Curved Air (ENG)


3. Jun. 2011, 14:08

Curved Air are a pioneering group formed in 1970 by musicians who came from quite different artistic backgrounds, , , and sound, which resulted in a mixture of , , and with elements. Along with High Tide, It's A Beautiful Day and East of Eden, Curved Air were one of the first bands after The Velvet Underground and It's A Beautiful Day to feature a violin. Considered (according to AllMusic) "one of the most dramatically accomplished of all the bands lumped into Britain's late-'60s prog explosion", Curved Air released eight studio albums (the first three became the UK Top 20 hits) and had a hit single with "Back Street Luv" (1971) which reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart.

Band history

The group evolved out of the band Sisyphus which was formed by Darryl Way (who studied violin at Dartington College and the Royal College of Music) and Francis Monkman, a member of Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (in his spare time with friends Florian Pilkington-Miksa and Rob Martin playing Purple Haze covers at parties). Way and Monkman met in a music store, discovered they had a lot in common and in 1969 invited pianist Nick Simon who, along with drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa, completed the line-up of Sisyphus. "Darryl and Nick were very much into Spirit. One could cite them as a formative influence for Curved Air", Monkman later remembered. According to him, "with Sisyphus the material was mostly, if not all, original" and it was a very fertile period when much of the early Curved Air songs were written, among them "Young Mother" (about Jackie Kennedy) and "Screw". In 1969, having added long-time friend bassist Robert Martin to the line-up, the band changed the name to Curved Air after the piece A Rainbow in Curved Air by contemporary composer Terry Riley. The idea belonged to Monkman who, having played in the first London performance of In C, was a great fan of Riley and "... had a kind of 'musical vision' of a high-energy rock sound going into a Terry-like tape-loop improvisation".
By this time Sonja Kristina, who debuted on a stage at the Swan Folk Club in Romford at the age of thirteen (and even had some TV experience in the children's show Song and Story) was an aspiring musician, already writing her own songs, playing at clubs such as the Troubadour and the Marquee (as Sonja) and studying at the New College of Speech and Drama. In 1968 Sonja auditioned for and won the part of "Crissy" in the London stage production of the rock musical Hair. She appeared on the original cast album singing the song "Frank Mills" which was also released as a single. The show was being produced by Galt McDermott, who also had another play, "Who the Murderer Was," at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate. The quartet was to provide accompaniment for "Who the Murderer Was", even to become a "house band" for the show. Of the circumstances which led to Sonja Kristina becoming a Curved Air member Francis Monkman remembered:

Late fall 1969, a girl I knew at the academy said that Galt McDermott (who had written the music for Hair was doing a sequel and was looking for a pit band. Of course the play, Who the Murderer Was? was nothing like Hair, but there were some nice things in it - the final playout I can still remember, it was a good chance to use fuzz (I use the word loosely) guitar on an arranged melody (that was quite new then, Robin Trower was probably the first, with Procol). There was a recording made of the music, at Lansdowne Studios. George Martin obviously figured Rob and Florian weren't "pros" and got session players. The legendary Phil Seaman was on drums (Ginger Baker's teacher). He was carried down the stairs, into the studio, onto his drum stool, played immaculately, and was carried out again, never seen anything quite like it. I was allowed in on 2nd guitar.

