March 7, 2013 – Peter Banks (Yes) was born Peter Brockbanks on July 15th 1947 in Barnet, North London. He learned to play the guitar on an acoustic his dad bought for him and banjo as a sidekick.
Banks started his career in music with The Nighthawks in 1963 and played his first concert at the New Barnet Pop Festival before leaving that band to join The Devil’s Disciples in 1964. The band consisted of Banks on guitar, John Tite on vocals, Ray Alford on bass and Malcolm “Pinnie” Raye on drums. They recorded two songs on an acetate, Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” (a hit for the Stones a little later) and Graham Gouldman’s (10CC) “For Your Love” which would be a hit record for The Yardbirds one year later. These two songs can be found on Banks’ archival album Can I Play You Something.
According to Chris Welch’s book “Close to the edge – The story of Yes”, The Devil’s Disciples used to play The Rolling Stones’ first album in its entirety, just for the sake of it. About a year later, Banks joined The Syndicats, replacing their guitarist Ray Fenwick, who himself had replaced Steve Howe, and himself would later replace Banks in Yes.
He joined the band Syn shortly after it formed in 1965, where he met bassist Chris Squire. They were joined by keyboardist Andrew Pryce Jackman, Steve Nardelli on vocals as well as Gunnar Jökull Hákonarson on drums. They recorded two hit singles “Created By Clive” with flipside “Grounded” and “Flowerman” with flipside “14 Hour Technicolour Dream” both in 1967 before calling it a day a year later.
Andrew Jackman would become an arranger and play piano on Squire’s first solo album Fish Out of Water in 1975 and on his single “Run with the Fox” in 1980, and played on Steve Howe’s Beginnings in 1975 and The Steve Howe Album in 1979, he was also credited for his work on Yes’s Tormato album in 1978.
Squire meanwhile joined friends Clive Bailey (rhythm guitar) and Bob Hagger (drums) in Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, and Banks came to join that band. He briefly left the band, which was subsequently joined by singer Jon Anderson and then drummer Bill Bruford replacing Hagger. During that short period of time, Banks played with the band Neat Change, recording one single, “I Lied to Aunty May” with Chris Squire on tambourine and chorus.
Banks then returned to Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, and with the loss of Clive Bailey and the addition of organist/pianist Tony Kaye, they started to write new music together, adding to a repertoire including two songs already written, “Beyond and Before” by Jon Anderson and Clive Bailey and then “Sweetness” by Anderson, Bailey and Chris Squire.
The members searched for an appropriate name, Jon would suggest Life and Chris would propose World but all would agree on Banks’ proposition ; Yes. All parts agreed that the name was not meant to be permanent, but just a temporary solution. And today, more than 50 years later, the name still remains.
Atlantic Records took notice of the band and, in 1969, got them into a studio to record their first album, Yes. The next year another album was in progress (Time and a Word) but Anderson and Squire decided they wanted an orchestra backing the five musicians. The idea was not well received by Banks, and things got worse when the orchestral arrangements left the guitarist, as well as Tony Kaye, with little to do (strings replaced their parts almost note-for-note). Once the album was released, a tour ensued; Banks was asked to leave the group, playing his last concert with Yes on 18 April 1970 at The Luton College of Technology. He was replaced by Steve Howe.
During Yes’ 1991 Union tour, Tony Kaye invited Peter Banks to play during the encore at 15 May show at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California, United States. Banks accepted the invitation and went to the show. According to Classic Artists: Yes, Banks was told by Kaye prior to the show that Steve Howe didn’t want Banks to play at the show. Howe has since denied this in interviews on Notes From The Edge.
In August 1994, Banks was a featured guest at a Yes fan festival called “Yestival”. In 1995, he performed “Astral Traveler” on the Yes tribute album Tales From Yesterday. In 1997, he coordinated the release of a Yes compilation titled Something’s Coming: The BBC Recordings 1969-1970. His liner notes described his early days with the band. Banks was also present at “Yestival” in July 1998. In 2006, he was interviewed for the Yes documentary Classic Artists: Yes. A few music videos featuring him with Yes during their early days can be seen in The Lost Broadcasts DVD released in 2009.
After leaving Yes, and while looking for some other musical projects, Banks supported Blodwyn Pig for a brief period in late 1970, replacing their original guitarist Mick Abrahams. He guested as session musician on an album by Chris Harwood, with other musicians like Dave Lambert of The Strawbs on guitar, Tommy Eyre on keybaords later with Rainbow, ex-King Crimson Ian McDonald on sax and flute as well as ex-Spencer Davis Group Peter York on percussion.
In 1971 Banks formed Flash and sessions began for a first album, with Tony Kaye guesting on keyboards. The record appeared in 1972 (called simply Flash) and had a warm reception. Subsequent to Kaye’s involvement, Banks took the dual role of guitarist and keyboardist. Flash recorded and released its second album (In the Can) in November that same year; and the third (Out of Our Hands) in 1973.
