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It would be an interesting thing to work out in a survey how many people would answer „Tony Banks“ if they were asked “Which musician do you spontaneously associate with Genesis?” Results would probably be in the low one-digit range. It is a shame, really, that Tony’s role in Genesis is appreciated only by fans and the odd critic, when it was in fact he who was the dominant influence on the music of Genesis throughout the history of the band and unimpressed by any change of lineup. His unobtrusive way, however, kept him in the shadow of his fellow band members, the more so since Genesis always had a charismatic front man for the public, be he Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins or Ray Wilson. That is why Tony Banks was so successful as a part of Genesis but never quite made the solo breakthrough.

Anthony George Banks was born on March 27, 1950 at 7.30 in the morning in East Hoathly, a small town in southern England. He is the youngest child to Nora and John Banks, with elder siblings Mary, Margaret, Pauline and John. When Tony began to go to school he was also supposed to learn how to play the violin. It soon turned out, though, that his talent lay with the piano and therefore his musical education soon focused on this instrument. His mother was his first musical influence, and because the Banks’ owned a piano he had plenty of opportunity to practise. In September 1963, Tony left Boarzell Preparatory Primary School in Hurst Green to Charterhouse boarding shool in Godalming, the place that would see the founding of Genesis and Tony’s future. Like many fellow pupils, Tony was not too happy with the supposedly privileged education and life at a boarding school. Aged sixteen he focused his studies on mathematics, physics and chemistry. He also took up learning classical piano. His main musical interests were in classical music, e.g. Sergey Rachmaninov, and in contemporary pop acts like The Beatles. He found a like-minded friend in Peter Gabriel who had come to Charterhouse at the same time. They would spend much of their time together, and by 1966 they had turned into a songwriters’ cooperative which, when they were joined by fellow student Chris Stewart, was christened The Garden Wall. Fans will be aware of the legendary joint performance of The Garden Wall and Anon (with musicians Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford) at the end of term school festival in summer 1966. Soon after both bands joined forces and became Genesis. In late 1967 Tony left Charterhouse to begin his studies at Sussex University. Before that began, he wanted to “just live” for a year, though. So Peter Gabriel, another friend by the name of David Thomas and Tony moved into a small flat in London. He never got around to taking up his studies, though, because Tony and his band colleagues decided to go into the music business and carry on with Genesis.
LeisteDevelopments in Genesis naturally also influenced Tony’s life, too. The piano-playing boy from Charterhouse matured into a fantastic keyboard player in the 70s. His sound became the band’s trademark for that era. Meanwhile he had also learned how to play the guitar. This became very important for a short time after Anthony Phillips had left the band, but also for the live versions of various songs. The only time he sang lead vocals were two verses of the non-album song Shepherd; otherwise he kept to background vocal duty. As a composer and writer of lyrics he left his mark all over the band’s history. Seemingly unimpressed by fashion and zeitgeist, Tony hardly changed, while Peter Gabriel dressed up in outrageous costumes with a partially shaved head, Phil Collins experimented with beards and hair-do(n’ts) and Steve Hackett had the guts to wear a blouson patterned with strawberries. Tony went through the loud 70’s almost unchanged. In concerts he was always an unspectacular performer. His place was, since time immemorial, on the right-hand side of the stage (from the audience’s p.o.v.). That’s where he would sit, totally focused on the music. Everytime a member of Genesis quit, Tony moved a bit more into the limelight. It would also become apparent just how big his share in the music was.

When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, Tony toyed with the idea of recording a solo album. Since doubts about the future of Genesis soon dissolved, the ideas ended up on the band’s first post-Gabriel album A Trick Of The Tail.

In 1979, however, Tony did release his first solo record A Curious Feeling. The album reached a respectable position 21 in the British charts. It resembled Genesis’ style of the late 70’s. Tony recorded all parts of this album himself, drumming, percussion (both: Chester Thompson) and vocals (Kim Beacon) excepted. The lyrics were based on the science fiction story Flowers For Algernon. Tony changed some of the lyrics, though, because there was a musical in London that was based on the story as well, so that there was no connection anymore. Just a year before he had written the score for the movie The Shout with Mike Rutherford. It was never released as an album, but Tony used the central theme of the composition for From The Undertow on A Curious Feeling. Tony was quite disappointed with the success of the album because he felt that A Curious Feeling was, “as far as composing is concerned, superior to the three preceding Genesis records.”

In the 80s, Genesis commercial success boomed. Intervals between album released grew and there was time for solo projects. Mike Rutherford and particularly Phil Collins embarked on successful secondary careers, and Tony took further steps as a solo artist.

For his second solo album The Fugitive (1983) he tried his hand at singing. There were two reasons for this. On the one hand he did not want to have Kim Beacon sing again because A Curious Feeling had not sold so well. On the other hand he wanted to know what it was like to be the singer. Though he had kept the melodies and the lyrics intentionally simple so that he could cope with them, he still found the job hard. The result therefore at least commands respect.

1983 saw the release of another Banks album, namely the soundtrack for The Wicked Lady. Tony recorded the first half completely on his own. It consists of variations on the theme and was arranged much like The Fugitive. The B side of the record contained orchestral arrangements of the soundtrack and was recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra London. On CD, The Wicked Lady remained unreleased until 2013 (see below).

In spring 1984 Tony received the first request to write a film score from Hollywood. He was to write the music for 2010 – The Year We Made Contact, the sequel to 2001 – Space Odyssey. When the initial euphoria had worn off, this project turned out to be a bad idea. Tony had worked on the score for almost six months, writing two hours’ worth of music, but whatever he sent to Hollywood was rejected and in the end Tony’s music was not used for the film. This was quite a blow to his self-esteem, particularly since he had declined other offers for film scores to be able to do 2010.

