Sonja at Friars August 7th 1976 (Geoff
Curved Air were a pioneering rock band
with a wonderful blend of classic and electronic sounds. Perhaps best
known for hit single Back Street Luv, they actually made many fine
albums. Curved Air are back touring again and we were delighted to be
able to speak to Sonja at her home in June 2011
Thank you Sonja for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. I think we
caught you at Friars quite late on really...in 1976
played twice that year I believe.
Yes, twice in quite close succession and Darryl Way who of course played
those gigs played with Darryl Way's Wolf in 1973. It took a little while
to get you. I think you've seen the pictures on the Friars website from
the August 76 gig...
and I am sure there were more casual photos taken outside, on a grassy
mound. I think it was at that gig.
Actually you were back at Aylesbury Civic with a legends tour in 2009
along with the likes of The Strawbs and Focus.
I remember. There was something in the local paper and a picture of me
with my feathers. I wasn't well that day with flu and was lying down in
the dressing room until just before we went on. I have some pictures
from that gig. That was the same venue as Friars?
Yes, It was the same place you played in August 76 and you came back
less than three months later at the end of October 76....
remember doing a wicked version of Baby Please Don't Go which was to be
our single and went down really well and was great to perform. When we
came back for the second gig we had Alex Richman, a female keyboard
player in the band as Darryl (Way), I think, had left before that gig.
the time you came to Friars you had an impressive back catalogue as you
had released seven or eight albums in about six years...
did three with the original band and one with Eddie Jobson (who left to
replace Eno in Roxy Music) and then there was a best of compilation. On
Metamorphosis (on the compilation) the piano solo level goes very very
low to a subliminal micro level. When Aircut was made - which that track
is from, we boosted the levels on the solo as it must have been recorded
too quietly. On the compilation it seems no-one listened and
checked! There was a gap and then we did Live and Midnight Wire which
was with the line-up with me, Darryl and Stewart Copeland and Mick
Jacques and Phil Kohn who had worked with Darryl. Phil left and went
back to America and was replaced by Tony Reeves who had been in
Greenslade - he would have played those Friars gigs in 1976. The last
album of that period was Airborne which I think was out by the time we
it was, Airborne was out then.
yes, we had seven albums out by then.
Even considering a live album and a compilation not to mention a gap in
the band, seven albums in that time really isn't bad going....!
and our shows were always enormously successful up until we stopped .
They all sold out. I don't know if you have the attendance figures for
the Friars gigs but they were cracking gigs. The first one must have
gone very very well for us to be back so quickly. The last one was
Looking at the type of music Curved Air made and performed...there are
many descriptions of the style because of the various influences, but
how would you describe it? There is a bit of everything in there, if you
had to give it a tag, what would it be?
Rock I would think. There are varied bands who come under prog rock-
from early Genesis to Renaissance to Gentle Giant, Soft Machine, Pink
Floyd. Prog rock was progressive and often taking the music away from
the familiar rhythm and blues roots. We added classical formats with
our classically trained composers who had a love of west coast and Jimi
Hendrix, Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne. Certainly not all American bands but
Darryl respected and liked bands like King Crimson as well. We also
toured with the likes of Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, and with Emerson Lake
and Palmer. I always thought they were very different from each other
and different from what we we did. Darryl and Francis (Monkman) were the
main writers of the band. I wrote lyrics for their songs initially. I
had been a singer/songwriter and I had songs of my own but it was the
third album before one of my songs was used, the one I had sung at my
audition for Curved Air in the first place, Melinda (More or Less)
- written when I was 18. Elfin Boy which appeared on Air Cut I wrote
when I was 19.
Yes, Melinda made it on to the Phantasmagoria album didn't it?
think you summed it up nicely when you described yourselves as art rock.
There was a bit of everything in there, a bit of fusion, classical and
even a bit of folk some would say....
Darryl and Francis would hate to think there was any suggestion of
folk on the first three albums as folk is not sophisticated enough in
their opinion. I know there are people who have used folk themes in
their music, but aside from Melinda, what did you think was folky?
was looking at the way that other people describe or read into other
people's music and in terms of Curved Air, the tags of fusion,
classical, rock, prog etc have been made and folk was one of the tags
thrown into the mix.
is more recently that people have said that, they didn't give us that
label at the time. I think it is because of Melinda, of course one of
the influences on my own material was folk.
