Goldmine spoke with Sonja Kristina, known as the lead vocalist for the ‘70s progressive rock band Curved Air. She has a new double CD anthology, mainly covering her post-Curved Air work plus two newly recorded songs. We spoke with her about her songs, the musical “Hair,” the Strawbs, the Police, and Cruise to the Edge.
Plus, win a sealed double CD from Sonja Kristina – see below (after the interview) for details.
By Warren Kurtz
CURVED AIR released six studio albums between 1970 and 1976, beginning with “Air Conditioning” and ending with a pair of albums, “Midnight Wire” and “North Star,” which included Stewart Copeland on drums, before his work with the Police. The progressive rock band featured a violinist on each of these albums, either Darryl Way or Eddie Jobson. There were many personnel changes during this era with the only constant member being vocalist Sonja Kristina.
GOLDMINE: Thank you for all your beautiful vocals with Curved Air and for all the music you have captured on this anthology, with two CDs full of entertainment.
SONJA KRISTINA: The first CD is mellow and reflective. The second CD is more edgy and up-tempo. One of the two new songs I recorded especially for this anthology is the opening number, “Frank Mills.” I was part of the 1968 London Cast of the musical “Hair” and my version of “Frank Mills” was released as a single on 45, back then. On YouTube you can see my young innocence with me rehearsing this song in the ‘60s. Just search for “Andy Forray presents Sonja Kristina singing ‘Frank Mills’ from ‘Hair’.” Now I am older, with a deeper voice, telling the story in retrospect.
GM: Your voice also has mature depth on your new cover of “C’est La Vie.”
SK: This happened through the Cruise to the Edge in 2017. Greg Lake had just passed away weeks prior and multi-musical instrumentalist Dave Kerzner wanted to do a Greg Lake tribute show. We rehearsed on the cruise. I fell in love with the song “C’est La Vie” and performed it on the cruise. It felt so fitting, as Curved Air opened for Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the ‘70s, along with opening for Jethro Tull and Deep Purple. Afterward, Robert Norton, on keyboards, and I recorded the song for the anthology. It brought back memories of that era, too. Yes was there. Rick Wakeman and I both got our start in the Strawbs and we rejoined them for the 40th anniversary a few years ago. In the ‘60s, I took Sandy Denny’s place in the Strawbs, when I was eighteen and nineteen, singing briefly with them in my barnstorming hippie days.
GM: You sing “I need your love” over a bossa nova beat on “The Passion” from Alan Simon’s concept album “Excalibur 4: The Dark Age of the Dragon.”
SK: Alan is a lovely man. He creates a spectacle that he takes on tour with the best of progressive rock, folk and dance, playing to a huge audience with a huge company.
GM: You capture the tenderness of Heart on “Baby Song.”
SK: This was for my children when they were small. I have three children, one at the age of nineteen and then two later with Stewart Copeland. As a mother, you want to focus and impose some boundaries. In the process of being a parent you also learn about yourself.
GM: When I listen to “Full Time Woman” I hear a guitar from “All the Young Dudes” mixed with a melody from “Eres Tu.”
SK: It is from the 1973-1974 era. There was a gap in Curved Air. The lyrics were written by my friend Norma Tager, who I met back then, and then she co-wrote most of our “Midnight Wire” album in 1975 when the band got back together. On “Full Time Woman,” I just sing it from the heart.
GM: The anthology has a different version of “Melinda (More or Less)” than I know from Curved Air’s 1972 “Phantasmagoria” album.
SK: This version comes from my Acid Folk band from the late ‘80s into the ‘90s. We looked for places to play, like we did with clubs in the ‘60s. I wrote lyrics each night and then in the mornings added chords to the songs. Tim Whitaker was on guitar and Scott Whitaker was on drums. Honk was on bass. Paul Sax had been in Curved Air as well, playing violin. He basked in Kensington Market. He had gone to the Yehudi Menuhin music school and lost interest in the violin but then he heard Curved Air. He is extraordinary and can stretch a line, making it gorgeous and more psychedelic.
