Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Curved Air – Every Album, Every Track

Curved Air began life in 1970 when the band Sisyphus joined up with a vocalist who’d been playing the role of Crissy and singing in the cast of ‘Hair.’ Back in the day, when they began gigging, very few bands featured a violin as an integral part of their sound, though US bands like The Flock did. The band’s original line-up consisted of two stellar, classically trained musicians Francis Monkman (keys, guitar and, later, synth’s) and Daryl Way (violin) plus Rob Martin (bass) Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums) – and the voice and charismatic appeal of Sonja Kristina, who still fronts a version of Curved Air today. Very few bands had musicians with the classical training and influences of Curved Air, though, around the same time, ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) were giving us Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, and this was demonstrated in the band’s earlier albums which, along with a female fronting a rock band, gave the band a ‘unique selling point’ and brought them to media attention.

Curved Air were initially categorised as being a ‘prog’ band, as the tendency for talented, well-trained musicians playing longer, more complex pieces of music was just beginning to come into vogue in the early seventies but, as Laura Shenton suggests, they were always a compromise between the folky background and influences of Sonja Kristina – the classical training of Monkman and Way and the rock tendencies of the rhythm section. This compromise worked well for Curved Air’s first three albums, still by some distance the band’s best work, at which point the wheels began to come off the wagon.  

This well-researched book focuses exclusively on Curved Air during their golden period in the 1970s, during which time they released six studio albums and a ‘live’ album, a time when musically they were as accomplished as just about any other band out there. Their debut album, Air Conditioning, put them on the map, and not just for the quality of the music, even though it charted at no:8. It was also the first picture disc to be released in the UK, and good condition copies on eBay now sell for three figures. Musically, this was an extremely adventurous album from a band willing to stretch itself and draw from influences outside of the norm, and having two virtuoso musicians in the band also helped. Daryl Way’s signature piece, ‘Vivaldi,’ is still a highlight of Curved Air’s set today.

One of the issues which dogged Curved Air was the inability to keep a settled line-up, and they rarely recorded consecutive albums with the same personnel. The two albums which followed, Second Album and Phantasmagoria, saw the band achieve their creative peak, with Second Album also reaching no:8 in the charts. However, Monkman and Way both leave after their third album’s released, Monkman forms Sky and Way forms Wolf. Eddie Jobson joins Curved Air for one album, Air Cut, before leaving to join Roxy Music after Brian Eno leaves.

This now becomes a pattern – members return for one or two albums, in one case, done simply to help pay off a large tax bill they’d been lumbered with through poor management, but ultimately the band is unable to resolve its internal contradictory influences and Curved Air falls apart in the late seventies, by which time Sonja Kristina is married to drummer Stewart Copeland, who forms a three-piece band, after asking some guy called Gordon Sumner to join him and Henry Padovani. They call themselves The Police and go on to achieve world domination.

This entertaining book will take you through all the twists and turns of a band who deserve to be remembered for the quality of their early albums, more so than having had classically trained members, a female vocalist and a Policeman in their ranks.

About The Author of Curved Air – Every Album, Every Track:

Laura Shenton MA LLCM DipRSL has a masters degree in music. She is the author of Tommy Bolin: In and Out of Deep Purple, published by Sonicbond in 2020. Her hobbies and interests include writing, playing the piano, staying up into the small hours wondering about life whilst eating crisps and obsessing about music, hamsters and dogs. Her writing buddy is the best dog in the world — a black Labrador. She lives in Northamptonshire, UK.

Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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