Tag Archives: Curved Air

January 7th 1974

“Berfday. Got lamp, pygamas, £2 from Mormor – bought Stranded – Roxy – Smart!”

So the wild and crazy out-of-control teenager turns 16 and celebrates with … erm… some pyjamas (mis-spelled), a lamp (a lamp??) and a couple of quid from his Danish grandmother.

However, it seems like I made up for it a little later in the day, treating myself to the merest glimpse of Marilyn Cole’s nipples….erm, I mean Roxy Music’s third album, Stranded

Stranded was the group’s first album without Brian Eno, he and Bryan Ferry having fallen out over who was really ‘leading’ the band. With all due respect to Eno, I do feel as though the ‘better man won’ in that regard. Ferry is a stylish crooner in comparison to Brian’s somewhat grotesque “Addams Family” appearance and thin vocals.

(In time, Eno would turn out to be a MUCH bigger hero of mine than Ferry, but we’ll save my feelings on that until reference to him appears in my diary pages)

To enter the grooves of  Stranded one must first get by the striking cover art. Another Anthony Price photo shoot, another superb piece of glamorous titillation. Despite coming from Portsmouth in England, model Marilyn Cole grew up to be a very attractive woman indeed. She was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in January 1972 (indeed, hers was the first full frontal centrespread to appear in the magazine) as well as Playmate of the Year in 1973.

Although dating Bryan Ferry at the time of the photo shoot (but not by the time of the album’s release), it is alleged she was *ahem* actively pursued by Playboy boss Hugh Hefner but ended up marrying the then head of the organisation’s London operations (and renowned playboy in his own right) Victor Lownes.

 

Lucky blighter that Victor!

No Eno. Jobson!

Back to the album itself, which kicks off with “Street Life“, the only cut released as a single (reaching #9 on the UK Singles chart in November 1973). Moody atmospheric electronics start the track off, before it kicks into overdrive, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the “ghost of Eno” was still amongst the group. His place in the group had been taken by Eddie Jobson, a multi-instrumentalist previously with the band Curved Air. Whilst Jobson’s keyboard noodlings were never as innovative as Eno’s, his contribution to Roxy Music really came to the fore with his ability to play the violin, musically adding a ….erm… whole new string to Ferry’s bow.

“Street Life” is a real swaying cruncher of a song, despite only really having one chorus in the middle, and features Ferry almost growling out his thinly veiled allegorical lyrics. His attack on the media (in light of his new found fame and predilection for stunning female companionship) is palpable:
Hey good-looking boys – gather around
The sidewalk papers gutter-press you down
All those lies can be so unkind,
They can make you feel like you’re losing your mind

It’s a pop song which I feel has fully stood the test of time. Conversely, it’s really the only cut on Stranded which harked back to their previous two albums. I’ll admit that personally I think Roxy Music were a much more interesting act with Eno in the line up. It may be because Brian often managed to quell some of Ferry’s predeliction to overt romanticism, or at least disguise it somehow. On “Stranded” however, Ferry was holding on to the reins all by himself… and did a bloody good job!

Personally I’ve always been of the opinion that the rest of this album and the next two albums (“Country Life” & “Siren”) almost represented a kind of “Roxy Music Mk II”.

As if to prove my point – and to prove that Roxy Mk II could be every bit as good as Mk I – “Just Like You” is the next track. This song never fails to move me. It luxuriates in its own languid gorgeousness, Ferry’s crooning beyond reproach. The lyrics are a little bit “moon in june”-ish but he believes every single line and sings them with such conviction its impossible to criticise.

Just when Ferry has lulled you into a soporific state of mind, along comes the somewhat bizarre “Amazona“. It goes off on so many tangents, lilting and tilting here there and everywhere before almost settling on a driving rhythm at the 3-minute mark, then scaring you again with the world highest-pitched guitar solo from co-writer Phil Manzanera. An odd song, but a brilliant one.

