A Current Account
From Beat Instrumental, April 1976
ANY album release brings a flurry of renewed interest in the band or artist involved, none more so than with a band who have recently undergone personnel or other changes.
So when the major focal point of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, left the band in the summer everybody’s expectations of the effect this would have on the rest of the band were aroused and came to a climax on the release of the new album, ‘A Trick Of The Tail’. Nobody need have worried though, because the new release is one of the finest of Genesis’ albums to date. The absence of Gabriel has made no noticeable difference to the overall sound of the band mainly because the bulk of the material has always been written by the other members.
Tony Banks, the keyboard man, has always provided a good deal of the material (he wrote most of the songs on the new album) and we spoke to him about it and how he sees his role within the band. Tony had a hand in writing most of the tracks on the album, two of them being solely his work. Had the bulk of the writing been done by him because the others had been working on solo projects or was it just that he usually wrote that much?
“Well, obviously Steve had used up a lot of his stuff on his own album, but in the past I’d say that the majority of the material has always been written by Mike, Pete and myself. The thing that used to annoy us was that people thought that Pete wrote all the songs, whereas really he just wrote about fifty per cent of the lyrics, except on ‘Lamb Lies Down’ for which he wrote almost all of them.”
Genesis’ music being for the most part a combination of intricate twelve-string guitar work and grandiose keyboard pyrotechnics, would Tony say that it was true that Mike wrote most of the guitar passages and that he (Tony) was responsible for the keyboard work?
“No, it’s never as simple as that. Certain passages on twelve string were in fact written by me. The very beginning of ‘Supper’s Ready’ is a good example of that. I think it would be fair to say that any Genesis song could have been written by any one of us or any combination of us.”
Listening to Tony’s playing it seems obvious that he has had classical training of some sort. Was this in fact the case?
“I had lessons between the ages of 8 and 16, and I suppose that training was useful in some ways. For example, I technically it has helped me a great deal in that I have quite a good knowledge of chords and scales and if we’re ever trying to find a bridge between two passages which are in different keys, I can usually come up with a chord or sequence of chords that glides one into the other without too much difficulty.
Actually I had varying rapports with my teachers – I had a period when I didn’t progress at all and at that time I started playing pop music. I found I was much better at playing things by ear, in fact I never found it all that easy to read music.”
Piano, then, was Tony’s first first instrument, but it was not long before he had begun to think about getting other keyboards, and when Genesis went pro in 1969 he decided to buy an organ.
“I didn’t really know the first thing about it. We’d managed to scrape together £700 to buy equipment and it was decided that half of that should go towards buying an organ. I went into a shop with the cash and came out with a Hammond L122, so considering the fact that I didn’t even know really what an organ should sound like, I think I came off quite well! I didn’t really have anything particularly done to it, although I did get a home-made Leslie together.
Whenever I get a new instrument I try to find out what its limitations are. I did put the organ through a fuzz box at times – in fact before we got a Mellotron, I used to do that to try and achieve a shimmering Mellotron effect. At the moment my equipment varies between stage and studio use, though basically it consists of a Hammond ‘T’ Organ, an RMI electric piano, a Mellotron and an ARP Pro-Soloist synthesizer.
Of all those I think my favourite instrument is the RMI, because it is really adoptable. You can get such a variety of sounds on it. For example, it can sound like an organ at times, in fact I find I’m using the Hammond less and less.”
What about the Mellotron? What does Tony think of this controversial instrument?
“Well, I find them a fight I must admit. They need to be looked after so much that it becomes a bit of a drag, in fact the first one that we had, one that we acquired from King Crimson, had to be rebuilt after every gig.
“There are certain things I really don’t like about the Mellotron – the cello tape is very uneven in terms of tone quality, some notes are raspy and some are mellow so the possibility of playing runs is out. Another thing that drives me mad is the tuning problem. Sometimes if you play two-handed chords you can have real trouble. At times the different tones can be really out of tune with one another. The brass and voices for example can be as much as half a semi-tone out. I do like to use the choral effect, I think that’s one of the most effective things on the Mellotron.”
What about synthesizers? Why did Tony particularly prefer ARPs?
“I don’t really know. I just saw the ARP, found out that it wasn’t too expensive and bought it. I think it works very satisfactorily. I’ve never bothered with anything else – I’ve never used Moogs for example. For studio work I’ve just bought an Arp 2600, but I don’t think I’ll use that on stage. I got the synthesizer just before we did ‘Selling England By The Pound’ – it has a lot of variations in tone considering how small it is. It also has a touch sensivity, which makes it very versatile.
“I really hate all the hardware one has to have to get a decent range of sounds with keyboards. I feel that one decent polyphonic synthesizer would do it all but of course such a thing would be very expensive if in fact it exists at all. Actually I think that my main instrument in the studio is Grand Piano and I may beusing it on stage when we go on tour again. When we go into rehearsals I shall see how practical it is.
“As far as amplification goes, I go straight into the P.A. For monitoring I have a Chilton Mixer which has had a few things done to it so that it’s right for me, and I use Quad amps; they’re great for stage work because they have a lot of top. They really cut through the band sound. Although we’re not really a very loud band I have always found it quite difficult to hear the others on stage and I find that my monitoring set-up works very well.”
The question of influences is always a difficult one. Most musicians find it almost impossible to pin down those musicians or bands that have had some impact on their own particular style. Tony says that he is not particularly influenced by any keyboard players these days, but that those players who have made their mark on him have been quite varied in style.
“The first person who made me aware of the organ in a rock context was Alan Price with The Animals on ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. That was one of my favourite records for a long time. Another musician who I admired was Matthew Fisher, who used to be organist with Procol Harum. He was the first person I came across who used classical influences strongly in his playing. Then I went to see the Nice a number of times. I thought they were really exciting, they showed me how exhilerating live music could be.
Among the classical composers I like Rachmaninov and Ravel, the former because he managed to create such fire and excitement in his compositions – I think I’ve found his chord sequences quite influential. Ravel is more lyrical, more impressionistic.
Tony also plays twelve-string guitar on stage. How much is this a minor second string to his bow?
“Very much so. I’ve never really bothered much with the guitar. What I do like about it is its portability. You can take it around with anywhere you like – not like a keyboard instrument which has to stay in the one place all the time. I must say that I sometimes find it easier to write on the guitar, I think it comes slightly more naturally to write on an instrument that you’re not very proficient on, because you tend to do things that guitarists would not dream of doing. You break all the rules.”
Tony went on to say how difficult they’d found it getting a new singer to replace Gabriel. The accusation that Phil Collins has imitated Gabriel doesn’t stand up, because their voices have always been similar. What is strange is the number of people who came to audition for the lead vocalist role in the band, who sounded exactly like Peter Gabriel.
“I think it must simply be that the music determines the way people sing to it. So now we’ve put off getting another vocalist – but there’s no way that Phil can sing and play drums so we’ll have to get someone along to help out in the percussion department. There again, that’s something we’ll have to sort out in rehearsal.”
Thanks to Michael Christensen for providing this article for The Path