CSFTD #3: Curved Air – Back Street Luv

I have to confess a personal soft spot for this selection. As far as I can remember Curved Air were on the bill at the first full-blown professional gig in a large theatre that I attended. I can’t remember the exact year but I’m certain it was A.D. I do remember the location – Hamburg, Germany – and that Curved Air were jointly billed with Wishbone Ash, who might feature in this TMB section as well. I also remember I was mainly there for the delectable Sonja Kristina, Curved Air’s singer. Kristina had the look of a young and female Peter Gabriel, who in fact was and is about the same age. Hm. Has anyone ever seen them together?

While her name suggests she is of Copenhagen, Oslo or somewhere equally nordically exotic, Sonja Christina Shaw, such is her birth name, is actually a native of the rather more mundane Brentwood in Essex, which also spawned Pixie Lott. (An example of Newton’s Third Law, I believe). She has an interesting parentage; father was a criminologist and puppeteer, and the headmaster of a school for delinquent boys, while mother was the daughter of the Swedish silent movie-star and theatre tragedian, Gerda Lundequist.

Which perhaps goes some way to explaining how the 13-year old Sonja began performing in folk clubs in Romford and other such performing art hot spots, while studying drama with such luminaries as Sandy Denny, Al Stewart and Buffy Saint Marie? Acquiring a reputation as a hippie wild child (though you’d never guess it from the vid of Back Street Luv here), and mixing with assorted, poets, writers, musicians and Hells Angels, she quickly secured the role of Chrissie in the Original London Cast of the seminal tribal love-rock musical Hair, in 1968.

Then in 1970 she became the vocalist of Curved Air, which was the ‘house band’ for Hair. The band was formed out of members with diverse musical backgrounds – folk, classical, and electronic – and fell roughly into a folk rock/fusion category. They were one of the first rock bands to feature electric violin and some tracks were violin-led, another first. They released nine albums in all but their only hit single was Back Street Luv, from the album ‘Second Album’, which reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart (1971). (As a side note, Second Album is regarded as the one which sowed the seeds of their break-up, the first and second sides being written separately by different ‘groups’ of band members who didn’t see eye-to-eye).

The line up changed over the years with Sonja being the only ever-present. Stewart Copeland was drummer for a while (his first band) and became Kristina’s partner for 16 years. At the same time she has over the years returned to Hair, which is still performed, there was a Broadway revival only a few years ago. Incidentally, while ‘Aquarius’ and ‘Let the Sunshine in’ remain the better known songs from Hair, there is also of course the immortal ‘Manchester, England,’ which features in both acts and in other songs. Sonja has also performed solo and in the late 1980s “invented” a new brand of music she referred to as Acid Folk, which has occupied much of her time since.

Curved Air re-formed in 2008 with original members such as Darryl Way (violin) and Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums although only the latter of the two remains today.

Back Street Luv is atypical of Curved Air, they could really rock and their live shows were quite spectacular. But it had the tune that could carry it into the mainstream. The title suggests clearly what it’s about.

I am pleased to say they will be in Manchester on 12th November, at Band on the Wall.

©D J Bentley 2015