Mark Hanau, an aspiring band manager at the time, had seen the show and decided he wanted to manage Curved Air. He had also seen Sonja perform and instantly formed this idea that her vocals were the only ingredient that had been missing in the quartet. On January 1, 1970, the singer received an official invitation to become a member of Curved Air. She listened (while sitting on a theatre stairs) through the cassette with the band's music which Hanau gave her and was much impressed. The Kristina-Monkman songwriting tandem took off immediately, him providing musical ideas, her writing lyrics. The band's new sound immediately came together, and the five-piece Curved Air was born, Sonja Kristina being both the band's expressive, haunting voice and it's sex symbol. Besides, she knew the London undergrounds scene well, being a "barefoot hippie student... absorbed into the arty political counterculture of 1967 London" and friends with the likes of Social Deviants, Hawkwind and Pink Fairies. Despite having come from the scene, she (in her own words) "didn't relate to folk bands, strangely enough", citing Janis Joplin, The Doors, Rolling Stones and Traffic as her early favourites.
The five-piece launched a well-received U.K. tour, supporting Black Sabbath at one point. "Funnily enough, we all got on very well with Black Sabbath, me especially with Ozzy for we were both working class lads who enjoyed a pint", Way later remembered. In summer 1970 Curved Air signed with Warner Bros., becoming the first British band on the company's roster. The band received a much-publicized advance of Ј100.000 and their debut album Airconditioning was released in November to enormous hype, a substantial number were issued as picture discs - indeed it was one of the first and has later become one of the movement's "most prized artifacts". The Warners' promotional campaign made rather a negative impression on the music press, some even saw the combination of "violin and synthesizer with quasi-classical material" and "a sexy female vocalist" for an extra ingredient as just a neat "packaging" ploy. Nevertheless, "divided neatly between ambitious hard rockers and deeply classically influenced pieces", the album reached number 8 in the UK Albums Chart. In retrospect it is regareded as "flawless", and "monumental"piece of "savage innovation", one of the "finest classical rock fusions of the age". Even though an accompanying single, "It Happened Today," failed to chart, Curved Air (according to AllMusic) "entered 1971 on the very edge of superstardom".
With Ian Eyre replacing bassist Martin, the band released "Back Street Luv" which reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart to become not just the band's most successful single to date but also (according to critic Dave Thompson) "one of the crucial singles of the early 1970s". The Second Album peaked at #11 which was regarded a disappointment for a group that "in 1971... were pioneers in every sense of the word". A non-LP follow-up single, "Sarah's Concern," went by unnoticed.
The band played three U.S. tours and were received more than favourably, one of the most memorable gig having been in Oklahoma City, where they supported Johnny Winter. "I loved working with Johnny & Edgar Winter. They were lovely people. Country Joe and I got on well", Sonja Kristina later remembered. Francis Monkman felt Curved Air were about to "break" the States at the moment when on their first big Boston gig the Chrysalis promoters (in his words) pulled the group off stage "just before 'Vivaldi'", fearing, as he thought, that they "were about to upstage Tull, who were on next". All in all, he conceded the band probably just hadn't it in them to "stick around long enough". By the end of 1972 Monkman was a self-admitted "nervous wreck" and his colleagues too were on the verge of physical and mental breakdown. In the course of constant touring drummer Pilkington-Miksa has actually become ill and for several months Barry De Souza (Lou Reed, Jeff Beck, Kate Bush), whom band members knew from studio work (and whose style of playing was more jazzy) was sitting in for him. It was De Souza who played with Curved Air at the 1971 Beat Club German T.V performance of "Back Street Luv", the televised version of which became well known. In late 1971 the band joined The Faces, Soft Machine, Marc Bolan, David Bedford to do a Christmas radio show for the BBC. "Whoever did the Curved Air Live at the BBC CD probably has access to those tapes", Sonja later commented.
By the time of the third album release serious musical differences within the band emerged. According to Sonja Kristina's Cherry Red interview (2007), "Francis was fascinated with overtones and natural harmonies. His other obsession was jamming, real 'out there' cosmic rock jamming. And that was not Darryl's thing at all. He likes things to be precise. He's very disciplined perfectionist, wants things to be as exquisite and precise as possible. Francis is a complete opposite, he wants to play things that come from cosmos". As Monkman explained,

Basically Darryl and I respect each others' work, but we don't really see eye-to-eye on most things. And we never really got the co-writing thing together. I wanted to get my first 'epic' together, so it looks like a split forming at the time of the Second Album. In fact, the centre was never really solid after Rob left. I regret to say that we asked him to, is the truth. <...> The transition from "hanging out and getting it together" to "working band" is so stressful that I guess none of us were ready for it.

