Exclusive Interview with Darryl Way (Co-founder of Curved Air)
By Ray Shasho
British progressive rock & classical music virtuoso Darryl Way has been perfecting his artistry and passion for the electric violin for over four decades. Way recognized that installing pickups underneath the strings of a violin would essentially operate it in the same way that an electric guitar works. After listening to ‘Children of the Cosmos’ Darryl Way’s latest CD, I’m thoroughly convinced that Way has accomplished his longtime artistic endeavor.
‘Children of the Cosmos’ is cutting edge technology composed & performed by a mastermind musician. It’s labeled a progressive rock album, but I’ll call it profound rock! ‘Children of the Cosmos’ by Darryl Way deserves (5) Stars!
CURVED AIR & BEYOND: Daryl Way studied violin at Dartington College and the Royal College of Music. Way met Francis Monkman at Orange Music Electronic Company in London while picking up his violin, the instrument had been modified to handle guitar pickups. When Darryl plugged in his newly configured electronic violin, it impressed Monkman who was also there visiting the store. The meeting began a successful musical collaboration that mutated from the band ‘Sisyphus’ into progressive rock legends ‘Curved Air.’ The band’s inaugural lineup featured … Sonja Kristina Linwood (lead vocalist), Darryl Way (violin, keyboards and vocals), Francis Monkman (guitars and keyboards), Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums), and Rob Martin (bass guitar). Ian Eyre replaced Martin soon-after on bass.
‘Curved Air’ toured intensely while supporting bands like …Black Sabbath, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Deep Purple, and The Doors to name a few. The band also scored commercially with the Darryl Way co-penned hit “Back Street Luv” (1971) reaching #4 on the UK Singles charts.
In 1972, Curved Air split-up and Way formed ‘Darryl Way’s Wolf.’ Eddie Jobson replaced Way during several attempts to revive the group before joining Roxy Music. Way’s ‘Wolf’ recorded three albums before forming his next band ‘Stark Naked and the Car Thieves’ with future ‘Police’ drummer Stewart Copeland, Phil Kohn, George Hatcher, and Mick Jacques. The band disbanded when ‘Curved Air’ reformed in 1974. Copeland, Kohn, and Jacques eventually joined a reformed ‘Curved Air’ with Way and Sonja Kristina Linwood.
In 1978, Darryl Way performed on Jethro Tull’s ‘Heavy Horses’ album, Way played violin on the tracks “Heavy Horses” and “Acres Wild.”
Also in ’78 Way performed briefly with ‘Pierre Moerlen’s Gong.’
Darryl Way sporadically rejoined various ‘Curved Air’ lineups until 2009.
Way has also released eight proficient solo projects prior to ‘Children of the Cosmos’ …which may be his best recording to date.
I chatted with Darryl Way recently about … His new CD entitled ‘Children of the Cosmos’… The electric violin vs. the electric guitar …‘Curved Air’…Working with Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, Playing with ‘Pierre Moerlen’s Gong’…My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ question … and much more!
Here’s my interview with singer/songwriter/ pioneer and master of the electric violin/ and founding member of progressive rock legends ‘Curved Air’… DARRYL WAY.
Ray Shasho: Darryl thank you for being on the call today, what part of the UK are you from?
Darryl Way: “We’re in the southwest, down in Devon (Devonshire), which is the peninsula if you’re looking at a map of the UK, the little bit that stands out at the bottom …and we’ve got sunshine here at the moment.”
Ray Shasho: Let’s talk first about your new CD ‘Children of the Cosmos’ … it absolutely blew me away! I’m thinking that it may be your best solo release to date.
Darryl Way: “That’s great, I’m so pleased, and I do think it’s one of my best works definitely. It’s taken me forty years to get there, but I got there eventually.”
Ray Shasho: Did you write all the lyrics and sing on the album?
