Chapter 2: “Sign Here Guys!”
In December 1968, Cressida was auditioned by Ossie Byrne, an Australian record producer who had discovered the Bee Gees and produced several of their early hits.
Kevin: “Ossie came to the church hall and heard us play. He wanted to know if we could do harmonies, so we sang “Save The Last Dance For Me” which we later agreed sounded pretty bad! Fortunately for us, Ossie wanted to sign us anyway.”
In January 1969 Cressida signed a management contract with Ossie Byrne Productions and shortly after, following a few gigs around London, including the Country Club in Haverstock Hill and Finchley Town Hall, the band went off to Germany. A couple of gigs in Frankfurt were followed by a stint at the Star Club in Hamburg, a venue famous for hiring the Beatles and many other Liverpool groups.
Iain: “I think initially we were booked to play nine nights at the Star Club, but we went down so well that it was extended and I think it ended up being 12 consecutive nights we performed there. We would start playing early evening and continue through until 3am, with just a 15-minute break every hour! It was gruelling stuff, but at the same time it was a brilliant way of building and honing our live stage performances. We stayed in a rather sleazy hotel on the Reeperbahn and used to pass the time by competing to see who could knock the most cockroaches off the wall by throwing our boots at them!”
After Hamburg, Cressida drove to Switzerland for an equally demanding gig at a club in Zurich. Like many bands before, they fell into the owner’s devious scheme at the end of the first week where he deducted money from the band’s fee to cover their accommodations (which he provided above the club) and the bar tab. They had to play an additional week to cover the bills and earn enough money for petrol to get back to the UK.
This was also the setting for a memorable story involving a certain member of the band who at the end of the gig headed off into the night with an attractive young lady who had caught his eye that evening. On returning ashen-faced to the hotel next morning he related to the rest of the band how, on entering his companion’s apartment, she had immediately removed her long flowing wig and proceeded to introduce him to her pet python and huge tarantula spider! Just another tale of life on the road.
In March they finally returned home, weary and broke. However, encouraged by Ossie Byrne, who wanted new material to take to the record companies, over the next couple of months the band threw themselves into writing and rehearsing new songs before they went into Central Sound Studios on Denmark Street to record their first demos. They recorded Lights In My Mind, Depression and Sad Eyed Fairy at that first session and were really pleased at how they turned out.
Iain: “The only thing I remember about that first recording session was my bass drum beater falling out of the pedal during “Lights in my Mind”. If you listen carefully you can hear the bass drum disappear from the track at one point. The roadie was crawling under my stool trying to refit it while we were still recording. He did a good job and you can hear it return!”
At the same time, Ossie began taking Cressida’s demo tracks around the record labels. Initially there was talk of the band signing to Elektra Records in the US. Elektra was a very cool label at the time with a stable of artists that included the Doors, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Tim Buckley, Love and, later, Joni Mitchell. Ossie Byrne had arranged for Elektra’s founder, Jac Holzman, to come and see the band. Had Cressida signed, they would have been the first British band on Elektra. However, before that happened, Philips Records entered the scene and quickly offered to sign them to their new progressive label, Vertigo, that had just been set up by Olav Wyper. The band eventually signed to Vertigo, a label which would also become one of the most iconic British labels of all time.
Kevin ” We were naturally excited to be signing a recording contract as it was what we’d been aiming for. We had never heard of Vertigo and of course had no idea how iconic the label would become. But it didn’t matter. We just thought it meant we were on our way to achieving some success.”
By August, their sets honed at the Star Club and armed with new material, they started to pick up gigs around London, including the Marquee Club and nightspots such as The Speakeasy, Revolution and Blaises.
But changes were already afoot with Lol announcing he was leaving for Liverpool to get married and take over the family business.
Lol’s departure meant a new keyboard player had to be found, and quickly.