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Tony Banks - Interview

GNC talks with Tony about his 5.1-Release of "A Curious Feeling"

and about recent and forthcoming solo- and Genesis-projects -
conducted 30/09/2009 (via phone)


GNC: Who had the idea to re-release A Curious Feeling and to create the 5.1 mix?

Tony: It was my idea, really. Having done all the Genesis albums, I felt that some of the albums had really benefited from the remixes so much, particularly and not surprisingly the earlier ones with Peter, but then some of the later period ones, particularly And Then There Were Three and Duke. A Curious Feeling was from the same period I thought it would be fun to do that as well. I felt A Curious Feeling was soundwise as good as those anyhow. So I thought let's give it a go. Nick Davis was up for it. He reduced his prices. [chuckles] No, he's a good friend and he was quite keen to do it. We listened to the original tapes and thought that what was on the master tracks sounded really good and we could really do something good with this. That's what we decided to do.


A Curious Feeling CoverGNC: When did you listen to A Curious Feeling for the last time before the idea of remastering it came up?

Tony: It wouldn't have been that long ago. It is an album I come back to occasionally. Of all the things I've recorded it is one of those pieces I am most satisfied with in many ways. I think it's musically an interesting album. It was kind of in the middle of that late 70s period that for me was kind of a very creative period. I've always liked it. I have listened to it once or twice, not regularly of course, but I have done it once or twice in a year because it was an interesting thing to listen to. In the back of my mind for a while – ever since we did the Genesis thing I thought this would a fun thing to do if the opportunity came up – which it did – to give it a go.


GNC: The album was recorded at Polar Studios in Sweden. Why did you choose this studio?

Tony: Well, the reason – at that point in time if you recorded an album out of the country it meant that the tax situation was much better, so it seemed a good reason to do it for that reason. The other reason for doing it was I quite liked when you are going away, where you are out of contact. No one could ring you up and say this has gotta happen, that has got to happen. We booked two weeks in Polar. It was the first album we did there 'cause obviously after that then Mike did Smallcreep's Day and we did the album Duke there obviously, so it was a chance to try out the studio a little bit. Dave Hentschel wanted to try it out. It sounded like it had everything we wanted. I also liked that they had this live room in it, a live drum room, which is something I've never worked in before. I was quite keen to use it quite a lot, but Dave Hentschel was less keen so we didn't do as much as we might have done. The one track that really shows the live drum sound – we were able to get a much bigger sound out of it this time round because we actually used the room properly was the song Somebody Else's Dream. It was always supposed to have a big drum sound, a really weighty kind of track, and I think we managed to finally get this a lot better on this version.


GNC: You once told me that From The Undertow was originally meant to be an introduction to Undertow [from And Then There Were Three]?

Tony: That's right, yes.


GNC: What is the reason it was not used on And Then There Were Three, The Shout and later on for A Curious Feeling?

Tony: The original version of it was very different. The bit that ended up being the main bit, i.e. the bit that opens it, was only a little linking passage and was only played once. Only when I was writing music for The Shout, when I was asked for a piece for The Shout I thought: That little bit is really good. Let's try reversing the whole thing and see what happens. So I did that.

The reason it was not on And Then There Were Three was I think Mike and Phil just felt that...[laughs] er, I got enough time on the album already, I suppose, and a two minute introduction for the thing they didn't feel great need for it. It would work quite nicely on it. I was quite glad I didn't use it then because it meant I could use it later on. It definitely put the whole A Curious Feeling project to a good start. You could refer to it a few times musically, I refer to it in the album a few times, so it was quite an important piece as far as the album was concerned. I think it was better it ended up being better there anyhow.


GNC: The version of From The Undertow that was used on The Shout was quite different from the one on the album. Is there any chance the soundtrack version will be released, maybe as a bonus track or for download?

Tony: I don't know. Possibly. It's not all that different. In a way, the version I did for The Shout was more like a demo. I mean Mike played a piece on it, not very much, it was still mainly all keyboards. I think it's still pretty much the same piece of music. By the time I did it for A Curious Feeling I did it rather better. In the film The Shout it was underused, to be honest, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it again, really. The fun thing in The Shout was – the few times I played it played it on a church organ for one bit in the middle, which was quite amusing, little things like that. The main theme I think sounds better on A Curious Feeling. I don't actually know if we've still got the masters from The Shout. We may have them somewhere.


