The leap from classic rock to classical music is not exactly a big stretch for Tony Banks.
The Genesis keyboardist has just released his third classical album, 5, featuring (as the title suggests) five orchestral works recorded with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir in Prague and London. It includes “Prelude To a Million Years,” which was commissioned for the 70th Cheltenham Music Festival during 2014, and the set offers another look at Banks’ immersion into the classical world since Genesis became dormant again after a 2007 world tour.
“From the writing point of view, the instrumental aspect of it, it’s not really that different” from composing pop and rock music, Banks tells Billboard. “I set about it the same way; I play around, see if I get interesting stuff and then develop ideas. I think the main difference comes when you start to think about how you’re putting together and recording it. The great thing about doing these orchestral suites is I feel much more freedom in a sense of where I can go. I don’t feel the need to repeat things the same way you do with (rock songs). I just let myself go a little bit.”
Banks — who’s been releasing solo albums since 1979 and entered the world of film scoring a year earlier for The Shout — adds that his goal with most of the pieces is “to build almost three-dimensional images with sound and music.” He doesn’t try to incorporate references to Genesis in his classical work, but one can hear a reference to “The Carpet Crawlers” from 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in “Reveille” from the new collection. “I don’t particularly hear it,” Banks notes, “but I am a certain kind of writer and you will get echoes, I think, throughout what I write. I have no intentional references to anything I’ve done, Genesis or solo, in all this, but there are only so many notes and I’m the same writer so you will get some similarities I suppose.”
Banks is hoping that some of the 5 pieces will be performed in concert, mostly by orchestras who take them on rather than playing them himself. “It’s a little bit of an ego trip, I can’t deny that, but I feel that doing live performances may be taking it a little bit too far,” he says. But Banks would be open to appearing with orchestras that would want to program a night of his music or include pieces in their programming.
Genesis, meanwhile, is celebrating the 50th anniversary this year of its first single, “The Silent Sun,” which Banks calls occasion for “some great commemoration” — like, perhaps, a reunion? Banks doesn’t rule that out, although he says Phil Collins’ current physical limitations, despite his recent return to live performance, present a challenge for the band.
“Phil is not really capable of drumming anymore,” notes Banks, who saw Collins perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London last year. “He’s singing well but he can’t really walk very far and he certainly can’t drum, so he’s a bit more limited in what he can do. Obviously you could have someone else drumming and we could do a show, but it would have to be a very, very different kind of approach if we were to do anything again — and, then, would that really be Genesis? You’ve got to make certain you can put on a show that is good enough to be a Genesis show.”
Because of that, Banks reasons, “Whether anything Genesis-wise will happen again I doubt, but it’s never impossible.” The anniversary, however, is gratifying to the keyboardist, who co-founded the group with classmates at the Charterhouse School in England. “We were very young and sort of naive at that point, and it feels like an awful long time ago,” Banks says. “We changed so much and adapted and so many things happened to us. It makes you feel very old, I have to say. But then you think about from ‘Silent Sun’ to A Trick Of The Tail, that was only eight years. And when you talk about Invisible Touch or something, which is about 30 years ago now and only feels like 10 years ago. Your life sort of gets compressed in certain areas — but in a good way, I think. There’s a lot of good work there.”