CURVED AIR – THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
A phantasmagoria of delights is unveiled among our latest CDs featuring the works of Curved Air, one of the finest groups of the Progressive Rock era. Repertoire is proud to present an incredible array of nine albums by the pioneering band, headed by virtuoso violinist Darryl Way and glamorous singer Sonja Kristina.
The CDs include the much sought after ‘Retrospective – The Anthology 1970-2009’ as well as original studio albums ‘Air Conditioning’, ‘Second Album’, ‘Phantasmagoria’, ‘Air Cut’, ‘Midnight Wire’, ‘Airborne’ and ‘Lovechild’ together with ‘Live’ and latter day solo project ‘Technopia’ featuring Ms. Kristina with her contemporary project Mask.
Each album has informative liner notes containing exclusive interviews with Sonja Kristina, that tell the stories behind the songs and the development of a band that first exploded on the UK music scene in 1970.
The Curved Air story is remarkable in it reflects the excitement of the booming Seventies, as well as the personal experiences of those brilliant young musicians who helped spark a musical revolution.
It was a tempestuous time when the songs showcased on these albums were first conceived and recorded. It was also an emotional and turbulent period for lead singer and composer Sonja Kristina, who not only had to cope with the birth pangs of a demanding group, but the problems that affected her personal life.
In the interviews for the various CD releases she enlisted the help of her personal diaries, that will also be a rich source of material for her projected autobiography. There is certainly much to tell, certainly about her times with Curved Air since its inception.
BIRTH OF CURVED AIR
Curved Air began with a meeting of original members Sonja Kristina (vocals, born April 14, 1949, Brentwood, Essex), Darryl Way (violin, born December 17, 1948, Taunton, Somerset), Florian Pilkington Miksa (drums, born June 3, 1950, Roehampton, London) and Francis Monkman (keyboards, born June 9, 1949, Hampstead, London).
They signed to Warner Brothers in 1970 and released groundbreaking debut album ‘Air Conditioning’ – the first ever picture disc. The new band built up a following at grass roots level, often playing at London’s Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, where hippies were smitten with Sonja’s cool vocals and Darryl’s Plexiglas violin solos. They enjoyed a smash hit single with ‘Back Street Luv’ taken from the ‘Second Album’ (1971).
The band toured America and released further albums ‘Phantasmagoria’ (1972) and ‘Air Cut’ (1973). But then came big changes when Darryl Way left (in October 1972) to be replaced by 17 year old violinist and keyboard player Eddie Jobson. Francis Monkman also left and a dynamic18 year old Kirby Gregory joined as lead guitarist.
But after only eight months in this incarnation during which Curved Air recorded the popular ‘Air Cut’ album and completed intensive European tours, the newest members of Curved Air also announced their desire to depart and try something new. Only Sonja remained to hold the fort. She recalls: “I was disappointed that an excellent line up was dissipating, just as we had set about writing a new Curved Air album. I understand that if you work with very talented people, like Eddie and Kirby or Darryl and Francis, there comes a point when they want to explore their own vision.
Sonja: “They like to progress and don’t want to be tied into one thing.” Even so it was a shock when Jobson and Gregory both decided to leave. “In January 1973 we were in the studio with Martin Rushent (later to produce ‘The Human League’) recording our album ‘Air Cut’. After that we were on the road constantly with UK and European dates until June” These included an Italian tour which turned out to be their very last dates. Then their drummer Jim Russell had to go into hospital for an operation.
Two days later her then husband Mal Ross, who was also their tour manager, told Sonja that Kirby Gregory had phoned to say he was going to leave Curved Air. He was teaming up with Elmer Gantry in their new band Stretch. “We heard that Jim was also opting to join Kirby and work with Stretch (who spawned the big hit ‘Why Did You Do It’). A few days later on June 21st Mal told me that Eddie Jobson was leaving as well to join Roxy Music. It was a big shock to everybody that they all would go off to do their own thing, after such a short time. But I never gave up and was determined to carry on.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
In the midst of all this Florian Pilkington-Miksa and bass player Mike Wedgwood said they also wanted to leave and form their own band. During the tempestuous days that followed, Sonja rang her manager Clifford Davis. Mal and Sonja went to see Clifford to discuss the situation and play him some of her new songs .
In an unravelling situation, Sonja went into the studios with producer Martin Rushent with the aim of recording some of her new songs. “I was still looking for strong players for a new Curved Air line-up and had a meeting with Jerry Goodman of Flock at Trident studios. All this happened over a couple of weeks. I started working on the songs that were eventually on our next album ‘Lovechild’. We rehearsed at Florian’s house. Florian and Mike Wedgwood were still helping with rehearsals and recording.”
Despite the previous successes of Curved Air including selling masses of albums and touring heavily they were all short of money, especially their singer. “Whilst working into the night on these sessions I was also doing a day job, working as a clerk. I had my baby son Sven to support so I sought the best income I could get for my time whilst continuing with the recording.
