Francis Monkman
Keyboards & Guitars

Born : June 9th, 1949
Past Bands : Sisyphus (1969-70), Curved Air (1970-72, 1974), Matching Mole (1973), 801 (1976), Sky (1978-80)
Current Bands : solo career

A Short Bio:

Francis Monkman is not a "full member" of the Canterbury family, but he did work with some major exponents of the Canterbury scene - mainly Robert Wyatt and Bill MacCormick - in addition to his long-term participation in such well-known progressive rock bands as Curved Air and Sky, not to mention copious session and solo work.

A classically trained musician, Monkman studied organ and harpsichord at Westminster School; during this time his first musical ambition blossomed : that of conducting a Mozart opera. In 1967, he started three years of study at the Royal Academy of Music. He took as his first subject the harpsichord, receiving the Raymond Russel Prize for that instrument, and while at the Academy he also took up electric guitar.

While at the R.A.M., Monkman made friends with fellow student Darryl Way, a violinist who, like him, wanted to experiment with more current musical trends as well as mastering classical playing skills. In September 1969, they formed Sisyphus, which was soon noted for Monkman's innovative use of the synthesizer (a VCS 3 with an oscillator), and became Curved Air in March 1970 with the addition of ex-Hair vocalist Sonja Kristina.

Curved Air's music was a mixture of classical, West-Coast, electronic, experimental, fusion and pop. Their launch attracted a lot of attention partly because their debut album was the first commercially available picture disc, but mostly because a huge promotional budget was made available. The band's first album, Air Conditioning, was released in November 1970 and climbed to #8 in the UK charts. It featured Way's "Vivaldi", a classical-rock adaptation of the Italian composer's famous Four Seasons, which was released as a single backed with "It Happened Today". Very soon, Curved Air became one of the most well-known bands of its time. A US tour resulted in a cult following there, although the band's fan-base remained British-based.

On Curved Air's second album, Monkman's creative input was more evident; he wrote all three pieces of the second side, including the largely instrumental epic "Piece Of Mind", a 12-minute progressive classic, and also made more extensive use of the synthesizer, which along with Way's violin and Kristina's vocals and charisma, was central to the band's image and sound. From that album, "Back Street Luv" became a huge hit, reaching #4 in the charts during the Summer of 1971.

Sadly, this was not to last. In October 1972, a few months after the third album Phantasmagoria was released, with new bassist Mike Wedgwood on board, Curved Air split up due to "personality clashes and musical disagreements". This came as a strong disappointment to those who had thought the new album was their strongest to date. Monkman's long composition "Over And Above" introduced a previously absent jazz influence, which probably had something to do with the "musical disagreements" in question.

Monkman was quick to find a new musical partner. Matching Mole had just split up, and Robert Wyatt was ready to move on to pastures new. The pair started working together, which resulted in a session for the BBC's 'Top Gear' programme on December 5th, 1972. Wyatt and Monkman's performance of "God Song" and "Fol De Rol" can be heard on the compilation album Flotsam And Jetsam. Shortly thereafter Wyatt folowed his girlfriend Alfreda Benge to Italy for several weeks, and Monkman's partnership with him was only resumed the following Spring when plans were made for a new line-up of Matching Mole. It was going to consist of Wyatt, Monkman, Bill MacCormick and Fred Frith (who turned down the offer and decided to stay in Henry Cow), then Gary Windo. Sadly the idea never went beyond the planning stage, as Wyatt had the accident which left him paralysed from the waist down on June 1st, 1973.

Having started doing session work whilst still at the Royal Academy and he concentrated on sessions for the following years (while continuing to give highly acclaimed classical concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, The South Bank and the Purcell Room), working with many of the top recording and performing British artists - The Shadows, David Essex, Paul Nicholas, Kate Bush, Steve Harley, Al Stewart, Harvey Andrews and the Alan Parsons Project among others. He also collaborated with Phil Manzanera on the Roxy Music guitarist's albums Listen Now and K-Scope, and toured as member of his live band 801 in August/September 1976, alongside Brian Eno, Bill MacCormick and Simon Phillips, resulting in the 801 Live album.

There was also a brief reformation of the original Curved Air in September/October 1974 for a 3-week UK tour. It was allegedly a huge unpaid VAT bill that forced them to do so, and as soon as enough money had been grossed to discharge all debts, they split up again. The album Curved Air Live, recorded during the tour, was released in February 1975. Monkman later worked again with Darryl Way on Way's album Concerto For Electric Violin & Synth (1978).

Monkman was then introduced to Australian guitarist John Williams by Stanley Myers, and subsequently he played on Williams' Travelling (1978) album. A creative relationship was estalbished which culminated with the formation of Sky in late 1978. This was a supergroup featuring some highly-rated session musicians, most of whom had played on Williams first non-classical album, Changes (1971) : Herbie Flowers (bass), Tristan Fry (drums and percussion) and Kevin Peek (guitars).

As had been the case with Curved Air, Sky was launched amidst major publicity. The group's self-titled debut was recorded in December 1978, and shortly after its release in May 1979 received a gold record, and later a platinum record. It featured Monkman's 20-minute progressive epic "Where Opposites Meet". A couple of British tours in 1979 culminated in sold-out appearances at London's Royal Albert Hall and Dominion Theatre. They were followed by a second album, a double set which again featured a sidelong piece by Monkman entitled "Fifo". Sky 2 reached #1 in the UK album chart in July 1980. However, following successful tours in Australia and the UK, Monkman announced he was leaving to concentrate on his solo career, following the success of his soundtrack for The Long Good Friday.

Two solo albums were subsequently released : Energism (1980) and Dweller On The Threshold (1981), the latter featuring Camel leader Andy Latimer on guitar. Monkman repaid the favour by guesting on Camel's next album, The Single Factor (1982). His subsequent activities in the Eighties and Nineties have mainly been out of the limelight, but in 1999 he finally released a new album, 21st Century Blues.