Psalm“, closing Side 1 is alleged to be the first song Ferry ever wrote for Roxy Music back in the band’s formative stage. It starts with what sounds like a church organ overlaid with Ferry’s vocals. Slowly, drums, guitar, oboe, violin and a (real? electronic?) choir all contribute to what appears to be some kind of tribute to a multitude of different religions. The song is written – and Ferry sings it – in such a manner that it sounds like a traditional composition from the 40’s or 50’s (surely his intent?), his voice now starting to more regularly display that strange vibrato he does so well.

Side 2 opener is “Serenade“, probably my least favourite cut of the eight. The rhythm feels all wrong to me – always has – and I think the guitar solo halfway through is the only thing that vaguely redeems it.

Where “Serenade” fails, the next two cuts more than make up. “A Song for Europe” is, quite simply, a majestic work of art. Ferry’s immaculate phrasing underscored perfectly by the accompanying musicianship. The simple bass riff at the 3:24 minute mark sets up Mackay’s sax which then does battle with Ferry singing in a variety of tongues – I think it’s Latin, French and Italian? Somewhat weirdly, I often find myself muttering Ferry’s (somewhat awful) pun halfway through the number, where he alludes to Venice with “and the bridge… it sighs”

If that wasn’t enough, it’s followed by “Mother of Pearl” one of my favourite ever ‘corkers’ by Roxy Music, indeed it would almost certainly be one of my ‘Desert Island Discs‘ if I were ever invited on to the programme. Ferry’s lyrics are 100% top notch from start to finish, even if I’ve never really been certain what he’s banging on about. For me it’s just one of those songs that sounds right, if that makes sense?

Sunset” closes an almost perfect album, perfectly. It’s an ode to death, but it could just as easily be referring to the end of a lovely summer’s day. One word: GORGEOUS!

Is “Stranded” Roxy’s best album? Depends who you talk to. For me, it’s certainly the best of their output from this era, although there are cuts from both “For Your Pleasure” and “Country Life” I wish were on it too, just to selfishly make it 100% perfect.

I do think that, in 1974, I was in a weird minority of music fans. I knew lots of people at school who liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Roxy Music, but rarely both. It was almost as if everybody had to fit into one camp or the other. Likewise there seemed to be ‘rivalry’ between ELP and Yes fans, T.Rex & Slade fans, even Roxy Music and Bowie fans.

Me? I was just into it all.

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April 13th 1973

“Had lie in, in morning (great)” / “Went up Dave C’s. Brrwd Roxy Music, lent him Phantasmagoria. Started work at 4 o’clock”

On of the strange things about being a teenager is this inate ability for them to just sleep and sleep and sleep.

I was no different.  On Sundays – or days when i didn’t have school or work – it was certainly not unusual for me to keep my sorry arse in bed until after midday, often stumbling downstairs just in time for dinner. (In British parlance, “dinner” is the middle meal of the day, not the last… I’d hate for American readers to think I was so bloomin’ sad I didn’t get up until 5pm! (OK, who at the back shouted out “Are you sure?”)

Naturally, as my skis now tip over the edge of  the precipice for that fast slalom run to dotage I regret staying in bed all that time and wonder why I didn’t just get up, get out and enjoy the world for all it was?!

Kids don’t know how good they’ve got it. (I often wonder if the reason I can’t sleep now is because I just slept too much as a teenager? Do we all perhaps have a fixed quantity of snoozetime?)

In other news the “friends of TRO” record club was thriving

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March 27th 1973

“Day Off” / “Went to Southampton with Mal & Nig – Went in Wimpy’s for dinner – I bought Magical Love – Saturnalia” / “Got Roxy Music tickets”

This could end up being a meandering lengthy post…….

Let’s start off with the reference to Wimpy’s shall we?

Wimpy – or Wimpy Bars as they were known then – were the first American-style ‘fast food’ restaurants in Britain. (For the sake of a “fast food” descriptor we shall conveniently ignore the whole British “fish & chip” phenomenon… the precursor of ALL fast food, surely?)

