recounts his career with the band in conversation with Peter Morton, Jonathan Dann and Alan Hewitt. Interview conducted at The Farm on 9th April 1994. Photographs: Decca Records. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
TWR: Let’s start with some of the questions that we haven’t been able to answer before. Some of these came from an interview we did with Ant where there were bits and pieces he couldn’t recall and he suggested that we ask you about them. First of all, The Sour Turns To Sweet, in its original form was recorded as the band’s first single but it wasn’t released. Is it true that The Image Blown Out was going to be the B side to that single?
TB: I don’t think it was actually. The song we recorded at the same time as that at Advision Studios was called From The Bottom Of A Well which we wrote specifically as the B side. We did feel, somewhat grandiosely I suppose that we didn’t want to put our good songs on B sides. We felt that The Image Blown Out was good enough to be the second single, as it was a good song. I can’t remember much about From The Bottom Of A Well, but the tape must exist somewhere although I don’t know where it is. I have a feeling that a lot of the Advision material has been lost , so I don’t think either of those tracks still exist.
TWR: Among the early tapes that the band recorded, Ant remembered one which had songs that were more adventurous and that were not what Jonathan King was looking for at that time. Two titles from that tape that have come to light are Barnaby’s Adventure and Fourteen Years Too Long. Can you remember any of the other songs that were on those tapes?
TB: Oh yes, I have got the tape at home. There was one called Hidden In The World Of Dawn which was one of mine. It was quite good actually. Mystery of The Flannen Island Lighthouse was another one. I can’t remember the others, I’m afraid.
TWR: You have just mentioned demo tapes. Another topic over which there is much debate is which of the early tapes do you actually have yourself?
TB: Quite a few. I have most of them in fact. I was talking to Peter and I found that he has most of the ones that I haven’t got. We were the two that seemed to hang on to them I have copies of most of them although there are two or three that I haven’t got. We are intending to do a history of the band at some point (Editors note: This is the first public mention of the Genesis Archive Box Set) and on those tapes I’ve got I think there are about twenty five songs. Obviously you can’t put all of those in - I know some people will say that you can, but a selection of some of them would be a better idea.
If you take the first period of the group as being up to the point where Peter left the band; in terms of things not on albums from that period I think there is only Happy The Man and a single version of Watcher Of The Skies from that time. There were things like The Waiting Room but that was live (good title eh? AH). In terms of making up a kind of rarities type disc from that period it would require a certain amount of that demo stuff. If we could find tracks like From The Bottom Of A Well it would be great to have that as well. We went and did a single version of the song Going Out To Get You which was quite good - Peter was really screaming and squeaking his way through that one! There was another one which Mike remembered the other day which was also recorded as a single. It was called Wooden Horse - it was quite good but I don’t know what happened to that.
There are versions of songs that I think people know including songs such as Pacidy and Shepherd. I think it would be nice if we could include one or two of these other tracks. There were also a couple of songs that weren’t included on From Genesis To Revelation. There was a version of Visions Of Angels from that period but I don’t know where he tapes of them are.
TWR: Were you happy with the way From Genesis To Revelation was produced and what are your feelings about the album now?
TB: Well, obviously we weren’t happy with it at all. I think we were fairly happy with it before the extra instruments went on. We did the album in a day and a half, we worked all day on it and then came back the following day to finish it. Then later on we did a mono mix of it and that sounded pretty good but then these arrangements were added. We were involved in writing some of the parts, the awful thin string lines as opposed to the big banks of strings which we had hoped for. It all sounded very cheesy in the end. I think two or three of the songs sound OK. I have always thought that the best song on the album was In The Wilderness which was always a good song anyhow. It stood up to the treatment we gave it.
I remember feeling fairly happy with In Limbo as well. It is a period piece in many ways. I did hear a version of it not so long ago when it came out on CD. I thought I would have a listen to see what it sounded like and it didn’t sound that bad. I look on it as being a product of almost a different group. People say that we have gone through changes during our career but I don’t think that we went through any bigger change than that between From Genesis To Revelation and Trespass where we totally transformed and our whole attitude changed. I think it was fortunate for us that it wasn’t any kind of success otherwise that would have been all we ever would have done. I don’t think it’s a bad album.
TWR: One other demo session that comes to mind was one which was recorded at Ant’s parent’s house with Alec Reid, the producer of Night Ride. Can you remember anything about that one?
TB: If I remember rightly we may have recorded this track called The Movement, a lot of which ended up in Stagnation although there was a lot more to it. It seemed to go on for years! (Laughs). There was a guy we knew around this time called Anthony Hill-Smith or “Hilly” as we used to call him and he told us when we played him The Movement that that was the sort of thing we should be doing instead of the more simple pop songs. Those sort of comments were quite important for us especially at that time as we weren’t sure about what we were doing.
