Sonja Kristina

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Sonja Kristina first appeared on a stage at the Swan Folk Club in Romford at the tender age of thirteen. Her first professional gig was at a Folk Festival in Southgate, London a year or so later. She even did a series of appearances on the children's TV show "Song and Story."

Sonja continued playing in folk clubs such as the Troubadour in Earl's Court while at the New College of Speech and Drama. She began writing her own songs at that time, and had acquired the services of the same manager as Al Stewart and Buffy St. Marie. She was booked into a number of well-known venues, among them the Marquee Club, as "Sonja."

In 1968, Sonja auditioned for and won the part of "Crissy" in the London stage production of the rock musical "Hair". She appeared on the original cast album singing "Frank Mills," which was also released as a single. The show was being produced by Galt McDermott, who also had another play, "Who the Murderer Was," at the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate.

Performing for the show were a band called Curved Air, late of the name "Sisyphus." Mark Hanau, an aspiring band manager, had seen the show and decided he wanted to manage Curved Air. He also had seen Sonja perform and suggested she audition for the band, as he felt that female vocals were the only missing ingredient. The sound came together almost immediately, and the five-piece Curved Air was born.

Sonja, in 1971 you got together with the Faces, half of Soft Machine, Marc Bolan, David Bedford, and a few others to do a Christmas radio show for the BBC.

What I remember mostly from that Christmas session was that Rod Stewart did a wonderful version of "Away in a Manger." There are some photographs from that session as well. Whoever did the "Curved Air Live at the BBC" CD probably has access to those tapes. We were approached again recently to do another BBC thing, but the BBC wanted their name all over it so it kind of disappeared.

Curved Air played on the bill with many other artists. Any fond memories?

I loved working with Johnny & Edgar Winter. They were lovely people. Country Joe and I got on well. Actually when we were working I was more of a performer and less a consumer. It was only during the spaces in between (the various band breakups) that I was able to become a listener and consumer of music again.

Favorite music from those years?

As far as albums go, I loved listening to Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust," Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland," Pink Floyd's "Dark Side," and the Mahavishnu Orchestra's fantastic "Birds of Fire." Jerry Goodman and I were friends -- I met him when he was over in London playing with The Flock. I liked Janis Joplin and Edith Piaf; Buffy St. Marie of course, earlier on. I thought Jeff Buckley's work was beautiful.

After the first Curved Air breakup, how did you and Mike Wedgwood recruit the new band members: Eddie Jobson, Kirby, and Jim Russell?

Well, Eddie was with a band called Fat Grapple who had been supporting us on tour. He could play both violin and keyboards, you know. So, when we realized that the band was going their separate ways, Mike and I asked Eddie to join and do a sort of representation of both Francis's and Darryl's roles. And then we auditioned for a guitarist and drummer and found Kirby and Jim that way, if memory serves.

What was the direction you wanted to take with this new version of Curved Air?

What I wanted to do with the band at the time was get more of a rock edge to it, and Kirby's guitar playing really excited me -- he was just really wild. And Jim was the same way, a very solid rock drummer. Mike and I really wanted to continue, and it was our manager Clifford Davis who said we would do a better business continuing to call the band Curved Air. So we kept the name and followed along the same pattern as before, as a writer's band. Everybody in the new band contributed material except for Jim Russell, who really wasn't a writer. Before it had mainly been Darryl and Francis, but I had managed to get some of my compositions in.

Following the release of "Air Cut," additional sessions were recorded which were released some 16 years later as the "Lovechild" album. The division in the band seems much wider on this album than on "Air Cut," plus Mike Wedgwood is much less in evidence. Actually, the album sounds like a group of solo compositions (albeit some very good ones) just thrown together in random order. Comments?

Now that album was total piracy. Those were demo tapes I made for Warner Brothers, who had suddenly realized that I was the only original member that it wasn't really Curved Air as it had been before. So Clifford Davis presented the tapes to Warners who decided for various reasons that they weren't going to continue with the contract. And that meant Curved Air had to come to an end at that stage.

