Esoteric Recordings [Release date 26.02.16] CD/DVD (5.1 mix)
It is a pity that Tony Banks came across as somewhat bad tempered and grumpy in the most recent Genesis TV documentary. Has he got a chip on the proverbial shoulder? Well, the Esoteric reissue campaign reveals the Genesis keys player, newly-crowned ‘Prog God’, and apparent grumpy f—-r in all his glory. With Mike Rutherford, Banks was the last of the ‘Famous Five’ to embrace the solo album bandwagon, starting in 1979 with ‘A Curious Feeling’.
In truth, in a solo capacity Banks never achieved anywhere near the success or durability of his fellow colleagues, be it Gabriel, Hackett or even Rutherford who showed particular commercial prowess with Mike & The Mechanics heading into the 1990s.
To Banks’ credit he doesn’t rest totally on his Genesis laurels and his first two solo albums are products of the time in which they were created. As such, they haven’t worn quite as well as they might have done, given that the late-seventies/early eighties was a golden era for keyboard excess and synthesiser noodling.
Esoteric’s opening salvo is the 4-CD A Chord Too Far which includes tracks from all his solo albums. Like the Anthony Phillips compilation before it, a nice package and possibly all the curious listener will ever need. One disc features several unreleased demos whilst the heavy sprinkling of film and (later) classical work shows Banks to be a flexible if somewhat serious musician. [Release date 31.07.15 ****]
The debut solo album A Curious Feeling was originally recorded in Genesis down-time when Phil Collins was going through a personal hiatus. Released at a time when Prog Gods were ridiculed, with the onset of punk and new wave, it took a brave man to release a concept album in 1979.
This new stereo mix by sometime collaborator Nick Davis is expanded with a bonus 5.1 disc and reveals detail never obtained on the original release which Banks always felt was inferior to the Genesis audio of the time.
The album which featured Banks as multi-instrumentalist also included then Genesis drummer Chester Thompson and the relatively unknown vocalist Kim Beacon. Stylistically it is closer to Genesis than its successor, whilst fans of Alan Parsons Project may also find here something of interest. ****
1983′s The Fugitive – now presented in an attractive digi-book and with the ubiquitous 5.1 bonus – was another product of Genesis stasis in the early eighties. This time, Banks turned his hand to vocals. You do get the impression that he’s not the most comfortable frontman and is happiest tweaking the musical textures for his Genesis colleagues.
‘The Fugitive’ is a more commercial offering than its predecessor and Banks used a range of musicians including session stalwarts Daryl Stuermer and Mo Foster. It does sound like a more complete offering and produced several memorable tunes including ‘This Is Love’, ‘And The Wheels Keep Turning’ whilst ‘Man Of Spells’ could be Ian Hunter c.1974.
Throughout there is a strong eighties vibe, of course, and at times it reminds me of a less poppy Pet Shop Boys or, on a more “esoteric” level, a band like The Europeans which featured a nascent Steve Hogarth. ***1/2
The rest of the eighties was taken up with Genesis and some film forays. It wasn’t until 1989 that Banks would release another “rock” album in his own right, although this time in a more band-oriented format, ‘Bankstatement’.
As ever with the Esoteric label, these releases are definitive editions complete with Banks’ own narrative and should be sought out if you need to plug a gap in your wider Genesis collection.
Review by David Randall
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