In the words of prog- loving broadcaster Danny Baker, Peter Banks was “the architect of progressive music”. If that’s moot, it’s undisputed that Banks was a prime mover for early Yes and one of prog’s pioneering über- virtuoso guitarists. This reissue of Banks’ Empire years, which signalled his fruitful collaboration with vocalist (and then-wife) Sidney Foxx, is welcome for many reasons. Nearly five years on from Banks’ untimely death, it provides a chance to reappraise a point in his career marked by great creativity, if little commercial success. It also gives a Banks newbie the chance to set his mid-to-late 70s oeuvre in a wide lens. Most intriguingly, in its extensive and excellent liner notes, it offers the Banks completist a vision of the Empire story shaped through the eyes of key personnel. Some of the smartest insights come from Sidney Foxx, who writes appreciatively about Banks’ search for perfection and the challenges of being female in prog rock.
One note of caution, however. This triple CD requires a little orientation. The liner notes present Empire’s work chronologically. The CDs however arrange the music on the principle of ‘Best Of’, ‘The Rest’ and (the outtakes) ‘Mars Recordings’. It is mildly discombobulating. That aside, it’s a splendid tribute and a remaster has been applied across the set. It’s particularly welcome on the Empire 1 offerings which, to this writer’s ears, suffered from a muddy production. Certainly, these recordings have been made available before, but it’s valuable to have them in one place. The Mars Recordings – named after LA’s Mars Studios – are fascinating. Simultaneously rough and sophisticated – the take on the Yes version of West Side Story’s Something’s Coming is joyous – these recordings reveal Banks looking both back and forth for inspiration. They signal what Empire might have become if only they’d found the support.