Tony Banks: Genesis never really changed, we just got better at the short stuff

Tony Banks
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Classic Rock 300 logo

This interview was conducted to mark the 300th issue of Classic Rock magazine, which launched in 1998. The anniversary issue is available to purchase online, and also features interviews with Gene Simmons, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Geddy Lee, Justin Hawkins, Rick Nielsen, Fish, Slash and many more.

Along with Guns N’ Roses and the Manic Street Preachers, Genesis were on the cover of the first issue of Classic Rock

Twenty-four years and 300 issues later, we caught up with Genesis man Tony Banks as the band neared the end of the their swan song The Last Domino? Tour.

Genesis were on the cover of Classic Rock’s first issue. In general, how has your relationship been with the music press? 

It’s been alright. The general press has never been very enthusiastic about Genesis, and even less enthusiastic about my solo stuff. That’s what’s most surprising about us getting good reviews at the moment for our live shows. It’s a novel experience. I’m not quite sure why, maybe they feel sorry for us because we’re so old. 

I’ve said it many times: Genesis has never been a fashionable band, never been the band of the moment, and tend to get slightly overlooked sometimes, I think. But we’ve had a fantastic career. The press has been up and down, but I can take that.

How has this final tour been for you? 

It’s been great. We’ve had a fantastic response, the audiences have been very enthusiastic. Obviously Phil is not able to do what he used to do, but he still puts on a good show. People like the fact that we’ve made that effort. And this is going to be the last time, so I think a lot of people are coming for that reason. The group’s playing well, Nic [Collins, Phil’s son] is a fantastic drummer. It’s a nice way to round it all off. 

And how do you personally feel about rounding it all off? 

I don’t know, really. The final show will probably be quite a sad occasion. When I take my fingers off for the last time when we finish Carpet Crawlers, that’ll be a strange moment for me. It’s been a fantastic thrill to be out there in front of all these people. But live’s not the reason I’m in this business. I just wanted to write music, and ended up playing my own stuff because no one else would, I suppose. I would have quite liked being a Burt Bacharach-type figure, more in the background.

What changed your mind? 

The first band I saw live was The Nice, at the Marquee in 1968, with Keith Emerson. Peter [Gabriel] and I were there, and I did think then that it could be really exciting to play live. I met Keith at the Prog Awards [in 2012]. Rick Wakeman was getting the Prog God Award, and when I said goodbye to Keith I told him: “You’ll always be Prog God to me!” After The Beatles and all that stuff, he was one of the reasons I ended up in a band. 

Do Genesis still travel together? Are you all on the same bus/plane? 

Yes, very much. Being with everybody is one of the nice things about being on the road. I know some bands have struggled with each other, but we’ve never really had that. Obviously there’s been moments over the years, but nothing in particular. Mike [Rutherford], Phil and I know each other so well now. I don’t know if I could’ve been in a band where we had trouble. 

Do you still listen to rock music for pleasure? 

If I do it tends to be the sixties stuff. Gary Brooker dying recently made me revisit things like [Procol Harum’s 1969 album] A Salty Dog and In Held ’Twas In I [from Shine On Brightly, 1968], which were very influential on early Genesis. That was the first time that we heard stereo, those and albums by people like Family and Fairport Convention. 

I love what [organist] Alan Price did with The Animals, and I’ve always liked [The Zombies’] Rod Argent. But to be honest I’m more a fan of the guitar than the keyboard. Someone like Hendrix, you couldn’t believe what he could do with the instrument. And Jeff Beck is just so musical, which is a wonderful thing. 

Genesis’s set includes hit singles from the eighties, and songs from the Gabriel years. Do these feel like two distinct eras to you? 

I don’t feel that. There is a hard-core who feel the days with Peter are the glory days, but I never really saw a big change in Genesis. It was a slow thing. We got better at the short stuff. Once we did [first UK Top 10 single, in ’78] Follow You Follow Me, the singles became something we were able to do, even quite complex songs like Turn It On Again and Mama

In many ways it’s more difficult to write a good simple song. And some people are very good at it – The Beatles, the Bee Gees, Abba. I love a well-done single, even nowadays when I hear something like Let It Go from [Disney blockbuster] Frozen – that’s a really good pop song! There’s a real art to that.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.