Friday, 2nd December, 2011
Camden Underworld, London, the UK
Those of you who have ever got into collecting original issues of obscure first-wave prog rock will be aware of the Vertigo “swirl” label.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s all the major labels set up subsidiaries for the burgeoning underground music scene of the time,
which later flowered into our good friend prog rock.
UK label Philips was no different and Vertigo was its home for the waifs and strays of the alternative scene.
Carried along on the back of successes like Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath, it signed all sorts of obscure bands, Cressida being one of the better ones.
With a promotional budget that varied from zero to…ooh about £5 6s 6d, most of these lesser known bands ascended and disappeared without trace.
Partly due to drummer Iain Clark selling his record collection to “Mr Vertigo” Barry Winton,
and partly down to Iain’s efforts in tracking down former band members in order to distribute royalties from the sales
of their two Vertigo albums that have been reissued a few times on CD over the years,
original band members gathered from far and wide, the muse was rekindled, rehearsals started in earnest,
and word got around, and ultimately the collectors’ magazine
Record Collector issued a vinyl only compilation of demos and unreleased material,
and here we are in this cellar in Camden Town.
Read more in my recent
interview with the band.
Most of the audience are too young to have seen the band the first time,
including me I hasten to add, and indeed it’s good to see such a wide age range in the capacity audience,
probably down to a lot of dads getting their kids into the ageless song craft of this fine band.
There’s even a good proportion of females in the audience, something prog often suffers the lack of.
Looking relaxed as they saunter onstage just after 8 o’clock, drummer Iain Clark relates the story above as an introduction, and off we go.
Cressida’s music is largely dominated by Peter Jenning’s keyboards.
A modern and lighter (to the roadie’s relief no doubt) version of the old Hammond behemoth sits above a Kurtweil PC3x,
but one notices a trusty Leslie cabinet to the side.
Peter’s playing flows with the assurance of a man who has kept up his musical practice over the years,
and his sometimes studiously serious expression shows the care he was putting into his contributions,
fluid runs sometimes in the mould of Rare Bird driving the songs along.
On bass we have Kevin McCarthy who has also kept playing, and now lives in the States.
His five string bass playing keeping the beat with Iain Clark’s unfussy drumming with an ease that belies the sometimes unusual time signatures and changes.
Most surprising was singer Angus Cullen’s voice, which for a man who left the music business altogether many years ago,
was right on the money throughout, and at one point he took a solo acoustic spot like a true veteran.
Sadly, original guitarist John Heyworth died last year, and his replacement in the original band, John Culley was unavailable,
so stepping into the axe wielding slot was Roger Niven, who, as he has been playing since the late 60s in a bewildering variety of bands and styles,
took to Cressida’s music with the panache of a man who knows his way round a fretboard.
Kudos to him for learning an entire back catalogue from scratch, unlike the others who only (!)
had to retrieve it from synapse connections made 40 years ago.
Most of the band’s original output is shorter and song based, which is why they have lasted the test of time.
Songs like Survivor and To Play Your Little Game sounding as fresh now as they did all those years ago.
The set was a game of two halves, the first part being culled mainly from the first self-titled album, and the latter part mainly from second LP Asylum,
the turnaround being the two “new” previously un-issued songs that feature on the Record Collector LP.
Clearly enjoying themselves after quickly getting into their stride, and indeed I did not notice any obvious missed notes although I’m not a muso,
so there may have been some minor glitches, the band charged through the longer songs towards the end of the set.
Highlight for me was Munich which of was of course featured on Andy Read’s DPRP radio show not so long ago.
The set ended with another longer number, Let Them Come When They Will, both these songs featuring classy extended keyboard and guitar breaks.
When the bows were eventually taken after almost two hours of fine entertainment the mutual appreciation between the band and
audience was apparent from the grinning faces all round, onstage and off.
The genial promoter then announced that the band had been invited to do a short set at The Forum the following night and told us that
if we wanted to meet the band they would be in the pub attached to the venue, the World’s End.
It seemed that most of the audience trooped into the cavernous tavern, and after a while I spotted Peter and went over to shake his hand.
He looked somewhat bemused at the attention he was getting and the thanks pouring down, possibly wondering why it didn’t happen first time round.
With the band members living so far apart it is doubtful that this was ever going to be more than a one-off,
(or a two-off, with the Forum gig) but with our applause and thanks ringing in their ears one can only hope!
The Only Earthman In Town
Winter Is Coming Again
One Of A Group
Lights In My Mind
Something I Said
Wind In The Night
To Play Your Little Game
Let Them Come When They Will
Tomorrow Is A Whole New Day
Cressida official Website