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 band’s 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 Banks’ 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). That’s 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.
with Tony Banks
FM is a commercial classical radio station
in the UK