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Tony Banks of Genesis A Chord Too Far'

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Photo courtesy of Cherry Red Group Photo courtesy of Cherry Red Group

As far as their public was concerned, Tony Banks was the congenial, soft-spoken, 'quiet' member of Genesis, content to let Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford (and, previously, Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett) absorb most of the spotlight glare.

Within the band, it was a starkly different situation. From their early, blazingly theatrical progressive-rock epics to their latter days as MTV darlings, Banks was, more often than not, the primary creative instrumental engine of Genesis.

After the mid-70s departure of Gabriel and Hackett, Banks was the first of the remaining members of Genesis to pursue a solo career with 1979's 'A Curious Feeling.'

Over the course of nine albums, ranging from pop and rock to classical, film soundtracks and parallel band projects, Banks has produced some stunningly beautiful music. Regrettably, much of it has been overlooked, even by Genesis devotees.

'I've always felt that some of those albums, particularly the early rock albums, got away,' Banks told me in a recent phone interview from his base in London. 'Some of it deserved a slightly bigger audience than it got. But I suppose most people feel that way about their own music.'

Banks has partnered with Esoteric Recordings (part of the London-based Cherry Red Records group) to rescue and anthologize the cream of his solo work to date on 'A Chord Too Far' a four-disc box set presented in hardcover book-style with a richly designed 60-page book of notes and photos. Twenty-one selections have been freshly remixed by Banks and Genesis mixer Nick Davis.

Spanning 33 years, the first three discs of the new set showcase Banks' pop and rock-oriented material while the fourth disc concentrates on instrumentals, including recently recorded orchestral pieces, with which Banks is quite rightly pleased.

'I've done a couple of orchestral suites over here that were rather well-received,' Banks said modestly.

Last year, Banks wrote and performed a 15-minute orchestral piece called 'Arpegg' for the 70th edition of Britain's venerable Cheltenham Music Festival.

'It was quite an honor to be asked to do that because it's something completely different for me, but it was very exciting. I hope to record it very soon. I was asked basically on the back of the fact that I had previously done these orchestral albums which were 'Seven: A Suite for Orchestra' (2004) and 'Six Pieces for Orchestra' (2012). I'm going to do another one which will include this ('Arpegg') and will be out next year.'

With the grand 'summing up' of his solo material on 'A Chord Too Far,' Banks is hopeful that it will be heard by fans that may have missed it the first time around.

'It's been a particularly nostalgic experience for me,' Banks says of putting together the new box set. 'I still think some of the stuff sounds good so that's one reason why I wanted to put it out. I thought that the people who've liked Genesis through the years and there's no more of that to come, I suppose - might find some things here that they liked.'

In an interview conducted earlier this year, former Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford told me that there were no plans for a band reunion, but followed that with the words 'never say never.' Banks echoed that sentiment during our conversation.

'As I'm sure Mike said to you before, we never say never,' Banks chimes in when asked the same question. 'You just don't know, really. We're all friends and still meet each other. We all admire each other's music. I see Mike a lot, actually. Nothing is impossible but I don't think it's likely. Phil is perhaps not as physically capable of doing a big tour as he was in the earlier days. That's one reason for not doing it, but I also think we've kind of done it.'

Last week, Phil Collins made the surprise announcement that he now considers himself 'unretired' after years of being sidelined with medical and personal issues. In an interview with 'Rolling Stone,' Collins spoke of a new solo album and tour but issued an uncommitted 'let's wait and see' response to the inevitable Genesis reunion question.

Whether or not Genesis ever again steps foot on a stage or enters a studio, Banks seems content either way, a feeling probably in no small part fueled by the love received for his recent work, including 'A Chord Too Far.'

'I love music. These orchestral pieces have given me a new lease on life, and I've got an audience for that. I'm incredibly lucky that I've been able to do music all my life something I really love. And also to make a career of it and to be rewarded very handsomely for it - which is nothing to complain about. Yes, it's been a great life.'

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor/Ellsworth)

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