Darryl Way: “Everything is my work except for “Fire with Fire” which the lyrics were written by Billy Lawrie who is Lulu’s Brother. The singing and instrumentation on the album is all me. It’s a bit of a one man show. It’s a kind of route that I’ve been going down for the last couple of years. I’ve been doing some singing just for fun. For the past ten years, I’ve been working with an ensemble called ‘Verisma’ which is a classical crossover band that features my compositions and violin playing with the operatic tenor vocals of Stephen Crook. So I’ve kind of taken a backseat in that direction for the last ten years, but it occurred to me that it would be quite nice if I could finish off my career by singing my own songs, and that’s what happened.”
Ray Shasho: “Fire with Fire” also features the beautiful singing voice of Rosie?
Darryl Way: “Rosie is my daughter. She has a lovely voice hasn’t she?”
Ray Shasho: It’s an extremely powerful track that could easily be a score to the next James Bond flick.
Darryl Way: “I wish it was, my financial woes would be done and dusted.”
Ray Shasho: Darryl you have a remarkable voice, did you also sing with Curved Air?
Darryl Way: “Yes, funny enough, before Sonja arrived I was the original lead singer. We were a band called ‘Sisyphus’ which was basically everybody except for Sonja, before we changed the name to ‘Curved Air.’ Then Sonja took over that job because it was thought that she did a better job than I did, and I quite agree, she definitely did. Then of course all the vocal harmonies with Curved Air were done by me as well.”
Ray Shasho: The title track ‘Children of the Cosmos’ is another favorite, have you released any of the tracks from the album as a single yet?
Darryl Way: “We haven’t no, not as of yet, I’ve just done the promotional video for ‘Children of the Cosmos’ which is on You Tube, but it’s not officially a single.”
Ray Shasho: The ‘Children of the Cosmos’ You Tube video is an extraordinary and mesmerizing musical & visual journey and definitely a must see for everyone!
Another track in which the melody parallels its title is … “Spooks.”
Darryl Way: “I’m very fond of “Spooks,” it was inspired by the American TV series ‘Homeland.’ It occurred to me watching that series what a dreadful life these people had to lead when in that business and what an awful game it was to be involved with espionage. So I just wrote something that reflected the kind of mood of that series.”
Ray Shasho: Stirring lyrics as in … ‘How do you sleep at night?’
Darryl Way: “Absolutely, how do they sleep at night?”
Ray Shasho: It’s truly amazing how much your violin can mimic a monstrous guitar player … so no need for electric guitarists with you around.
Darryl Way: “That was the idea to get rid of those guys (All laughing). But yea, that’s electric violin and something I’ve been perfecting for the past forty years. I’ve tried to perfect the idea of kind of stealing guitar riffs and transferring them to the violin. Also incorporating that blues feel and the slide that guitarist’s use, so I still have a lot of guitarist ideas shall we say. It has that guitar feel but you can still recognize it like a violin. So that is the effect that I wanted to achieve, so I’m glad that I have succeeded, that’s very heartwarming for me.”
Ray Shasho: Another amazing tune which really deserves airplay on mainstream radio is “Summer of Love,” a great track weighted by 60s psychedelic music imagery, and a violin performance that sort of mirrored Jeff Beck on guitar.
Darryl Way: “Yea wasn’t that nice? I was thinking more of Ravi Shankar or John McLaughlin when he went through his Indian phase. I thought I had to write something about my experiences in London during the summer of love. It was such a seminal period. There was that kind of feeling that it was a musical renaissance and looking back on it now I’m pretty sure it was. So much creativity came out of that period because of the youth movement or maybe the drugs, I just don’t know. I think it was also creative because people were inventing it. Rock music itself was being invented at that moment in time. We had rock and roll before that but rock music was definitely being pushed and began forming. The song basically says what I wanted to say about the rock movement that I was part of, and it was a sadness for us all because it didn’t last as long as it should have. The experimentation only lasted for a short period and so I kind of extrapolated what might have happened if it carried on and the kind of music that would have been created.”
