"The A to Z of Genesis" - Tony Banks talks about his career with Genesis. Interview conducted by Peter Morton, Jonathan Dann and Alan Hewitt. Photographs courtesy of Charisma Records and David Lawrence.
TWR: Moving on to Selling England By The Pound, were you aware at the time that Phil had such a good voice?
TB: We knew when he first joined the band that he had a good voice. He used to play a couple of songs on the guitar, one of which was Window Of Experience by Richie Havens. He also did a James Taylor type version of The Beatles’s song I’m only Sleeping which always sounded lovely. He had a good voice for that kind of thing. Obviously, Phil did the odd bits before that such as For Absent Friends which was a load of rubbish! (laughs) I can’t stand that! it’s not our worst song but it’s one of our worst songs and fortunately it is very short.
With More Fool Me, I had nothing to do with that, I didn’t even play on it but I quite like it. When Phil took over as lead singer we knew he could sing well but it was a question of whether he could sing the hard stuff and whether he could sing live. When Peter left, we assumed Phil would sing songs like Entangled and Mad Man Moon.
TWR: Were you happy with your contributions to this album?
TB: With my contributions? Some of it, yes. Cinema Show was a bit of a departure as opposed to the Apocalypse section of Supper’s Ready as that was part of a big song. The solo on Cinema Show was very much the thing. We had a few arguments about this at the time, actually because really there was too much material to go on the album. I wanted to kick off After The Ordeal which I think is actually our worst song we’ve ever recorded. I really didn’t like that. I don’t like the whole sort of pseudo classical thing at all. I wanted that off and Peter wanted that off as well. We could have got it off the album without any trouble as we shouted about it quite loudly at the time!
But Pete also said that he wanted to get rid of the instrumental bit at the end of Cinema Show and I said; ’we can’t have that, it’s great and it’s got all the best bits!’ So we ended up with a compromise which was to keep the whole bloody lot on and as a result the album sides were far too long; about 28 minutes as I recall. That was far too long for a vinyl album so it sounded pretty rough. Obviously, Cinema Show went on to become a live classic.
The Battle Of Epping Forest was one of those tracks that got way over embellished. It had a great backing track and a great lyric but there was too much going on between them. The rhythm on the middle section which was something that I wrote on the guitar, should have been in triplet time but Phil had the idea of playing a rhythm against it, which was interesting. I recall that Steve said at the time that we should do it straight and that it didn’t sound right any other way and he was absolutely right, we should have kept it straight. It’s much too complicated that bit.
Then there was I Know What I Like on that album. It was Steve’s riff that it was based on, we used to jam on it for hours and then I had the idea of playing it on the fuzz piano and organ at the same time and because the piano was very out of tune with the organ, the whole thing had a nice quality about it even when I was just playing these very simple chords. We knew we had written something that had single potential although we were a bit embarrassed about it as we weren’t supposed to be a singles band. Anyway, Charisma put it out and we refused to go on Top Of The Pops! (laughs) We thought that was enough of a stand. I’ve heard the album again just recently as we have been doing some remastering and that song in particular still sounds very good. It’s unpretentious and it’s quirky; I’m pretty pleased with that song. Some of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight was nice, particularly at the end.
TWR: Was there an actual promo film made for I Know What I Like or was it an extract from the infamous “Tony Stratton-Smith Presents…” film?
TB: It was taken from that film that we did at that time where we did a basic film of the whole show. I haven’t seen it since we did it. It was pretty bad because we had to light it so much and we couldn’t use any of the proper lighting for the show at all because in those days our lights were pretty dim. The show looked good but that way it was done in that film it looked pretty bad. At least it’s some sort of record of that period.
TWR: Can you remember where that was actually filmed?
TB: I think it was done at Shepperton or somewhere very similar like Pinewood.
TWR: The debate over that has been going on for a long time about whether it was done at an actual concert…?
TB: Oh no, definitely at one of the studios. I am pretty certain that it was Shepperton as we tended to do some of our live rehearsals here around the same time. There was an audience there but I don’t think that they were that interested. I seem to recall that they were dragged out of the canteen or somewhere similar! (laughs).
TWR: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is without doubt the album that divides Genesis fans the most. What are your feelings about it now?
TB: I think it is the best album from that early period. There are certain bits that aren’t without problems. It was a chance to do all sorts of things like improvisations. During the writing of the album we brought in all these little bits that we had and worked on them and for me they were such fun to do. We just set ourselves an idea and then improvised on it. Some of them became more solid pieces than others.
