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.
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,
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.
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
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.