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Curved Air, Fibbers, York, May 9
WHAT an enticement on the Fibbers website to see prog-rock legends Curved Air in York on Wednesday.
“Oh come on, what young man in the Seventies DIDN’T have a crush on Sonja Kristina?” it asks.
Originally formed by Sonja with Darryl Way on violin, Francis Monkman on keyboards and Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums, the band was named after a shortened version of a Terry Riley song, and their fusion of acoustic folk and prog brought them chart success with debut Air Conditioning and Back Street Luv.
Sonja and Florian are in the latest incarnation of Curved Air, on tour in support of their new live album and bonus DVD, Live Atmosphere.
As the album sleeve puts it, it features “Songs of revolution, insanity, loss, desire and ghosts: a unique compilation of Curved Air songs, played by a vital contemporary Curved Air”.
The band had lain dormant from 1990 to 2008.
“We were all doing our separate things,” recalls Sonja, on the line from her London home.
“Darryl [Way] had been interested for a long time in going out on the road and seeing what would happen but I was very involved in my own projects, doing plays and touring with Sonja Kristina’s Acid Folk Band from 1989 onwards.
“Then I stopped for a few years and took a masters degree in performing arts at Middlesex University, where I also taught rock and pop voice.”
In 2000, Sonja started working with Marvin Ayres on a project called Mask.
“Between 2000 and 2008, we released two albums, Heavy Petal and Technobia, and Marvin and I were just at the point where we’d released Technobia when Darryl again said ‘Let’s do something’.
“Every time before, I was still in the middle of Mask and I didn’t want to dilute my work, but having brought out Technobia, Marvin and I decided to focus on other work, so Marvin is now busy doing installations and making ambient classical albums and I’m back with Curved Air.”
What made Sonja take that decision? “I had the energy to be involved with it again,” she says. “Francis [Monkman] felt he didn’t have the energy and Darryl found the reality of touring was too much after the first year back together, so he’s dropped out, but Florian and I love it.
“I’ve also brought in brilliant people I’d worked with in the Acid Folk project, such as violinist Paul Sax and keyboard player Robert Norton. They’ve been really impressing audiences and getting wonderful reviews.”
Bassist Chris Harris joined in 2008. “He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the playing styles of Curved Air’s bass lines, and he’s also brought his own influence into the melting pot,” says Sonja.
Completing the present line-up is guitarist Kit Morgan. “He came in on one day’s rehearsal before we played Japan. He’s played with Jethro Tull, Massive Attack, Vanessa Mae, and he’s been playing since he was 13, like I have,” says Sonja. “He’s a wonderful free spirit and literally electric on stage.”
Put them all together, and “they lift Curved Air’s music to a new high” on an album that began with concerts being recorded on the Live Atmosphere tour through 2010 and 2011. “Then Marvin Ayres, who worked with Mask, offered to mix the album from the recordings and he’s produced them beautifully with his own sensibilities, so that’s added to the whole kaleidoscope – and the sound is just like it is when I’m right in the middle on stage.”
The DVD has been put together by film-maker Jane East.
“She filmed us at out bigger concerts and some of the smaller-scale ones too, and from that she’s produced layered, artfully made videos of the band,” says Sonja.
Sonja had not anticipated such an enthusiastic response to Curved Air’s comeback. “After an 18-year gap, I was very surprised that so many people were thrilled to see the band and hear the music again – and also that my body remembered how those songs should be performed! I would never have thought at 20 that there would still be an audience for this music now I’m in my sixties,” says this 63-year-old daughter of Essex.
“But then again, young people are tired of Simon Cowell’s manufactured music and are looking for the real playing and performance magic of a group like ours.”
Her love of progressive rock is undiminished. “It’s like jazz; it’s music that relies on interplay in the moment, and though there are themes that one comes back to, a lot of it is down to extemporisation, which is what a lot of the fans come to hear. No two concerts are the same and every solo is magnetic.”
On the horizon is the prospect of a new studio album.
“It will be an extraordinary album but it will take time, though you can have that time now, whereas we used to do two albums a year in the early Curved Air days.”