“‘Air Cut’ had excellent reviews and the tour dates had been exciting attracting capacity audiences. But when Kirby and Eddie left everything fell apart and there wasn’t a lot of time to get ‘Lovechild’ together. The band breaking up so soon meant I had no money coming in and with a child and myself to support I had to find work. By August 1973 I was dealing cards at night as a blackjack croupier Bunny at the Playboy Club in Park Lane”.
PAYING THEIR DUES
“In May 1974 I was offered my old part back on the West End Stage as Chrissy in ‘Hair”. Then at the end of ’74 the original members of Curved air were back together. We had to go on the road to cover an unpaid VAT tax bill!” But by 1975 things looked brighter for a revived Curved Air, with help coming from some energetic young Americans living in London.
“Things were very stormy in my personal life. My marriage broke up. Malcolm was working nights whilst I was doing ‘Hair’ and our relationship came to an end.” Sonja moved into a new flat and living downstairs was Miles Copeland’s brother Ian who worked as a band booking-agent. Meanwhile Darryl Way had been on the phone to Sonja saying that he was now being managed by Miles Copeland and they wanted to put a Curved Air tour together.
“He wanted to know if I was available. I wasn’t sure. I was really in pieces after my relationship had broken up. But Darryl explained that we had to tour to pay off a tax bill. And so he got Florian and Francis and me back together.” It was the entrepreneurial Miles Copeland who financed a proper Curved Air reunion tour. He already managed Wishbone Ash and would later enjoy enormous success in the Eighties with The Police, featuring Stewart Copeland and their singing star discovery Sting. Sonja: “The new Curved Air tour went fantastically well. It was recorded and released as ‘Curved Air Live’. But then Florian and Francis didn’t want to carry on and I had plans to do more theatre work. However Darryl persuaded me and we continued.
EYES ACROSS THE ROOM
“Stewart Copeland had been our tour manager on the tour and we had become an item. Our eyes had met across the room at the first Curved Air rehearsal and that was it! I went back to his place that evening and we were together for the next 16 years. He was already in a band called ‘Stark Naked and the Car Thieves’ with Darryl and after the ‘Live’ tour Stewart became Curved Air’s new drummer.
“It’s funny how life works. You hit an abyss then suddenly life puts you back up again. Because of all the pressure I was completely at boiling point. When we toured with the original Curved Air again I was practically unhinged.
“But you never know what’s just around the corner and wonderful doors can open. I do believe in Serendipity. When you are in the right place at the right time, you choose to walk through a door and magic happens!”
Curved Air was resurrected with ‘Midnight Wire’ (1975). It celebrated the return of Darryl Way, reunited with Sonja. It was their first studio album to feature enthusiastic new drummer Stewart Copeland, alongside guitarist Mick Jacques. Even more significantly it presented the lyrics of American writer Norma Tager.
In 1990 various tracks recorded during 1973 surfaced as the ‘Lovechild’ album. Although not a cohesive album project, it has many rewarding moments including of course the title track. Recalls Sonja: “That was written at Mal’s parents’ house in East Ham. It’s a reflection on my free-wheeling hippie days, whilst living in the city with a child and a husband.”
Curved Air next released ‘Airborne’ (1976) before breaking up in 1977. In the aftermath Sonja pursued a solo career in music and acting while Francis Monkman formed classical rock outfit Sky. During the Seventies Darryl had formed Darryl Way’s Wolf and released ‘Canis Lupus,’ ‘Saturation Point’ and ‘Night Music’. Since then Darryl has composed a number of classical pieces including ‘Concerto For Electric Violin’ and formed his own bands. In September 1990 the original line up of Curved Air reformed to record a concert at London’s Town And Country when once again Sonja, Darryl, Francis and Florian played many old favourites like ‘Vivaldi’ and ‘Back Street Luv.’ During the ‘90s Sonja toured and recording with her own brand of ‘Acid Folk’. She gathered musicians from the burgeoning psychedelic and acoustic scene, such as master violinist, Paul Sax, and Robert Norton, a gifted pianist.
By 2001 Sonja was an M.A. (performing arts) and writing and recording with another innovative and brilliant composer/producer and cellist/violinist, Marvin Ayres. Their multi-media project is called MASK and they have released two critically acclaimed albums ‘Heavy Petal, the Tenebrous Odyssey of Jack and Virginia’ 2005 and ‘Technopia’ (repertoire) 2010. Darryl Way continued working as an arranger, violinist, producer, conductor and composer, immersed in numerous prestigious projects and productions including classical crossover ‘Verisma’ with tenor Stephen Crook.
In 2008 Curved Air reformed with Sonja and Florian and Darryl with new members Chris Harris and Kit Morgan. When, after releasing new album ‘Reborn’, Darryl tired of life on the road, Sonja brought in Paul Sax (electric violin), and Robert Norton (keyboards). This line-up continues to thrill at international concerts – reaching out to new audiences at clubs and festivals as Progressive Rock enjoys a revival. Sonja: “I’m amazed that Curved Air has touched so many people in their lives, but I know our music has always been very exciting.”