The sun has never set for some of those veterans from the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The hippy dream may have died as many of those flower children became accountants and acquisitive members of a fresh elite – but the music, and some bands from that era, live on.
Members have come and gone but Curved Air have been active now for over six decades in some form or other. Tonight singer Sonja Kristina is the sole representative of the original Curved Air line-up from 1970 but Air Cut album era guitarist Kirby Gregory is present too as they play a two set, two hour performance.
Here at The 100 Club – just a drum solo away from the commercial heart of Oxford Street – the prog rock reverie is reeling in the years. Opening with the instrumental Armin from the Air Cut album there seems to be no sign of Sonja gracing the stage anytime soon.
Ah but who is this regal presence gliding into view? Septuagenarian Sonja joins the band to the familiar strains of It Happened Today from the 1970 Airconditioning album. A song revived and covered by Salad during the Britpop years. Curved Air then fast forward almost thirty years to a song written by Curved Air co-founder Darryl and Sonja. Ichiban Girl is “about Japan” and has been part of their live set since a Tokyo tour in 2020.
Returning next to the classic Air Cut album including the punchy Purple Speed Queen – a tale of an itinerant teen “Emlee Jane” a song, Sonja explains “about a girl who took lots of drugs, ran away from home and got lost and got into trouble…” with Kirby adding, “and had a rather tragic ending!”. Poor Emlee Jane. There’s unintentional feedback on Elfin Boy with Sonja wittily ad-libbing “have I blown up the P.A” mid-song before cooly continuing on. Since Sonja was one of the original cast of the musical Hair back in 1968 she knows to expect the unexpected in show business, darling! Nothing detracts from the beautiful song though with Sonja gently singing this folk tale beside light percussion and atmospheric violin “come, wake gentle elfin boy, let love fall once more…”.
The prog-rock gets funkier on UHF – introduced by Kirby as a song ”about somebody who can’t take no for an answer and they keep on phoning up…” – a prophetic song from 1973, years before all our modern-day ambulance chaser cold-callers. The frankly majestic opus that is Metamorphosis ends the first set with sweeping orchestral keys, strings and percussion. A prog classic.
Sonja continues to glide, wave and even shake hands with fans during a proggier second set which begins with Stay Human from the 2014 North Star album – dedicated by Sonja to the springtime revolutionary uprisings of 2014 and to “the people going through it now”. Time Games is distinct for its contemporary, almost drum and bass driven groove which transforms into a prog heavy finale allowing Sonja some time to rest, like a prog queen, at the back of the stage by the monitor. Cut her some slack. She’s allowed. She’s been at this since the late Sixties, don’t you know!
Just as you fear she may be flagging Sonja shouts “Propositions!” and launches into the fastest song of the set with all the energy of a Hoxton college hipster, before an engaging violin solo steals the song away into the night.
Curved Air are very thorough and cover their whole career very well tonight. They even revisit the Phantasmagoria album from 1972 with Marie Antoinette sounding like a soundtrack from a rocking West End costume drama yet to be written. The rendition of Ultra-Vivaldi features another truly epic violin piece and a drum solo and makes time stand still.
What the kids now really want – that’s the fifty-somethings in the crowd – is the big chart hit from…1971. Back Street Luv. The perfect prog pop classic – “she’s so sunny is the girl you met today…” – but it’s somewhat belted out by the band and lacks some of the finesse and smooth undulating mood of the record. Perhaps playing the same hit for fifty years means they just want to get the song done. Sonja does seem more comfortable with the final song of the set – Midnight Wire – a bluesy, mid 1970s affair.
After fifty years Curved Air remain a vital part of the British prog-rock story. The 100 Club has been blessed with an evening of virtuoso performances.. Sonja Kristina let the sunshine in and she almost floated around the stage. She’s prog-rock royalty and forever a flower child.