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Tony BANKS (b. 1950)
Seven: A Suite for Orchestra: Spring Tide; Black Down; The Gateway; The Ram; Earthlight; Neap Tide; The Spirit of Gravity
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mike Dixon
Recorded at Air Studios (Lyndhurst) Ltd. July 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557466 [57:39]

To those whose musical horizons traverse the world of both classical and rock music the name of Tony Banks will need no introduction. As keyboard player and founder member of the rock group Genesis, Banks was one of the driving forces of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s alongside such bands as Yes whose keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, gained a similar musical reputation albeit being somewhat dissimilar in terms of personality. Following the departure of Peter Gabriel from Genesis in the mid-seventies Phil Collins joined as drummer and lead vocalist in 1975. It was in the subsequent years as a three piece (with Mike Rutherford on guitars, now of Mike and the Mechanics) that the band enjoyed their most sustained period of commercial success with a string of top-selling albums and world-wide tours playing to huge audiences.

Banks was responsible for much of the bandís song writing, particularly in the early years and played a significant part in taking rock music into a period of greater musical complexity and sophistication. Indeed, the lengthy pieces that were an integral part of Genesis in the first ten years or so of their existence showed a feeling for structure and thematic organisation that Banks has clearly retained and put to effective use in this new project.

Well before Genesis went their separate ways in the late nineties Banksí career had already started to diversify, with several solo albums and a number of forays into the world of film music. On this level it is perhaps not surprising that a work of this nature should follow. As if to prove the point, Banks was able to incorporate one piece, written for a film twenty years ago but never utilised, as the movement entitled The Gateway.

The opening episode, Spring Tide, commences with a suitably fluid melody before the music quickly broadens into an expansive theme that invites the first of several possible comparisons with the music of John Barry. Interestingly, Banks cites Vaughan Williams and Sibelius as two possible influences on him in writing Seven (see accompanying interview). At around 7:40, as the music leads back into the reprise of the main theme, the Vaughan Williams influence is at its most audible. It was the second movement, Black Down, that gave Banks the inspiration to get the complete project underway. It is an elegy for strings originally written for synthesisers that the composer felt would work well in orchestral terms. This is the most deeply felt of the seven movements and is affecting in its direct nature painting. It is in effect a miniature tone poem taking its lead from those of Sibelius. The Gateway gives no clues that its origins lay twenty years before the rest of the suite. It introduces a soaring theme that subsequently returns in several ecstatic reincarnations before the movement ends in calm serenity. The Ram was the last of the pieces to be written and was, I suspect, a conscious attempt to counter-balance the lyrical nature of a good number of the other pieces. Its initial driving dynamism certainly achieves that before the mood changes part way through to a gentler episode that gradually builds to a climax of joyous, brass-dominated affirmation. The decision to place this piece at the centre of the suite certainly proves to be an effective one. Earthlight returns to a more restrained mood and what Banks describes as a simple theme and variations, with the actual theme being placed second in the running order. There are some beautiful moments here (listen to the entry of the flutes at 1:00). Thatís also true of the penultimate piece Neap Tide, before the more substantial The Spirit of Gravity brings the suite to a close. Alongside The Gateway, Neap Tide is the only other piece that was written earlier, Banks originally recording a version of it on his solo album Strictly Inc. In conclusion The Spirit of Gravity opens and closes with the same thematic material, the final bars leaving a wistful if enigmatic impression. Between these two landmarks the music proceeds through a range of moods and melodic ideas, ultimately marked by the broad theme heard at 6:30. This builds to a final apotheosis and invites the most overt comparison with John Barry. It is nonetheless a moving moment and makes a convincing impression.

Banks employed the orchestration skills of Simon Hale in realising his ideas and although there was no doubt a degree of collaboration involved in the outcome, the result is admirably cogent and natural, aided by some atmospheric orchestral sound.

It will be interesting to monitor how well this disc sells for Naxos. The now maturing "prog-rockers" of the 1970s may well have mellowed in their musical tastes and there will certainly be an audience of Genesis fans whose attention will be drawn by curiosity if nothing else. The success of the disc amongst classical enthusiasts may well depend upon how well it is taken up by Classic FM*. Its conservative yet appealing melodic content should ensure that it has a place in the collections of many with a leaning towards the lighter side of the classical repertoire and film music. Indeed, the quality of the melodic invention should not be taken lightly. There is music here that has the ability to make a lingering impression.

Christopher Thomas

Interview with Tony Banks

*Classic FM is a commercial classical radio station in the UK

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