“You can never have a chord too far” - Tony Banks in conversation with Alan Hewitt about his forthcoming compilation set and album re-issues. Interierw conducted at The Farm Studio on Saturday 27th June 2015. Photos by Frank Rogers and Stuart Barnes, Charisma and Virgin Records.
So, here we are talking to Mr Banks again about his latest activities. Over to you, Tony….
TWR: Last time we spoke we were talking about the piece you had done for the Cheltenham Festival. Have you given any consideration to expanding it?
TB: Well yes, I have got two other pieces which are completed and another which I am working on so... I am not going to try and make it five pieces! (laughs). I want to do it but I got involved in this (the A Chord Too Far project) and that has taken up a fair amount of time so I haven’t spent quite as much time on getting that together but I have the piece I did for Cheltenham and I have a couple of other pieces and I may do it slightly differently this time. I had thought of perhaps doing it with the piano and working from there rather than totally abandoning the instrument and I enjoyed doing that and it enabled me to work a lot more closely with arrangers and orchestrators and you have to send things backwards and forwards to get what you wand and sometimes things came quite quickly and it was rather a lot of work.
On Seven I didn’t do quite enough and I didn’t manage to control the whole thing and when we did the piece down in Cheltenham you know, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t nearly as good as the demo and the demo is just the demo and so I thought that what I would try and do was use the essence of the demo and then put the orchestra on that and not have to be quite so precious about making it 100% authentic orchestra only and I might use a few other bits and pieces and with everything else in my life I have added bits and pieces so I will go along and do it.
It was very important when I did Seven that it was a legitimate orchestral piece so that no one could say “you’ve come from a rock group doing this” and that is why I did that and Six was very much the same really and I feel very much now that even in the classical world there is so much other stuff and I don’t feel any reason to restrict myself.
TWR: I don’t think the boundaries are there any more. A few years ago it was you CAN’T Do That! But now...
TB: Well there were two reason for doing it, first was that the discipline might be very good for me an the other was that if you are going to be taken seriously in the classical world coming from where I did, then it had to be as purely classical as I could do it. Because they don’t really like you very much (laughs) . They don’t really want to know but there are a few people who have done very well, Karl Jenkins is probably the best selling classical composer out there and he came from the same background as me and I think that people are very open to it. And obviously the film world, there are fantastic pieces of music being written for films and so I think you are right, the boundaries are pretty much all gone. I don’t like to think about what people want but now I have my foot in the door with people because I have done something that they might like and hopefully things might develop from that.
TWR: So, there was that and it is obviously still an ongoing project... will it end up as an album?
TB: Yes, there is definitely an album but given the way I have worked with Nick Davis putting this thing (the compilation) together and all the remixes and deciding what to included and what not to include.
TWR: Whose idea was it for the compilation? Did Esoteric approach you about it or did you approach them?
TB: Both really. I originally thought I would like to do a sampler album which would have been a single or possibly a double CD so that people who had never heard anything I did would have a reference point but they (Esoteric) seemed much keener on the bigger thing and I was sort of persuaded really. I was happy enough to do it and I am proud of all the music I have done but four hours of music is quite a commitment and you understand that but to the more casual person it is not necessarily the best way to get to their hearts I suppose but I didn’t know really and I am not expecting massive sales I am looking for people who liked what I did with Genesis and my contribution to it, would find a lot of things to like here and it was sometimes very arbitrary as to whether a piece ended up on a Tony Banks album or a Genesis album. We have things like Afterglow which is admired by a lot of people and yet there are songs on other albums which I have written in the same way and which have had very little exposure.
That was my idea really and also these albums are deleted and so Esoteric are keen to put them all out again and they did such a good job on A Curious Feeling and we will probably do the same on all the albums, we will remix them all and do a 5.1 version as well and all of the tracks on the compilation have been remixed as well.
TWR: When you were remixing the tracks for the compilation, were you surprised by any of them? Did you find yourself thinking, ‘Oh, that’s better than I remembered it…’?
TB: I had a good feeling about most of them you know and it just confirmed what I felt about them within what I do and within that context I think there is a lot of good music there and there were one or two that I didn’t use because I didn’t think they were good enough and others I didn’t use because I didn’t want to use everything from one album and provide a bit of contrast. One or two songs came to the fore that I hadn’t perhaps rated so highly and I think the ones we used for promotion at the time got slightly tainted by that because... (Laughs) so I changed the emphasis on this album and focused on the other tracks which I felt were good and made more of them and less of those that had higher exposure earlier on, we put them further back...
TWR: If it is to make people re-evaluate the back catalogue then what is the point of putting the singles out as you are preaching to the converted with those…
TB: A little bit, yeah. A lot of the singles are there I just took all the songs and then put them in an order that I felt would be good as if they had all been done at the same time. They have been done over a period of about fifteen years and there has been a tremendous change in production values as there was on the Genesis stuff too as I think on the albums like Trespass and Nursery Cryme in particular and when we went to the remixes they sounded a lot better and so putting a Trespass track next to a We can’t Dance track would always sound a bit funny. With this they are all more kind of together so I didn’t feel the same about this.
TWR: A lot of the fan feedback is about the unreleased material, is it four tracks...?
TB: Yes, four tracks. One of them is unreleased because I had forgotten about it and when we were listening to the tapes of Still, we came across this piece and I thought it was quite sweet so I put it on. The other three are demos for the orchestral album and for those who like what I do, they will like to hear me playing the stuff where all you have got is me playing it. The demos all have a slightly different background actually. One was recorded for possible inclusion on Strictly Inc bit I decided not to use it there. Another one which was Spring Tide was really done when I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I put it down not knowing what I was going to do with it and so it is quite different from the final version.
