Cressida, formed in 1968, are considered one of the pioneering symphonic progressive bands. Although they released just two albums before disbanding in 1971 they retain a strong cult following and have decided to release a 12″ vinyl album, Trapped in Time: The Lost Tapes, of previously unheard recordings, and to reform for a one-off gig at Camden’s Underworld in London on the 2nd December. Thanks to Iain Clark for taking a break from rehearsals for a short chat with DPRP’s Roger Trenwith.
Roger: Like a lot of older fans of the band, I first discovered you through record collecting, in particular that home for the woefully under-promoted, the Vertigo swirl label. Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeld sums it up when he says “(Cressida) were so incredibly good, and not just another obscure band with rare albums.” I acquired both your original LPs Cressida & Asylum (originally released in 1970 and 1971), and soon fell in love with your ear for a melody and an intriguing arrangement. Can you tell us who your influences were all those years ago?
Iain: We were mainly listening to West Coast bands and others from the States like the Doors, Iron Butterfly and JeffersonAirplane. There were a lot of really good bands around that in those days… Quicksilver Messenger Service, Spirit, Chicago, Moby Grape, Steve Miller, Allman Brothers, Mothers of Invention. Of course we were all influenced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the early British Blues bands, but it was the American bands we were listening too.
Roger: Did you form friendships with any of the other Vertigo bands back in the day? It would be great though probably impossible to arrange a Vertigo mini-festival as there were quite a few decent bands on that label that flew well under the radar.
Iain: Not really. We were all working bands and on the road a lot. You would sometimes meet up in the London clubs like the Speakeasy or Blaises. We did a Vertigo tour of Europe with Black Sabbath which was interesting and a lot of fun…. and yes there were many good bands on Vertigo…. it was a very cool label. A Vertigo mini-festival sounds like a great idea, but I agree… it’s probably impossible
Roger: What have you all been up to musically since then, if that’s not too convoluted a question to answer?
Iain: Wow… Kevin played with a band called Tranquillity and eventually moved to California to live. He does production work and has a small studio. John Heyworth the first guitarist moved to the States too and played for many years in various cover bands while John Cully, his successor went on to play in Black Widow. Angus left music altogether and Peter has played in a few bands in and around London, but he mainly concentrates on composing these days. I went on to play with Uriah Heep for a while and then left the music business. However, I continued playing for the sheer fun of it, and still play in a band.
Roger: Your new LP was presumably one reason for the reunion, or had you all been considering it for a while?
Iain: After we all got back in touch with one another there was some talk about doing a reunion, but it was really taken too seriously. So yes, whilst we were discussing putting out the album, a lot of people started saying you should do a gig, and the idea began to firm up. The logistics of getting us all together are pretty formidable (Angus is in France, Kevin’s in California, Peter’s is London and I’m in the North of Scotland). But after we finally all met up again and played some of our old music we realised that actually, we really should do it. So here we are.
Roger: How difficult was it locating all the band members for the reunion?
Iain: We’d actually been in touch with each other for a couple of years, but originally locating everyone was quite an exercise.
I had remained friends with Angus since the band split. He and I had actually collected the royalties for all the band so we set about trying to locate the others. We didn’t know Kevin was living in L.A. and had been trying to find us! I think it was he who used a people-finder site to track Angus down. The first Angus Cullen they found was the right one! However when Kevin called his number he got his answering machine…and didn’t recognize his voice! So it took a while but they eventually made contact. Kevin led us to John Heyworth who was living in Oregon, and then we finally made contact with Peter Jennings in London. Everyone got their back-dated royalties and thanks to the Internet and email we were able to stay in touch. It was John Heyworth who tracked down his successor in the band, John Culley. It was one of the last things he did before he died.
Roger: How are the rehearsals going? Was it hard work recalling forty year-old arrangements?
Iain: Actually it was. Peter had transcribed all the music but when we started playing there was still quite a lot of “how did this go again? and “what chord are you playing there?”, but it didn’t take long for it to all drop back into place. Although there are a couple of songs where the keys have changed, we have attempted to remain faithful to the original arrangements on the records.
Roger: You were well known for live improvisations, and I’d imagine Depression from the first album would be one of the songs to get “the treatment” – can we expect a helping of improv at the upcoming live show?
Iain: Absolutely. Although I suppose Cressida is perhaps known for its concise songs, particularly on the first album, we always liked to include extended numbers where we could improvise and ‘stretch out’ a bit. Numbers like Depression and Let Them Come When They Will in particular were always live favourites, and we’ll be doing these at the Reunion Gig. In fact we’re doing most of the songs that people will be familiar with from both albums plus a couple that have never been heard before that didn’t make it on to the albums.
Roger: Will Peter be playing a vintage Hammond or be taking the sensible option (from a roadies point of view!) of playing a modern lightweight keyboard that can synthesise that wonderful old instrument?
Iain: Peter plays a real Hammond but it’s an XK3, which is a modern single manual keyboard that still generates the authentic Hammond sound. The old M100s and B3s were a nightmare to move even if it had been chopped (cut in half!) He also plays a Kurzweil PC3x, but he still runs them through a real Leslie which gets that instantly identifiable rotary sound… so the roadies still have some gear humping to do!!
Roger: Well, thanks for that, I’ll let you get back to rehearsing! I’m really looking forward to 2nd December, see you there.
Iain: Thank you. Look forward to see you on December 2nd!
If you’re interested in buying the LP visit http://www.recordcollectormag.com/show-product.php?product_id=35&dm_i=GQR,LKW1,2J39JC,1QZY8,1
..and don’t forget the gig… http://www.theunderworldcamden.co.uk/gigs/eventdetails/2-dec-11-cressida-underworld/