“Neoclassical metal wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t heard Selling England By The Pound”: Genesis’ Tony Banks is Yngwie Malmsteen’s prog hero

Yngwie Malmsteen and Tony Banks
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yngwie Malmsteen, who’s credited with developing the neoclassical heavy metal genre, told Prog in 2019 that his musical career would have taken a different path if he hadn’t discovered Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks.

“I grew up in a musical family. Everyone was classically-trained opera singers or violinists and I was the youngest. For my fifth birthday, I got a guitar and, as I was growing up, my parents sent me for flute, trumpet and piano lessons.

When I was seven, I saw Hendrix on TV smashing up his guitar and I said, ‘I’m gonna start playing guitar!’ I was playing a lot of blues-orientated stuff; but a few years later I heard Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound – and that changed everything. 

There’s the pedal chords, inverted chords, diminished chords, suspended chords… There’s all this stuff harmonically going on and I was totally blown away by it. It was like opening a door and seeing a vast universe that I’d never seen before.

Genesis weren’t big in Sweden then, so I discovered their music through my cousin. He also had Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Tarkus and Pictures At An Exhibition, which I loved as well. Keith Emerson’s playing was insane – but Tony Banks is my prog hero.

John Wetton’s vocals are one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard

Don’t be surprised by that, because one of my biggest influences isn’t guitar: it’s classical violin. Listening to Paganini, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi, it was the violin sound I was after. 

Tony Banks’ chord progressions and melodies are definitely classical keyboard efforts; those weren’t done on the flute or the 12-string guitar, it was him. If you listen carefully to all those early Genesis records, the inversions and suspensions are very Bach.

A long time after that, when I was already accomplished, I got to hear Kansas – my bass player in the late 70s had Journey From Mariabronn and I thought it was amazing. It really got me. I went on to cover Carry On Wayward Son.

I really loved UK as well... In The Dead Of The Night – please! All the time signatures and the vocals, it drove me crazy! John Wetton’s vocals are one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.

But Genesis were the biggest influence on me. Neoclassical metal wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t heard Selling England By The Pound.”

Natasha Scharf
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.