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Tony Banks and lute songs

As some readers of this blog will know, I’ve been a fan of Genesis since the seventies, when I was introduced to their music by my Swingle & Electric Phoenix mate Simon Grant. We had a Phoenix expedition to one of their first post-Gabriel gigs at Earl’s Court and I was totally hooked. The two albums from this period, Wind and Wuthering and Trick of the Tail, opened my eyes to the extraordinary musicianship of Tony Banks who was then becoming the compositional engine room of the band.


In the 1980s Richard Wistreich and I had the idea that there might be rock musicians who could write for our fledgling ensemble Red Byrd, and we asked some ridiculously famous ones including Tony Banks and the Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones (who was an admirer of Arvo Pärt and had already written classical pieces). John Paul wrote his wonderful Amores Pasados set (it’s on the Red Byrd Factory album Songs of Love & Death); Genesis were by then the most successful band on earth and we drew a blank there, but a couple of years ago Ariel Abramovich and I decided to try again, and to our great delight Tony Banks agreed. John Paul couldn’t write anything new as he was busy with his opera, but he was happy for us to create a new version of Amores Pasados for Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me. Sting, with his unique take on 17th century lutesong, also contributed a song originally intended for the movie Robin Hood, and it was then a case of arranging recording dates with ECM. We’ll record them all in November together with some Dowland, Campion, Schubert and Schumann, and the album – now called Amores Pasados, lost love being the theme of most of the songs – should be released in October 2015.


I’d thought a lot about how a ‘trained singer’ sings a song written by pop musician without sounding naff (think of all those dire operatic ‘crossover’ albums). The difficulty is partly to do with singing vernacular texts as opposed to the formal poetic language and structure usually found in artsong: ‘formal’ vocal technique goes with formal verse. That’s why it wouldn’t work just to arrange existing pop songs. If we were going to perform the new songs in programmes of 17th century lute song it seemed like a good idea to ask the rock musicians to set some 17th century poetry. So – with some trepidation – I sent Tony Banks Campion’s poem Follow thy fair sun, with links to Campion’s complete verse in case he didn’t like it. I deliberately didn’t point him in the direction of Campion’s songs, and I had no idea how he would respond – would he prefer to write his own lyrics as he would normally do? Would he send a score (as John Paul Jones had done with Amores Pasados)? Some weeks later Tony was back in touch with what he modestly described as a first attempt. I played the soundfiles – and by the end I could hardly breathe: I’d waited for this moment for more than twenty years and there it finally was – an exquisite piece with all the melodic contour and colour of his best Genesis songs. Two more songs followed, both to Campion poems: The Cypress Curtain of the Night and Rose cheeked Laura (one that Campion didn’t actually set to music). They’re fabulous pieces. Ariel and I will be giving the first performance of Follow thy Fair Sun in Almada (near Lisbon) on October 4th. It’ll be the last song in a programme of Dowland and Campion, and if you’re a Tony Banks fan it’ll be well worth waiting for.



Before that I’m off to Germany to coach ensembles with my great friend Werner Schüßler. We had a fantastic time last time we worked together in Schloss Engers, and the upcoming sessions in Saulheim should be huge fun.


photos of Tony Banks by Coastered and Hubertus from Wikipedia Creative Commons

4 Responses to “Tony Banks and lute songs”

  1. Gary Freer says:

    Very interesting. As a young countertenor at Cambridge I shared your passion for both Campion/Dowland lute songs and the music of Genesis.

    There was also a lot of Steve Hackett music on WaW in particular, and I wonder if you share my enthusiasm for his prolific solo work. It’s a shame that there apparently wasn’t room for both of them within Genesis.

  2. John Potter says:

    I certainly do (and am going to his gig in York next week). The Steve Hackett thing is a mystery – there’s not much about him in Mike Rutherford’s book, and even though they were all sitting in a line in the recent BBC doc he was often out of shot. It’s almost as though they lost him by mistake and have never quite figured it out. Despite his reservations about the group he obviously loved the music as he’s still playing it. But group dynamics can be very tricky and unfathomable to anyone outside…

  3. […] ich John Potter richtig verstehe, stammen von Tony sogar drei Lieder: – Follow thy fair sun, – The Cypress Curtain […]

  4. John Potter says:

    Richtig! Two of the songs, Follow thy fair sun and The Cypress Curtain are on the Amores Pasados album ECM 2441 released June 11th. We hope that Laura and some more new songs from Tony will be on the next album.

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