“So, that's what it does!" - Tony Banks gets technical with TWR. Interview conducted at The Farm recording studio on Saturday 27th June 2015 by Stuart Barnes and Frank Rogers. Photos: Alan Hewitt, Stuart Barnes and Frank Rogers, Charisma Records, Mino Profumo, Stephanie Pistel and David Entwhistle.
Here is part two of the recent interview that TWR conducted with Tony. This time the focus is on the technical side of his career, we hope you find it interesting. Over to you, chaps….
TWR: A Chord Too Far…. Where do 'those chords' come from? I’m a musician myself and in the main when you listen to songs it is major to minor and then I listen to your songs and there is always one chord that is a major sixth or a diminished something…
TB: You only have ten fingers haven’t you? And Ant always used to play like this… keep it down and play with three fingers and a triad all the time which is a good way of playing actually if you want to keep yourself simple but there are always a tendency to put in the other notes. I just kind of liked it and when I first started getting into pop music from pretty early on I tended to like things that moved it away slightly from the standard sequences and all that and there was a bit of classical but also the show tunes and someone like Richard Rogers who was quite an influence on me, he always used diminished chords and that always appealed to me. It was fun for me trying to work out what people had done. And then The Beatles of course, who slowly progressed from using the standard progressions to do more and more interesting things and climaxed with stuff like I Am the Walrus and stuff like that and they broke a lot of the standard rules of pop music and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds which was a stunning album and try playing that by ear, it’s tough! You can play pretty much all The Beatles’ catalogue by ear I think but try to play some of that stuff and it’s tough.
So, that always appealed to me and so when the progressive thing started with bands like Procul Harum and King Crimson and The Moody Blues who were trying to do things slightly differently and I have always liked the sound of weird harmonies. Things like Watcher Of The Skies on the Mellotron where you put your hand on the thing and those first two chords which happened to sound really good on that instrument and you moved from that to see what you could do. I think it either appeals to you, that kind of thing, or it doesn’t. A lot of people the reason why Genesis is viewed a bit like Marmite (you either love it or hate it) particularly early Genesis where the chords tended to move around a lot, it is difficult and they really want to hear the fairly standard sequences of rhythm, the standard melody lines and playing fairly standard on those things. Whereas Genesis were always moving off even when we had a fairly traditional chord sequence like the opening of The Musical Box, the idea was to try and get a melody line that didn’t quite follow it, you know and we worked pretty much as a group on that,. All putting forward ideas to get the thing and it might be unusual for the sake of it but the end result is very effective. So, that is what I do and on the album A Chord Too Far I never intended to use a chord sequence. I have done at periods in my life, the chorus of let’s say… Land Of Confusion that is a chord sequence but I really like the way it sounds! (laughs) but in my own writing I can’t sort of avoid it.
TWR: What was it that got you into playing keyboards?
TB: Well, I think I played the piano because they taught it at school and I stopped learning the piano because I didn’t get on with the teacher and I got another teacher and I got on with him and that helped a lot. The thing that kept me going was playing stuff by ear and from about the age of eleven I really started to get into pop music and I just found that I could pick up the songs on the radio and I had a friend who showed me how to do it and I just found that I could do it and that was fantastic. And when I heard a song on the radio, I could then play it on the piano and as soon as you start playing you start asking, ’why didn’t they do this?’. ’why didn’t they do that?’ and then you try different things and some work and others don’t and you move on from there I suppose, and then you start writing because playing by ear is a very important contribution to writing so that is really where I started.
Within the Genesis situation everyone had to find their role and I played a bit of guitar. Pete played piano and in the end if we were going to have a role, Mike played the guitar as well but he was not as good a guitarist as Ant so he played bass, Ant played guitar, I played the keyboards and Peter would sing. And that kind of worked out really well and so we tried to stick to those roles within the group although and that was one of the reasons why Peter left I suppose, because you were kind of confined and it was so difficult within the early Genesis and I was only known as a keyboard player and not as a writer or anything so if anyone else was playing keyboards I tended to get agitated and I would fight my corner pretty hard.
