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Interview: PETER BANKS

Rock Stars...

Guitarist Peter Banks, best known for co-founding Yes and playing on their first two albums, has had a long and varied career. Most recently he has hooked up with Gonzalo Carrera (pianist with prog rockers Karnataka and fusion band db-Infusion) to form Harmony In Diversity.

Here he (with help from Gonzalo) talks about his current projects and his long and varied career

Photo: Flash website

Tell me about this project you have going with Gonzalo here?

Peter: Well, that's just to get him off the streets (laughs). Didn't want to leave him at home, on his own. The band's called Harmony In Diversity and there's two versions of it.

There's Harmony In Diversity III which is a 3 piece and there's Harmony In Diversity II which is Gonzalo and myself, so it's keyboards and guitar. And the whole idea about this thing is that it's totally improvised. So much so that, well as a trio we've done quite a few gigs together.

Some of the gigs have been quite remarkable for their spontaneity, you really don't know what's going to happen. We warn the audience that we don't know what we're going to play either but if you stick around it might be worth while. It's a very honest way of playing and what I find is there's part of the set where it gets tedious, or we hit brick walls. It does happen and I don't mind that.

It's not like the audience coming to a rehearsal because we don't discuss anything. That would be unprofessional. If we suddenly don't know what we playing, one of the guys will figure a way out of it. So for the audience it's kind of, you have to listen quite hard as you're not going to hear it again. We don't go 'You know what you did last week, can we do that again', we don't discuss what key or tempo it's going to be in.

It's 100% improvisation and it doesn't sound like jazz. I know a lot of jazz people do this but we're not jazz musicians. With Gonzalo we've trimmed that down, it should sound very rich. But until we do it we don't know.

Harmony In Diversity have a CD out, some of which I like some of which I hate, but they put on the sleevenotes there's 2 pieces I loathe. I mean, nobody runs this band. It's a cooperative effort.

Breaking loose, I've been in so many bands where it's all been tightly arranged and organised and you know what's coming next. Here I can change key, or I can stop playing and pick up another guitar. It is a bit self indulgent in a nice way.

So how did you two meet?

Peter: He (Gonzalo) was playing with David from The Nice, and he played on the same bill as Harmony In Diversity, and we met and we chatted. First time we met was at The Underworld.

Gonzalo: Everybody meets at the Underworld.

Is your Karnataka at all influenced by Yes?

Gonzalo: Yes there is a bit of Yes influence in there, on the keyboards, but we also have a bit of neo prog, bit of jazz, Celtic, Spanish folk, but end of February we're doing some gigs.

Peter, it's now over 35 years since you left Yes ('Yes I know, groan!'). Are you still in contact with them?

Peter: We're in contact as far as royalty statements go. In fact just a few weeks ago, I was in China Town, very late, after a gig I'd been to at The Borderline. And Chris Squire and I were both in the same restaurant with a whole bunch of yes fans, basically (laughs).

Chris was on one floor and I was on another. Neither of us went to say hello to the other at all. That's not for any reason, I've never had any complaints about Chris. He's never had any about me, or at least I don't think so.

If I go to a Yes gig, and I find that hard to do, but if I run into any of the guys, it's all quite civil. I did have a few years of struggling to get paid royalties, and for about 30 years I didn't get any. At least now I'm the walking wounded ex Yes member.

So why did you leave the band?

Peter: I was kicked out, simple as that. I've never really found out why, to be honest. I think it was mostly musical. We hit a really bad period where we had quite a lot of work and rehearsals. I think the musical reason was, and I'm kinda guessing here, I think I lacked a certain amount of structure, and Steve came in to replace me, he was a more structured player, where my approach always has been really, I don't like to play the same thing twice.

Obviously you have structure within music, but if someone says 'I like what you played last week can you play it again?' chances are I probably won't, I'll go out of my way to play something different, with a new spin on it. If you're a lead singer, that kind of puts lead singers out. I think that might have been a reason but I don't know.

I think Jon mentioned in a recent interview, where he was talking about Yes guitar players, he was very frustrated that I never played the same thing twice. Same with Bill, us two were a bit of a loose cannon. Because we were playing the same things night after night after night, we would like to screw around with it.

How did the Flash and Flash II projects come together?

Peter: Flash have just reformed, I found out last night. I got an email saying Do you want to join us? I've a very soft spot for Flash. The unfortunate thing about Flash is, we had a bit of a hit single and hit album, the first album and the only single we ever did. It was really well received in America and we carried on playing America where we were better known.

We didn't last long, but we were very creative, we made 3 albums in 2 years. But business things were very bad, we needed new management, I was very unhappy. What turned out to be our last tour was very Spinal Tap, I wasn't even travelling with the guys, I would show up sometimes 10 minutes before the show, and I was probably acted like a real asshole at the time.

We broke up in New Mexico with 4 more gigs to go, very unfortunate thing to happen. I tried and I tried after that, because it was like a divorce. For 2 years we'd been working so intensely, we were getting better but the audiences were dropping off. We were playing with bands we shouldn't have played with.

Difficult band to listen to, guitar bass and drums with a very idiosyncratic lead singer who you either loved or hated. Kind of Robert Plant-ish, very high, very piercing, good in fact because we were very loud.

Gonzalo: You should have had a keyboard player in the band.

Peter: Deliberately we didn't, I wanted Tony Kaye in the band, Tony from Yes, to come on the road, but he had his own band at the time. He wasn't into it, thought Flash were a little too complicated. Wonderful band, but they're trying to put back together.

