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Curved Air Biography

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Curved Air In-depth Biography

One of the most dramatically accomplished of all the bands lumped into Britain's late-'60s prog} explosion, Curved Air} was formed in early 1970 by violinist Darryl Way}, a graduate of the Royal College of Music, and two former members of Sisyphus}, keyboard player Francis Monkman} and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa}. Adding bassist Robert Martin}, the band named itself from

avant-garde} composer Terry Riley}'s A Rainbow in Curved Air}, a touchstone that would inform much of their early work.

The quartet originally came together to provide accompaniment for producer Galt McDermott}'s musical} Who the Murderer Was}; it was McDermott} who suggested, once the stage show closed, that they add vocalist Sonja Kristina}, with whom he had worked in the U.K. production of Hair}. In this form, the band launched a well-received U.K. tour and, that summer, they signed with Warner Bros.} -- the first British band on the company's roster.

Curved Air}'s first album, Air Conditioning}, was released in November 1970, a monumental recording that was flamboyantly issued as rock & roll}'s first-ever picture disc. Divided neatly between ambitious hard rockers} and deeply classically} influenced pieces, the album reached number eight in the U.K. chart and, while an accompanying single, "It Happened Today,"} did little, still Curved Air} entered 1971 on the very edge of superstardom.

With Ian Eyre} replacing bassist Martin}, the band crossed that precipice the following summer, when the incandescent "Back Street Love"} rocketed to number four, ahead of the prosaically named Second Album}. Disappointingly, the album emerged a somewhat lesser achievement than its predecessor, and climbed no higher than number 11, while a non-LP followup single, the lovely "Sarah's Concern,"} went by unnoticed.

Curved Air} bounced back in spring 1972 with their masterpiece, Phantasmagoria}, home to the spectacular "Marie Antoinette"} and Monkman}'s side-long "Phantasmagoria"} suite. Once again, however, sales were low and, with the album bottoming out at number 20, Curved Air} split up, victims of inter-band disputes that had already seen the two sides of Phantasmagoria} pointedly divided between Kristina}/Way}'s rock}-tinged instincts and Monkman}'s more portentous contributions. Way} formed a new band, Wolf}, Pilkington-Miksa} joined Kiki Dee}'s band, and Monkman} moved into session work.

Retaining the band name, Kristina} and bassist Mike Wedgwood} (who replaced Eyre} for Phantasmagoria}) brought in an entire new lineup -- Jim Russell} (drums), Kirby Gregory} (guitar), and Eddie Jobson} (violin, synths). In this form, the band released spring 1973's Air Cut} album, but it was very much a last gasp. Although the group did record a second album, Love Child} was shelved when Curved Air} broke up that summer. (The album was finally released in 1990.) Jobson} swiftly resurfaced as Eno}'s replacement in Roxy Music}; Wedgwood} joined Caravan}.

Kristina} initially intended to launch a solo career. In fall 1974, however, Curved Air}'s original core quartet of Kristina}, Way}, Monkman}, and Pilkington-Miksa} reunited for a one-off British tour. With the lineup completed by bassist Phil Kohn}, the band rekindled all of the past's most precious memories, captured for posterity on the blockbusting Curved Air Live} album. The rejuvenation could not, however, heal the breaches that had destroyed the lineup the first time around and, when Curved Air} resurfaced in fall 1975, Kristina} and Way} alone remained, alongside guitarist Mick Jacques}, bassist John Perry}, keyboardist Pete Woods}, and drummer Stewart Copeland}. (Perry} would be replaced by Greenslade}'s Tony Reeves} during 1976.)

Two albums released over the next year, however, did nothing to reverse the band's fortunes -- neither Midnight Wire} nor Airborne} offered much more than fleeting glances of the group's original, pioneering brilliance, with even the naturally effervescent Kristina} appearing overpowered by the anonymity of her surroundings.

Way} was the first to depart, following one final unsuccessful single, a contrarily vibrant version of "Baby Please Don't Go"}; he was replaced by Alex Richman}, but the group lasted only a few more months before splitting in early 1977. Copeland} promptly joined the Police}, Reeves} re-formed Greenslade}, and Kristina} finally launched that long-delayed solo career.

Occasional reunions with Darryl Way} have brought the Curved Air} name back to life -- 1984's "Renegade"} single was followed by a short tour in 1988; 1990 then brought a fresh reunion by the original Kristina}/Way}/Monkman}/Pilkington-Miksa} quartet for a show at London's Town & Country 2}. Featuring one new song, the appropriately themed opener "20 Years On,"} the performance was captured on the Alive 1990} album.

Since that time, Curved Air} has been best recalled by the Collector's Choice} label's reissues of their first three albums and the excellent BBC Sessions} collection, home to Way}'s otherwise unavailable showcase "Thinking on the Floor"} alongside recordings dating from 1970, 1971, and 1976. ~ Dave Thompson, All Music Guide

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