Because I had a young son to support, and we had run out of funds at that time as well, I did various jobs. One of which was performing as a croupier at the London Playboy Club. Another was working in a paint and wallpaper shop. Actually working at the Playboy Club, which I did for about nine months, was very interesting. I think it was wearing those kind of Playboy costumes which led to the more see-through costumes which I wore during the next version of Curved Air.

Then there was the revival of Hair they offered me my original part for that run, which lasted a few months. Sometime after that, Darryl called and told me he had gotten together with Miles Copeland, and that the band was reforming. We had various business problems including a large unpaid VAT bill, which was down to management. I mean, we didn't know anything about the business, we just got money in our pockets at the end of the week in those days. And when we stopped working, we stopped getting money. You know it's only now that we're starting getting the royalties from that period. Because so much money was spent on our behalf in the first few years that it took us a long while to earn it all back.

A woman named Norma Tager was credited on several of the "Midnight Wire" songs, including the title track. Who was she?

When I was in the no-man's land between Air Cut and the Live album, my marriage broke up and I moved out. I met this lady at a party who spoke my language it was still the early 70's, and the hippie dream had begun to turn sour in a lot of people's minds, but not mine. During interviews for "Hair" people would say, "Isn't it a bit passe?" And I would say, "No, no, it's still as relevant as it ever was!" Anyway, I heard this voice from across the room heard words like 'cosmic,' 'universal,' and 'love.' So we started talking.

But here I must tell you this wonderful story. When Curved Air first started we all moved into a flat together at 87 Redington Road in Hampstead. It was a wonderful flat, the whole house looked sort of like an ocean liner. We lived on the top floor. We lived there for the first couple of years of our career. Anyway, I met this cosmic lady at the party. It was late and I didn't want to go home, so she said, "Well you can spend the night at my place." I said, "Where do you live?" She said, "Hampstead." I said, "Really, whereabouts? I used to live in Hampstead." She said, "Redington Road." I said, "Oh not number 87?" "Yes." "Not the top flat?" "Yes." And that's where she lived with her three children. She'd left New York and come to England to escape a bad marriage. So that became my home for the next nine months or so. And Ian Copeland just happened to have the flat downstairs. It was all very close, so when I started sort of hanging out with Stewart Copeland, I just moved downstairs.

So that's Norma Tager. She and I became very close. I was very depressed over the breakup of my marriage, and that's why she wrote for me. She'd been a writer and had ghost-written things, screenplays, things like that. And you know sometimes when you're low you don't want to write, you're so miserable. So we wrote songs together. She wrote what I wanted to sing about, and I taught her how to put things into song form. So they were her lyrics, but the essence came from both of us. Norma died of cancer last year, actually. Her daughter Carol and I stay in touch.

Your first solo album, which now is almost impossibly rare, contained a pair of absolute gems, "Full-Time Woman" and "Colder Than a Rose in Snow."

There's only a couple of things on it that I really like. I did a much better version as a demo which had the spirit of the band, which was really energetic. I felt the album was too self-conscious, it was over-produced, and it lost a lot it was almost brain-dead, in my opinion, by the time it was finished. I mean, the material is there, but "Colder Than a Rose" is the only one that I'm really pleased with. "Man He Colour" is OK, I suppose. You liked "Full-Time Woman?" It's a good song, but I don't think I did it justice, really. Actually, "Fade Away" is a song that I like. But they're all songs which my band Escape performed great, but I don't think that the end result was as good as some of the times we actually performed it. "Street Run" was great live, but the recording doesn't have the impact.

In 1984, you and Darryl resurrected the Curved Air name for a one-off single, "Renegade"/ "We're Only Human." Where did the idea come from, and was any other material recorded at the time?

It was actually a solo thing of his. He had written a bunch of songs which he ran past me. I really like the "Renegade" song. We did that and "As Long as There's a Spark" but I think only "Renegade" and "We're Only Human" were on the single. Also I did the "Walk on By" single around then without Darryl, it was a project of mine. But Darryl played all the instruments on the b-side, "O Fortuna" and recorded me singing all the vocals. Over the top! I was very pleased with "O Fortuna" but we couldn't release it officially. We tried to get the rights from the Carl Orff estate to release it officially, and they wouldn't allow us to do it. So we really couldn't take it any further, even though it was getting some radio play. These were all good songs, but they seem rather robotic today. Now I would do them differently. It was really like being Darryl's voice at the time, rather than doing my own thing.

