Gig Reviews

Cressida Reunion

To paraphrase the old joke, you wait forty years for a Cressida gig and then three come along in a week!
Although Cressida’s reunion was scheduled to take place at the Underworld, Camden on Friday 2nd December the band played a warm up show in an Inverness pub on the 29th November to about 50 people to iron out any first night nerves.
No support acts were scheduled at Underworld to ensure that Cressida could set up their instruments exactly as they wanted them and have an extended sound check. I had the pleasure of attending this and it was obvious as they got the instrumental levels right and ran through a few songs that Angus Cullen (vocals), Peter Jennings (keyboards), Kevin McCarthy (bass), Iain Clark (drums) and new boy Roger Niven (guitar) were battle ready.
Although every song was a highlight their final number was the extended Let Them Come When They Will that wiped the floor with everything that went before. Pliant vocals, solos, unison parts and a wonderful felicity was a joy to witness and despite lasting over ten minutes none of the audience wanted the song to end. When Cressida left the stage they were not allowed any rest and brought back by the roars, screams and the stamping feet of the audience. They ended with Tomorrow Is A Whole New Day before embracing to forming a line to take a well-deserved curtain call from the audience.
At 8.20, the band stepped out onto the stage to a rapturous reception from an audience of around 230-250 people. Iain Clark gave a brief introduction as to how the concert came about through the good offices of record dealers Damian Jones and Rob Henson of Pop Classics and then begged the audiences forgiveness as the band had only had “two rehearsals” prior to the show. As a piece of canny marketing this was perfect as these two rehearsals had, in fact, been intense workouts conducted over a week in September and another week prior to the gig where the band worked hard on reacquainting themselves with the songs on their two classic albums Cressida and Asylum and rejuvenating their musical chemistry. That they had succeeded was evident from their first number that, after a short organ introduction from Jennings kicked into Survivor. The end of the song brought forth rapturous applause from an audience not only delighted to see the band in the flesh but to hear them sounding so good after all these years!
Cressida then proceeded to spend the next hour and a half sailing gloriously through their two albums unfurling classic tracks like The Only Earthman In Town, Winter Is Coming Again, One Of A Group, Lights In My Mind, Something I Said and 12 others. For someone like me who was used to hearing Cressida on vinyl or through the speakers of my computer the gig was a revelation. The band was tight, taunt and oozed musicianship. Vocally, Cullen was fantastic and also played a part contributing shaken percussion when the band cut loose. As a rhythm section McCarthy and Clark were deft and hard when required as well as laying down solid grooves that, overlaid by Jennings keyboards and Roger Niven’s wonderful guitar parts had half the audience dancing. Yes dancing to a band branded by the history books as prog rockers! What was delightful was the way that the band musically stretched out so that when Jennings went into a solo on Lights In My Mind he was followed by a blistering guitar run by Niven before Cullen brought the ship around again to head towards the home straight of the song.
I must make a special mention of the audience. Barry “Mr. Vertigo” was in attendance and spent most of his time at the front directly before Angus Cullen. His threat to reveal the Vertigo Dance was, sadly, not delivered although this may be due to the fact that so many people young and old, male and female were physically grooving away around him. There was even a fan that had flown in from the Ukraine especially for the gig. By the time he got to the merchandise counter signed copies of the album Trapped In Time had sold out and he was so desperate to buy one that he ended up going around the venue looking for a lucky soul who had a copy and then bought it from them for £100! Another fan had flown in from the Middle East desperate to witness Cressida in the flesh. Lee Dorian and other members of his band Cathedral were also in attendance. Finally, spare a thought for Michael Johnson who had come down specially to DJ from 7pm to 8.20 a set of specially chosen psych and prog monsters from his vinyl collection only to discover that the “decks” Underworld had promised were in the venue were CD players! That is why those at the gig got to hear parts of prog-rock compilation disc followed by a Steve Hillage’s Green CD that was direct from the glove compartment of my car!
At the end of the gig I was given the honour of going on stage to thank Cressida on behalf of Record Collector and the audience for coming back with a bang after 40 years. I also announced that due to Comus pulling out at the Forum Kentish Town (sadly due to illness) the following night Cressida had been asked to step in an perform a 30 minute set supporting Cathedral’s final gig. On the Saturday the band went on stage at 7.30 to deliver a vibrant set and complete three gigs in five days!
What next for Cressida? With the album of demos Trapped In Time selling like hot cakes and even Cressida T-shirts selling briskly and the band so tight, vibrant, exciting and sonically contemporary they will hopefully be asked to play more gigs. My only regret is that this magical ninety minutes was not bottled by a live recording as it was a fantastic night and was, without doubt one of the gigs of the year.
All hail Cressida!

Ian Shirley
Record Collector Magazine

CRESSIDA’S TRIUMPHANT RETURN

CRESSIDA IN THE CAMDEN UNDERWORLD SHOCK

UK’s legendary Prog Rock band Cressida astounded fans and critics alike
when they staged a sensational 'come back’ show at London’s Camden Underworld on December 2nd.

The original line up of Angus Cullen (vocals), Peter Jennings (keyboards),Iain Clark (drums) and Kevin McCarthy (bass), together with guitarist Roger Niven, got together for the first time in 40 years. But they played as if their 1971 parting had been only yesterday.

Billed as a ˜psychedelic’ rock band they proved much heavier than expected, developing a combination of hypnotic,trance like riffs with strong melodies as featured on their Vertigo albums 'Cresssida’ (1970) and 'Asylum’ (1971) both now available on Repertoire CDs. Angus gripped the audience with his magnetic presence, heightening his hold with symbolically Zen like gestures, arms reaching above his head like a latter day Jim Morrison.