The chain was originally founded in 1930’s Chicago. (The restaurant name came from cartoon character Popeye‘s hamburger-eating chum J.Wellington Wimpy, seen on the right) It was licenced in the 1950’s by the huge J.Lyons food corporation, who brought the notion of self-serve quick food served at tables to the other side of the Atlantic. By the time of this diary entry (1973) there were an astonishing 1000+ Wimpy restaurants across 23 countries.

Wimpy Bars continued to flourish until 1974. Then a new player entered the marketplace. That player was McDonalds.

In the face of the McD’s behemoth as well as other interlopers like Burger King and KFC, the Wimpy brand went into rapid decline and the company was sold four times over between 1977 and 1990. Each attempt to re-promote and reposition the chain was met with public resistance.

In 1973, Wimpy offered freshly-cooked burgers accompanied by chips (french fries) and thick milkshakes. As I remember food was ordered from a waitress, and then eaten from real plates and with real cutlery. Maybe Wimpy is therefore responsible for two things in my later life?…

The first is that I have generally had FAR too much of a fascination for fast food in all its forms which has most definitely aided and abetted in my middle-aged ‘girth’ (However, despite ignoring fast food joints in the past 4 years, my girth regardless grows!)

Secondly, that Wimpy may have formed my dislike for eating messy burgers with my fingers, something for which I am considered no less than a ‘freak’ by my fellow Americans. I’ll always prefer to eat a burger with a good ol’ knife & fork than my hands. Something that my good wife even felt necessary to comment on at her excellent foodie blog.

Perhaps surprisingly, Wimpy STILL exists on the British retail/dining map, albeit it in a much reduced capacity. It operates over 270 franchise restaurants, many in motorway service stations and bowling alleys. It does have some stand alone locations too, predominantly in the South of England with a dozen or so in London alone.

Maybe next time I am back in Blighty I will search one out?

Front and back of the original Saturnalia picture disc with the diffracted (3-D) images

Now, onto Saturnalia’s “Magical Love”…..

OK…confession time. I bought this album because of what it looked like!

I had no idea of who Saturnalia were (neither, I suspect, did Mal or Nig) or what this album was all about. Here’s what I DID know. It was a picture disc inside a plastic sleeve. The pictures on the disc must have looked very groovy, and the middle label had a weird refractive element to it which made it change colour.

I was an impressionable youth with (apparently) money to burn.

I can tell you nothing about what Saturnalia sounded like. I can remember the sum total of nothing about this album. I know nothing about the band or their subsequent career.

I bought this album entirely on spec, most likely because it was on sale in one of the shops we went in whilst wandering around town. I probably thought I was being hip and trendy by buying this picture disc?!

I do remember that the sound quality of it was truly awful. Picture disc technology was doubtless far from perfect in 1973 resulting in hiss, skips, rumbles and more. I can’t have played it much and have no idea where it went over the years that followed its purchase.

Who’s not to say that Saturnalia’s career would have been stellar had their record label not inflicted a crappy picture disc on them?

Let’s do a little research on Saturnalia and “Magical Love” shall we?….

• Seems as if this was the second EVER picture disc released commercially in the UK. (The first was a version of Curved Air’s “Airconditioning” LP)

• The album was produced by (former) Yardbirds singer Keith Relf and is considered something of a lost psych/prog rock “classic”. (In this regard I’m betting it normally changes hands for obscene amounts of money)

• The band’s sound is often compared to Jefferson Airplane. (As if I needed another reason not to listen to it in 1973… Grace Slick’s screechy warbling has never appealed)

• The band featured a somewhat attractive female lead singer known as Aletta

• The picture disc was notorious for featuring images of the band naked from the waist up.

Aaaaaah….. now I know why I may have been attracted to it!

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February 7th 1973

“Cup City 2 Liv 0 (Colin, Tommy)” / “Arguverge > Argument (agane)” / “Went up Nigs in evng – lent him Phantasmagoria + borrowed family – Anyway – Quite Good really” / “Found out that I was 4th in TD with 60% although I haven’t dun homework for 3 months”

City for the cup… City for the Cup!