Then there were the 1990 reunion gigs...

We did the Town & Country Club in 1990, the one that Francis recorded. That was an amazing gig. We were supported by an electronic version of Ozric Tentacles called Noden's Ictus. I was so proud, because in the psychedelic clubs they were like gods. I thought this was Nirvana, or whatever it is, Elysium. We were supposed to do the TV program, that's why we had gotten together and rehearsed in the first place. But this was the first gig we'd done in ages and it was just magic, the place was packed, people were waving their arms in the air and lighting matches. It was an electric evening.

In 1991, "Songs From the Acid Folk" was released. Who were Ty-lor and Friends, and how did you come to play with them?

I'm as proud of that album as I am the first Curved Air album. My children were of an age and the finances were such that I could think of going out on the road again. So I went out exploring in London seeing what was going on to find out where I wanted to play. Some new acoustic things were going on down at the Troubador, where I used to play when I was 19 and a drama student. Back then I was writing my own songs and had the same manager as Al Stewart and Buffy St. Marie. I had run my own Wednesday night club down there for a while, too. We had bongo battles, poets, and things like that back in 1967, I think it was.

Anyway, there were all these wonderful unknown artists and musicians playing again at the Troubador. There was a cello player named Julia, and a violinist named Julian, whom I actually took from a straight classical quartet of Darryl's. He'd actually never improvised in his life, but we worked on it together. So that was my band I played with at the Troubador. That opening night was the first time I'd played live in a long time, and the place was packed out. It was actually the best night they'd ever had.

I also discovered there were psychedelic clubs one major club called Club Dog which became Mega Dog. It was a great environment. Another club was the Crypt. I wanted to take my new band and play there. There were two brothers called Ty-Lor, one of whom played guitar and sang, the other played steel drums and sang. Both of them were blonde and gorgeous with hair down to their waists. Very macho and sexy, you know? Then Julian left and joined Mirro. And I found another violinist who played with the same spirit as Darryl had, named Paul. And we got his friend Honk on board. So we started playing the clubs and got lots of gigs all over England.

So when we recorded the album, it was more my work and my voice. I was very proud of it. But then while I was out on the road touring, my marriage to Stewart Copeland broke up. I think part of the problem was the touring. We were not moving in the same direction at all. He was living in a completely different world. I was in cafe society, and he was in polo society. So I moved to London with the children, and since then I've been involved in a very domestic scenario.

A remake of "Back Street Luv" from the "Acid Folk" sessions was issued as a limited-edition single, again almost impossible to find.

It was a sort of promotional single. It was very exciting and typical of the band. Almost a tango feel to it.

Then in 1995, "Harmonics of Love" was released.

With "Harmonics of Love," I had written the songs kind of on the back of the "Acid Folk" songs. It was just where I had a feeling music was going. I found this wonderful keyboard player called Robert, but as far as new material goes, I didn't have much. I really enjoyed working with these players, but we just arranged what I had left from "Acid Folk," really. Plus we reworked some old Curved Air songs, too.

The nice thing about this band, and the "Acid Folk" band, too, was that we could play totally acoustically, except for the bass, like we did at the Troubador. And we could also play very loud and psychedelic with a full drum kit and throbbing bass. We also played a lot of new age places, healing retreats, that sort of venues. Hazelwood House was one, way out in the country, where they have new age lectures. "Harmonics" was kind of floaty, it's my watercolor.

The Curved Air catalog as a whole has been sadly neglected. None of the material has been given a CD release in the U.S. Has any thought been given to preparing a Curved Air rarities package, or a remastered boxed set?

Not really. None of us have been into doing marketing on that sort of scale.

Is there the possibility of another Curved Air reunion?

Um, if somebody paid us enough. That's what it's really come down to. Francis and I are sort of well into getting together, anyway. But to go out and do Curved Air it would have to be something spectacular, and that would take a lot of money.

From an interview conducted by Richard Wynne in January 1999.