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Darryl Way discusses Jefferson Airplane flip side included in progressive rock novel

Curved Air co-founder Darryl Way has worked with author Charles Shorwell to create the novel “The Rock Artist’s Progress” with companion album “Magenta Aura”

Jefferson Airplane and Progressive Rock on vinyl and CD at the Goldmine shop


Novel and companion album available through Spirit of Unicorn Music/Cherry Red Records

Novel and companion album available through Spirit of Unicorn Music/Cherry Red Records

Darryl Way is best known as a co-founder and violinist for England’s progressive rock band Curved Air. In recent years he has recorded instrumental music which we have featured in a series of Goldmine interviews. With his latest ambitious project, Way has drawn from his late 1960s days in London, which inspired Curved Air, with the new novel The Rock Artist's Progress, written by his long-time friend and author Charles Shorwell, and Way's companion album by the fictious progressive rock band Magenta Aura.

GOLDMINE: Welcome back to Goldmine for our fourth time in recent years. My wife Donna and I played your instrumental music to try to stay calm during Hurricane Ian here in Florida and it worked. Thank you and also thanks for this new book and album. I read one chapter an evening and it was so enjoyable. This novel is believable and so historic about an era and an area that I care about. I enjoyed feeling like I was invited to be part of that scene.

DARRYL WAY: Thank you very much indeed. I hope it gives a true representation versus a fanciful one of what was happening at the time. It was pretty nitty gritty in those days. It wasn’t always glamorous. I will pass that on to Charles. He is an old friend of mine and we both live in the same area in England. The music references in the book are from our collaboration. It was my concept of having an album that was connected with the novel, and the book explains how the album came into existence. 

GM: Let’s talk about some of the bands referenced beginning with Spooky Tooth, who really didn’t do much here in the U.S. until Gary Wright went solo and his Dream Weaver album became a hit, then that sparked some interest in his Spooky Tooth roots. This group inspired the band in the book, and I assume that was true for you also in your pre-Curved Air days.

DW: Yes, they were an inspiration for us. Spooky Tooth were very underrated. They had a bit of a break in England. I saw them quite early on. Everyone in Curved Air really loved them. We used to go and see them as much as we could. They had several different lineups. The one that I remember is with Luther Grosvenor on guitar, Mike Harrison on vocals, Greg Ridley on bass, Mike Kellie on drums, and as you mentioned Gary Wright on vocals and keyboards. They just seemed to have such a sophisticated heavy sound. Not a lot of others were doing that at the time other than perhaps Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s. I have spoken with Gary a few times over the years, hoping that we might do some gigs together.

GM: In the book, the character Daniel had a reinforcing experience that rock music is what he wanted to do in life when he saw Jefferson Airplane live and heard the song “She Has Funny Cars,” which is the opening song on their classic Surrealistic Pillow album and the flip side of “Somebody to Love.”

DW: That came from my experience. I saw Jefferson Airplane and it was as it is described in the book where they did five or six numbers which included both sides of that hit single and “White Rabbit.” “She Has Funny Cars” is a good track.

GM: It still sounds good on vinyl with the separation of the sounds with Spencer Dryden’s drums and Jack Casady’s bass plus Marty Balin’s vocals. It comes through so nicely.

DW: It definitely is a well put together track.

Darryl4 JA

Jefferson Airplane

Fabulous Flip Side: She Has Funny Cars

A side: Somebody to Love

Billboard Hot 100 debut: April 1, 1967

Peak position: No. 5

RCA Victor 47-9170

GM: Another reference is the fictious band Magenta Aura listening to The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek.

Curved Air, 1972: Darryl Way on left with violin,

Curved Air, 1972: Darryl Way on left with violin,

DW: That came from Charles as he is more into keyboards than I am, however, we certainly listened to The Doors as they were the soundtrack to my 1960s. I loved Manzarek’s work very much, especially later on with “Riders on the Storm.” That is the most atmospheric track of all-time. Being a violinist, I was more keen in checking out violin competition like Jerry Goodman from The Flock and David Laflamme from It’s A Beautiful Day. I can picture their first album in my head with “White Bird.”