They tried a few years ago, but they live in America, I live in London, we couldn't decide where we'd rehearse. We couldn't agree on anything. Another Spinal Tap. Writing was on the wall. I don't think it ever will now, we're all 60-ish, do that kind of music and be respectable.

The Who have got it right, I think it's fantastic. Maintained their respect, not just doing old stuff. Flash would have to do a similar kind of thing. But it's not so relevant to me now.

Photo: Flash website

Your '2 Sides Of' solo album featured various guests, including 2 members of Genesis. Had you crossed paths before?

Peter: I booked them, there's a short answer! (Laughs). But silly silly silly Capitol Records decided they wanted the third Flash album and my solo album to be released on the same day and we want them both finished in 2 weeks time. I want Hang on here!

It got to the point where I was working at night on my stuff and working during the day on the Flash stuff, going between the studios in Wembley and Portland Street. Both albums suffered because of that.

I loved playing with Phil (Collins, Genesis drummer). I've known Phil since he used to come and see Yes at the Marquee, almost a school boy. I remember Phil when he played in Flaming Youth. We both had hair in those days!

Did you do much work with John Peel or Bob Harris?

Peter: I've done a lot of John Peel sessions with a band that Chris Squire and I had. Everybody says this, that if it wasn't for John Peel things wouldn't have happened but it's true, without John Peel we wouldn't have been on the radio, we wouldn't have gotten a deal.

We were very psychedelic, we weren't that good, but John gave us a break and things moved on from there. When Yes formed, even before we had a recording contract, we were on John's programme. We had demos to play the record companies, I don't think we would have got our deal with Atlantic if it wasn't for John Peel's radio sessions.

Everybody I meet, English musicians at least, have a debt, or a John Peel story. He didn't really like Yes, although he said he did, he was very encouraging, we were very nervous at our first session, and we sang very badly. We asked if we could do it again and actually went to another studio, it was more easy going then. I met Peel in the 60s and he was always a bit of a hero to me, good guy. This isn't the question I'm answering is it? (laughs again)

In a long career, what have been your highs and lows?

Peter: Being with him (Gonzalo) in this pub (both laugh). I don't know really. The happy memories are when we do a gig and it's going well, doesn't matter if it's 50 people or 50,000, if it's happening it's happening.

I like the feeling when a band's playing at its peak. There's nothing better than that, being in front of an appreciative audience. It's showing off in a way. But you're still giving back to the audience, I still believe in that. My happiest moments are playing the show and connecting with everyone. Nearly as good as sex!

Who would you like to work with yet?

Peter: I have a list, unfortunately some have died. Tony Williams, I met a few times, he played with Miles who I'd loved to have played with. I did once get a chance to play with Jaco Pastorius, on a session in Los Angeles.

I'm a great admirer of David Sylvian, I've been trying to get on one of his albums for years. I know his manager, who manages 2 other guitar players, he manages Fripp for a start. I think I could do a good job and been trying to tell him for years.

I think Phil Collins is one of the best drummers I've ever worked with. A very swinging mobile kind of player and it's a shame everybody regards him !. He gets such bad press now, it's because he has become kind of show bizzy, he's very much underrated as a drummer. There's a whole list of other people, mostly jazz.

What are your other future plans?

Peter: Apart from Harmony In Diversity III and Harmony In Diversity II, there's a project I'm going to put together with Gonzalo called Self Contained. That WON'T be improvised, it's a whole different thing.

In the 90s I released 4 solo albums and I'd really like to put a band together and go out and play this stiff live, possibly without a singer. It's a risky thing to do but I'm not known for my great love of singers.

I'd like to put an instrumental band together and go and play my stuff, and do some covers of different songs and pieces, instrumentally, and put a whole different spin on it.

Another project I hope to be doing is producing a singer, from way back, called Reggie King, who used to sing with The Action. I used to support them when I was in (pre Yes outfit) Syn.

And I'm hoping to put a special band together, can't say too much about it because I've not spoken to Reggie about it. I love his voice, I heard some of his recent demos. One of the great white soul singers. He's about my age. I'm hoping to tempt him into the studio. It would involved people who played the Marquee in the late 60s, like Phil Collins, Chris Squire, Stevie Winwood, this kind of thing. But we're still discussing things.

I want to do another book. I had a book out and the publisher ran off with the money, literally. I'd like to do a book, not a biography, about music in general and the way I view it now and the way it was. I'm pretty opinionated and want to get it out of my system.

I did some work a while back for Rock World, reviewing bands and CDs. I got into trouble because I gave too many bad reviews and I would get record companies ringing up and saying "You can't say that"! I would say "Yes I can, I'm a musician and it's my opinion". I would like to do more of that.

What one record would you take to a desert Island?

Peter: That's impossible. I don't know. It would have to be a box. I think it would be one of 3. Either Soft Machine's Third, an album by Bill Evans called Symbiosis, or almost anything by Benjamin Britain, except the operatic stuff. If I had to.

Any message for your fans?

Peter: I would like to apologise for not being there enough, I've spent too much time not being on the road.

Particularly recently with the Harmony In Diversity thing, every gig has had something different, I've always been on the edge of myself. I would like to say to them that some have hung on, and take an interest in what I do. I'm proud of that, I would like to thank them. Not in any silly way. But I promise I'm going to be doing lots of gigs. They can judge me, if they don't like it that's fine, but I want to do lots of gigs.

Interview © November 2006 Joe Geesin


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