I used to play guitar too and I liked that because I could find myself on a guitar in ways that I couldn’t on a keyboard and I didn’t know what I was doing half the time and obviously the opening part of Supper’s Ready was done on the guitar and on the guitar you go down a semi tone and there are no black notes so it makes a difference to what you do and I had a sequence going down in a different way where the notes descend one note at a time in the sequence and the second time you go down in a different way and you end up in a different place and it appealed and I spent a bit of time on the melody for that, getting it right. Also on the guitar you can sometimes just go E - A on a guitar which sounds fantastic but on a piano it doesn’t sound very good and so you could write very simply on a guitar and guitarists tend to write in a simpler way than many keyboard players I think.
TWR: Again, looking back to when the first portable synthesizers started to appear in 1970 -71, how did you learn that process of synthesis?
TB: Well, when the very first Mellotrons came in the octaves weren’t in tune and they were a nightmare and the first ones that came on the market, you had to be pretty technical to play and I wasn’t. I remember borrowing somebody’s machine and he said I sent it back as it wasn’t on exactly the same settings as when you gave it to me and I don’t think that was true but anyway when the Pro Soloist came out, the ARP Pro Soloist, which was totally monophonic but idiot proof, put a sound on, you got a sound and I loved it and putting it through the effects, particularly echo and fuzz box or whatever we had in those days, just to create an effect made them very versatile. I first used synthesisers on Selling England By The Pound particularly on Cinema Show but used quite a lot throughout the whole thing and it just opened things up. I had the Mellotron before that which was not a synthesiser but I was able to use other sounds but it was a nightmare when you had to play it. I always used to try and get as much as I could out of the organ and the piano with the Hohner Pianet through a fuzz box and that was the sound on The Musical Box again.
So, up to and including Foxtrot all the instruments I had I used everything I possibly could and eighty or ninety percent of what they could do I was using or trying to use and by the time we got to the synthesisers of the 1980’s and stuff I reckon I was using about one per cent of what they could do. Because you would switch on the pre-set and it would sound fantastic. Perhaps the best hybrid of all that was the Prophet because it had good pre-sets but you could very easily change them and every sound on them I tended to modify and that was probably my favourite of all synthesisers. My piano is obviously my favourite but the Prophets were the most versatile but everything had things to recommend it. If you take the Polymoog which I used quite extensively on Wind & Wuthering, and also on A Curious Feeling, it had these marvellous pedals one of which would open filters as well as the volume and stuff and it was a fantastic sound which came out of nowhere and obviously you could do that on the others but none of them had the same sound as the Polymoog which was a fantastic sound on things like From The Undertow whereas is if it was just volume like say on Fountain Of Salmacis, it is good but you can get that sort of resonance coming out as well.
TWR: Are there any artists that have particularly influenced you?
TB: Well, I think as a writer, The Beatles were very important but as I said, Richard Rogers that’s because that was inflicted on me when I was young a lot and I used to love the stuff and I still do, it’s wonderful music and Burt Bacharach comes more out of that sort of role I think with musical writers and other musical such as West Side Story. I think those songs have slightly more wit and fire to them. Pop songs were fine but they tended to stay fairly small and it wasn’t until the late Sixties that people started to try and do more. Pet Sounds was a crucial album and The Beatles followed that with Sergeant Pepper so they were the influences I suppose. Later on, that first King Crimson album was definitely an influence on us at the time. I don’t find it so appealing now I have to say, but it was the first time you heard the Mellotron used as a big instrument and the flute playing was fantastic and for us it was very significant at the time.
The American solo artists back in the ‘60’s, the likes of Otis Redding who used the soulful singing but with imaginative harmonies it wasn’t just the Souls songs, and I like the great Soul songs, don’t get me wrong, but even the more standard song such as Hold On,. I’m Coming did a bit more than the standard chord wise and they would have the verse where they were just busking along and then the chords would change where the Harlem shuffle would come in and Peter and I used to love that. We used to play those all the time and he had a great voice for it and he would sing and I would play the piano and we would cover what these people did and I think that was a big influence.
TWR: Was there any particular reason why you chose one keyboard over another?