Ray Shasho: Darryl did I detect Sitar playing on “Summer of Love”?
Darryl Way: “I’ll have to confess… they’re legitimate Indian scales but it is a synthesizer.
Ray Shasho: “Lagan Love” is a beautiful piece with an Ambient/New Age sensibility.
Darryl Way: “Lagan Love” is an Irish Folk song and I heard it sung by somebody I work with and I had a recording of it with this particular person who sang it. It was just such a spectacular tune. I felt what I wanted to do because it’s such a lovely, simple, folk, clear piece of music, and if you hear it sung it’s even better, just a lovely piece.”
Ray Shasho: Your years of classical training were brilliantly exhibited on the final track of ‘Children of the Cosmos’ entitled “Sergey.”
Darryl Way: “Sergey is paying homage to Prokofiev obviously, when I first started my career in music with Curved Air, I wrote a piece called “Vivaldi” and a homage to the composer Antonio Vivaldi, so I thought at the end of my musical career I’d like to pay homage to the other person in my life who I was very fond of and that was Prokofiev. I spent a lot of time practicing his violin concerto at college, which is very difficult and rarely played. The two pieces that are featured in “Sergey” …the first part is reference to his first symphony, the very fast movement at the end of the classical symphony, and the slow movement is sort of homage to the second violin concerto. I used the same chord and structure and just improvised a different line at top.”
“I stay abreast on the very latest technology because it gives me that feeling to be able to do the things I want to do here in the studio and fulfills all my needs basically. It’s nice to work with bands and other people, but from a creative point of view, it’s lovely to have these fantastic sound powers.”
Ray Shasho: Let’s talk ‘Curved Air’ … you wrote the haunting psychedelic rocker “Marie Antoinette” just A brilliant tune! Was “Propositions” your song as well?
Darryl Way: “Propositions” was written by Francis Monkman, he was always very keen with working on different time signatures and that’s one of the pieces he wrote. That was always a bit of a showstopper when we did it live.”
Ray Shasho: I like the story of how you first met your future ‘Curved Air’ bandmate Francis Monkman …
Darryl Way: “I was picking up my electric violin for the first time at a music store. We had this idea of putting guitar pickups underneath the metal strings, up until that time most of the violins had gut strings or wound gut strings and there was a company called Thomastick who developed all metal strings around the 70’s. We took it to this music shop named Orange on Denmark Street in the West End of London. So that gave suddenly the possibility if you had a pickup underneath the strings of a violin you could operate it in the same way that an electric guitar works. They said they’d do it and try and put it together. We gave them an old violin and they put the pickups underneath and that was the first day that I picked it up and plugged into an amplifier. Francis (Monkman) happened to be in the shop and he heard this great big noise coming from a tiny violin and he was very impressed. He was at the Royal Academy of Music and I was at the Royal College of Music and so that’s how we got together, and we swapped phone numbers. He had a couple of players that he was working with and I had a player that I was working with named Nick Simon who was an American studying music in London as a pianist. So we formed a band together called Sisyphus which was the beginnings of ‘Curved Air,’ and we were all trained musicians except for the bass player.”
“We were all inspired by the music that was happening around us, at that time there was The Nice with Keith Emerson and he was obviously leading towards classical music, and King Crimson with Robert Fripp … there was a feeling amongst us crossover musicians that we had that little window of opportunity to get involved in popular and rock music, and that was the liberating thing for us.”
Ray Shasho: Why do you think “Back Street Luv” (#4 UK singles chart) was selected to be mainstream radio’s hit song?
Darryl Way: “I don’t really know… Warner Brothers probably just decided that they were going to push a single and that was the one. In those days you looked down your nose at having a hit single because we were an album band. But to sell albums you still had to have a hit single, and that’s what Warner Brothers thought I think. So they really pushed that and made it a hit, which we were all grateful.”