TWR: The other mystery arises from the band’s recordings made for the BBC in 1970 - the demo of some pieces for a programme about a painter and the different version of Stagnation which Ant told us about was for a programme put together by the poet George MacBeth. Do you remember anything about either of these?
TB: I remember doing one thing although I don’t know what it was for but it was with Paul Samwell-Smith on production. That had the original version of Anyway on it (Editor’s Note: This was eventually to surface on the band’s 1970 -75 5.1 set of remasters). We used to take little odd bits from the pieces from that session for quite a while. It was great although I don’t have the tape of that and I don’t know where it is. As for the other one, I think Ant might be having you on (Typical Ant really - AH). I don’t remember doing that at all although it might have happened. It is a long time ago now.
TWR: Do you recall adding the introductions to the Night Ride session when it was broadcast?
TB: Again, it is possible that we did although I don’t remember that. I heard the tape the other day because Ant gave me a copy of it. It was fascinating to hear what we had done on that session although I recall at the time that we were very dissatisfied with it. There’s certainly an extremely poor version of Pacidy on there. I remember going in and recording the session. At that stage we were just five people putting some music together and on the very first tape Ant was going to sing. I convinced him that Peter had a much better voice and that Peter should sing his songs instead. Peter did the vocals as he had the best voice, both Ant and Mike played guitar as they were both guitarists and it was by chance that we ended up doing what we did within the group. I think that only Ant thought of himself as being what he ended up being as a guitarist - the rest of us could have ended up as anything within the group.
TWR: What was it like going on the road for the first time?
TB: It was a slow process as both Peter and I were a bit unsure about going professional. We borrowed £150 from each of our parents most of which went into buying a Hammond organ and then we rehearsed. We wrote some material and then tried to get people to act as our agent or manager. We rehearsed in this cottage, which was owned by Richard Macpahil’s parents. We took some of the songs from the From Genesis To Revelation time such as Visions Of Angels as well as some which we had written more recently and just slowly embellished them. We had this song which became The Knife which was originally written on the piano and was then transferred to the organ and through that we found that it sounded great.
TWR: Did songs like Pacidy or Let Us Now Make Love get to the road?
TB: Oh yes, we played them live. I used to play a guitar solo in the middle of Let Us Now Make Love as it happens. I think that song went through its best phase in the early version of it when Ant used to play it on piano to us and it sounded great. Later on we changed the chorus at some point and then Ant changed the chorus yet again! (laughs). And as a result I think it didn’t sound half as good. It was a very nice song and it sounded good live. For some reason we didn’t record it for Trespass. I think it had been seen as a possible single and so we left it behind. It wasn’t left off because we didn’t think it was good. The idea was that we would do it as a single Everybody seemed to want us to record Twilight Alehouse but we didn’t particularly want to as we didn’t think it was as good as some of the other ones. We wanted to do Let Us Now Make Love but we didn’t do it. Pacidy sounded good live as well but part of the problem was that we just had too much material, about two hours’ worth and when we did Trespass we could only get forty minutes on the album. By the time we came to Nursery Cryme we were fed up with those songs so we decided to do some new ones instead.
Some of the early ones would be songs that I guess you would never have heard of, things like Jamaica Longboat, and another called Digby Of The Rambling Lake (laughs) don’t ask me why but that was what it was called! There were good songs, they all had good little bits. There was a song called The Light which later became Lilywhite Lilith but it had quite a few changes made to it. It was a song mainly written by Phil. It had some good improvised moments which never made it to the finished version.
TWR: We have read a live concert review from this period in which the reviewer puts down a track called Moss. Was that a genuine song?
TB: Yes, there was a song called Moss. We couldn’t think of a title for it. We used to call it The Epilogue as a sort of working title. It was an instrumental piece I can remember the very beginning of it. It was mainly written by me. It was when Phil had joined, so it was after Ant had left. We wrote it when we rehearsed up at Farnham Maltings, which I remember as a very difficult rehearsal period.
TWR: Did you ever record the track?
TB: No, I don’t think you will find a version of that. Or The Light which is a pity (Editor’s Note: shortly after this interview was published a bootleg from 1971 with The Light on it surfaced). The Light was a popular live song as was the long version of Going Out To Get You. It was a toss up between Going Out To Get You and The Knife as to which of the two big heavy songs would make it to the album. We thought that The Knife was better to be honest. Going Out To Get You started out with a riff of Ant’s but we made it a much bigger thing and it went on for about twenty minutes.
TWR: There is a live recording of the track in circulation from Rome in 1972. We played it to Ant and he said it was totally different to the original version.