TB: It was really what was brought in and they would say ‘try this’ and I think certain ones are very significant as you know, I mentioned the Prophet which had those small sounds which you could make sound fantastic by putting an echo and stuff on them and then there were the sequencers and stuff which was a factor. I don’t know really, I just tended to use these things as they came along, the Korg and the Roland they all did things and you would get three or four fantastic sounds out of them and then you were kind of stuck with it a bit. So, sometimes you could do a bit more and really explore them. I had one called the SD1 which I used to like quite a lot which |I used quite extensively on Still and it was one of those once again, where you could do slightly more with it and then you got into the Emulators and I loved the Emulators where you could put your own sounds on it and record your own riffs and that happens all the time now but in those days it was more unusual and I remember trying to get a decent cello sound and I recorded the first four notes of a piece which was a Katchachurian which came from the Valley Suite and the first four notes of that and they didn’t sound that great but I recorded them and I played the four notes at the same time and it sounded fantastic, and that was so good and that was the introduction to It’s Gonna Get Better and we couldn’t really make the most of it and it sounded so good what do you do with it, you know? So Mike started playing behind it and it ended up being something else but the four notes sounded remarkably like Gorecki’s symphony because of the overlapping notes and it was quite interesting how that worked. I like doing things like that and I sometimes just record what is going on in the studio and that’s what happened with That’s All, I recorded Mike just fiddling about and he was playing this riff and again, I played these three notes at the same time and again they produced this semblance of a riff and Mike basically learned it and it was the basis of the song. It is quite a useful writing tool
Then obviously the likes of the Synclavier were fantastic because of the range of sounds they used on things like the beginning of Mama and Home By The Sea which was a really positive sound. It was incredibly expensive and incredibly unreliable and I ended up on the last tour sampling some of the sounds and it didn’t sound quite as good.
TWR: Do you have a studio at home?
TB: I Have a music room at home, yeah which is a room with my stuff in. Since I have been doing the orchestral stuff recently that stuff is mainly on the computer really and there are some things I use quite a bit and I still have some of the old Emulator sounds and the oboes off that and cellos and stuff so there are quite a few things I use. I’ve got the Korg Oasys and on the last tour it was such a useful tool and you could combine anything you liked on it and sample anything you liked such as a good piano, a good organ and any of the synthetic sounds and sampled sounds and so I have still got that at home and I use it quite a bit.
I have got the Roland piano and the sort of …and I use it really as a type sensitive keyboard and you can play everything but most of the sounds generally come off that. If I was going to do another rock album, which I am not, I would obviously search elsewhere but I am really looking for string samples and I have some good ones.
TWR: How do you start writing?
TB: Well, it is just improvising. Normally on the piano but not always and sometimes I would use the guitar and sometimes I would try to set up just strings and stuff and just play with that and that slowed me down a bit. Mainly it is the piano and you would hit and bang along. I do record quite lot these days just because it is so easy with the computer to record what you did and then listen back to it and you might have thirty minutes of rubbish that might have one sequence which is alright and you can learn that and do it again I suppose. Sometimes you get bits like that, you get one twelve minute piece like the string improvisation I did in the early 2000’s which I ended up using about four minutes of it and just re-arranging it which became Black Down. I just loved the way some of the stuff sounded. I think what it is all about is trying to keep your conscious brain out of it, because if you think too much…the way I write anyway, if you want to avoid that you have to surprise yourself I think. You will just get something where you suddenly think ‘what the hell was that?’ and it is good and something happens. I am always searching for new chord juxtapositions but it comes in the end to the realisation that there aren’t any, it’s finite what you can do, I suppose . It is amazing what will work if you can set it up right. I always enjoyed the way you do it, if you have a C major chord, what are you going to put before it? A G7 or an F minor and that leads you back to C very nicely so there are lots of things you can do.
But what you start to realise after a bit is that you can do anything, you can get an A flat minor if you go into C very nicely, if you do it right. So I am constantly searching for those kind of things I suppose as well. It’s not… something that makes it sound more contrived than it is but when we first came into this business we loved the Beatles and we loved all that stuff but we didn’t necessarily want to write another Beatles song . We wanted to try and do what people hadn’t done before and in the late Sixties although the groups like Procul Harum were starting to show the way, most music was still pretty straight and so the idea of doing things where you broke all the rules and the structure was different and the repeats and you used different chords and melodies and lyrics that people weren’t using, that was what we were trying to do. We didn’t know what we were trying to do stuff that other people hadn’t done. And of course, we went a long way down that road and at the end we felt that we were repeating ourselves and that is why on an album like Abacab we were trying to think if we could take it somewhere else.
