Seven: A Suite for Orchestra is the first classical solo album by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. It was released by Naxos Records on the 29th March 2004. The suite is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Mike Dixon. Banks plays piano on “Spring Tide”, “The Ram” and “The Spirit of Gravity.” It was his sixth studio album (and eighth album overall).
“The Spirit of Gravity”
NAXOS Press release (from the former Official Genesis website)
Tuesday, 2nd March 2004
NAXOS PRESS RELEASE
An Orchestral Revelation
Tony Banks, keyboard player from Genesis releases classical album on Naxos
On 29 March 2004 Naxos is delighted to announce the release of Seven (A Suite for Orchestra), written by Tony Banks, keyboard player for the progressive rock band Genesis.
Seven was recorded in the Summer of 2002 at Air Lyndhurst, a huge Victorian studio complex in Hampstead. It is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Mike Dixon (also known as the musical supervisor of the hugely successful hit musical ‘We will rock you’). Simon Hale worked alongside Tony Banks as musical arranger and Nick Davis (who worked on the last two Genesis albums) took on the task of engineer/producer par excellence.
The idea of writing classical music for an orchestra, not something Banks is associated with, had been in his mind since he wrote the music soundtrack for the film ‘The Wicked Lady’ back in the early eighties. Of the seven pieces in the suite, five were written specifically for the project, but the other two were earlier ideas.
The piece opens with ‘Spring Tide’, one of three pieces to use the piano and the one in which it features most prominently. This is followed by the nostalgic ‘Black Down’, the piece which really started the Seven project. ‘The Gateway’ was written twenty years ago as a possible film theme that was never used. ‘The Ram’ follows next and is a rhythmic upbeat piece which is followed by the theme and variations piece ‘Earthlight’. ‘Neap Tide’ is the other older piece, a version of which was originally recorded for the album Strictly Inc. Finally the Suite closes with ‘The Spirit of Gravity’, which travels through different musical ideas before ended up where it began.
From a recent interview on his musical mentors, Banks confessed that his influences on the early music of Genesis – Ravel and Rachmaninov – are not so evident in Seven. It is the great English composers of the first part of the twentieth century: Elgar, and more particularly Vaughan Williams who were the influences for his writing. This can be seen most clearly in the second piece on the disc ‘Black Down’, a piece that closely reflects the elegiac pastoral mood that characterized much of the English music of this time. It develops slowly over a deceptively simple theme, stated and re-stated, gently twisting and turning the melody until the piece resolves and the parts fall into place.
Banks greatly enjoyed working with the LPO and has made it clear that he is not a fan of computerised music for classical composition, preferring real instruments and real people to shape his works. This enthusiasm and genuine enjoyment of the music in Seven is evident in the playing from the LPO and we all are confident that the work will be an enormous success.
Wednesday, 10th July 2002 (taken from the former official Genesis website – Bill Macormick’s recollection of his day out)
Air Lyndhurst is a huge studio complex based in an 1850’s Victorian Church set in darkest Hampstead. The studios were opened ten years ago when Air moved from Oxford Street to the more refined climes of Lyndhurst Road. There are three live rooms in the building, the largest being an extraordinary vaulted hexagon with stained glass windows reaching to the high roof on five sides whilst the sixth features the gleaming pipes and dark wood of the old church’s pipe organ. For the past few days, this studio has been packed with all the clutter of the famed London Philharmonic Orchestra: varied instruments of brass and wood, cases, music stands, chairs, bags, jackets, newspapers and magazines. Today is no different. Musicians of varying ages, shapes and sizes chat, read, eat and snooze – waiting a call to action.
Behind angled glass in the wall opposite the organ lies a darkened room. It is filled with a 96 track Neve desk, various computers, patchbays, speaker cabinets of many shapes and sizes, coloured cables, half-drunk cups of tea and coffee, stacks of paper covered with spidery musical notation and a small group of muttering men. They are discussing the finer points of a piece with a working title of ‘Two Part Theme’. The talk is of hanging semi-quavers, variations in tempo, minor sevenths and second oboes.
The four men are: Mike Dixon, who will conduct the orchestra when ready to play (in his spare time Mike is the musical supervisor of the hugely successful hit musical ‘We Will Rock You’); Simon Hale who, in recent months, has spent endless hours scoring and arranging the music under discussion (around which he has fitted a career as one of the leading pop, rock and classical arrangers in the world with a credit list too long to mention. OK, he did some work with Mike and the Mechanics once upon a time); Nick Davis, engineer/producer par excellence (without whom very few Genesis albums would have ever seen the light of day); and the man whose music they are dissecting, the composer, Tony Banks who, in a previous incarnation, played keyboards for a moderately successful pop/prog combo with a few hits to their name.