TB: We used to change things around quite a lot at the time. There is a version of Going Out To Get You which I have which dates from the time when John Mayhew first joined the band with him playing a bass drum and some maracas (laughs) which doesn’t sound too bad. On the same tape there is a version of Pacidy which is rather poor and a couple of other things.
TWR: Were any of the live sets recorded at that time?
TB: No. We never did but there is obviously the odd bootleg around. In those days no one really cared but Italy would be the place for recordings because of the size of the audiences - if you had 20,000 people then there ’s a good chance that someone may have had a tape recorder with them. In England we were only playing to audiences of fifty or sixty people. In those days we never did much recording. It never really occurred to us to record it. I don’t think we even recorded stuff in the rehearsal room to be honest. Prior to Trespass there was at least as much material again that never ended upon albums and a lot that got lost. A couple of bits were resurrected but in the main they never saw the light of day. Many of the songs were longer too, The Knife had another whole section in it.
TWR: Turning to the band’s first sort of experience with the media, the first television appearance I think I am right in saying, was on the programme Disco Two?
TB: Yes, that’s right. We did The Knife.
TWR: Ant also remembered that the band were filmed whilst he was with you. Can you recall anything about this?
TB: The only thing I remember being filmed was during that early period and that was through Brian Roberts who worked for the BBC. I think they had a training facility in the West Country. We went there and did a training school film of us in which we performed In Hiding, and possibly Where The Sour Turns To Sweet although I can’t remember. That must still exist somewhere. I played guitar on In Hiding as well. I don’t think we appeared on TV with Ant. Disco Two was done when Ant had left the band and we had this guy Mick Barnard playing with us. It was the only appearance that he made with us, he was only with us for a few weeks. He was basically miming to Ant’s part. The only thing that wasn’t mimed was Peter’s voice which he had to do live. It was one of those awful things as they wouldn’t give him enough echo - the guy who did the echo had gone for his tea or something! (laughs). It was alright for the rest of us as we were just miming our parts but he had to do the real thing! (Editor’s Note: since this interview took place we have received confirmation from the BBC Film and video library that the Disco Two Performance which was originally transmitted on 14th November 1970 has been erased - hang your heads in shame. BBC!).
TWR: What influenced the actual selection of the tracks for Trespass?
TB: It was the ones that we wanted to do the most of all and it should have included Let us Now Make Love but it didn’t. It was probably a group decision over which ones went on. The songs that could have gone on included Twilight Alehouse which we didn’t want on the album. I can’t remember why we didn’t want it on , but we didn’t. I think we always thought we could come back to these songs at a later date on another album. Some songs were always going to be on the album such as Dusk which might have been better had it not been on there. I don’t think it is a very good track. Looking For Someone was always a high point for us although Stagnation was the most significant track on the album. I think it was just down to the ones that we thought were the best.
TWR: How far do you think that the acoustic sound built up by Ant and Mike at this time affected the direction that the band’s music took?
TB: Well there were very much two sides to the sound, one of which came from Ant and Mike in the form of the acoustic guitar sound. That was demonstrated best on track like White Mountain and the early part of Stagnation. Then there was the heavier sound which I think came from Peter and I which was on things like The Knife and Looking For Someone. It’s funny, as things were not really planned to be that way but that’s the way it happened. We were more keyboard based and they were more guitar based. Then there were moments when we all met like on Stagnation. That’s why that was such a successful song as it became a combination of everyone’s best parts. As a lead guitarist, Ant was obviously very much a part of things like The Knife and the improvised sections of Looking For Someone but the essence of that song had already been established by our side of the fence. We were very much two writing units, I used to write with Peter and Ant used to write with Mike. That was still the case through later periods as well, even up to The Lamb…I think the sound was a very important aspect of the group. The longer songs tended to develop out of the two guitars playing together.
TWR: Why was there such a long delay between Trespass coming out and The Knife being released as a single and whose decision was it to release it as a single?
TB: I think we always felt that if there was a single on the album, it was The Knife. The idea of splitting it in two was an obvious thing. I don’t think we looked on the single being anything more than a promotional tool for the album. We didn’t think it was going to be a hit. We really cut ourselves off from singles at that point, we didn’t think that we were going to have any hit singles. Up until when we released I Know What I Like, I don’t think we had a serious chance of a hit single.
TWR: Were you disappointed with the sales of the album?
TB: No, not really. With Trespass the group weren’t doing a lot and the album sold something like 6000 copies. I think we felt that was OK. Obviously we wanted it to do well but we didn’t expect any fantastic sales figures. At that time the group were getting a live following but nothing astounding. It was early days for the band then. I think we were considerably more depressed by the sales of Nursery Cryme as that again only sold about 6000 copies and by that time obviously the group was a lot bigger. We were doing well in foreign countries at that point - in Belgium and Italy - but not in England. That’s was a strange period in the band’s history as we had been through a change in personnel.