TWR: Do you ever write songs that you envisage as live songs?
TB: Not really. Even back in the early days, I mean some of the stuff off Trespass was pretty much recorded after we had played it live and obviously the next two albums as well. On Foxtrot, the only one we had done live was Watcher of The Skies actually and you never got ahead of yourself really and of course we thought it would be a great single … and it wasn’t! (laughs). I think we did some of these things and felt they would be good live such as Los Endos or something. Once you had got the two drums and stuff and stuff like Cinema Show was good when we had the two drummers with Bill Bruford and then once Chester got involved with the duet I loved it And on the few times I was able to hear it out front it sounded fantastic. It was also obviously the home straight after that so I always felt good about the drums and they (Phil and Chester) did play beautifully together, and if you go back to things like One For The Vine it was a good effect.
TWR: What songs did you find particularly hard to play live?
TB: I have said this before and no one believes me but Man On The Corner was always hard to play live because the position of one in the bar is a problem. Now Mike and Chester just got away with using a different spot but for me I had to know where it was because he was using the hi hat and if I lost it I was gone, completely gone and the difficult one was the …’nobody knows him…’ and if I got out of sync there I was completely out of sync! Once the drums came in, it was oh, thank God for that! (laughs) so that was very tough.
Having said that, there are the bits of technically difficult to play and I sometimes think that I never played them right. Sometimes you just build up to them I suppose things like the In The Cage solo which when I hear it back it is not surprising it was difficult because it is at triple speed and it wasn’t tied to anything and it was so fast! I remember once we played it at Knebworth and it was so cold (it was June ’78 folks and even though it was summer it rained - AH) and I couldn’t find the beginning but sometimes it would be alright. I am not technically the greatest player and I am not saying that to be modest, and the fast stuff I would always push myself and I enjoyed doing that and things like Robbery, Assault & Battery are tough, its in 13/8 and I was always trying to ignore the drums because they were playing off beats all the time.
I am trying to think of anything else that was particularly hard to play and all of the solos have their moments you know, the Duke’s Travels solo and on the last tour we only did the smaller part of that which was easier for me. You do try to write …sometimes the simple things can be difficult because you forget and you relax (laughs) and there have been some classic cases and I was pretty good at making it look like it wasn’t me who had made the mistake, it was somebody else! (laughs). I remember playing Dodo once and I kept going on the verse and I should have done on the chorus and Phil was looking going ‘it’s me, it’s me!’ and I just carried on (laughs) but Daryl looked across and Daryl always knows! A lot of it is, when you play any show you have about half a dozen numbers you build up to and moments you relax and you have to let yourself relax because otherwise you are so tense. The important thing is with songs that are easy such as Hold On My Heart where you can just relax for a minute and you made the most of that because you knew in a minute you had another one coming up which wasn’t going to be quite so easy.
TWR: How many of the keyboards you have used are still in your possession?
TB: Quite a few of them really, I tended to…what happened was that we would buy them in pairs because you had to have a spare and some got lost. The original Mellotrons got lost I sold off the original organ, the L122 I had. I have probably got quite a lot of them. Some of those later ones, the sample type synths have gone and we did a have a bit of a clearout a couple of years ago but we ended up keeping quite a few. The Emulator 3 was even better than the Emulator 2 because it could do a bit more and the Korgs that I got which were rack mounted, the X Bs and stuff which gives you more memory.
There was something about the Emulator 1 which was very exciting just being able to out a microphone out and we recorded koto which Mike played and I used that on Mama and another thing we used was the wine glass (rubbing your finger around the rim) and so I sampled that and used that on Redwing that is the sound on that and ti is a very pure sort of sine wave. So, the Emulators were a lot of fun.
TWR: Was there any reason why you didn’t use the Fairlight?
