Underworld, Camden, London, November 2 2011
Professional naysayers and cynics will tell you that no band should ever reform. To do so is to trample on a legend, to bring it back to earth from the magic universe in which it floats, to vainly deny the ageing process and a whole load of other bollocks espoused by people, still, 34 years on, espousing the ‘live fast die young’ bollocks. We should all die under 30, to prevent senility and sliding into middle-aged comfort, the very things ‘rock and roll’ is supposed to oppose. The other thing we should never do, of course, is listen to prog of any kind- except Krautrock, because it’s allowed on account of its ‘motorik minimalism’.
Oops, looks like Cressida have disobeyed all the sacred covenants then, by dint of (a) reforming some 40 years after their last gig, and (b) playing unashamedly progressive, psychedelic jazz-tinged rock. Oh, and by being unbelievably transcendentally brilliant. Of course there’s still room for doubt, as some things just can’t be the same all those years on, and I have seen both Dr Strangely Strange and Fleur De Lys be heartbreakingly pants within the last four years. But there are no such worries to be had about Cressida. After a short introduction-speech-thank you to “the new generation of progressive fans keeping the name alive” from drummer Iain Clark, they’re off, never looking back- almost as if those missing 40 years had never happened. And all this after merely two rehearsals. ‘That’ soft yet throbbing Peter Jennings organ sound, played as authentically close to the original arrangement as possible, the educated, professor-like vocals of Angus Cullen, the grinding, full-chord basslines of Kevin McCarthy- all sound exactly as they do on record, only even more alive.
It’s impossible to gauge without talking to them whether Cressida’s London of 1969 and 1970 was the refined yet unconventional, slightly hallucinogenic world of velvet trousers, draped rooms and girls both simultaneously beflowered and deflowered we dream of, or whether a grimmer existence forged out of cold-water flats, bombings, strikes and endless police harassment loomed, but all you have to do is close your eyes and you’re there, in the former, utopian ideal of progressive psychedelia. The simultaneously grey and pink streets of the London depicted in umpteen Britsploitation films floats across your eyes as the band also float across 'Winter Is Coming Again', 'The Only Earthman In Town' and 'Asylum', instruments intertwining and interlocking in ever-variable patterns yet never falling too far into the pit of self-indulgence or losing track of that most precious of commodities, the song.
In fact, Cressida’s two albums, arriving as they did just on the end of one era and the cusp of another, with the frilly-collared Mods giving way to the darker, hairier chapter to come could be seen, along with the better-known likes of the Moody Blues, BJH, Caravan, Procol Harum and Soft Machine, together with similarly ‘lost’ gems from Aardvark, Arazchel, Forever Amber and Gracious, to be a watershed in the development of the music loved by many Shindiggers. While outwardly progressive in its thinking and embracing of jazz, classical, baroque and even Latin elements, there is still a definite pop sensibility, as shown on 'To Play Your Little Game', and never, even during monumental epics like 'Let Them Come When They Will' and their defining moment 'Munich' do the band descend into widdly for the sake of widdly: no song seems too long, some even ending abruptly (disappointingly if you like your music on the very edge of experimental, but beautiful nonetheless) just at the point where they may have otherwise taken flight, and several (particularly one ironically entitled 'Depression') have the air, however accidentally, of many a psych club dancefloor hit .
This, of course, is a reflection of their era more than actual intent: had they stuck around in post-Yes 1971, there might have been a whole other story of far greater grandiosity to tell. As it is, part of the charm of Cressida is in the air of ‘unfinished masterpieces’ they convey by presenting their music in the unreconstructedly, unashamedly 1969/70 style in which it was created, relying simply on Hammond and electric guitar (with occasional forays into acoustic and piano) set against fleeting, dextrous beats that traverse the outer ‘cosmic dimensions’ but remain firmly rooted in the streets of London and its surrounding towns. At the start, sure, vocals waver and riffs are disjointed, but that’s only to be expected, and the more they persevere, they nail it- to an ecstatic, whooping, hollering response the likes of which, even if half their families are in tonight, they could never have expected years ago. Talk about a hero’s welcome. Even the normally unflappable Chris Welch is impressed, while fellow musicians who still look to them for inspiration today, such as Lee Dorian and Nick Saloman, stand either side of me in sheer awe.
The question is, where will they go from here? Outwardly healthy, fit, hale and hearty in their early 60s, with only one original member sadly departed and obviously still with a few tunes up their sleeves, you’d hope they were back for good. Their re-emergence also bodes well for other bands of a similar vintage blinking back into the spotlight. I can confirm, though, that Shindig! is a hundred percent behind them. To paraphrase a certain lyric, the pleasure is ours and always will be.
DARIUS DREWE SHIMON