Interview: Pioneering music legend comes to Knaresborough

Sonja Kristina pictured with legendary prog rockers Curved Air in the 1970s.
Sonja Kristina pictured with legendary prog rockers Curved Air in the 1970s.

She was a pioneer in an era when women in rock were either sex symbols or blues shouters, she dipped into everything in the “cosmic sweetshop” and partied with Joni Mitchell.

Now the remarkable Sonja Kristina is taking legendary prog rockers Curved Air round Britain with the best line-up she’s had since the glory days of the early 1970s.

Fans at Frazer Theatre in Knaresborough on Saturday night will see a band which combines the best of that era and hits such as Backstreet Luv with newer material from recent album North Star.

Talking down the phone in the company of her cat, Sonja says she doesn’t really miss those days of fame and isn’t really the strong force of nature she appears on stage.

“The main buzz for me was always performing. I’m quite a private person.

“I’d hang out with my own crowd. The band didn’t get pursued by the press like later on when my ex-husband Stewart Copeland was in The Police.

“We did get invited to record industry parties. I remember being at a Warner Brothers one and there was Joni Mitchell which was quite exciting.

“I didn’t go across and talk to her, though.”

An accomplished actress even before she joined Curved Air in 1970, Sonja has had a varied career in and out of the bands since the time their first three albums, including Air Conditioning and Phantasmagoria, dented the charts in quick succession like a British version of similarly musically diverse Californian band Spirit.

After quiet success with her own on-and-off solo career including a key role in the acid folk movement of the early 1990s, this formidable 69-year-old finds herself the only original member left standing.

Bizarrely, the current line-up, which Sonja says she is inordinately proud of, comes from the same sort of background as peak era Curved Air – the Royal Academy of Music, classical music, folk and jazz, as well as rock.

The names include Chris Harris on bass, Robert Norton on keyboards and newcomer George Hudson on guitar.
She calls the latter "a superstar in the making."

Sonja, whose always contributed occasional lyrics to songwriting, said: “Music was completely opening up in the late 60s and absorbing different musical styles from all over the world.

“I’m on my own now after our drummer Florian Pilkington-Miska left recently.

“Over the years I’ve been spoiled by the standard of musicianship but the current line-up is very experienced and talented.

“As a band we’re very true to the original band but we like to keep things free.

“We’re about what Curved Air has always been about – top musicianship, good showmanship and the ability to breathe life into all our music, old and new.”

Despite the man’s world of the music press at the time, Sonja stood out not because of her looks but because of her cut glass voice, a better, more versatile English answer to Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane.

In an environment when women’s allotted roles in rock music were limited to blues or soul her powerful vocal style looked back to her hero, the incomparable Sandy Denny, and forward to punk and goth and Siouxsie Sue of Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Sonja said: “I didn’t mind the sex symbol tag at the time. It felt empowering. I did what I wanted to do.

“I feel in my life I was very lucky to be in the musical Hair, then lucky to meet Darryl and Francis and the band, and then to get invited to be their singer. They were such gifted boys.”

It’s a long time since she experimented with drugs at a time when almost everyone in rock music did.

"I tried most things in the comsic sweetshop but never succumbed to addiction," she says.

She doesn’t even smoke now.

Curved Air play Frazer Theatre, Knaresborough on Saturday, September 8 at 7.30pm.

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