As a long time aficionado of the Progrock band, Curved Air, I am mightily relieved to report that my eye-teeth are all but safe. No longer are they under threat of exchange for a sample of dodgy live concert footage from their peak period between 1970 and 1972 as freshly arrived from a well known on-line retailer is a new DVD; ‘Curved Air – The Lost Broadcasts’.
As far as I am aware, this is one of only two videos in existence which captures them during their golden period even if it is not real concert footage and it has its own idiosyncrasies. The good news is that the two sessions on this disk, recorded in March and September 1971 for the German TV programme, Beat Club, comprise a total of five songs from ‘Air Conditioning’ and ‘Second Album’ including ‘Back Street Luv’ and the epic ‘Piece of Mind’. The bad news is that for the second broadcast, session drummer Barry deSouza fills in for regular drummer, Florian Pilkington-Miksa and the obsession with weird TV effects (1971-stylee) with blue screen backdrops and the like, is mildly irritating. However, the only other video from this period, from a 1972 Belgian TV programme, suffers even more from irritating effects and cutaways, so mustn’t grumble.
So in the scheme of things, this is gold dust. Looking distressingly young – they were all about 22 at the time – the band demonstrates just what a talented lot they were. The two aspects that drew me to them in the first place are still mesmerisingly magnetic. First, the combination of Darryl Way’s electric violin and Francis Monkman’s (at the time) groundbreaking use of the early VCS3 synthesiser still has an oddness about it that time has not diminished.
Second is the female vocals of Sonja Kristina Linwood, an asset that most rock bands of the day did not possess and which added a third unexpected layer to the overall sound. In fact, her performance is even better than I remember from numerous 70s concerts, especially on the atonally difficult melody of ‘Piece of Mind’ where her confidence is awesome.
Of course, the hairstyles and clothes are laughable (whatever happened to velvet loons?) but the musicianship is first rate as one would expect from a band of this vintage. It would only be a few years before this type of competency would be derided by the first wave of punk. Nevertheless, with only five songs on offer, it’s a shame that they chose to include Way’s elongated party piece, ‘Vivaldi’, a mass of electronic effects and cleverness, which only just works on stage but falls a bit flat on screen. But we do have ‘Back Street Luv’ and mercifully in it’s original form with Sonja’s cool haunted vocal rather than the histrionics we got a few years later. And we do get a slightly-truncated-from-12-minutes version of their masterpiece, ‘Piece of Mind’ complete with spoken verses from TS Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’. Magical.
Admittedly, this is probably no more than a curiosity to most viewers, a rather dated snapshot of another time and place, but to fans, this is indispensable.