Ray Shasho: You had several bands after ‘Curved Air’ including … ‘Darryl Way's Wolf’ and ‘Stark Naked and the Car Thieves’?
Darryl Way: “That’s when I got together with Stewart Copeland, because after ‘Wolf’ I was managed by Miles Copeland. Miles said my brother is a drummer, why don’t you try getting together with him. So Stuart and I had a jam in a basement at Miles’ house in London. It was a very strange jam if you could imagine … Stuart on drums and me on violin jamming in a basement. But I quickly realized that he was a very talented drummer. We created a band with George Hatcher on vocals, Phil Kohn on bass and Mick Jacques on guitar. The band was very blues orientated and we did one gig only before Miles decided to put ‘Curved Air’ back together. So Curved Air went back on the road again and Stewart Copeland came with us as our road manager. After the original lineup did the reunion tour, the drummer and bass player didn’t want to carry on, so we used Phil Kohn on bass and Stewart came in on the drums.”
Ray Shasho: You played on one of my favorite Jethro Tull albums ‘Heavy Horses’ (1978) …talk about working with Ian Anderson.
Darryl Way: “When we were touring America we toured with Jethro Tull. Ian and I got along quite well and we also socialized when we weren’t on tour. He decided that he wanted to have a violin on the album and so he chose me to do it. Ian Anderson was very specific what I should play and quite a perfectionist and everything had to be exactly the way he wanted it. I haven’t seen him for decades but we use to hang out in the old days. Of all the bands that we toured with in the 70’s, the biggest reaction I’ve ever seen by an audience was with Jethro Tull.”
Ray Shasho: You worked with ‘Gong’ for awhile as well?
Darryl Way: I can only really remember doing a gig, we did a festival in Paris and I can’t remember the recording session. We also did a live television show on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and that was ‘Pierre Moerlen’s’ Gong, and to be brutally honest with you … I was struggling with it because I’m not a jazz player. I admire the art form but not able to play it. I was very uncomfortable taking over for Didier Lockwood who played with Stéphane Grappelli, that kind of playing is very tricky or very clever. I don’t have that style up my sleeve, so I was a bit of a fish out of water with that band.”
Ray Shasho: Darryl, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Darryl Way: “Oh gosh that’s a hard one! The ones I’m thinking about are all too hot and I don’t want to play alongside people who will make me look like shit! (All laughing) It would be nice to do something with Keith Emerson, to perform with Paganini perhaps, would have loved to do something with Johnny Mac, John McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman, and for a drummer …King Crimson’s Michael Giles.”
Ray Shasho: Who is your favorite electric violinist?
Darryl Way: “Well Jerry Goodman is the one that I think really cut the mustard. Jerry was on the same kind of path as I was and really wanted to play the violin in the same way the electric guitar was developing. He can play jazz but he’s a rock violinist. I’d say Jerry Goodman was my favorite.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have plans for touring any time soon?
Darryl Way: “I did a bit with ‘Curved Air’ recently … but as age has approached touring is not my cup of tea really, but I do want to do a few gigs, that’s for sure.”
Ray Shasho: Darryl, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us with ‘Curved Air’ and continue to bring us.
Darryl Way: “Ray thank you very much indeed.”
Purchase Darryl Way’s superlative new CD entitled ‘Children of the Cosmos’ at amazon.com
Darryl Way official website
Darryl Way on Myspace
Curved Air official website
Very special thanks to ‘the great’ Billy James of Glass Onyon PR
Coming up NEXT … Legendary Classic Rocker Edgar Winter (“Frankenstein,” “Free Ride”),
UP Coming Interviews … Don Wilson guitarist, pioneer, and co-founder of ‘The Ventures’… Keyboard extraordinaire Patrick Moraz (YES/The Moody Blues)… Al Kooper (The Blues Project, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Bob Dylan, and responsible for the success of Lynyrd Skynyrd… Country Music’s shining new star -19 year old Mary Sarah … Folk/Rock singer & songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”).
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