GNC: Did you use material for A Curious Feeling that you did not use with Genesis before?

Tony: No, the only thing from before was that bit From The Undertow. Everything else was written specifically for this project. I think with And Then There Were Three, all the things I thought were best I had used up. I could see parallels between some of the songs on A Curious Feeling and some of this... particularly, I think, Burning Rope. The introduction of Burning Rope bears some resemblance to the song Forever Morning of A Curious Feeling. There are some musical connections there. But there is nothing on my album that I didn't write specifically for it, funnily enough. I had quite a period of time because Phil was off trying to sort out his life. I had a bit of time to write stuff. It seemed to me that quite a lot of material would come very easily at this point – it was one of my most creative periods, I think.


GNC: Was there anything left from A Curious Feeling that was used on your later solo albums or a Genesis album? Back in 1995 you mentioned Turn It On Again ...

Tony: Yeah, the second part of Turn It On Again, the „I can show you“ bit. Mike wrote the main riff on Turn It On Again, which is really what is best about the song. We kind of put that bit – the bit he didn't use on Smallcreep's Day, curiously enough – with the bit I didn't use on A Curious Feeling, and put these to together. We made it much more rocky, both bits became much more rocky, my bit was a bit more epic, and Mike's bit was a bit slower and a bit more heavy-metal. And then Phil gave it a much more straightforward drum part perhaps neither of us would ever thought that we would want that on that bit, and that. And it made it into something much better, I think. But we put on one or two other bits, too, that ended up from there, I can't think what. The opening of Duke could well have been something I had, and maybe Behind The Lines was something I had around. I think it was something I was working on during the time when I'd actually got to the stage where I'd finalized A Curious Feeling and was a bit I wrote at that time and that developed into Behind The Lines later on. There are one or two connections, I suppose. There was nothing that was left off of previous Genesis albums, which is kind of strange in a way, but I am pretty sure that's the case.


flowers buchGNC: A Curious Feeling was originally meant to be an album based on Flowers For Algernon before you decided to change it slightly to get it out of the context. Would the album title have remained Flowers For Algernon? How much remained of the lyrics after changing them? Any particular songs?

Tony: My original idea was to use that title, Flowers For Algernon. Also because there was a film done called Charlie, which was based on the same story, but I thought Flowers For Algernon was the more attractive title. It is more ambiguous as a title, as long as you don't actually read the story where Algernon is the name of the laboratory mouse – which is strange in a way. It's a touching story. What changed? I would have loved to have done it with that. In many ways I should have stuck to it, stuck to my guns and done that. The main songs that would have changed are – I've said this in the introduction of this thing – The Lie and After The Lie in particular, which are very much the plot songs, if you like. Some songs really didn't change at all. I think You is probably almost exactly the same, and probably For A While and In The Dark. Somebody Else's Dream had to be changed to fit with the other concept, as far as I remember. I did like what I had written, and I liked the idea of this character losing his mind and he was conscious of it. And I had to get some kind of mechanism for him to be in this state. So I went to this idea of … you know … of a kind of a … sort of … almost like a superstition thing where he kind of believes in something which is really just a chance, a kind of game, which I thought was a possible thing that might happen. It took on a life of its own. I am quite pleased with the way the new lyric worked out. I'm not that disappointed from this point of view. The main advantage would have been that people could have read the story and would then have understood the album. Whereas this way there's no story. You have to get all the information out of the songs. It meant I probably had to include a little bit more of a story in the song The Lie than I really wanted to. You'd have to say stuff in a way you wouldn't have to in the original version. It was kind of within the story and you could flesh it out by reading the story itself.


Kim BeaconGNC: How did it happen that Kim Beacon was used as the singer?

Tony: I had really no idea for a singer. I mean, I had one or two people that I quite liked. I contacted one or two people but it didn't come to anything. I just listened to lots of tapes in the end, really, I was struggling a bit to find somebody. And this was on one of the tapes that came from Charisma. I didn't know that he was actually working with String Driven Thing at that time, who were a Charisma group. I liked his voice, I thought it had potential to fit in with what I was doing quite nicely. It had an attractive quality about it. He came down here and we tried stuff out, and I thought it sounded great. He became the man for the job, really. When we finished the project we did a video and after that I haven't seen him since. It was only later when I came back to the project and I thought I'd contact him and I found that he had actually died a few years ago, which was really sad. But in a sense he is forever – for me, he is the character in the songs. It is a kind of strange thing, but that's how I see him now.