While working in the studio the band was in a dire condition. "I remember the moment when Clifford Davis, our manager after Mark Hanau, spelled out what we were going to have to do just to get somewhere near even. We felt burned out", Monkman later said. He had to wear earplugs to go on the tube and went to a naturopath three times a week. The album's concept was based on the Lewis Carroll poem of the same title, which, Monkman later admitted, was an accurate picture of the band's predicament" ("Even the 'ghoulish party sounds' on "Once a Ghost" come across more like a 'ghoulish cocktail party!'"). Phantasmagoria was recorded with a new bassist and guitarist Mike Wedgwood who replaced Eyre. The album, later regarded by some as their masterpiece, "the culmination of all that Curved Air promised over the course of its predecessors; the yardstick by which all rock/classical hybrids should be measured" came out in April 1972 and reached only #20 in the U.K. Curved Air split up, victims of (according to AllMusic) "inter-band disputes that had already seen the two sides of Phantasmagoria pointedly divided between Kristina/Way's rock-tinged instincts and Monkman's more portentous contributions". Way formed Wolf, Pilkington-Miksa joined Kiki Dee's band, Monkman moved into session work and was later to play, among others, with John Williams in a group called Sky.
Having retained the band name, Sonja Kristina and Wedgwood formed a new lineup with Jim Russell (drums), Kirby Gregory (guitar), and Eddie Jobson (violin, synths). "Well, Eddie was with a band called Fat Grapple who had been supporting us on tour. He could play both violin and keyboards, you know. So, when we realized that the band was going their separate ways, Mike and I asked Eddie to join and do a sort of representation of both Francis's and Darryl's roles. And then we auditioned for a guitarist and drummer and found Kirby and Jim that way, if memory serves", Sonja remembered of her intentions of the time she later commented:

What I wanted to do with the band at the time was get more of a rock edge to it, and Kirby's guitar playing really excited me - he was just really wild. And Jim was the same way, a very solid rock drummer. Mike and I really wanted to continue, and it was our manager Clifford Davis who said we would do a better business continuing to call the band Curved Air. So we kept the name and followed along the same pattern as before, as a writer's band. Everybody in the new band contributed material except for Jim Russell, who really wasn't a writer. Before it had mainly been Darryl and Francis, but I had managed to get some of my compositions in.

The band released Air Cut which failed to chart. The new group’s second album, Lovechild, was shelved and in summer 1973 Curved Air broke up. Jobson replaced Eno in Roxy Music; Wedgwood joined Caravan. Lovechild (1973), when it was finally released in 1990, looked very much like a random collection group of solo compositions. Sonja Kristina insisted it wasn't a proper album at all, rather a case of "total piracy". "Those were demo tapes I made for Warner Brothers, who had suddenly realized that I was the only original member — that it wasn't really Curved Air as it had been before. So Clifford Davis presented the tapes to Warners who decided for various reasons that they weren't going to continue with the contract. And that meant Curved Air had to come to an end at that stage", she explained in the 1999 interview.

