Curved Air: North Star

Prog veterans join new travellers to breathe fresh Air.

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It makes plenty of sense that Curved Air would be among those vintage progsters to feel the warmth of an Indian summer. Since 2009, iconic figurehead Sonja Kristina has been joined in their late flowering by original drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and accomplished recruits Chris Harris, Robert Norton and Paul Sax. But the line-up gathering for this, their first set of studio material in fully 38 years, has been afforded extra authenticity by the return of 1970s-era guitarist Kirby Gregory.

Gregory arrived for the first time just after Phantasmagoria had become the last of the groups three visits to the Top 20 of the British album chart. Their nimble art-rock iteration had become known to the Top Of The Pops generation via the mystical, alluring 1971 Top Five hit Back Street Luv, and had another few years in the light, with various line-ups, before the band demobilised in 1976. With a 2011 performance at High Voltage followed by a live record, the momentum towards North Star has been building for some time.

From the confident outset of Stay Human, it’s palpable that the sextet have decided that it’s only worth taking the Air again if they’re going to take it seriously. Not to mention with all the mysticism of yesteryear, as Kristina confirms in her exposition of new material that ‘reflects on humanity, love, solutions, perspectives and staying human through changing times and revolutions, virtual lives and delicate attractions — love and shamanic sub-atomic worlds.’ Now you know.

Kristina is ever the magnetic gypsy at the vocal helm, and equally crucially, Paul Sax a worthy descendent of the violin wizardry of the chart era’s Darryl Way. Sax’s nimble playing informs the whole work, landing a starring role on the instrumental Spider and weaving a creative path through Sonja’s vocals on the likes of Time Games and the dream-folk of Magnetism, on which Gregory plays a triumphant guitar part. A remake of Puppets, originally on the eponymous second album that housed Back Street Luv, is equally poised.

All is well until the piano ballad Colder Than A Rose In Snow veers a little towards the trite, before a series of cover versions signals, to these ears, a surprising mis-step. Their attempt at The Police’s Spirits In The Material World makes artistic sense, but whether Curved Air need to be covering Snow Patrol, as they do on a laboured Chasing Cars, will be a subject of debate among devotees. A closing pass at the Beatles’ Across The Universe helps little. Those aside, the path to the North Star has been expertly plotted.

Paul Sexton

Prog Magazine contributor Paul Sexton is a London-based journalist, broadcaster and author who started writing for the national UK music press while still at school in 1977. He has written for all of the British quality press, most regularly for The Times and Sunday Times, as well as for Radio Times, Billboard, Music Week and many others. Sexton has made countless documentaries and shows for BBC Radio 2 and inflight programming for such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. He contributes to Universal's uDiscoverMusic site and has compiled numerous sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other major artists. He is the author of Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia and, in rare moments away from music, supports his local Sutton United FC and, inexplicably, Crewe Alexandra FC.