GNC: Did you think about singing yourself on the album?

Tony: Not really for very long. I had never really intended to be a singer at all ever. I know I tried it later on, but at this stage I really didn't think I could do it. Every time I tried to sing I couldn't get myself right – the tuning and pitching and everything was terrible. I demoed all the songs for Kim and he said it sounded pretty unpleasant. He could just about get the melody line from them [laughs], which was okay. When I did this album we had this problem of identity. You know, it is credited as my album but I wasn't the singer, although that is probably a much commoner thing these days than it used to be. At the time it hadn't really been tried before and it was very difficult to promote. I even got some letters saying „Your voice sounds great“ and it wasn't me singing. So that's why I tried singing on my next album, The Fugitive, so you wouldn't get that problem of identity. But it wasn't something I had ever wanted to do, to sing. I was keen to make the album as much me as possible. I decided to do everything I thought I could do, which was all the keyboards, all the guitars and stuff. I got a drummer. I used to get Chester who was someone I trusted and liked a lot, and find a singer who would just be the singer on the album so everything else would be me.


GNC: Who came up with the cover artwork, and what was the idea behind that?

Tony: There is a book of pictures done by this Australian artist called Ainslie Roberts which got sent from my sister to my parents for Christmas. A couple of books really, called The Dream Time and something else I can't remember. I really liked the style of the pictures. They were done by an Australian guy, but they were based on Aboriginal myths, legends and things. This particular painting was called Wuluwait, Boatman of the Death, Waters Of Lethe which I used as one of the titles on the album. That’s the river you went to cross after that where you left behind your earthly memories which is obviously sort of what the album is about: losing your memory and everything. The image of the boat man where you could only see his shadow and you couldn't see him as he himself wasn't there was quite a powerful image for the idea of leaving your memories behind. And I also thought the picture was a really strong picture anyhow. I was quite keen to use it anyhow, so I got permission from the guy to use this. It has come to be associated with the album, which is quite nice. It has got a very strong atmosphere.

GNC: Who owns the original? I have heard it is on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Tony: It could be. I haven't seen the original. I have seen prints of it somebody sent me. It is a lovely picture. It would be nice to see the original.

GNC: When the album was made did you consider going on tour with it or was it planned as a studio work only?

Tony: I have never really planned to go on tour with anything I've done. Maybe that's all a mistake. When Mike went out with Mike + The Mechanics I was impressed because I thought that would be something he wouldn't do. But he had ended up with two singers on the album who have experienced live performance so seemed the logical thing for him to do. I did consider it a bit later on. When Bankstatement came out I thought about it more, but with A Curious Feeling I never ... there is no reason why it shouldn't have been done on stage. It's just that I never did it. I probably don't feel that confident to go on stage and do something where you are kind of the front man in a way which is what I'd have to be in that situation. I don't really enjoy that too much. From a purely musical point of view I think I could do it. I would never say I definitely won't do it, but it's something I spend too much time thinking about. Daryl was trying to encourage me to do some live stuff with solo material after the last tour, but I said I don't think so. He said he'd play guitar, so who knows …?


GNC: What was different from working with Genesis when you wrote and recorded the album? What became possible that wouldn't have with the other guys?

Tony: When you are writing stuff for a Genesis album it sometimes has to go through a process. Everyone's gotta be happy with what's going on. You could force it through sometimes a little. I did, back in the days of One For The Vine and one or two others where you kind of forced your idea through and people would let you do that once or twice. But on my own solo album I could do exactly what I wanted, I could use a few of those chord changes that the others always called my „sleazy chord changes“. I like a few diminished chords and a few augmented bits and pieces. Slightly more exotic chords which I slip into Genesis every now and then. Hopefully they won't notice, you know. With this I could do a lot of them. In particular on things like the long instrumental parts. Forever Morning and Waters Of Lethe have a lot of that kind of chords. Semi-tone chord changes and the kind of things I quite liked. They give it something of a yearning quality, I think. I really like it, it's something that appeals to me a lot, probably appeals to me more than to the other two, but that's fair enough. I could do a bit more of that.