Then there is the third one, City of Gold which was he final piece on Six and I had fairly strong ideas about orchestration on that and so it is included on that but it still has the piano as the basis and all three were done in the same way in a sense that they were all done on the piano and I then embellished it. Those three all have a flow about them and they are different enough from the orchestral version. They lose but they gain as well and you get a flow about them, particularly City of Gold which the orchestral version which is good but it doesn’t...
TWR: Were there any more pieces from any of the other albums that weren’t used at the time that were considered for this?
TB: No, the only other track that exists apart from the B sides, is one of the tracks that I wrote with Nik Kershaw, It All Comes Back To You which was a leftover track from Strictly Inc I think and I don’t think it is that good a song. When we do the re-issue of the album I will put it on there. I could have included it here but this is not really a rarities thing. It is more... the people who like what I do and know what I do and have got all of the stuff I don’t think there are many people who have got all of these albums, there can’t be that many because Strictly Inc only sold about a hundred copies! (laughs). All I know is that in contrast to the Genesis albums which always sold more each time round, mine sold less.
TWR: That’s the thing, you can’t win and a record company can’t win because from a fan’s point of view if you put a whole heap of demos, out takes etc they will say that is what is being marketed for and if you don’t do that, they still say “where’s the rest?”.
TB: I wanted to keep the quality up and I thought to myself that most people have not heard this stuff and thought that Genesis fans who loved what we did in the early '70's..... and I wanted those people to hear a track like An Island In The Darkness because that would appeal to them and I said about Strictly Inc but it probably only sold a couple of thousand and it didn’t do anything at all and that track was a key track on that album and it has not been heard by most people who could like it. So the idea was put it on there and then anyone who thinks why not. I know what Phil has done, I know what Peter has done... it is difficult and for me one of the main reasons is for my own satisfaction as I have now got all these in one place, sounding quite nice and there they are. I think most of the tracks stand up pretty well.
TWR: Looking at the track listing, you couldn’t really wish for a better representation of you want to know what Tony Banks has done as a solo artist? Well, here you go...
TB: I think that was the idea but I started it with the theme which was originally written for the film Quicksilver which was hardly used in it, it was Rebirth on the album, but that was what I started with and it was a bit like the old fashioned Genesis with this introduction and it sounded good and that goes into At The Edge of Night and I am not going to shield my voice from this album because it features rather a lot on it and so the first vocal track is me and by remixing may of these tracks we were definitely able to improve many of them but some don’t change that much. The ones that really have improved I think are The Border and Big Man which sound a lot better I think.
There are a few like that which were well worth doing and that was why we did all the remixing. You know, you can tweak a little bit and I didn’t want to fiddle too much but the drums and the drum machine are so out of time on By You that we had to put them in time,
TWR: So, you have got the box set which comes out at the end of next month I believe, and you have mentioned the re-issues and I am assuming it will be all the albums?
TB: Well, that is the plan and it depends on what Esoteric want to do, and if they want to do it...
TWR: Which ones are being released first?
TB: They have talked about releasing A Curious Feeling again and we might do that but after that whether we would stick 100% to chronological order I don’t know but we shall do them in pairs I think. We are going to do them all in 5.1. That is the theory but it is quite a long job and Esoteric are funding the whole thing but they seem to be up for it and we have already done most of The Fugitive and quite a lot of Bankstatement and the one which we haven’t done because we didn’t think it needed it was the Soundtracks album.
TWR: The one that the fans seem to be most excited about is Strictly Inc because it is the album that passed so many people by.
TB: I feel strongly about it but I do about all of them I suppose. It just got away I think. We did try with a couple of singles off that and I thought that Only Seventeen was a good single and I haven’t put it on this compilation! (laughs) and when we tried again with the remix and I didn’t really like the remix at all actually and the original version of that song I have always loved. The weakest track on the album was probably Don’t Turn Your Back On Me which we opened the album with and I hate it when that happens! (laughs). There are other albums where that happens; Woodface by Crowded House for instance which is wonderful album but the opening track is definitely the weakest one!
I am fairly philosophical about this really but I would have liked people to have heard them when they came out and obviously now they are all of their time I think and a track from 1981 isn’t going to have the same impact now as it did back then.
TWR: When the albums are re-issued, in terms of any extras, are there going to be things such as what you did with A Curious Feeling, put the two promotional videos on them...?
TB: That will be the plan where they exist. Most of this stuff is on You Tube now and when we put the Genesis one together (The Video Show) we actually looked on You Tube to see what was there! (laughs). There are videos out there as we did them for most of the albums and some of them are not that great but they are part of the package. I think the most interesting thing will be the 5.1 versions and we did the mix to 5.1 and then mixed it from the stereo and things like By You sound fantastic in 5.1 with all that echo sort of effect and Big Man is another one because it has got all these kind of funny sounds so I think that will be quite interesting. It will be interesting for the anoraks as you referred to yourself!
In a sense it is like A Curious Feeling which when we did that the basic mixes are much better and the aim of the exercise is to do them all like that and they all should be repackaged and so I think there is enough . I think the first two are A Curious Feeling and The Fugitive but we may revisit that idea and to my mind we should combine early and late and when Phil is doing his stuff I know he is doing early with late...
And there we concluded part one of this fascinating chat with Tony. Look out for part two - where Tony gets technical with TWR in our next edition. Once again our thanks to Tony for giving up so much of his time on a Saturday to talk to us and to Jo Greenwood for organising everything for us.