Quite probably, I have to say it's not the tag I'd immediately associate
with Curved Air!
you look at our YouTube statistics, the biggest hits with almost equal
hits are Vivaldi and Melinda. Vivaldi showcases Darryl and his
flamboyant virtuosity and Francis's weird electronica solos. In Vivaldi,
Darryl would extemporise using the latest sounds that were new to the
electric violin and then Francis would do all kinds of weird bleeps and
outer space underwater kind of solos. Nobody else was doing anything
else like that I can remember. Keith Emerson was pushing the boundaries
with his keyboards but Francis was the first person to do solos based on
They were certainly different - when you listen back to some of the
classic Curved Air, you never quite know where it's going to go, it was
quite original I think. I think it's not surprising in many ways when
you do listen back, that Francis ultimately joined Sky.
Francis has many aspects to him. He has a classical side, he loves
playing harpsichord and organ. His last project was travelling around
Europe and playing church organs. He delights in the natural acoustics
of that huge classic instrument in different spaces. That's his thing -
sound and vibratrion and harmonics. He loves Bach and the classical
repertoire. But he also loves The Grateful Dead and cosmic space-rock
intuitive music played with rock musicians. He spent many months jamming
with [like minded] friends, including our original (and current)
drummer, Florian Pilkington Miksa.
he (Francis) was in Curved Air now which he nearly was.......
understand he wasn't willing to compromise?
didn't want to do any of the old stuff at all. He just wanted to start
again and be a totally new band and invent some wonderful new stuff. The
problem is that Darryl doesn't like jamming, he plays with great
precision. Darryl will want to present perfection, whereas Francis will
see what just comes out of the chaos....
Very different processes.....
Curved Air, Francis was very anarchic with his guitar work and other
sounds from his keyboards...he was also experimenting with modulating,
like putting my voice through a synthesiser by the time of
Phantasmagoria. Conversely he wrote some incredible structured stuff
like Peace of Mind that fly but hold your attention all the way through
although they are long. Metamorphosis from Air Cut was really a homage
to Francis by Eddie Jobson in that it was written for Curved Air and the
chance of a long piece. And Eddie was only 17 when he did that. Darryl
wrote beautifully crafted shorter pieces and I wrote lyrics with both of
them (Darryl and Francis) originally and Francis then started to write
on his own and I think his lyrics are very good.
know that Curved Air are back as a going concern and we know that
Francis chose not to take part, but I am trying to get my head round why
he should think you should start again when he is very much part of your
history. Presumably, he just didn't want to play the songs you are
perhaps best known for?
was just too conventional (for him) to keep playing the old repertoire.
Even though he will play Bach and these great composers..we had all
discussed getting back together over the years and we did get back
together the first time in 1990 where we played a fantastically magical
memorable and perfect concert in London which was recorded through the
mixing desk which was a good thing as there is a record of it.
After that I was busy doing my own projects. I've been working with
Marvin Ayres in a project called MASK.
This was your main project until the band reunited again?
Marvin and I were writing and performing from 2001, so it wasn't the
time [for Curved Air] to go on the road and when we finished 'Technopia',
the second MASK album, it seemed a good time to go out on the
road again with Curved Air. From my point of view, we would be promoting
our back catalogue and reaching people again which would be good for our
solo projects as well. Whilst I thought of MASK as my main project,
being out on tour created a good platform to talk about Curved Air and
its history - which we are very proud of, and our current projects and
ideas. We are now with a new band which is myself and Florian
(Pilkington-Miksa) and some fine players. Paul Sax was my violinist when
I started going out again in 1989. Somebody had heard him play and said
how good he was so I got in touch with him and he came on board and
learned my songs. We toured best part of five or six years during the
'90's. Robert Norton, our keyboard player, is similar to Francis in that
he loves performing improvised music and creating new sounds . He has
played concerts in Russia and Europe with voice and keyboard
extemporisations. He is a good person to carry on that aspect of Curved
Air with, sound modulation and experimentation and things like that.
They really 'get' it.....and understand what it is all about.
Sax, our violinist, is as dynamic as Darryl was in his youth. He has a
sense of adventure and is very free player but went to the Yehudi Menuin
school originally and Robert went to the Purcell school. Both Robert and
Paul began experimenting with many influences, including Curved Air,
early on, having studied classically to a high level in their youth and
teens. Kit Morgan is our wonderful guitarist, he really is something
else. His solos are so alive with a sense of humour and danger and
colour and he is a mesmerising perfomer on stage. Curved Air has changed
and brought in new people and we are writing new material which will be
ready when it's ready but it will be exciting to see what these new
people can produce in reference to the history of Curved Air and that
they grew up with Curved Air in their youth as influences, especially
Paul and Robert who were Curved Air fans. The future for Curved Air with
these new players won't be just about history.
next thing with Mask....Marvin Ayres is doing projects with Martyn Ware
from Heaven 17 who is similarly sonically inclined. With Marvin busy
doing that, it's probably a good time to create a new Curved Air project
that won't be all about the past. It will be a present concern.....