GNC: How long did it take to do the new mixes, then, and who was involved in the process?

Tony: It was just me and Nick Davis, really. Davis has obviously been responsible for all our back catalogue being remixed, and I have worked really closely on that with him. He is very good at what he does. We are good friends, and we have a similar view of how you want things to sound so you don't get too much conflict. We did a lot of donkey work in the beginning, getting the whole thing sorted and get it up and sounding good, and then I would go up and start working on the details a bit. Sometimes a lot of it would be there, and sometimes you'd have to do quite a bit of work. And obviously, with A Curious Feeling I had a few more, one or two things I wanted to fiddle with slightly more than I had done on the Genesis albums. A little bit of timing I wanted to correct, particularly on the song Forever Morning, there were quite some bits a-tumble in the bridge and the end, and on Somebody Else's Dream to get the much more ambient drum sound which was something I really wanted to do. It took us about … we probably did a track a day, so a couple of weeks, really. It wasn't difficult to do. Once the tapes were up what was on tape sounded pretty good and wasn't much work to do with it, really. With modern technology it was so much easier to mix than in the old days because I had a lot of things on the same tracks on the album. Separating that was quite a problem whereas now it is much easier to do than it was.


GNC: Are there any major differences in the new mixes?

Tony: It just sounds a lot better. It is like someone lifted a blanket off the thing for me. That's how it sounds to me. The drum sound on Somebody Else's Dream is definitely a big difference, and probably the drum sound throughout. We got a liver sound. Things like The Lie and After The Lie, For A While sounds better, it is more full on from the word go. We built up slightly more the old version. This version is more just go for it and make it sound strong from the start. If you would hear it like it was in the next door room you wouldn't hear any difference. If it's in front of you and you listen to it in the car or anything it just sounds a lot better. Anybody who liked it first time round will like this version. It is similar to the differences on, say, And Then There Were Three. It’s that same sort of differences. Purists will prefer the old version, but for me the new version is superior.


GNC: The Genesis box sets include interviews with the band on the DVD parts. A Curious Feeling unfortunately doesn't. Was there an idea to do that?

Tony: I hadn't really thought about it. In a way I didn't know that the DVD was going to happen. When we originally talked about putting this out I thought they'd just put this out as a stereo. Then the idea of doing a DVD – because we had the 5.1 mix, we thought we might as well use that. Primarily it's there for the sound. We put on the two videos, such as they are, as well. It is quite a nice package, I think. It could have had an interview with me saying much the same thing as I am saying to you now [laughs] but there is verbage on the album. I did a short interview with Mark Powell who is the Esoteric man. So we got something done on the album which is pretty much what I think. It is quite concise. We could have done an interview. It didn't really occur to me to do it, actually.


GNC: What was the reason to release the album on Esoteric Records and not on EMI?

Tony: Well, EMI have no interest in it. [laughs] Well, I've met – Cherry Red are the parent company of Esoteric, at the Mojo Awards or something I met this guy and he said: If you ever think of putting these things out we'd be very interested in doing it. And I thought, well, this guy is actually showing some enthusiasm for it. EMI wouldn't do it anyhow, It wasn't like you're gonna have to go there and force people to do it. They said, yeah, we'd love to do it, you know? They've already done quite a few albums from the 70s, and I thought they obviously like this kind of thing and they'd make a nice job of things. But that's the main reason. EMI would have been the first choice if all things would be equal. I'm very happy to be elsewhere, actually.


GNC: Are there any plans to re-release other Tony Banks albums?

Tony: At this stage I haven't really thought about it. The only thing I have perhaps thought about would be to perhaps do is some kind of compilation album of some of the better things. None of the albums have been what you'd might call monster successes, although this album did okay in England. But the later ones didn't do too much. So the people who go to the website and think: Where do I start with Tony Banks music? A lot of albums out there. The idea of putting out a compilation album of the better pieces, what is a representative collection, quite appeals to me. And if I did that I suppose it would make sense look at, pick up mixes again, especially from the earlier ones. That's a possibility. If this gets reasonably more response then maybe I will be more inclined to do the others as well. This was the one that I thought soundwise could improve the most. The Fugitive perhaps could've a bit. I like the sound of The Fugitive, it is quite rough and ready and it appeals to me. I don't want to clean it up too much. Bankstatement could sound a bit better, but then the last two albums wouldn't change very much. It would be quite fun to revisit them. You never know, when you come to them you always do something and things normally get better.