TB: I’ll tell you why. Because I went to see Syco at the time who had both the Fairlight and the Synclavier and I thought the Synclavier was a much better synthesiser, although I loved the sounds on the Fairlight, and they said the sampling part of that is coming out next month so I parted with an incredible sum of money for the Synclavier waiting for that and it never came. So, that was why I ended up going down the Emulator route, because I couldn’t afford to have them both. The Fairlight was a very fine instrument of its time but I never even actually played one.
TWR: Are there any of the older keyboards that you revisit from time to time?
TB: Well, I sometimes think about it. There is something about the Polymoog which was a very useful instrument and the other instrument which I used to use at the same time as that was the ARP Quadra because it had this gated… you could play it and it had a very simple system of playing through other instruments so, when we did Mama for example, Mike had written the drum box part and we put something else in there with it and I put that through my Quadra and I was plying chords on it and it sounds as if I am doing that all the way through but I am not and all I had to do was change the chords which was easy. Even on the video, I cheat on the video (laughs) so I could do that and I used it on A Chord Too Far on the song By You and I used that very extensively. I have also used it on This Is Love because there were various ways you could trigger instruments using the Key Peg Strings which is technical thing and I triggered the Prophet from that and had the Quadra triggered from the drum machine. The problem with the Quadra was that it came out just before all the sampling synthesisers so it was kind of dated before it started and it had some fantastic things on it and the way it combined things, the Arpeggiator was one of the tings which I used on Duke’s Travels and what a marvellous effect that was! And it had a bass pedal on it and you had the polyphonic synthesiser on it so I could do all those other things as well. I have got two of them and there were only about a dozen of them and I think the other ten only sold because I was using it! (laughs) and the company went bust after that or got taken over. It was a fun instrument.
TWR: Analogue or digital?
TB: I like digital certainly because of the point of view of the recording and just making demos and things you can do it all so easily now really, it’s great. And you’ve got a whole range of sounds. The sounds are unlimited now and particularly when I am doing the orchestral stuff it is great to have all this stuff available like that. And I love what you can do on Cubase and when you are working in Midi the fact that you can do so much, you can move stuff around, you can change keys, you can change speed and everything in relation to everything else it is all wonderful.
But you have asked me what I prefer to play and I prefer to sit and play the piano which is my favourite instrument and is as analogue as you can get. I didn’t use it on Six at all but that was because I wanted to do an album I didn’t play on (laughs) and it was very important to me to do that. As a composer, it was important to do something where I was just the composer. So next time I wouldn’t mind doing that again but I am not a purist with all this stuff and C Ds and stuff and MP3s although the quality on those is not quite as good but it is so much easier than scratchy records (laughs) and all of the things you can do with it. I have four CDs here (A Chord Too Far) with sixty or seventy minutes of music on each and that would be what… ten or twelve albums? People have said : ‘why don’t you do a vinyl version of this?’ and what are you going to do? Twelve albums? Who’s going to buy that? So I do like all that . I DO like the size of the old albums but in terms of the gear, I’m a fan of digital.
TWR: We were talking about the Oasys before…
TB: It came at just the right time for me and I am sure that it has been superseded by lots of other stuff but it was a very useful tool for me and whatever I looked like I was playing on the last tour I was pretty much playing the Oasys all the time on everything and it was a sample and everything else was hooked up to that and it was a very good machine.
TWR: I’ve just invested in a Kronos…
TB: Have you gone for the one which is a spring touch or piano touch? The heavyweight one is great if you want piano sounds and I have got both; the piano one and if you want to play fast synthesiser parts you need the spring touch one.
TWR: How did you go about getting the older sounds for the Oasys for the last tour?
TB: Well, it wasn’t too difficult really. Some people say I didn’t get them good enough but I wasn’t going to try and get everything 100% right and of course, an organ is built in so that made the organ sounds quite easy and you get a better organ sound out of it for things like In The Cage than when I used to use the Prophet and we stopped using an organ on the A Trick Of The Tail tour so I stopped using the organ and had to use a substitute and with the Prophet and particularly when you got the chorus and stuff you could simulate that organ sound but with the Oasys some of the older ones I went back to because you could get the sounds with the draw bars and in terms of the synths, some of the monophonic synths,s ome of them depended on being monophonic and the Oasys could do that.