At least he could recycle some of his “2010” recordings for the score for Lorca And The Outlaws. That film had such a low budget that Tony agreed to work for free. Two of these songs have vocals: Tony asked Jim Diamond to sing on You Call This Victory, while Toyah Wilcox did the lead vocals on Lion of Symmetry. There was never a dedicated soundtrack album for this film because of it did not do very well at the box office.

In 1986 Tony wrote music for the film Quicksilver. It featured, among others, a song called Shortcut To Nowhere. Tony co-wrote this number with Marillion frontman Fish, who also sang on it.

That same year saw the release of Tony’s instrumentals and songs from Lorca And The Outlaws and Quicksilver on the Soundtracks album.

The title of Tony’s next album was a pun. Bankstatement was released in 1989 as Tony’s attempt to do what Mike Rutherford had done with Mike + The Mechanics. Though he took a similar approach, i.e. having two different singers and catchy songs, the project tanked with the album. The singers had been Alistair Gordon, Janey Klimek and for the first time since 1983, Tony himself.

It was for these reasons that the ensuing solo album Still (1991) was released as a Tony Banks album again. Five different singers and a mixture of pop, soft prop and Tony’s own style made this record neither a band nor a solo effort. It did not fit any category of marketing description and therefore sank into commercial oblivion. Singers on this album were Andy Taylor and Nik Kershaw as well as Jayney Klimek, Fish and (on one song) Tony himself.

1995 saw the second attempt at selling Tony’s solo music under cover of a band name. Strictly Inc. was the title of the CD Tony recorded with Wang Chung vocalist Jack Hues. The music consisted of modern sounds, catchy melodies and traditional elements of Banks’ music. The album also featured one Banks’ best solo numbers ever, a 17-minute opus called An Island In The Darkness. Strictly Inc. was a commcercial failure.

There were a number of familiar names from the Genesis camp who also helped with the albums. Daryl Stuermer, for example, is the guitarist on most Banks records, and Nick Davis as well as David Hentschel would co-produce with Tony.

Nevertheless, it is a peculiar thing that an artist with such a tremendous influence on the music of Genesis who landed lots and lots of top 10 hits with the band has met hardly any commercial success. One reason may be that Tony does not enjoy being in the centre of the attention. He were certainly better-known had he gone on solo tours to promote his albums. Unfortunately, he has not played a single solo concert to this day.

Tony was and is no artist to expose himself for the pleasure of the yellow press. He is not a star – whatever that may mean. His private life seems wholly unspectacular. He has been married to his wife Margaret since 1972, has two children Ben and Emily, and lives in a rural area near Guildford, south of London. That is about all there is to say about Tony Banks the private person. Apparently he has no desire to spend his not quite negligible wealth in luxury cars or designer fashion. It rather seems that he is happy with his life. After all, he has enjoyed a terrific career as a rock musician in Genesis, which has not left him short of money, and he can still write, record and release all the music he could not or would not do with Genesis.

The end of the 90’s must have been somewhat disheartening, bringing, as they did, the total desaster of Strictly Inc., the end of the Genesis era of Banks/Collins/Rutherford(/Thompson/Stuermer) and the new beginning with Ray Wilson & Co. which received mixed reviews by the press and the fans. At the end of Ray’s brief tenure with Genesis things quietened down around Tony. In 2004 he made one of his dreams come true: He released an orchestral work called Seven on which he had worked for several years. In the interviews he gave in that time he ruled out neither a Genesis reunion nor the possibility that he would do something in the rock/pop business again. He also stated that there were no plans. Genesis, the giant of rock music, was resting when the news hit like a bombshell in 2006 that this rock giant would go on tour again and was suddenly hip again. Tony Smith, Genesis' manager, described Genesis as "Tony's solo project" - and Genesis were immensely successful in 2007, and Tony Banks with them. In fact, without him, this giant would not have lasted 40 years. It is not yet clear if and how Genesis will continue, but the Turn It On Again tour must have been an incentive for Tony Banks.

After the tour, Tony started to work on his next classic album, which would eventually become SIX. Not surprisingly, the title indicates the number of classical pieces on the album. SIX was released in 2012 and Tony expressed some interest in rereleasing his back-catalogue in an interview us in the same year. In 2013, The Wicked Lady is being released on CD for the first time on his own label "Fugitive Inc", which he later described as an experiment.

In 2014, Genesis got together again to promote their BBC documentary Together And Apart (later released as Sum Of The Parts) and the carreer spanning set R-Kive, which also included solo material. And although the discussions about a possible Genesis reunion never stopped, Tony always had a realistic view on that subject.

He eventually decided to release a career spanning boxset on Esoteric Records in 2015: A Chord Too Far. They also intended to rerelease further albums, including a 5.1 mix for each album. Also in 2015, Tony Banks was named Prog God in the frame of the Progressive Music Awards Ceremony. Laudatory speech came from Peter Gabriel, who received the ward in the previous year. A video of that ceremony is available on YouTube.

Expanded versions of A Curious Feeling and The Fugitive were released in early 2016, but fans are still waiting for the other albums as the project was stopped indefinitely.

In 2017, Tony teamed up with Nick Ingman for his third classical album, this time called FIVE, that came out in 2018. He still refuses to record another rock or pop album and he doesn't want to be part of any supergroup (see our interview here). He is also not in favor of rereleasing and repackaging Genesis stuff all the time. So in many ways, he remained the Toyn Banks he was many years ago.

Let us hope that Tony finds the strength to disregard critics and sales numbers so that we can continue to enjoy fresh artistic output in the shape of records and / or concerts.

Author – Helmut Janisch (2000)
Updated by Christian Gerhardts (March 2019)
Translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Tony Banks