We had this sort of Chinese jam which ended up somewhere in The Colony Of Slippermen I think. We had another called Victory At Sea which became Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats. Then there was obviously The Waiting Room which was called Evil Jam. We just sat there and tried to frighten ourselves! (laughs) Some of the early versions of that were just great before we started to record It and began to think about it too much. The first time we ever did it and I went into that sort of melody, it sounded great because it came out of nowhere and suddenly there was this incredible thing going on. By the time we put it down it had all been thought about and it didn’t sound half as good.
There was another where we improvised on Pharaohs, which became Fly On A Windshield. There were just bits that developed out of that where great moments just happened in the room. Those sort of things where it wasn’t a specifically written song were good. There were three or four positions on the album where we had no song so we wrote a specific song for it which was quite fun; it was on the spot. One of them was Carpet Crawlers and another was The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging. I think they are two of the stronger moments on the album, they are kind of quirky and almost written to fulfil a role. The other one was The Lamia which was quite fun as Pete had written all these lyrics, Over Christmas 1973, I took them all back with me just fitted them on top of this basis that we had for The Lamia. I just weeded it down and used just one word in five. We didn’t have the melody line but we had the piece written and Pete had all these lyrics which were like poetry and I tried to get them to fit the melody and essence of the song which was fun to do, I enjoyed that.
The one thing I am not totally happy with on the album is the story, I just think it is too complicated and I don’t think it really hangs together. There are some great episodes and some marvellous individual lyrics. When you open up the gatefold sleeve of that album and see this thing that looks like a newspaper, it can be quite off-putting. It made people think that we were ultra intellectual and that was never really our intention; it was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be escapist. The length of the album meant that I could do three solos on the album instead of one. The Riding The Scree one I enjoyed the most I think.
One of the interesting things on the album I think was In The Cage. I don’t think anyone would have picked it out from the album but later on when we were looking for a live song to come back to in a later period , I suggested the song. I think particularly with Daryl’s guitar playing, it took on a life of its own and became something completely different which worked really well out of context.
I like the album as a whole just because it has got so many ideas on it. Supper’s Ready may be the best track from this period but The Lamb… is definitely the bast album from that period. Side four was perhaps a little disappointing with songs like It, which could have been so good but we were rushing the recording by that time. We were working day and night on it by that stage. On that particular song I was taking the day shift and Mike and Steve were mixing with John Burns. I came in and said; ’ This sounds awful, you’ve lost all the guitars’ They had lost all the guitars in the mix and so we had to start again. As Peter decided it was his story he was going to write all the lyrics. It was a reasonable decision as it was his story but I don’t think it would have suffered if other people had been involved as well. A different lyric writing style has been very much a feature of Genesis over the years although perhaps people assumed Peter wrote all the lyrics which, of course, he didn’t.
TWR: How do you look back on The Lamb… tour?
TB: It obviously wasn’t a great thing. I loved the idea of playing it live and I wish it had worked better. The people that came to see us wanted to hear Musical Box and Supper’s Ready - the things they knew. When we started we were playing America to an audience that hadn’t even heard it as the record wasn’t even out at that stage. So it was completely new music that they were hearing and it was difficult. We had so many special effects going on which, in the rehearsal room, looked marvellous but on stage they never all worked at the same time. We always had something going wrong. I hate it when something goes wrong on stage. Of course, by the end of the tour Peter had decided to leave the band and it was quite depressing. There were probably a couple of shows where everything worked and the audience was fantastic and they were great.
TWR: It would have been interesting if Steve hadn’t cut his hand and the band had gone out and done the tour that you had originally scheduled to do in the UK…
TB: Well, Steve’s hand was a very useful excuse! (laughs) He genuinely cut his hand and couldn’t play but we were nowhere near finishing the record and we needed the time desperately so it gave us a bit of breathing space. A lot of people thought that we had made it up but it was true.
TWR: Was there any film done of the tour?
TB: No. Unfortunately there was nothing. The only thing I have ever seen is some dark thing that a fan shot somewhere, just little bits with no sound. It was a pity that we never did film it as from a visual point of view it had so many ideas there.
TWR: Late on Peter had the idea to turn the story of The Lamb… into a full-blown movie. How did you feel about that?
TB: We felt that if it was going to be done then we would
have to be involved as it might involve re-recording some of the music. We didn’t
really want to do it but if it was going to happen then we wanted to be involved.
If Peter had done it on his own it would have been a bit funny. When I went
to see his solo show and he did The Lamb… it just didn’t sound the
same, it didn’t sound right. I didn’t really want that so I felt
that if it was going to happen I wanted to be involved. I don’t particularly
regret the fact that it didn’t happen.