This Sunday we visited CLAYGATE — at the tail-end of their superbly organised MUSIC FESTIVAL week — to see the pioneering British progressive rock group CURVED AIR play live in concert at the Claygate Village Hall.
Their “Air Conditioning” album (1970) is still considered “essential listening” by the prog-rock crowd.
It was exciting to see a band — so famous — in what amounted to a village hall.
And the band have a strong Surrey heritage too [forerunner Sisyphus played one of their first performances at the Leith Hill Place Ballroom, Surrey] — so they were made very welcome.
After an extended instrumental introduction, the original “Hair” girl Sonja Kristina emerged onstage in a swirl of boho gypsy waftiness to get the crowd clapping along before the start of her distinctive low-dark, sexy vocal styling.
One of the first songs performed was “Stay Human” from the most recent album “North Star”  with the “I am still your lover...” line.
This has strong riffs and thriving violin work from the “Sideshow Bob” lookalike Paul Sax on violin
(Fiddle-wizard Paul was one of the first participants at the Yehudi Menuhin School… and it shows.)
“Screw” began with a two-tone riff played by the elfin “Legolas” Robert Norton on keyboards.
With clashing cymbals from original drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and unfolding vocal drama.
This number sounded like an avenging angel — on the prowl and dangerous. The alarming shrieks from Paul’s violin added to the sense of urgency and impending doom.
In the Seventies the band were often referred to as “the British Jefferson Airplane” and with songs such as “Marie Antoinette” [from Phantasmagoria, 1972] it is easy to see why.
This number was full of delicious harmonies, expert twiddles, and a lot of punches and trills.
However, it was a protest song at heart, although misted in historical imagery. Back in the 1970’s the worlds of fantasy, psychedelia and new-age shininess could all be packed-together in one gorgeous song. And they still made social comment. How cool is that?
Sonja took an acoustic guitar for the popular folk-song “Melinda (More or Less)” [also from Phantasmagoria.]
This beauty is a fan favorite and shows the hippie principles of the band as well as their eternal affection for the folk-star Donovan.
Unfortunately the second half of the show was bugged by a very loud and completely unpleasant feedback squeal.
“We need to find that pesky mouse….” Sonja told the crowd.
The problem was temporarily fixed — but it didn’t stop a lot of people from wandering off into the night.
The show ended with the fantastic “Back Street Luv.”
This super-hit demonstrated Sonja’s slow vocal style, which still reaches those husky tenor lows where she seems happiest, though she breaks into expressive contralto register at times.
Chanting revolution, pop and psychedelia.
Progressive rock is never much better than this…