Tony Banks - The Essential Albums, by Alan Hewitt.
Having done something similar with Ant’s career in our last edition, I thought with the prospect of Tony’s back catalogue being re-issued at some point in the not too distant future it might prove useful to have a look at the key albums in his solo career.
Once again, let’s start at the beginning with 1979’s A Curious Feeling album. If anyone needed reminding exactly how important Tony’s contribution to the Genesis “sound” is, then this album served as that reminder. Based loosely around the concept of someone consciously losing his mind, here we have Tony at perhaps his most adventurous. From the opening symphonic From The Undertow to the plaintive album closer, In The Dark, this is a master class in emotion and drama, light and shade. Augmented by Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson, his cohorts from Genesis and featuring the marvellous vocals of the late Kim Beacon, this one is a delight from beginning to end.
1983 saw Tony release a brace of albums which demonstrated two entirely different sides of his music. First of these was The Fugitive, an album of, dare I say it - pop songs albeit with a Tony Banks twist and featuring his own vocals. Both Tony and Mike Rutherford had decided to take the plunge and have a go at singing themselves on their second solo albums. In this case, the over all result is as you would expect, something of a mixed bag. Tony’s voice works surprisingly well on tracks such as This Is Love and Say You’ll Never Leave Me and the two instrumentals; Charm and Thirty Threes, both indicate the direction some of the music on Genesis’ next album would take.
This was followed by Tony’s first orchestral album, the soundtrack to the Michael Winner re-working of the 1940’s classic: The Wicked Lady. Anyone wondering what Tony might sound like in the company of an orchestra had their answer here with this underrated album. Film soundtracks seldom if ever work properly for one reason or another - they are either underused or overpower the film itself seldom reaching the ideal medium somewhere in between. This is not the case here with Tony’s music adeptly melding itself to the storyline of the film and demonstrating Tony’s grasp of the form. Accompanied by the piano “variations” this album gave fans effectively an inside seat on the compositional process and as such this is a fascinating album.
In 1989 Tony released the Bankstatement album, hadrly the world's greatest pun but hey you can't be a comedian and a fantastic keyboardplayer too unless you are Rock Wakeman of course! Anyway, this one is another delightful mix of stuff from Tony as you would expect including one track: The Border which despite Tony's alleged aversion to it, is perhaps of his best long-form solo songs. The first single: Throwback sums up Tony's plight as a solo artist quite succinctly and the rest of the album is one which fans will thoroughly enjoy.
The next album which I would deem to be essential to any fan of Tony’s music is 1991’s Still album. Having once again opted to utilise several singers to bring his songs to life, and his choices in some cases were inspired. Nik Kerhsaw does a fantastic job on Red Day On Blue Street and I Wanna Change the Score either of which should have been successful as singles. Another Murder Of A Day features Fish on another lengthy and dramatic track which suits his voice very well indeed while Jayney Klimek does a creditable job on Water Out Of Wine. An album of contrasts, this one shows Tony at his song writing best and deserved better success than it achieved at the time of its release.
Deciding to remain anonymous, Tony released the marvellous 1995 album under the moniker Strictly Inc. My memories of this one begin with an incongruous playback of the final track in a Derby car park after a Mike & The Mechanics gig but that’s another story! Here Tony’s song writing reached its apogee as far as his solo work is concerned. There isn’t a duff track on this one and the breadth of subject matter from multiple personas and the trouble they can cause (Strictly Incognito), to political sleaze (Charity Balls) alongside a pair of tracks which Burt Bacharach would be proud of: Walls Of Sound and A Piece Of You on which vocalist Jack Hues’ voice really hit’s the mark. All of this topped off by another one of Tony’s epics: An Island In The Darkness. Probably the best album over all by Tony since A Curious Feeling for my book.
