Goldmine spoke with rock violinist Darryl Way about his new CD Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock (at left), his beginnings with the British progressive rock band Curved Air, and playing violin on Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses album.
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By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE: In late 1970, progressive rock caught on in Cleveland with two powerful FM radio stations competing, WNCR and WMMS, just in time for Curved Air’s debut album Air Conditioning. You were the first rock violinist from England that I heard on those stations. What led you to playing violin in a rock band?
DARRYL WAY: I wanted a career as a violinist. My goal was to be second violin in a quartet without the pressure of being first violin. I had changed schools, from being a big fish in a small pond at my prior school, to attending the Royal College of Music in London. It was daunting. Some of my classmates were practicing eight hours a day. It was ’67 and ’68 London. I heard the bands Nice, with Keith Emerson, and Spooky Tooth, with Gary Wright and Mike Harrison, and I wanted to be part of that scene. I tried to figure out how my violin could be heard among that music. I went to the Orange shop on Denmark Street and put metal strings on my violin. I asked if they could amplify it. They succeeded doing that with a pick-up, and then I could play as loud as the rock electric guitars.
GM: The longest track on Curved Air’s debut album, Air Conditioning, Is the seven-and-a-half minute tribute instrumental “Vivaldi” that you lead, drawing on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
DW: In the ‘50s, my brother, who is also a violinist, played me Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. After doing the Curved Air version I had the desire to record the whole masterpiece. Now, after almost fifty years since that Curved Air debut, I had the ambition to do this recording. I put together strings, drums, bass, and guitar in place of harpsichord. I brought in synthesizers on what would be the choral parts and heavy metal guitars on the more powerful parts.
GM:“Summer” is certainly powerful. I also know part of this as “Storm” by Vanessa-Mae and segments from “Summer” played by Michael Dreyfuss, as part of his group McKendree Spring’s selection “Light Up the Skies,” from their 1972 Tracks album.
DW: Vanessa-Mae’s version is quite techno and the McKendree Spring track is an interesting take on “the seasons,” very much out there, as a lot of things were in those days. “Summer” and the Four Seasons has the excitement of a rock piece, so I turned the whole piece into a rock version.
GM:Your new treatment is tasteful and is a new family favorite. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was recommended listening when my wife Donna was pregnant in the ‘80s with our daughter Brianna. On a daily basis they would take in the beauty and the tempos, both fast and slow. The finale on “Autumn” has a very fast violin.
DW: Nigel Kennedy’s version is fast too. I am careful about speeds and try to not be too fast, translating baroque to rock, to give it more impetus, versus a competition on who can play it the fastest.
GM:“Allegro non molto” from “Winter” sounds like animals running through the snow in a forest.
DW: That is my favorite part and it gives me chills.
GM:Hearing your violin interplay with the other musicians takes me back to the “Everdance” flip side from Curved Air’s Second Album, where you and Francis Monkman’s synthesizers bounced off of each other. By the fourth album, Sonja Kristina was the surviving original member in Curved Air, as you formed Darryl Way’s Wolf.
DW: Francis went his way and I went mine. With Wolf, I wanted to create an instrumental band. Guitarist John Etheridge, now a jazz guitarist, allowed for us to have a guitar and violin interplay. On drums we had Ian Mosley, who is now with Marillion. Although I had that instrumental band goal, the label suggested that we get a vocalist. Then we got John Hodkinson, the singer from the band If, to join us.
GM:After Wolf, I have heard the violin led instrumental “Stark Naked” from the mid-‘70s.
DW: I moved on to another group called Stark Naked and the Car Thieves and that evolved back into Curved Air for a few more albums and a tour of America, where we opened for Jethro Tull.
GM:Is that what led to you playing on two songs on their 1978 Heavy Horses album? Your violin is beautiful on the song “Heavy Horses.” I love the combination of violin, mandolin and flute on “Acres Wild” where you added a third dimension to the Jethro Tull medieval sound.
DW: Yes, the four week tour in America led to a friendship with Ian Anderson. Ian is a perfectionist. We did several takes on each of the songs.
GM:When I interviewed Sonja a few months ago for her Anthology double CD, we talked about one of the selections, where it is just the two of you, with Sonja doing all the vocals and you playing all the instruments, your ambitious and powerful version of “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
DW: And Sonja continues to make music. She is strong as ever.
To win the Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Darryl Way CD, all you have to do is put your email address in the box below by September 15, 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 a winner from the entrants. We have two copies of this CD to give away, so your chances are doubled.