Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Salad In Curved Air


I had a mate at school that had an elder brother who had a very interesting record collection. He had the basement room in their house and my mate and I used to sneak down there and play his Led Zeppelin records when he was out. I remember being really scared by the middle bit of “Whole Lotta Love” – and thinking that the bit about lemon squeezing in “Killing Floor” was probably really rude (I was right). Of course, he was fourteen, and we were eleven, so he was a bit disparaging; and my mate wasn’t really all that bothered about his brother’s records. But I was, and the big brother was a friendly soul, and once he’d got over the shame of talking to an eleven year old he seemed quite pleased that I was interested. It gave him a chance to show off and act knowledgeable – which was fine by me. He was a devotee of what was known as  Progressive Rock, and he would introduce me to records by groups with names like Ten Years After and Santana. One of the records he played me that I really liked was by a group called Curved Air. He had all their records but the one I liked was called “Second Album” – a startlingly original title which I remember thinking should have been used by some wag as the title of a debut album. This record came in an extraordinarily elaborate sleeve – a massive fold out affair, which featured, amongst other things, photographs of the band’s lead singer, a lady called Sonja Kristina. I thought she was just gorgeous and this played no small part in my enthusiasm for the band’s music. Then they had a hit single, “Back Street Luv”, and I got a chance to see them on Top of The Pops. 

Not long after that they were featured on the B-side of a flexi disc that was given away free by the NME to promote the Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street” album. (The A side consisted of Mick Jagger introducing snippets of the songs in a rambling blues discourse that, as far as I know, has never been heard of again.) 

Anyway, a couple of years later I put on my smelly Afghan coat and went with my friend Paul (who looked older than me) to see Curved Air doing a gig at the London College of Printing. Although we failed to find any pot we had a good time anyway, mainly because Curved Air put on a really good show and Sonja Kristina was wearing a kind of feathery cat suit, which revealed one of her nipples. Whether this was intentional or not we can only guess but I remember they played a “superlong audience participation” version of my favourite song, “Everdance”. 

But I never saw Curved Air again and when punk came along and changed everything, I forgot all about them. 

Fast forward about 22 years to the start of 1996 and London felt briefly alive for the first time in ages. Hindsight has called it Britpop but then it just felt like it was time to dress up again. Which was no bad thing. Blur and Oasis were ongoing, and in their wake all sorts of possibilities seemed to be unfurling. I had a groovy new student who seemed very plugged into all this. She had the clothes and the attitude and she used to play me all the new bands. One day she played me a record by a band called Salad, which sounded just like Curved Air! And lo and behold, they had a lady singer with a foreign name – Marijne van der Vlugt – who was also gorgeous and, again, I suspect that this affected my judgement. But whenever I would try to be hip and namedrop that I liked a band called Salad, people would either curl their nose up or look blank. Turns out that the beautiful Marijne had been an MTV presenter and that meant she couldn’t be any good. But I really did like Salad – I thought they were very musical and unusual. I went to see them live, at a college just like the one where I had seen Curved Air, and they did a version of “Back Street Luv”. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Apparently they recorded it for a charity album that I never have been able to track down, so if anybody’s got a copy they could let me have… 

I bought all their records and saw them live several times. I wrote them a gushing fan letter and got a sweet hand-written note back from Marijne herself, which arrived on my birthday – not that she was to know. Then Island records dropped them after their second album flopped. And this from the label that brought us Dr Strangely Strange and Wynder K Frogg! Whatever happened to artist development? Poor old Salad were so demoralised by this that they called it a day. Now I gather that Marijne has dropped out of the music business completely and the rest of the band… Well, who cares about the rest of the band? But for an old person such as myself, I still say that, apart from Blur, Salad made the most interesting records to come out of the Britpop scene – and that their apparently completely co-incidental resemblance to Curved Air represents a striking example of re-incarnation in the field of pop music.    

Adam Blake. London

P.S Marijne is back! With a band called Cowboy Racer. I can’t wait!

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