Their problem is one beat in one bar. One point in a majestically slow section that unwinds across a Maherlesque chord sequence, punctuated by a deep booming bass drum and the delicious low shiver of a huge gong. The piece builds on a foundation of deep throated brass and French horns. Progressively it builds with high violins and wind arpeggios adding urgency as the music moves to a climax… then to unwind, uncoil, relax into a minor keyed melody played plaintively on a solo oboe. There is definite movement of the hairs on the back of one’s neck – but, it is not quite right, not ‘just so’. So the muttering continues.
This is the last day for recording. Time is of the essence. Orchestral players work to union rules (no shame in that) with breaks at expected intervals, a hour for lunch and NO overruns. Rock and roll it is not. It is now 11.30am. There are 90 minutes left before lunch and three more hours after. Everything must be done by then.
‘Two Part Theme’ has proved to be the most troublesome of the seven orchestral pieces Tony has written, and Simon arranged, for this project. It is rhythmically more complex and varied than the other pieces and requires tight unison playing from players scattered around the large room. It emerges that the glockenspiel player cannot hear the harpist and the brass section are struggling with the balance in the room. Headphones are swiftly supplied by Jane, the studio assistant, levels set by Rupert, the session’s engineer, and things fall into place. Then, after a quick piece of re-scoring by Simon, new versions of the key few bars are distributed to the orchestra. Mike Dixon calls the musicians to order and then announces “The light is on”. Time for a another take.
By the end there is nodding of heads, a few smiles but yet… Tony is still not quite satisfied. More conferring, detailed adjustments, on-the-hoof re-scoring. It is decided to break for lunch. The orchestra is tiring and everyone needs time to draw breath.
Over lunch I use the time to pester Tony with questions which he answers with unfailing good humour.
The seven pieces being recorded have been written, it emerges, over nearly twenty years. Five have been composed in the last twenty four months but one dates from 1994 and another from ten years earlier. Most of them were written and demo’d on string synths but some were written on piano and they reflect this in the different mood and structure of the pieces concerned. From these demos, Simon Hale has produced the final arrangements to be played by the LPO. Some reflect pretty faithfully Tony’s original concept, on others he has stretched and shaped the music to give a different character. The one problem Tony admits is that, to reproduce the string sounds on his demos, would require several orchestras put together but, needs must, and he is having to make do with a mere 66 piece orchestra! But this will be an album of Tony Banks composer, not Tony Banks performer. There is a small amount of piano on one track. Whether it survives is open to question.
I ask about Tony’s musical mentors. He confesses that the influences he brought to bear on the early music of Genesis – Ravel and Rachmaninov – are not those most evident here. The names of Mahler and Shostakovitch are raised – followed by a diversion where we debate the impact on Shostakovitch’s music of the political pressures of Stalinist cultural correctness. But here, and even more on the second piece to be recorded in the day (working title ‘Slow Melody’), the admitted influence is of the great English composers of the first part of the twentieth century: Elgar and, most particularly, Vaughan Williams.
‘Slow Melody’ most closely reflects the elegiac, pastoral mood that characterised much of the English music of this time (though with a hint of Dvorak to my ears at times). It develops slowly over a deceptively simple theme, stated and re-stated, gently twisting and turning the melody until the piece resolves and the parts fall into place. The LPO gets this down in the briefest period, a testament to their musical qualities, superb professionalism and, so it seems, their genuine enjoyment of the music in front of them.
Tony clearly enjoys working with the orchestra. He states that he is not a fan of computerised composition preferring real instruments and real people to shape his music. There is, however, a key difference between playing with a live orchestra and with, say, Genesis. The tempo is the tempo with the LPO. Mike Dixon does not take liberties with the pace of the music. Tony laughingly reflects on the tendency of Genesis live to accentuate the more obvious musical elements of the piece to be played. Loud parts got louder, fast parts – and here he cites sections in ‘The Cinema Show’ – just got quicker and quicker and slow songs (such as ‘Squonk’) almost ground to a standstill under the dramatic weight of the performance.
But, 66-piece orchestras require a degree more precision and certainty. Mike Dixon provides this with a sure hand born of 22 years musical experience. At once cajoling, encouraging, scolding and exhorting the musicians to produce their best efforts, he wrings from them performances that the scores warrant.
When the session is complete everyone applauds everyone else. There is an air of relaxed good-humour. Of something worth doing having been exceedingly well done. The orchestra members drift slowly away heading for tube and the bus (it is, apparently, illegal to park locally unless you have a Hampstead passport). Simon conjurs up some chilled bubbly to celebrate the end of recording. Nick and Dale Newman, who has suddenly materialised, discuss the logistics of the mixing phase of the project which will take place in another London studio. Tony, his wife Margaret and son Ben (who both turned up for the last hour of the session) prepare to depart for another ‘engagement’. I extricate my car from behind the LPO’s lorry and head south across London. In the traffic jams around Holborn and Waterloo I find myself humming a tune I can’t immediately place. What is that? It comes to me as I narrowly avoid a suicidal cyclist near the Old Vic. The slow part from ‘Two Part Theme’. All it now needs is a title.