GNC: A compilation would be nice. You should do that.

Tony: Well, it's a thought, isn't it? It is something that people could say if they wanna hear something by Tony Banks: „What's he been doing all this time while Phil's been number one in the charts?“ I could say: „This is it, so what do you think?“ It would be quite nice, a one CD or even two CD collection as a compilation.


GNC: What are your plans for the future? Any new albums?

Tony: The thing I am probably closest to finishing is another orchestral piece, I think. I'm fairly far down the line with that in terms of the writing. I've still got the orchestration and stuff to do and so I'm thinking in that direction and how I'd go about it to record it, so it's not going to happen instantly. You're probably looking at next year some time. But having remixed all this Curious Feeling stuff I would get quite inspired by the idea of doing another conventional album with drums and voice. Perhaps a lot of instrumentals like that one had, that would quite appeal to me. But I've nothing written for that, so that's at the back of my mind perhaps. Maybe I've got the energy to do it one more time.


GNC: Fans are looking forward to it. It has been so long since the last one.

Tony: I know. It's just – everytime I did one I put it out and... it was a little depressing. I loved doing the albums and I'm proud of the albums and you put them out and nothing really happens. That's what many people do, there's nothing wrong with that, it's just sometimes you could have taken a little more response. Still had songs on it that could have done something if I had had more luck with the media, which I didn't have. So it is a whole new thing. Each time you've got to build this stuff up for energy, and it's taken me a long time to get over Strictly Inc, I suppose. [laughs]

GNC: But it was a great album, I think.

Tony: eah, I certainly think An Island In the Darkness had turned out really well and a couple of other tracks.

GNC: May I ask you one or two questions about Genesis?

Tony: Sure.

Tony 2007GNC: What did Genesis decide about their future after the last tour? Are there plans for new songs, an album or another tour?

Tony: We don't have any plans. The live thing is a little bit on hold, whatever, because of Phil. I'm sure you know he has physical problems and couldn't begin to play anything at the moment. In terms of the writing stuff we've vaguely talked about it occasionally to see what happens maybe. But it's not going to happen imminently. Phil is in the studio doing a covers-type album of stuff where he's singing and obviously not drumming, and Mike has gone to the studio to do some more Mike + The Mechanics stuff. For the next period of time we are pretty much sorted out. But there are one or two projects that seem a possibility at one point. When we talk we always get on very well. No, it's not impossible. The three of us getting back to writing together – the expectation is something. You happen to fight with your reputation a little bit. It's quite a difficult thing, that. Sometimes you think: Well, we've done pretty good things so it's going okay, and perhaps the best thing is to let it lie. Who knows …

GNC: Are there still plans for the board tapes project?

Tony: The board tapes are still there. Probably when I last talked to you I said they could come out anytime. We are still working on it. It's one of those things. Having done this live thing there was some possibility in practice of trying to include one of these things on it, but then we decided it would be confusing. The quality would sound pretty strange next to the other ones. We've got the tapes. They are being organized and I think they will happen. It's just down to quality control a little bit. We want to be confident that... We don't want to just saturate the market with really sub-standard stuff. I know it's not that important, because I know people like to hear the mistakes. It is part of the charm of it all. The sound of it is sometimes not great because the board tapes are always very dry, and one feels the need to enhance them a little bit. We've listened to a few. Obviously no-one has got the energy to listen to two or three hundred board tapes. So we might select one or two from one or two eras and give them a listen and see what we think and when we decide they're okay to just go ahead with it and not worry too much whether. You've got to listen to check everything's there; that's the first thing. It's quite a project. It's not as straightforward as it appears.
Fett
GNC: So, we can hope.

Tony: Well, at some point it will happen.

GNC: Let us talk about the Genesis Live box set that has just come out. A lot of fans complain a bit about the content, saying it would have been possible to add more tracks to make the shows more complete. They see tracks missing like Dreaming While You Sleep from Way We Walk and feel a bit strange about the Lamb tracks on Genesis Live... Who decided on these things?

