Peter Banks (b. April 8, 1947) was the original guitar player of Yes. He was born in England and named Peter Brochbanks.
His father bought him a cheap acoustic guitar when he was still a little boy and Pete showed unsuspected devotion and ability with the instrument. As a teenager he learned how to play the banjo too. In 1966, shortening his name to Peter Banks, he and a fellow named Chris Squire decided to form a rock group, called The Syn, with their friends Clive Bailey (rhythm guitar), who would later be the co-composer of Yes' first single, and Andrew Jackman (keyboards), who in later years became an orchestral arranger for some Yes and Squire records. The Syn only lasted until 1967, but the group released two singles.
In 1968 Peter played briefly with the band Neat Change (recording one single), but the London rock scenery wasn't too big in those days and so he found playing again with Squire in a new group, Mabel Greer's Toyshop, whose singer was Jon Anderson. Prior to Pete Banks joining the band, Squire and Anderson had recruited a keyboardist named Tony Kaye and one unknown drummer, Bill Bruford, an aspiring jazz musician. Banks suited perfectly to the mix and they all played some gigs together. This was the embryo of a new definite band, so the members searched for an appropriate name. It was then that Peter suggested they called the group "Yes", a very short and positive word. All parts agreed that the name wasn`t meant to be permanent, but just a temporary solution. Thirty six years later, though, the name stays.
Career with Yes
Atlantic Records took notice of the band and, in 1969, signed the band and rushed the boys into a studio to record the first album (named simply "Yes"). The next year another album was in progress ("Time and a Word") but Jon and Chris decided they wanted an orchestra backing the five musicians. The idea wasn't well received by Banks and things got only worst when the orchestral arrangements let the guitarist, as well as keyboardist Tony Kaye, with little to do (fiddles replacing almost note-for-note the guitar licks and parts Pete elaborated in the rehearsals). So, when the album was released, Pete left the group after a few shows. Some sources say that it was Anderson who, tired of Banks reservations about the orchestra, accused the guitar player of being "indulgent" in the last recording sessions and shows. Another (coincidental) motive for Banks quitting the group was that Squire, Anderson and Bruford wasn't happy enough with their manager, Roy Flynn, a man who trusted the group and helped it to gain a record contract. Kaye kept a shy defense of Flynn but Banks felt that kicking their manager out was an act of betrayal and announced he too was leaving. No wonder that Flynn and Banks kept a long and collaborative friendship since then.
Work with other bands
Out of Yes, and while looking for some musical project to come his way, Banks supported the band Blodwyn Pig for a brief period in late 1970 and guested as session musician in an album by Chris Harwood. In 1971 he formed Flash, a group whose original keyboard player was Tony Kaye, and sessions began for a first album. The record appeared in 1972 (called simply "Flash", in true Yes one-word style) and had a warm reception. Kaye left the group some months later and Banks took the dual role of guitarist and keyboardist. Without losing momentum, 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 guitarist Jan Akkerman (of Focus fame) became friends and started to play and record together, privately, since 1972, for a joint album. Banks also played in an album by Roger Ruskin Spear in that time. In 1973, not long after the third and final Flash release, Banks edited "Two Sides of Peter Banks" (a clever reference to both personality and vinyl records), with an impressive array of guest musicians: Akkerman, bassist Jon Wetton, drummer Phil Collins, guitarist Steve Hackett and Flash fellow members Ray Bennett and Mike Hough.
Trying to form a new version of his last group (a "Flash Mark II" as he said once), Banks recruited musicians and fell in love with singer Sydney Foxx, who soon became mistress Banks. The group was ultimately named Empire and recorded three albums until 1980, none of which saw the light of day until the mid-90's. Eventually Banks and Foxx divorced and went separate ways.
The only released work of Peter Banks in the second half of the 1970s were a number of sparse session appearances in albums by the likes of Lonnie Donnegan (in his 1977's comeback record) and Jakob Magnusson (1979). In 1981 a recording by Empire appeared, but it's possibly what some call "a semi-official bootleg". Banks did a surprise brief apparition some time later in 1986's "Romeo Unchained", an album by Tonio K.
Then... silence. Suddenly, in 1993 Banks released "Instinct", a superb solo album of instrumental tracks with him playing all the parts. Only a keyboard player joined him in his next album, "Self Contained" (1995), which confirmed Peter Banks as a true solo musician. In 1997, Peter was main responsible for the release of a double-live set called "Something's Coming" (in the UK, being renamed "Beyond and Before" in the US), a collection of Yes appearances in the BBC during 1969 and 1970, featuring the original lineup in all tracks and with a booklet containing the guitarist appreciation of those early days.
Another buried treasure that saw the light was "Psychosync", a live Flash recording made in 1973 for the King Biscuit Flower Hour and released 25 years later (in 1998). Also, between 1995 and 1997 all three Empire albums were released at last (one per year). Banks also collaborated in 1995's "Tales From Yesterday" doing a solo version of the song "Astral Traveller", appeared in the album "Big Beats" in 1997 and played in "Encores, Legends and Paradox", an ELP tribute album, in 1999. He also lend a (guitar) hand to 1999's "Funky Monkey", an EP by Come Together People of Funk.
Those collaborations filled the gap in his own recording career, until 1999 when the album "Reduction" appeared with similar style as his prior ones; and in 2000 he put out a collection of his oldest recordings (all previously unreleased) called "Can I Play You Something?". The front sleeve of this last record showed an eight year-old Peter posing with his very first guitar; and the track listing includes some early recordings by The Syn, Mabel's Greer Toyshop and Yes (a "must" for Yes fans, indeed), including an early rendition of the song "Beyond and Before".
There's a song in the latter collection called "Lima Loop". This could be an old track with a new title, or a completely new recording, or just a coincidence, because Lima (capitol city of Peru) became a special place for Pete in recent years. A Peruvian Yes fan girl went to live to the US many years ago and, chatting in Internet, contacted Peter and they both started a cyber-friendship that ultimately led to their wedding. They married in Lima, where the bride's parents live, and Peter stayed in Peru for some months in 1999, being present when Yes played in Peru for the first (and only) time. The couple live happily in England nowadays.
Banks' last collaborations were in "Jabberwocky" (2000) and "Hound of the Baskervilles" (2002), a pair of albums recorded with Oliver Wakeman (Rick's son) and Clive Nolan.
Since 1998 there are plenty of rumours about Peter Banks having (secretly) rehearsed and recorded with Geoff Downes both in duo projects as well as some Asia sessions. None of this have been confirmed, except for a brief presentation Peter and Geoff gave together to Yes fans in the 1998 edition of Yestival (a Yes fan festival with many members of ex members of the band attending). Musically, Mr. Banks had even appeared in small concerts by new young local bands of his liking, specially one Yes tribute band.