Yesterday, you know it never really happened
Tomorrow you not it never really had
You, you’re only what you think you might be
I am only what you think I am.

The opening lines of the song ‘It Happened Today’ from Curved Air’s debut album Air Conditioning, originally released in 1970 on the Warner Bros. label, still strikes a punch many years later. With Sonja’s haunting vocal lines, intensive piano and arpeggiated guitar work from Francis Monkman, and a swelling finale from Darryl Way, it will make you understand why this band were so far ahead of this time.

Francis passed away on May 12th this year at the age of 73. He has left an incredible legacy behind. And it also proved that he’s more than just a member of Curved Air, who has been championed by artists like Lee Dorrian, founder of Rise Above Records, and did a cover of their songs with his band Cathedral at the time, doing ‘You Know‘.

He also described the band in Classic Rock Magazine, as “a real band attitude and zest for life; this is a band that you want to see live for the sheer artistry or how to deliver the master goods.” And Lee is spot on with that quote. Air’s music has hypnotised listeners, including myself, to prove how damn good they really are, and give the prog genre, a real kick in the gut that it badly needed.

I first became aware of the band’s music back in the fall of 2005 when I heard a sample of their sound from the Rhino 5-CD box set, Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era, originally released in 1995. Followed by the ProgArchives website where I discovered more of their music. And I became hooked, right there and then.


They weren’t just a typical prog-rock band, but a band that had charisma, getting down to business, intensive arrangements, and pushing the envelope as far as they go. For Monkman, his guitar playing was as heavy, raunchy, eruptive, and hypnotising listeners to embark on a magic carpet ride that awaits you.

Born on June 9th, 1949 in Hampstead, England, he went to Westminister School, studying harpischord and organ, followed by the Royal Academy of School and winning the Raymond Russell Prize for his haprischord virtuosity, and then later becoming a member of the English chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

At the turning point in the mid-60s, Monkman wanted to branch out from playing keyboards. He started learning to play guitar and delved into the Rock Music scene. He founded Sisyphus, and it would later become Curved Air, which took its name after Terry Riley’s (an artist Monkman admired) composition, A Rainbow in Curved Air.

He played on the first three albums from 1970 to 1972 (Air Conditioning, Second Album, and Phantasmagoria). And each of those songs and compositions from ‘Marie Antoinette’, ‘Phantasmagoria’, ‘Over and Above’, ‘Back Street Luv’, ‘Bright Summer’s Day ’68’, ‘Piece of Mind’, the live version of ‘Propositions’, the VDGG and Gnidrolog approach to ‘Situations’ and the explosive segue of ‘Vivaldi’ into ‘Vivaldi with Cannons’, those tracks can bring the house down like a ticking time-bomb, waiting to happen.

After Monkman left the band due to creative differences, he helped out with other bands and artists such as Al Stewart (Past, Present and Future), playing the VCS3 solo on Renaissance’s ‘Rajah Khan’ from their third studio album Prologue, Lynsey de Paul, touring with The Shadows in 1977, and collaborating with Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera with 801.

Then in 1978, he became a member with Sky featuring bassist Herbie Flowers (Lou Reed, Steve Harley, David Bowie), guitarists John Williams and Kevin Peek, and drummer, percussionist Tristian Fry (The Beatles, Olivia Newton-John, Nick Drake) on their first two albums.

As the ‘70s were coming to an end, the ‘80s were approaching. Monkman would later do scores for TV and Film after leaving Sky, following the release of the second album. One of the film scores that did, was the 1980 British gangster classic from Handmade Films, The Long Good Friday starring Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, and a young Pierce Brosnan in his film debut.

When you look back at his career, you can tell that Francis himself was always one step ahead to take on the next big thing. Whether it was his bands, composing, his solo work, collaborations, you name it. He was always moving forward to see which door will be opened for him, and the challenges that he will take as he enters those doors to see what kind of magic he will have, underneath his sleeve.

Now I feel a little better, seems the walk has done me good, you know
I feel I’m beginning to see the existence of,
You know I never even found out quite what.
Now I really feel I’m flying, far beyond my wildest dreams to be
Alive in this prison of torturing ecstasy.
You know at first it never seemed to relate.

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