Parallel to that, Banks and Dutch virtuoso guitarist Jan Akkerman became friends and started to play and record together. Banks also played on an album by Roger Ruskin Spear at that time. In 1973, not long after the third and final Flash release, Banks released Two Sides of Peter Banks. Guest musicians included Akkerman, bassist John Wetton, drummer Phil Collins, guitarist Steve Hackett and fellow Flash members Ray Bennett and Mike Hough.
Around the summer of 1973, Banks played with the jazz-rock band called Zox & the Radar Boys, including Phil Collins (drums) and his mate from the Flaming Youth days Ronnie Caryl on guitar, Mike Piggott (violin) and John Howitt (bass).
In 1973, while trying to form a second incarnation of Flash, Banks recruited musicians and fell in love with the singer Sydney Foxx (real name Sidonie Jordan). She soon became his wife. Named as Empire, Banks, Foxx, and various other band members recorded three albums up to 1979. Phil Collins played drums and John Giblin from Brand X played bass on their first album, Mark I.
Banks and Foxx divorced, although Empire remained together as a band for some time after.
The only released works of Banks in the second half of the 1970s were a number of session appearances, on separate albums by Lonnie Donegan and Jakob Magnússon. In 1981, another recording by Empire appeared. In 1983, he played the guitar solo on Lionel Ritchie’s well known ballad Hello, but his work was not credited. Banks made an appearance on Romeo Unchained, a 1986 album by Tonio K. He also worked with Ian Wallace in The Teabags, including Jackie Lomax on vocals and Kim Gardner on bass, the two played before with Tony Kaye’s Badger, David Mansfield on guitar and Mel Collins on sax and flute. No recordings came out of that.
In 1993, Banks released Instinct, a solo album of instrumental tracks with him playing all the parts. Only a keyboard player, Gerald Goff, joined him for his next album, Self Contained (1995). In 1997, Banks was mainly responsible for the release of a double live Yes album, Something’s Coming: The BBC Recordings 1969–1970 (renamed Beyond and Before in the US), a collection of appearances at the BBC during 1969 and 1970, featuring the original line-up in all tracks and with a booklet containing the guitarist’s account of those early days.
Another archival release was Psychosync, a live Flash recording made in 1973 for the King Biscuit Flower Hour and finally released in 1998. Also, between 1995 and 1997 all three Empire albums were released (one per year). Banks also collaborated in 1995’s Tales From Yesterday (a Yes tribute album) performing a version of the song “Astral Traveller” with Robert Berry; appeared on the album Big Beats in 1997; and played on 1999’s Encores, Legends and Paradox, an Emerson, Lake & Palmer tribute album. He contributed to 1999’s Come Together People of Funk by Funky Monkey (including keyboardist Gerard Johnson who helped on a number of Banks’ projects in the 1990s and who also worked with Banks’ old bandmate Chris Squire).
Those collaborations filled the gap in his own recording career, until 1999, when the album Reduction was issued. In 2000, Banks put out a collection of his oldest recordings (many previously unreleased) called Can I Play You Something?. The front sleeve of this last record showed an eight-year-old Banks posing with his first guitar. The track listing includes some early recordings by The Syn, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, and Yes, including an early rendition of the song “Beyond and Before”.
Following an appearance by Banks and Geoff Downes together at the 1998 edition of Yestival (a Yes fan festival), the pair played some sessions and the possibility of Banks joining Asia was mooted. However, these sessions did not lead anywhere.
Banks appeared in small concerts by new young local bands, including the Yes tribute band Fragile. Recorded appearances by Banks include Jabberwocky (2000) and Hound of the Baskervilles (2002), a pair of albums recorded by Oliver Wakeman (Rick Wakeman’s son) and Clive Nolan. Rick Wakeman also narrated on the Jabberwocky album. Peter Banks also guested further on the Funky Monkey project.
Banks was initially involved in a reunion of The Syn in 2004, but left the band. After early talks in 2004, he was also not included in the current Flash reunion, which made their debut return at the Prog Day Festival 2010 with Flash bassist Ray Bennett taking over on lead guitar.
In late 2004, Banks formed a new improvising band, Harmony in Diversity, with Andrew Booker and Nick Cottam (who had been working together as duo Pulse Engine). They played a short UK tour in March 2006, and released an album called Trying. Booker left the band soon after. He was replaced by David Speight and the band continued to play further dates in the UK and Hungary in 2007. Banks was also planning a related project with keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera.
In Gibson Guitar’s ‘Lifestyle’ e-magazine of 3 February 2009, Banks is listed as one of the “10 Great Prog Rock Guitarists.” According to the article, “Before there was Steve Howe, there was Peter Banks. Artistic differences between Banks and singer Jon Anderson prompted Banks’s departure from Yes in 1970, but in his little-known ’70s band, Flash, Banks used an ES-335 to create several should-have-been prog rock classics.
Peter died from heart failure on March 7, 2013 at age 65.
A personal insight into Peter Banks