Before we did the last tour I spent quite a few months getting all the sounds together including whatever I thought I could including some of the processes from the older ones like the Synclavier sounds and a few others and tried to get everything as close as I could to being right. Even so when we got out there I had to change quite a bit. I was pretty well prepared actually, Mike was well prepared. Daryl is ALWAYS well prepared! Phil was completely unprepared (laughs) so it took him about two weeks of just trying to get to play how he used to which was tough especially on a piece like Duke’s Travels which was always a tough one.
TWR: I have heard you have got a Prophet T8?
TB: I do own a Prophet T8. I wasn’t that keen on it because it had a piano weighted keyboard and I didn’t find it as friendly as the others for some reason or other and I must have used it on something. I think if we looked on the track sheets we would probably find I used it on something.
TWR: And the CS80?
TB: I used that on one album: Duke. I didn’t really get on with the CS80 I have to say. I liked some of the sounds but I didn’t find it… I was much more into the Prophets really so I just sort of used it for Duke’s Travels extensively and it had a little feature on it too where you could use a microphone to play the sound which we used on Turn it On Again… oh Phil had a duck.. A trumpet or it may just have been a duck call that he used to trigger the sample to trigger the CS80 to get the sound. I used it a fair bit on the album actually but I didn’t feel the need to do it live and so I didn’t and it fell by the wayside. I sold one and I know some people really love that instrument. I kept some of these things for old time’s sake.
TWR: Do you find yourself coming in here (The Farm) and playing …?
TB: No. I think about it (laughs) and I am really a writer and so I want the quickest way to get to where I want to be and so sometimes I play the piano and I tend to have that hooked up all the time so I can play a string sound as a shadow and that is the main way I work. I will try and switch the piano off sometimes and just play the strings which is what I did with Black Down because it slows me down and makes me focus more on the way that the chords change rather than trying to play rhythmically all the time. I don’t really use that many sounds now I suppose. Apart from the ones which are one the computer.
TWR: Talking about sounds again, and the piano, which piano are you referring to?
TB: Well, when I say I play the piano at home it has to be a sampled piano and the one I have quite liked is the Philharmonic sample and the Oasys one which I use sometimes as well. I have also got the CP70 but I don’t tend to use that so much now. I have also got the original Yamaha which we got for The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway because we had to have a piano for the tour and I ended up with it and I don’t use it that much. It is played by lots of kids when they come to visit! (laughs) and it is not the greatest sounding piano. And I have got a Yamaha upright which I use sometimes. I get terribly into playing with the headphones on and stuff which is why I tend to use the electronic stuff more than anything else. Because as soon as you start playing out loud everyone else around hears you and you are semi-performing and I don’t really want to be doing that. I didn’t mind so much in the old days, I used to drive everyone in the house insane banging around but with the headphones on you can really work around without bothering anybody else and I like that.
TWR: Are there any particular songs that you go back to and enjoy playing?
TB: There are a few chord sequences I quite like which I go back to and I try to remember what I did half the time! (laughs). I play bits and pieces sometimes from Mad Man Moon more from the verse than the chorus because I really like the chord sequence on that. Me And Sarah Jane is another one which is one of my favourites because of the way it starts which is just two notes and the chords working round it so it sounds like you are playing everything but you are not and then I change the two notes to another two notes and so right up to the “standing on a corner” bit and up to there that is done pretty much the same way and I quite like doing that, it is quite fun to see how far you can go and get away with it really. I like the way the key changes in that, you know.
The party piece was Firth of Fifth but of course now if you go on You Tube there are all these people who can play it far better than I can! (laughs). So I come back to these things and I am trying to think of what else… From The Undertow and when we have been mixing an album I tend to go back and try to remember what it was I did and when you hear it again your hands sort of get back into it and what you did before and at various times I have tried to re-learn some of the songs I did and some of them I can’t get back into it. Trick Of The Tail, I always liked playing that.
