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Music Review: Curved Air – Curved Air Live

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Nearly thirty-four years separate the latest two releases by classic UK band Curved Air. First, in 2008, the aptly named album Reborn appeared heralding the bands return.

It was all the more notable for the presence of original members Darryl Way, the man with the violin; and the drummer, the magnificently named Florian Pilkington-Miska. Also present of course were the vocal talents of the lovely Sonja Kristina.

For this album the band returned to many of their greatest moments during a career that started way back in 1968. Despite running the risk of stepping on ‘holy’ ground by re-recording such hits as “Back Street Luv”, the resulting sound quality matched their characteristic musicianship.

Following hot on its heels is the latest re-release of Curved Air Live (Esoteric Recordings, 2008). Recorded at both Cardiff University and Bristol Polytechnic at the tail end of 1974, it has now been re-mastered from the original tapes and comes with an informative and well produced booklet, an Esoteric trademark.

June 2008 also saw Curved Air perform at the Isle Of Wight Festival. It was a welcome return for a band that has maintained a committed following, cutting across the generations ever since their original mid-seventies demise.

When folksinger Sonja Kristina, who, at the time was appearing in the stage musical Hair, agreed to join the band in 1968, she provided a focal point, along with distinctive vocals, which together completed a line-up already renowned for its musicianship.

The first album Airconditioning, which included the single “It Happened Today” and “Vivaldi” was rock music’s first ever picture disc release.

By 1971 their blend of progressive rock, jazz fusion, experimental, electronica, and acoustic folk, set amid classical influences, had helped make Curved Air one of the most fascinating acts on the scene. That year saw the release of the single that they are probably best remembered for, "Back Street Luv".

By the time this concert was recorded, three years later, they had been through numerous line-up changes. When 1973’s album Air Cut was released the band had started to go their separate ways. However, the demand was still there and at the end of 1974 they reformed and took their famous name out on tour again. It is that tour that this album is taken from.

Curved Air are remembered for being one of the pioneers of violin led rock. Contemporary East Of Eden was another. Needless to say Darryl Way’s superb violin playing features throughout this concert. His tour de force piece “Vivaldi” still sounds as startlingly effective as when I first heard it, God knows how long ago.

Opening with a warm reception from the faithful, “It Happened Today” kicks in smoothly. The sound quality achieved through re-mastering of the original tapes makes this release a must have for fans of not only the band but of so called classic rock music as a movement. With all the power of an English Grace Slick, “It Happened Today” oozes vibrancy and vitality.

Suddenly Daryl’s violin takes centre stage, as the band move through one of their wonderful diversions. This is a typical Curved Air Live moment and will bring it all flooding back to anyone old enough to remember.

Next up comes the dramatic “Maria Antoinette”, taken from the 1972 album Phantasmagoria. It marks another passionately powerful vocal performance from Sonja. Listen carefully to the quality backing from the band, including some lovely guitar work from Francis Monkman.

Again they open it out into the realms of the unexpected, well, unexpected in 1972 at least. Oozing quality it is easy to see why fans have remained loyal despite there only being a handful of studio albums between 1970 and 1976’s Airborne.

About Jeff Perkins