(Yes, my embarrassment at having to admit I was a teenage fan of Manchester City remains)

I had borrowed Nig’s copy of Family’s “Anyway” before, so maybe I decided to give it another chance? It’s certainly not amongst their best, although I’ve always had a soft spot for “Holding the Compass

No homework for 3 months and I come 4th in Technical Drawing? I either had natural aptitude for this subject back then….. or…. the school was crap.

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November 24th 1972

“took ‘ome Phantasmagoria – Curved Air. Only one word for it – PHANTASMAGORIA”

Not one of my classier music reviews this one!

In fact, its got more cheese than a ploughman’s lunch!

Curved Air were one of those (what I call) should’ve/would’ve bands in the history of music.

I think the reason they never crossed over to ‘super-stardom’ was due to people finding the band difficult to properly categorise? Their sound was a mish-mash of both progressive and traditional rock, merged with folk rhythms, electronic meanderings and expansive classical flourishes.

The band consisted of Francis Monkman on keyboards and guitar, Mike Wedgewood on bass, Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums, the somewhat delectable Sonia Kristina on vocals and Darryl Way on…….erm…. violin.

Having a violin player in a band these days would raise very few eyebrows, but back in the early seventies the word “novelty” springs to mind. (Indeed, 1971 had already paid host to a novelty violin-based hit single in the shape of East of Eden’s “Jig-a-Jig“)

Phantasmagoria was Curved Air’s follow up to their aptly titled “Second Album”, released in 1971, which gave birth to the band’s one and only hit single “Back Street Luv

The album contains, amongst other things:
• an ode to Marie Antoinette
• the guest appearance of a live cheetah on the cut “Cheetah” (d’uh!)
• a 4-song “conceptual suite” on side two
• a very early use of rock’s infamous VCS3 synthesizer (later adopted by everyone who was anyone in the business) to electronically process Sonia’s voice whilst she reads a short poem by Lewis Carroll. (His book of poems, “Phantasmagoria“, loaning its name to the LP title.)
• a track entitled “Not Quite the Same”, about masturbation, and how the song’s protagonist “busied himself, quite amusing himself, by abusing himself” (Maybe he found some decent photos of Sonia Kristina at whatever was the ‘titillation’ precursor to the internet?)

Phantasmagaria is another one of the few albums that I know inside out from start to finish, and I can anticipate all the nuances and how each song develops. Every so often a cut from it will appear randomly on my i-Pod and I’ll just get “into it” (man).

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November 22nd 1972

“told Ian S I would like to buy Phantasmagoria – Curved Air off him for £1.25”

EFA70’sTRO was already wheeling-dealing in recorded music!

Just out of curiosity I took a look on eBay UK to see how much this album goes for nowadays.

At the time of writing this, there was just a single listing for it. No less than a fully AUTOGRAPHED copy being offered for a mere £4.99… with NO bids.

*sigh*

It looks as though I will soon own this record, so I will reserve my comments on it for when my diary tells me it is in my grubby little hands.

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An Aside (XI)

Part 4…


Comments:-
1) Once again I say…. “Best Miscellaneous Instrument“????
2) As John Lennon once said of Ringo Starr “He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles”…
3) Whatever WAS the attraction of Joe Cocker? I have always thought he was awful.
4) Brightest Hope #10 …… Fanny … the world’s first ever female heavy rock band? Never did a lot… except make a lot of English schoolboys inwardly snicker at their name. (For those not in the know, the word “fanny” holds completely different slang meanings dependent on what side of the Atlantic you grew up on!)
5) “Best Miscellaneous Instrument“???? … Good to see Darryl Way listed. He was violinist with the awesome Curved Air… erm, that “awesomeness” somewhat exaggerated by presence of lead singer, Sonia Kristina

Trivia note: Sonia Kristina was once dated by Stuart Copeland…. later of The Police. Lucky bastard.

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