Entangled was more just a chord sequence that I was playing and that end bit was Mike’s actually and we just used it and we were blues-ing on it and playing chords against the chords and seeing what I could get away with which was something I have always liked to do and the verse is obviously, Steve’s.
TWR: Do you listen to new prog at all?
TB: I don’t really. I am doing a thing in a few days’ time where I have got to name my seven favourite prog tracks and I am going to struggle. It is not that I don’t like it but I didn’t really follow it while we were in the prog world because everyone was competition and although we played with groups that we quite liked I don’t know what constitutes “prog” and that’s another problem. Led Zeppelin. Is that prog? I would say so but it is not technically prog, is it? I mentioned In The Court Of The Crimson King before and I liked some of the Yes stuff especially the Yes album when Tony Kaye was the keyboard player and that was their best era but do I listen to much now? I don’t really, no. I don’t listen to that much music because I think you are so saturated with your own stuff and I hears stuff on the radio sometimes and it could be on Radio 2, 6 anything really. A lot of those stations are playing old pieces anyhow and half of the time they don’t tell you what they are playing and I am thinking ‘that was great! What was that?’ and it could have been something that was released in 1976 I don’t know.
I think there are two kinds of people who play in rock groups, there are those who listen to a lot of stuff all of the time and those who don’t listen at all. And I have always been one of the latter. I listened to everything up to 1967 and then when we started playing ourselves, I didn’t listen and a lot if it came from recommendations from other people, that’s why I mentioned Woodface before which I think Nick Davis recommended to me. A band my kids were keen on were The Crash Test Dummies and I always liked 10 CC and I did look out for them a bit. Nik Kershaw is another one so you have people that you listen to but I didn’t have my ear to the ground and I wasn’t so keen on some of these groups. Much as I loved The Nice, I was never that keen on Emerson, Lake & Palmer they were everything we were trying not to be ! (laughs) So that kind of put me off a bit and with the other groups you kind of got fed up with everyone saying ‘you should be listening to…’ or ‘you’re not as good as… Camel or Gentle Giant or Barclay James Harvest’ and we played with them and they did some nice stuff. I used to like Rare Bird, Audience, they were great and Van Der Graaf Generator had their moments and so you have probably now helped me with that seven! (laughs). Caravan were one stage ahead of us in those early days and they would turn up with a WEM PA which was the one everybody wanted at the time and we still had a couple of dodgy speakers.
TWR: Is there a particular keyboard or rig that you have used in concert that is a favourite of yours?
TB: I don’t really know. For some periods where everything seemed to work and fit well together the little Mellotron was a much more tameable beast than the big one so that was quite nice and that had the voices on it which was quite good. So that period was quite a nice period with the Pro Soloist and the organ and the Mellotron and I don’t totally remember what I had at various times. Whatever I had at the time I was pretty happy with really because that is why I used it. It was quite fun when you had the Prophet 10 and the massive sound you could get out of it such as in the middle of Mama when it came crashing in and that was fantastic.
The Synclavier when I used that on the road live it was just an amazing sound with such bite to it. I can’t say there was a favourite, each one at the time.
TWR: What are your lasting memories of some of these keyboards, good or bad…?
TB: Well, I have mentioned the old Mellotron which was a nightmare and you had to rebuild it every night and you never knew quite what you were going to get and sometimes you would play the thing and half the notes would stick and then half of the notes wouldn’t work and we had this when we had Watcher Of the Skies which we opened the show with and when it worked it was fantastic but often it didn’t.
We had problems when we first went to America because we had these cycle control motors on the Hammond and we didn’t realise it was cyclic control and so when we came on it was sharp because it was 60 cycles over there and 50 over here and so we had to spend about three or four hours trying to build a power supply for it before we could play the show which was a nightmare as well. So those are a couple of bad moments.
I mentioned the Synclavier just because of the fantastic sound rather than anything else. It was a slightly delicate instrument. The Hammond organ was wonderful. I came… when I first started playing the organ and I had never really played it, I had always played the piano and I did a little bit of organ on From Genesis To Revelation but that was just borrowing on from that and that was during the song Fireside Song when the recorder comes in a semi tone higher and that was … (looks puzzled) and I thought, oh that sounds quite nice. The Hammond when I first started playing live with the Hammond I had to play the piano parts on the Hammond so something like The Knife which was originally written on a piano I just played it on the organ and it sounded pretty good but trying to learn how to hold down a chord took a bit of time before I learned how to do that. It was a wonderful sound and one of those kind of distinctive ones I suppose.