GM: The Hollies’ Butterfly album was highlighted in detail and that’s a Hollies album I don’t have and didn’t learn “Dear Eloise” from it until much later, with Graham Nash singing lead.

DW: That album was surprising with its maturity versus their singles before that. Charles and I both like that album and it is one of those albums that a lot of people don’t know about. They showed themselves as consummate musicians on that album and fantastic songwriters. I think it paved a bridge to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. 

GM: Now let’s talk about the songs from the band in the novel, Magenta Aura. The album opens with “Life” with harmony, a prominent electric guitar and the lyric, “Life will get you in the end my friend,” reminding me of the band Spirit, who are mentioned in the novel.

DW: Spirit are a group that I wanted to get into the book because, once again, they were an unrated band. A lot of us hanging around in London were really into them but never crossed over into the public consciousness unfortunately but they did receive some airplay in the U.S., right?

GM: Yes. “I Got a Line on You” and “Nature’s Way” received airplay on FM but on AM, surprisingly, “Mr. Skin” was a hit and I think those two FM songs were so much better.

DW: I agree that both of those FM songs are fantastic, and they were innovative, pushing the boundaries. With “Nature’s Way,” they were eco-warriors before many were aware of all the ecological issues delivering important lyrics.

GM: There are also important lyrics on your new song “Guiding Star,” an anti-war anthem with so many lines reflecting how we were feeling at the time.

DW: The 1960s were flower power and love and peace, but at the same time it was a backdrop of the Vietnam War with your nations’ youth being destroyed by this war. It was very powerful, an omnipresent thing as you can remember, and a lot of musicians came over to London at that time to avoid the U.S. draft. The youth in America and Europe were up in arms about it and did their very best to protest against it and bring it to an end. “Guiding Star” is about any war where people are swept up in it and are forced to fight, which is against most people’s nature, and it is a very similar time now with Russian youth being forced to fight against Ukraine. 

GM: On the other hand, there is the fun bounce of “Back on the Road” where the band has to get “back home to my baby.”

DW: Yes, a bit like Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again,” which has to be the all-time best road song. “Back on the Road” deals with touring, which is your lot in life as a musician, getting from one venue to the next one. It is not necessarily the greatest thing in the world other than being on stage, which is a great payoff. 

GM: Steve Hogarth from Marillion joined the studio group on vocals for “Morpheus.” Marillion’s song “Murder Machines” from their An Hour Before Dark album earlier this year. It is haunting and thought provoking about the pandemic, taking such a unique path with the songwriting.

DW: Steve is an old friend of mine who very kindly agreed to guest on the album. He was my best man at my wedding as we go back a long while. He has done very well in Marillion, taking a very different model on how to run a band and it has really paid off. 

GM: My favorite song is “Traveller” due to the contrast. The opening verse is so peaceful but when the chorus arrives, it really jumps out, delivering a song with two sounds in one and I am reminded of Marty Balin on this one, who we discussed earlier with Jefferson Airplane.

DW: “Traveller” is about our journey through life. We come into this world on our own and go out of it on our own, having a deeper meaning than a road song.

GM: “Mods and Rockers” is a fast-paced finale reminding me of Deep Purple’s “Fireball” with its wonderful driving rhythm.

DW: This one may be our homage to The Who. You didn’t have this in the U.S. but we had mods and rockers who would go hammer to toe on every bank holiday, traveling to the seaside resorts and would beat the crap out of each other. It was a very strange experience, which is referenced in The Who’s Quadrophenia. It was music tribalism. Mods would follow The Who and rockers were basically greasers. The mods would ride Vespas and the rockers would ride Triumphs and both wore leather gear. Besides the leather, mods would dress up in suits and rockers would try to dress as rough as they could. There was a cultural difference and they had different poisons. The mods would be pill poppers and the rockers would basically be drinkers. “Mods and Rockers” closes out the musical companion project. This has been very kind of you to promote Charles and my work. It is always fantastic speaking with you. Thank you and Goldmine so much.

Related Links:

Goldmine Darryl Way 2021 interview

Goldmine 2022 interview with Marillion's Steve Hogarth

Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides now in its eighth year