1974-1976. 1984-1990 reunions

In 1974 Chrysalis sued the band. "We had broken their contract on the advice of Clifford Davis, who said we could prove that they had not been acting in our best interests, but by then he was no longer our manager!" Monkman explained. Finding themselves unable to fight the case, Curved Air were suddenly approached by "the Copelands waiting with a touring and recording 'package' designed to get them out of trouble". In order to discharge an enormous unpaid VAT bill, in autumn 1974 the band's original members (Kristina, Way, Monkman, Pilkington-Miksa) reunited, invited bassist Phil Kohn and held a one-off British tour, resulting in a Curved AirLive. "I'm glad we made it, it's not too bad. But, good as it is, the live album doesn't really match my memories of the best of the early days. Late 1970, just as we were really beginning to take off, that's when I remember the best gigs. Though it's fair to say, we never let anyone down, I'm sure of that. We just couldn't keep doing it without becoming stale. So I left again", Monkman said years later.
Curved Air resurfaced again in 1975, this time only Kristina and Way of the initial line-up remaining. While in the previous line-up she was the dominant figure ("I was now the band leader with <bassist> Mike Wedgwood's support, whereas previously Darryl and Francis had both shared that role), post-Aircut Curved Air "became Darryl's band again", she later admitted. With guitarist Mick Jacques, bassist John G. Perry, keyboardist Pete woods and drummer Stewart Copeland they released Midnight Wire and Airborne (with "Desiree" an uncharted single), none of which had any success. Writer Norma Tager (Kristina’s good friend from her hippie days, whom she described as truly "cosmic" person) was credited as co-author on several of the "Midnight Wire" songs, including the title track. In 1976 Perry was replaced by Greenslade's Tony Reeves. After one final unsuccessful single, a cover version of "Baby Please Don't Go" Way, having become disenchanted with the direction of the band, departed for Alex Richman from the Butts Band to step in. This line- up lasted several months and split in early 1977. Copeland joined The Police, Reeves re-formed Greenslade, and Kristina (now Copeland’ wife) finally launched her long-delayed solo career.
In 1984 "Renegade" was released as a single. "It was actually a solo thing of <Darryl Way>. He had written a bunch of songs which he ran past me. I really like the "Renegade" song. We did that and "As Long as There's a Spark" but I think only "Renegade" and "We're Only Human" were on the single", Sonja later remebered. In fact, the couple recorded some more stuff, including "Walk on By" and "O Fortuna", which they couldn't release officially, having been unable to get permission from the Carl Orff estate. in 1988 Curved Air went on a short tour. In 1990 the original Kristina, Way, Monkman and Pilkington-Miksa quartet gave a one-off concert at the London's Town & Country, supported by Noden's Ictus. The performance, recorded by Francis Monkman (and featuring one new song, "20 Years On") was captured on the Alive, 1990 album, released in 2000.

2008 -

In early 2008, the band regrouped. On 4 May 2008, in a message to the Curved Air Yahoo Group, Kristina advised that the new line-up would be herself, Darryl Way (violin), Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums), Andy Christie (guitar) and Chris Harris (bass). Francis Monkman, who was originally pictured with Kristina, Way and Pilkington-Miksa for the re-union, left the project. "Unfortunately, he didn't have the same vision as the rest of us as to how <the new project> should be approached and wasn't prepared to compromise, so our ways had to part", commented Way. "Francis was in at the beginning but had extremely different ideas from Darryl about how he wanted this new Curved Air to prepare and develop. Eventually, he withdrew. We continued with Darryl at the helm as our musical director and producer", confirmed Sonia Kristina. The new line-up played in Southern England, Italy and Malta in 2008.
In 2008 a compilation CD/box set Reborn was released: 14 re-recorded Curved Air tracks with two new songs ("Coming Home" and "The Fury") and two oldies, "Melinda" and "Elfin Boy" re-worked and produced by Marvin Ayres. As Way explained, the band had two reasons for this: they were never satisfied with the way those track were originally recorded and they wanted to have the product that they owned and were in control of. "Reborn was our way of preparing for the live work", Sonja Kristina added. On Friday, June 13, Curved Airperformed at the Isle Of Wight Festival to a generally positive response.
For the 2009 dates in Japan on January 16 and 17 at Club Citta, Kawasaki, the guitarist was Kit Morgan who replaced Christie. On 9 August 2009, Eddie Jobson stood in for Darryl Way at a one-off gig in Chislehurst. For their dates in October 2009, Way was indisposed, and Paul Sax (violin) and Robert Norton (keyboards) stood in for him. "Robert Norton is exceptional - as is Paul Sax, a master violinist -one of the first entrants to the Yehudi Menuhin school - a passionate and brave performer very well qualified to step into Darryl's light. All the band are brilliant players and inspiring people. Chris Harris is literally our root on bass and Kit Morgan the fire on guitar. Great chemistry and communication", Sonja Kristina commented. This line-up - Kristina, Pilkington-Miksa, Harris, Morgan, Sax and Norton - continues to gig as Curved Air. The band is expected to play at the London High Voltage Festival 2011 (July 23–24), alongside Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Dream Theater, Thin Lizzy, Queensrÿche, Caravan among others.


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