Tony: It was difficult to decide the content. We knew at the time it wasn't going to please everybody. I had the sort of idea originally that the best thing to do was to combine this with the video boxset and just to use all the stuff that hadn't been. All the stuff was different in a way, i.e. the 5.1 mixes of the early albums and bits and pieces like that. In the end we decided to do a live boxset. It's a whole can of worms, all the possible tracks that might be there for inclusion. Dreaming While You Sleep is a good point, to be honest. We probably should have done that. We did try and think of everything. Perhaps something slipped our mind slightly.
In terms of the Lamb stuff. Well, Genesis Live is only 45 minutes long, we thought we could fit more tracks on this. We didn't want to do the whole of the Lamb thing because we had done it on the Archives album, and a double album is a lot. We're trying to keep the number of CDs down in this package because we're trying to keep the price down. Which is why we didn't include the Rome stuff, Live Over Europe and things. So you then have to draw on what you put on and what you don't put on. We thought the most exciting thing that we found of all the stuff we were going through was this Rainbow tape, where some of the tracks have never been heard apart from bootlegs. Not mixed live, anyhow. So we thought it made an exciting addition, and then to do 5.1 of Genesis Live and Seconds Out, but not of the later albums because they exist in 5.1 with the video set that will come out later. I knew – I said to everybody, look, you won’t get good reviews for these because what's on them. They don't really satisfy anybody because they are not quite right. But no one really could think of a better way of doing it. I think the thing would have been to combine the two and we then could have had a pretty good package. Anyhow, what you've got here is still some good stuff, despite the things that may be missing or the things that could be better. And I think the versions of things like the Rainbow show are amazingly good. I was very surprised by it. The 5.1 version you've got, Watcher Of The Skies and The Musical Box of Genesis Live. And you've also got things like Moonlit Knight and Epping Forest, which sound really good. Firth Of Fifth, too, with Pete singing. These are things that I think are all really desirable to have. And they are as good as anything we've got, so I am very pleased with that. Rather than going for every last little bit of stuff that could have gone on that – there are always going to be things missed out. You're never going to please everybody.

GNC: Did you consider including Supper's Ready in Genesis Live?

Tony: Well, we did, but then we thought we got the version from the next show, so we thought we'd put that on because we already got another version with Seconds Out. Then you got a version on the Rainbow and a version that is a lot better than on the Genesis Live version, so you can listen to that as well. Yes, of course you put them all on, but it's a half an hour piece, then you've got an hour and a half of one song. I think you have to draw the line somewhere. So we thought we'd put on a really good version of Pete singing and a really good version of Phil singing, and that's it, really. I think that's probably the right decision. I don't regret not putting that version on, personally, on the Genesis Live album. Of the things that people have complained about that's what I would have done. I think it's the right decision.

GNC: It would have made Genesis Live more complete, though, because it was originally meant to be included.

Tony: That's all true, I can't deny that. We thought originally that's what we would do. But then we found this other tape which is so much better. We could have put it on instead of the Lamb tracks. But the things is you'd have two album there where thirty percent of the first album is the same as thirty percent of the next album. So on three albums you'd have the same track on it three times. It is a bit strange. It’s a decision you have to make. If things are really missing we can put them out on the website and then people can have it.

GNC: One last question on the live box. Who decided about the running order of the Lamb tracks?

Tony: I quite liked to hear them as individual songs rather than part of the album. We went through it and we chose the tracks with Peter. Everyone was involved in what tracks we chose. We went for the ones that we thought sounded good of that particular version and put them in an order that made them work as songs rather than as part of the concept. If you pull three or four songs from the album it's not going to be the concept – no point in pretending it is the concept – but we put them in an order that made them sound good as tracks. We are happy with the tracks we chose. We could have put out the whole CD again, but then that's two more CDs and if you did the 5.1 it's four more albums. What do you do? It just gets completely unmanageable. You'd get this sort of box set with 26 albums on it. It's not really worth that in many ways. We've done okay, I think. We got pretty much the songs up, I think, that most of the fans want in terms of the way we did the other three box sets. This one, okay, isn't quite so well-received. It is nevertheless a compilation of our live albums. In ten year's time when one tends to forget about what's new and what's old this will be the definitive box set of our live material.

GNC: Tony, thank you very much for the interview. I found it very interesting. We wish you all the best for the future and maybe see you – next tour?

Tony: Sure, why not ...



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