:: Tony Banks

More Spring updates

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Since the last update more details have come in about Roger Marsh’s Poor Yorick at the Laurence Sterne celebrations with my former Hilliard Ensemble colleagues on March 22, after which I leave for Ecuador for concerts and a masterclass in Quito with Ariel Abramovich.  I’ll post further details about all these shortly, and concerts in April with Edward Jessen and Jacob Heringman.

La dársena

Ariel Abramovich has just given a long interview about Secret History (in Spanish)  for RTVE’s  La dársena music magazine programme. You can catch it here (starts at 1.25.19):  http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/audios/la-darsena/darsena-ariel-abramovich-04-02-18/4459498/

Tony Banks 5

Tony Banks’ new orchestral album 5 has had a rapturous reception in the prog press, and Tony has spoken about the songs he’s composed  for me on the Genesis-News Website as well as in the current Record Collector (no relation to The Record Collector I mentioned in a recent post):


I went several times to the Marquee in 1967 though I didn’t see the Nice. I did hear the Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), John Mayall,  Sonny Boy Williamson, Long John Baldry  and a very young and delicate Rod (‘the Mod’, as he then was) Stewart. The  Swingles stayed at the same hotel as Rod in Perth about ten years later, and we all stood and gawped as he processed through the foyer with his entourage.  I once heard a journalist ask Ward Swingle what he thought of progressive bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Nice, Yes? To which he replied ‘Very…’.

The diary for the next couple of months looks like this at the moment (recent updates in blue):

February 22

Life after Josquin                           Newcastle University (13.10)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)


March 2

Alternative History                        Triskel Arts Centre Cork


March 16

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Santa Brígida, Sta. Brígida, GRAN CANARIA. (20:00)

(with Ariel Abramovich (lute)


March 17

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia de Las Clarisas, La Laguna, TENERIFE (20:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)


March 18

In this trembling shadow

Iglesia San Francisco, Sta.Cruz de La Palma, LA PALMA (12:30)

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)


March 22

Laurence Sterne celebrations       St George’s Hanover Square, London

(Roger Marsh: Poor Yorick with former members of the Hilliard Ensemble)


March 24

Master class                                  

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)


March 26

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)


March 27

In this Trembling shadow           

Festival Internacional de Música Sacra, Quito, Ecuador

(with Ariel Abramovich lute)


April 13

Flammarion Correspondences   Bonnie Bird Theatre, London

(Edward Jessen preview)


April 22

Life after Josquin                           York (house concert 3.00)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)


May 26

Book of Lost Lute Songs               EMF Sutton Courtenay (2.15)

(with Jacob Heringman lute)


I’ve at last got around to updating the discography page. It’s still not complete but at least the press quotes are now pasted beside the relevant albums (thanks Inigo).


Amores Pasados comes to York

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Vote yes or stay at home?

Our gig at the NCEM York on June 9 will be our first (and at the moment, only) performance in the UK. It’s rather timely, a European ensemble giving a concert a couple of weeks before the referendum. Like many of my contemporaries I don’t get to perform in England very often. It’s a great place to live, but when it comes to audiences and fees (the two basic requirements for performers) the European mainland seems to be more able to come up with the goods. There are exceptions of course (thank you NCEM!) – though it’s weird (and slightly frightening) that after amazing gigs all over the European mainland our only UK performance is here in my home town.  As far as the referendum is concerned I’m almost (almost…) inclined to stay at home, so pathetic and vision-free has the Remain campaign been,  led by a bunch of opportunists who’ve been whingeing about Europe for decades and now find themselves having to justify it: none of them seems to know or understand anything about the Europe most performers inhabit.  The arts, scholarship and education are inextricably bound up with the European project, as the Guardian (rather late in the day) reminds us. Incidentally, I have a postal vote since I can never be sure I’m going to be around on election day, and my PhD wasn’t enough to enable me to understand the ballot form which I ‘spoiled’ by mistake by tearing off a bit of tear off stuff that was just asking to be torn off. I phoned the election help line several times to ask for a replacement, but they obviously have very long lunch breaks at the York chapter as no one has picked up so far. I hope we don’t lose by one vote.


Avila selfie


Amores Pasados – rock & reverse engineering

Amores Pasados has been a huge adventure. Our basic premiss is that a song is a song, whether it’s written by Schubert or Paul McCartney. If you’ve had vernacular language beaten out of you (as we of the English choral tradition mostly have) you can’t actually sing a Paul McCartney song without sounding like a middle class twat. But given a tune and harmony and a poetic text all sorts of things become possible, and you can tap in to some of the most creative song-writers around. I’ve been banging on about this for years, and John Paul Jones actually wrote his three Amores Pasados songs for Red Byrd back in the Eighties; it took decades to persuade Tony Banks to write me a lute song (and now we have four). As luck would have it, with serendipitous foresight in my 1998 book Vocal Authority I suggested Sting singing early music would be revelatory and sure enough, having listened to my Dowland album (among many others) along the way, he eventually did.  When Ariel Abramovich was a student at the Schola Cantorum he shared a room in Basel with Edin Karamazov, who would become Sting’s lutenist many years later. As students at the Schola, Ariel and Edin both played in a Hilliard early/new music project involving Swiss composers, putting up with the old gits that we were even then. So getting Sting to agree to give us a song only took an email or two. Russell Crowe had rejected his contribution to the Robin Hood film (not the right stuff, apparently) and Sting kindly passed it on to me.  And it turned out that Jake Heringman had even played the lute at one of Sting’s parties. It was clearly meant to be.