And finally, Tony’s Six Pieces For Orchestra released in 2013 brings us right up to date (so far at least!). Having tried his hand at orchestral work with 2004’s Seven album, Tony consolidated that position with this, his latest album. Demonstrating a considerably more refined grasp of the orchestral form, this one also features one of the doyens of the orchestral scene, Charlie Siem and the masterful saxophone work of Martin Robertson whom some of you may remember from his work with Anthony Phillips. If you like orchestral music, then this one will definitely reward the purchase and I for one would love to hear this performed in a concert hall some day soon!
So, there you have it; my look at the albums by Tony which any serious music fan should have in their collection. Hopefully we won’t have too long to wait for Tony’s next offering!
Erm, no that's not it. As TWR Webmaster, I feel that I have to add the following, for the sake of completeness...
Whilst The Wicked Lady was one of Tony's first attempts at working on a film soundtrack, it was not his only one. Hollywood beckoned, and whilst he didn't make the cut for the 2010 soundtrack, he did get to provide songs and incidental music for Quicksilver, a low budget film featuring a young Kevin Bacon as a stock broker who gives up his job in the city to become a bicycle messenger. Only in Hollywood, eh?
Tony also provided a score for an even lower bugdget movie called Lorca and The Outlaws. Efforts from both films were compiled onto Tony's 1986 album, Soundtracks. This album is a prime example of Tony being left to his own devices to do what he does best, make music. The album contains a good balance of songs and instrumental passages. Opening with the single, Shortcut to Somewhere, with Fish on lead vocals, the rest of side one is mainly left to incidental music for Quicksilver. There isn't a better demonstration for the Synclavier and Emulator II sampler than Smilin' Jack Casey. The track bounds along, led by a pumping lead keyboard sound and a single drum pattern that develops and evolves around a motif used later in the album. The 'Quicksilver Suite' that follows is equally entertaining. Rebirth takes the motif from the middle of the previous track and slows it down, giving it more power, especially when the flute sound is replaced with a FM based lead sound. Gypsy is the theme for the films villain, full of FM atmospheres and developing into a hard edged, rythmic piece. Final Chase is an instrumental variation of Shortcut to Somewhere that covers a lot of bases by repeating ideas that have been heard before and also sowing seeds of ideas that were developed in Tony's next album, Bankstatement. You Call This Victory is at best a mediocre song and for me it simply a way to get to the next song on the album, Lion of Symmetry. Featuring Toyah Wilcox on vocals this song has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it. It contains a wealth of sounds and textures, as well as some familiar sounds from Tony's arsenal of sounds. Whilst the lyrics date themselves by mentioning telex machines, this song represents Tony at his very best. It's hard to believe that there are no guitars on the song, and only one drum pattern used throughout. Redwing brings out the CP70 piano for a bit, but only in the background. The arrangement is such that you could imagine an orcestra playing it. The instrument track, Lorca is the foundation for what became Queen of Darkness on Bankstatement. In fact, the arrangement changed very little from this idea to the final song. Just add vocals... The rest of the album plays out with more instrumental themes and textures. The only thing that gets me is that Death of Abbey should not have been the last track, in my opinion. Lift Off is a far better theme to end on, as it is haunting. To me, Death of Abbey peters out and stops without warning. Not the easiest of albums to get hold of, but definatley worth it.
To finish, there is Seven, Tony's first orchestral album. I do enjoy listening to this. Even though the music is coming from an orchestra, it is undoubtly Tony at heart. It is full of whistful melodies and chords that seem to defy all logic (if you've ever tried to play along to Tony's keyboard parts you'll know what I mean by this). Every time I hear this album, I wish that it came with a second disk containing synth arrangements, similar to the way that The Wicked Lady ended up. Definately worth a listen.
The one thing that can be garnered from this article is that Tony Banks' solo material is definately worth a listen. In fact, if you listen to any of the solo members of Genesis, you can hear what they each bring to the table with the band. Whilst Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford have had a greater degree of success with their side projects than Tony, that should not diminish what he has done. The quality is there, even if the quantity of sales fails to come close to the others.
Stu - TWR Webmaster.