Later instruments. You know there were so many good ones and they all had one or two good sounds on them and the JD800 which had this drum box which you could play the sound and Mike had this riff which was the I Can’t Dance riff which he had been torturing us with for months (laughs) and we tried doing it really heavy and one time I had just got this new keyboard and I started hitting things and I got one and said; ’that sounds great’ and I just played with the bass drum and the snare and I was playing all these funny sounds on it and it just made it that little bit more light hearted. And we thought we could do something with this - that’s definitely NOT prog! (laughs) and keep it as simple as possible and go away from the riff a couple of times and write some simple chords and Phil wrote what was a joke lyric on there and it was just a great song and I think it works on its own level very well.
In some respects the ability to write simply is really quite different than writing complex. For myself, give me twenty six minutes and I can write you something. If I’ve got to tie myself down to three minutes then I am going to struggle, always! That’s how I am. So I am quite proud of that one.
TWR: Do you use much software synths? How do you use software?
TB: Well, the orchestral sounds I use are all software even the piano is software and I use Cubase as my basic programme because I tend to use the midi part of it more than anything else. I probably wouldn’t have got my head around Pro Tools. The problem with Pro Tools is they keep re-writing the programme so you get used to it and then the next one comes and nothing is in the same place. So, I am very much software based because it is so versatile and it has a writing tool that you wonder what guys like Beethoven would have done of they had had this kind of stuff and it would have been fantastic because there is so much you can do. You haven’t got to keep it all in your head and you can put ideas down as they come to you and however good you are, you are always going to forget things.
It takes time to do these things. I built up from when I first started using the Yamaha QX and that was what I used on Land Of Confusion, the bass line on that which was great and then the Ataris came in with Pro 24 which was the forerunner of Cubase and so I started on that which was a simple programme at the time and once I started with that and over time I have been able to progress over the years and if you drop in now with one of these modern programmes it must be pretty tough. It is a lot of stuff to learn.
TWR: Are you up for a little challenge? Doing a bit of research and looking at the number of keyboards that we think you have used and how many can you remember?
TB: Do I have to give the names? Ok… grand piano, Hammond L122, Hammond T1 Polymoog, CS80, Prophet 5, Prophet 10, Prophet T8, ARP Pro Soloist, ARP 2600, DX7, SD1, The Ensoniq VS1, The JD800, Korg Oasys, the Korg Trinity, The Korg Wavestation. If the boxed versions count I’ve had the E1, 2, 3, 4, E4XP, the ARP Quadra the boxed version the JD990, Oh, I know.. The Akai sampler. The Akai one the thing I mainly used on that was that marimba sample which I used on Tonight, Tonight, Tonight throughout the song and I played it just like a piano and it was a great sound and I put it through the SPX with the echo on it and it was superb. There was so much atmosphere on that, it sounded like milk bottles breaking. The only problem when we played that song live was that we had to take it down a semi tone but If we tried to take it down a tone for Phil’s voice, the marimba would just sound awful so we couldn’t do it and that was the problem with that album (Invisible Touch) you could push it as high as you wanted and it was the same with Peter when you got this stuff to the stage and you couldn’t really do it and you had to try and change the keys and it could be a nightmare but of course, with modern technology you could do that with a button and not have to re-learn In The Cage suddenly in two different keys….
And on that note (pun intended) we conclude this second part of this fascinating
chat with Tony. I am sure you will find it interesting. I am now off to soak
my wrist in a bowl of hot water! Once again my thanks to Tony for giving up
so much of his time to speak to us. To Joanne Greenwood at TSPM for organising
everything for us. Thank you also to the members of the Turn It On Again forum
for submitting questions (hope you find the answers interesting!) and finally,
to Stuart and Frank for taking the major part of the interview on to their shoulders
- you’ve got the job, Frank! Stuart already has one in TWR of course!