The other strand of our work is the reverse-engineering of 20th century English song, creating lute songs that Warlock. Quilter,  Moeran and others would surely have written had they known any lutenists.   Philip Heseltine, aka Peter Warlock, transcribed hundreds of lute songs, bringing them into the 20th century light as songs with piano. His obsession with 17th century music and poetry was shared by many of his contemporaries, especially his drinking buddy Jack Moeran. Their music is as lyrical and pastoral as Dowland, as English as the songs of Genesis and Sting. We’re fortunate that Jacob Heringman choses not to fly anywhere, which means that the many hours he’s spent crossing Europe by train have enabled him to work lutey magic on other people’s piano parts, bringing  back into circulation a repertoire that fell out of fashion a generation 0r two ago.

York Festival of Ideas

The NCEM concert is part of the university’s Festival of Ideas. Our insistence that a song doesn’t need to be Winterreise to have artistic value would probably qualify on its own (a sort of counter-intuitive Leeds Lieder…).  We’re also acknowledging the Shakespeare centenary:  as well as bardic connections from Warlock and Moeran there will be the first performance of Tony Banks’ That time of Year (Sonnet 73) and a unique version of Gavin Bryars’ Sonnet 128, originally written for the last Shakespeare fest,  which may have a surprise or two in store.


Tickets are selling fast but can still be had at a special discount if you quote voucher code AP 241 (https://tickets.ncem.co.uk/en-GB/shows/amores%20pasados/info

or ring 01904 658338).




Amores Pasados updates

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Avila selfie


Amores Pasados – dates so far

Dates are coming in at quite a rate for the Amores Pasados quartet (Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman and me). ECM are on track for a June release and we will launch the album at the Festival Música Antigua Aranjuez on June 13. We’ll be in Santiago de Compostela on July 2nd for the Festival Via Stellae and on September 5th we’re in Estella for the 46 Semana de Música Antigua de Estella and in Gliwice (Poland) on September 20. We’ll be touring Germany in the first half of November, and travelling to the Triskell Arts Centre in Cork on November 27. The main feature of the programme is the new music by Sting and Tony Banks and the new arrangements of John Paul Jones’ Amores Pasados which will be receiving their first performances. The live programme will consist of all the music from album plus new transcriptions of 20th century English songs for voice and two lutes by Warlock, Dunhill, C W Orr, Quilter and Vaughan Williams. There will of course also be some Dowland and a couple of insane lute duets.

We’re very excited about this – it’s ground-breaking stuff – and we’re bringing new music on stream all the time (both lutesongs by rock musicians and transcriptions of early 20th century English songs – two brand new repertoires for voices and lutes).

Ariel Abramovich and I will also be doing the Sting and Tony Banks songs in Havana on October 10th at Leo Brouwer’s Festival of the Human Voice.




University of Gothenburg conference

In the meantime I’m off to Gothenburg for a very unusual conference. It brings together a number of specialist performers and academics to debate the future of performance in higher education. Its full title is ORNAMENTING (force) an ECOLOGY of TRUST (form): Exploring Force and Form through Performance /Performativity and it’s organised by the Swedish polymath performer Elisabeth Belgrano (whose presentation at the  NEMA conference in York caused quite a stir). If you’re in Gothenburg this week come and hear/see/experience some challenging events:

The aim of this entangled encounter (an alternative way of meeting) is to turning the forces and forms of academic traditions slightly upside-­‐down/inside-­‐out, somehow mirroring ‘the uneasiness’ sensed around us in our global society. Our common task will be to create an environment where boundaries between subjects and objects at first remain undefined and uncertain in order to intra-­‐actively articulating new knowledge while ORNAMENTING (force) an ECOLOGY of TRUST (form).

Trollhättan Early Music Days

Coincidentally, I’m in Sweden a couple of weeks later for the Trollhättans tidig musik dagar, singing a concert of music for St Brigit of Sweden with Anna Maria Friman and Daniel Stighäll.

 3 Medieval Tenors

Then it’s the start of the Conductus season at the Beverley Early Music Festival. More on this and the complete list of upcoming gigs through to 2016 in a bit.



Tony Banks lute song in Almada

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Here are the details of the gig Ariel Abramovich and I will be doing in Almada this Saturday:


Almada flyer

It’s a programme of Dowland and Campion, apart from the final piece which will be the first performance of Tony Banks’ setting of Campion’s Follow thy Fair Sun. We have two more Banks songs making a set of three which we’ll record next month in Oslo, but this will be the first time we’ll have tried any of them live. It’s been a huge adventure, from persuading Tony to write the songs in the first place to transcribing them for lute and then figuring out how to sing them.  Of course, we won’t know how to perform them until we’ve performed them…

Next week I’m in Mannheim with the Dowland Project at the Enjoy Jazz Festival:



You can find the details here.  We’ll be doing pieces from all four of our albums plus some experimental Schubert. All in all, an interesting week for lute songs in the twentyfirst century…


Tony Banks and lute songs

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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