Which I think is the right thing to be really...
and we all get on really well and they are all inspiring at what they
do. We are a close bonded group even though we all live quite far away
from each other.
set up you have now, whilst nodding back to the past, can also move
forwards which is probably the best way really....
first thing we create has to be a proper statement really.
Yes, I agree. With the current set up, Darryl rejoined for a while
was the one who got us all back together. I had a gap in MASK
commitments,so it was a good time for me but then Francis dropped out.
Darryl then suggested re-recording all the original stuff as he thought
we didn't do it justice on the original recordings. I don't agree . I
think on the first recordings, especially the first album...we were so
well played in and I really like the sound on Air Conditioning. The
sound on the others was really more controlled by Darryl and Francis in
What you're saying is that re-recording some of the old stuff would add
Darryl did [think that] so it was worthwhile doing so he could realise
his vision and it was a way of rehearsing the set. Florian recorded the
drums at his and I did the vocals at my place and Darryl put it all
together in his studio and produced it in the way he thought it should
be done. That's fine, that's Darryl's statement and is the album
'Reborn' only available from the Curved Air website or Darryl's website.
He did a dance mix of Back Street Luv and some great new compositions.
One new piece called 'The Fury' is worth buying the album for - just to
hear that. Reborn is really Darryl's thing but it gave us a chance to
revisit and look at our music. The musicians we got together were people
Darryl knew. Darryl dropped out of the touring after a few dates as he
found it quite stressful, even festivals. He didn't want to travel a
distance for one gig, he doesn't live to fly much or to be away from
home and family for long. So he dropped out. Florian on the other hand
is hungry to play and wants do as much as possible. So, we'll play. When
Darryl left we needed a keyboardist and violinist so that's when I got
Paul and Robert in.
There's a couple of things I'd like to ask you about as people reading
this may not know about you before Curved Air. You were performing from
a very young age on the folk circuit and for a short time at least you
replaced Sandy Denny in The Strawbs?
'The Strawberry Hill Boys' as they were known then and I were
playing the same folk clubs and Dave Cousins had seen me play a couple
of gigs and I also used to support Sandy Denny. She was a very powerful
performer , beautiful and passionate - this was before she started
working with The Strawbs. Dave and I got to know each other and when
Sandy left, he asked me if I would do some gigs with them. This was
around the time I had started to go to college. At college I was running
a folk night and Dave and the rest of guys would come down and do a spot
at one of my evenings. But it wasn't the time for me to go off and do
lots of gigs with them and they did all the vocals themselves after
Something else a lot of people won't realise is that you were in the
original production of Hair in your drama period....
my first year of college, I was out exploring a lot of the
time - hanging out with the Pink Fairies and going down to the
Roundhouse, and also became friends with Mick Farron and the
Deviants - I did some backing vocals with them on an album. During this
time I was studying, putting on the folk night and hanging out a lot.
Then the college told me to take a year off....I then got into the cast
of Hair. They were auditioning for this hippy musical and I was a hippy,
bare footed, probably with a bell round my neck...the bell, that was the
thing, almost forgotten now! When I got into the show, I realised how
important it was. as it had the original New York director and the same
creative team - it was an electrifying and inspiring experience
for me - a big influence on the way I write and perform . How long did
I do it for? Two years and the first nine months of that I was pregnant.
I took a month off to give birth to my son and stayed in the show in
all for two years but I didn't want to do it forever. Some well known
people now were in that cast - including Marsha Hunt, Elaine Paige, Tim
Curry, Richard O'Brien, Paul Nicolas and Oliver Tobias Then in 1974 I
went back into it for a few months during a short run at the Queen's
Theatre in the West End.
believe there was a 40th anniversary reunion in America which you took
- that was wonderful. I was there in Golden Gate Park with cast members
from different places and tours, on the stage singing Hair and Aquarius
and the choreography was basically the same across the different
productions. We were all just doing what we had done before and it was
fantastic. Hair itself has its own musical style as well. It's rock
music but its' also quite freeform and the lyrics aren't quite rock
music, more beat poetry put to music.
I've not seen much of a Hair in a very long time but I shall be
grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss all this with you. Thank
you very much for your time.
Official Curved Air website
Repertoire Records have been re-releasing Curved Air's back catalogue
which will be available
through their website/ and Amazon etc.
Official Darryl Way website
Curved Air FaceBook
- Sonja Kristina Facebook
interview and its content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and
may not be used in whole or in part without permission.