Loud cheers greeted such numbers as The Only Earthman In Town’ and the fast rocker 'Lights In My Mind’ and 'Down Down'.  Angus also performed a solo song with lone guitar accompaniment and then it was back to the full band with Niven roaring on lead guitar. As they delved into funky riffs with no messing the sound of the long lost band restored our faith in Progressive Rock as a genre.

Iain Clark proved an upbeat, solid drummer who helped set the music ablaze, while Peter Jennings was brilliant at the keyboards.He created Hammond solos that brought back exciting memories of The Nice in their Sixties’ heyday. Angus claimed they’d only had two rehearsals in Scotland before the show, but that was hard to believe, given the tight execution of such
demanding arrangements.

Cheers and yells pursued the band after their lengthy sets, as they headed for a local restaurant to meet and greet,

The band seemed happy and delighted with the reaction and announced another London gig in the pipeline and even mentioned the possibility of a trip to America.

Chris Welch
Repertoire Records

Thank you and Goodnight!

By Bob Leiser (Pasted on Facebook 30th November 2011)

Living in Scotland, I was lucky enough to hear about this gig, and travelled the 200 miles from Glasgow to Inverness with an old school friend, also a Cressida fan, who I hadn't seen for 30 years. It was shaping up to be a very special evening.

I had been telling people that I discovered this band in 1971, that I was too young to see them live, that ever since then I had been wondering what became of them and that after 40 years of mystery, they had resurfaced with a new album and a reunion gig. I accepted the warnings that I could be setting myself up for a huge disappointment. The albums were recorded in a studio when the band members were young and gigging regularly and this would be a pub gig, the band 40 years older, when they had only re-assembled in September, with a replacement guitarist who hadn't known their music before.

OK, I figured, maybe it wouldn't have the sound quality of the albums, the playing might not be as sharp, there might be some slips here and there, but it would surely be a nostalgic treat. I was almost completely wrong...

...It WAS a treat, but not in a nostalgic way - anyone with an appreciation of performing and composition talent could have walked into the pub, never having heard the band before, and realise immediately that they were in the presence of something special. There are not just a vague reminder of a good band, they are good NOW

...the sound quality was very good indeed, crystal clear, not too loud, but with the all punch needed to carry off the huge dynamic range from quiet melodic passages to huge, powerful symphonic blasts

...the performance was spot-on, which is a great achievement with material containing so many stops and starts and non-standard time signatures

...there were only one or two slips, and noticeable only if you know the original albums as intimately as I do.

The band played almost all of the material from their two albums, in roughly chronological order, plus a couple of pieces that hadn't appeared on either. Each member of the band surprised us in a different way.

Angus Cullen's voice on the albums sounded innocent and unaffected - he is one of the few singers then or since to sing in a natural British accent, rather than affecting an American one. Having seen Paul Simon and James Taylor in recent months, I was prepared for Angus's voice to have dropped a couple of tones and developed a grittiness which would be particularly damaging to that kind of material, but it retains all the ambience that gave so much atmosphere to the original material.

Kevin McCarthy's bass was mixed quite low on the first album, and on the second it was sometimes hard to tell what was the bass guitar and what were bass notes on the keyboard. Seeing and hearing him play revealed just how much he contributes to the sound, and how intricate some of those parts are.

Listening to Peter Jennings play on the albums gives the impression of a man straining every fibre of his being to express himself through a torrent of perfectly chosen and perfectly timed notes. Live, he makes the same fantastic sounds, but it appears to be completely effortless, his right hand scampering up and down the keyboard as if it had a life of its own.

Iain Clark 's drumming is more impressive live than on the albums, because it demonstrates that the changes in tempo and dynamics are not done through separate takes and studio trickery, but through his command of the drum kit. On top of that, Iain showed me the answer to a question I've had for a long time. With such complex pieces, how do band members know exactly when the changes are coming, exactly when to come in, and when one solo should end and another start? Who navigates the band through those long pieces like Munich and Let Them Come When They Will? Iain Clark does. On top of the already complex drumming task, he can be seen nodding at band members, prompting them as changes approached, shouting out the count during pauses and generally holding those massive structures together.

Roger Niven could be seen as having the hardest task of all. The other band members hadn't played the material live together for 40 years, but Roger hadn't even heard it until a few months ago. He has had a massive amount to dissect, learn and put back together, and talking to him afterwards confirmed my view of
John Heyworth 's original guitar parts - they sound simple and natural, but their effectiveness in setting mood comes from the complexity of the chords and picks he uses. It's only when you take them apart to learn them, that you realise how much is in them, and Roger had to make that journey from a standing start.

But he is not just functioning as an extremely talented human juke box. He has put his own stamp on the material, while at the same time retaining the bits of the guitar parts which are needed to lead into the next part of the song.

Looking round at the assembled audience of mostly Inverness locals, who had no idea what this was going to be like, it was clear that most of them were completely gob-smacked. Some have heard Roger and Iain playing blues locally before, but it was clear that nobody was expecting anything like this. Many wouldn't have heard any prog rock before, or had only heard the kind of prog that gave the genre a bad name. This was a performance to convert the sceptics.

The band declared themselves nervous before they started, but with the fantastic audience response they got, they will arrive in Camden Town on Friday knowing that they have already played a great set this week and with that confidence, the heightened sense of occasion, and a bigger audience, I believe we'll see an even better set than last night, when they made a tiny corner of Scotland forever Cressida.

Review: Cressida Reunion Gig at the Underworld, Camden. December 2nd 2011
 by Ian Shirley, Record Collector Magazine

by Chris Welch, Renowned Music Journalist

Review: Cressida reunion warm-up gig, Inverness, 29th November 2011