GM: Let’s go to the second CD. “Devil May Care” reminds me of the San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day, that we were listening to here in the U.S. and “Anna” certainly offers compassion.
SK: “Devil May Care” is another Acid Folk selection and “Anna” was written for a friend of mine. I shared my experience with this beautiful girl and set her up with a therapist. She flourished and became successful. She was adopted and sought out her birth mother, which went very well, like a fairy tale, finding her family.
GM: Speaking of family, an annual tradition that my wife, Donna, and our daughter, Brianna, do each December is seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It is a spectacle like you have described with Alan Simon’s Excalibur shows. The first time I heard them perform “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” my jaw dropped. I learned this one from my classical music loving friend Bob growing up, and I never expected to witness that in a rock setting. Imagine my pleasant surprise hearing you perform this ambitious work on this anthology. Wow!
SK: Thank you. I love this piece. Stewart and I had a studio in the countryside. Darryl Way did all the instrumentation. We did a 12” single with an electronic cover of “Walk on By” on the A side and this was the flip side. William Orbit produced it, who was a producer for Madonna and co-wrote her hit “Beautiful Stranger.”
GM: Congratulations on the anthology and thank you for all that music. I would like to go back to some Curved Air songs that I grew up on from the “Second Album,” the songs “Young Mother,” that Top 5 British single “Back Street Luv” and its flip side “Everdance.”
SK: Jackie Onassis was the inspiration for “Young Mother,” with a cry to be left alone and a theme of trying to be kind. “Back Street Luv” was based on a true story of an affair of a 15 year old girl who was obsessed with a good looking 24 year old guy. Francis Monkman wrote the lyrics to “Everdance” about the supernatural. The devil has all the best tunes. The inn is haunted and you have to dance until you die.
GM: Then there is the masterpiece, “Metamorphosis” from the “Air Cut” album.
SK: We have just released a newly remastered version of the album, with information on the Curved Air website. Eddie Jobson was only seventeen when he joined Curved Air, when Darryl Way left for a while. He was a very talented boy, playing piano, violin and synthesizer. He came from Newcastle and heard ELP and Curved Air at the same time. He would buy those records, lift the needle off the vinyl, play his instrument and go back to the albums until he learned all the songs. Ultimately, we lost him to Roxy Music. He was spending a lot of time in the studio with Bryan Ferry. I wrote the lyrics to “Metamorphosis” and all that music was young Eddie.
GM: The CD booklet includes fourteen photos of you over the years, alone, with the band and with Stewart. One of my favorites is you in a top hat, on a rooftop, playing saxophone. I didn’t know you played that instrument.
SK: I tried playing for disposable income. In Stewart’s early days in the Police, we had no money. I would play on rooftops too, including Stewart’s parent’s house.
GM: What is in the future for you?
SK: Curved Air is heading to our 50th anniversary in 2020 so we have begun thinking about that. We want to play in Japan, Italy, Germany and of course Britain. I have an invitation sent to me with Robert Norman on keyboards to do music and I want to tell the story of my life. I enjoy playing festivals. In 2016, with the Norman Beaker Band, I performed “Back Street Luv” and “Melinda (More or Less).” I would like to expand from Curved Air and “Hair” songs to do some covers, perhaps a pair from the Rolling Stones of “She’s a Rainbow” and “Honky Tonk Women.” From the late ‘60s to early ‘70s I’d like to do “Piece of My Heart,” “Proud Mary” and “Me & Bobby McGee.” Then I want to include a couple of possible lesser known songs like the bluesy “So Real” from Jeff Buckley and the moody jazz number “Alice” by Tom Waits.
To win the Sonja Kristina Anthology double CD set, all you have to do is put your email address in the box below by March 31, 11:59 p.m. You will immediately be entered in the Giveaway and as a bonus you will receive Goldmine’s informative weekly eNewsletter (collecting news/tips and exclusive articles and interviews with your favorite classic artists). We will randomly draw winners from the entrants. We have two copies of these double CDs to give away, so your chances are doubled.