Cressida were a British progressive rock band, best known for their mellow, symphonic sound. Originally known as Charge, they were active from 1968 and 1970, and made two albums for Vertigo in the label's classic 'swirl' period.
The roots of Cressida were sown in March 1968, when guitarist John Heyworth answered an ad in Melody Maker, and a couple of weeks later travelled to London by overnight bus to join The Dominators, a band whose situation he later described as "hopeless - until Angus Cullen applied for the lead singer spot". He and Heyworth hit it off immediately, and Heyworth was invited to stay at Cullen's family flat in Barkstone Gardens near Earl's Court. The pair settled down to some serious writing, eventually welcoming bassist Kevin McCarthy and drummer Iain Clark to the fold and now calling themselves Charge.
The band's early setlists included covers by the likes of The Doors ("Spanish Caravan"), The Drifters ("Save The Last Dance For Me") and Spirit ("Fresh Garbage"), alongside original compositions by Cullen and Heyworth. In the Summer of 1969, shortly after returning from a German tour, the band's organist Lol Coker decided to leave, and moved back to Liverpool to marry his Swiss girlfriend and take over his father's business. He had stayed just long enough to play on the band's first demo, which soon got them a deal with the leading "progressive" label Vertigo.
This was when organist Peter Jennings entered the picture. "I was auditioned at the Roebuck pub in Chiswick, a place they sometimes used for rehearsals", he later remembered. "I imagine we ran through a 12-bar or two and possibly they tried me out on one of the numbers from their set, but anyway they liked the way I fitted in and I joined them that day". Jennings' previous musical experience included blues gigs playing 12-string guitar in tandem with ex-Paramounts pianist Andy Staines, and (in 1968-69) White Rabbit with future Blodwyn Pig drummer Ron Berg and guitarist Andy Rickell, who went on to join Arthur Brown under the alias Android Funnel. After White Rabbit came to an end, Jennings rehearsed and played with several short-lived bands and unsuccessfully auditioned for Chicken Shack and Brinsley Schwartz.
At this point the band finally settled on the name Cressida. "None of the band considered Charge that wonderful a name. We decided after some discussion on a name taken from the Shakespeare play Troilus and Cressida". Their first gigs as Cressida were, again, in Germany, including the legendary Star-Club in Hamburg sharing the bill with Colosseum and East Of Eden, in the Autumn of 1969. Their manager at the time, Mike Rosen, also drove their Transit van and, being a trumpet player (he later joined Mogul Thrash), occasionally joined the band on stage for some of their more extended numbers. But Rosen soon fell out with producer Ossie Byrne (of early Bee Gees fame), and from that point Mel Baister assumed managerial duties.
Other forays into Europe included a trip to Bratislava in then-Czechoslovakia, where they performed at the end of a week's competition between various bands from the Eastern bloc; a week supporting Black Sabbath at Brussels' Theatre 140; and a performance at the Open Circus (an event held in a large tent with lion taming, fire eating and other side shows!) in Rouen, France, alongside Brian Auger, Barclay James Harvest, Man and Circus. One experience that was to leave an indelible mark on the band was their two appearances at Munich's Blow Up club in the spring and summer of 1970, as Jennings met his future partner Brigitte there and wrote the song "Munich" as a love song for her.
Back in England, Cressida mostly played the university and college circuits as well as London clubs such as the Speakeasy, Revolution and Blaises and the Marquee Club. The first LP was recorded at Wessex Studios with Ossie Byrne producing. It consisted of songs by either Cullen or Heyworth (who handled lead vocals on one), plus one contribution each by Jennings and, more surprisingly, Clark.
Cressida went through a difficult phase when John Heyworth was forced to leave in early 1970. "Around Christmas time 1969, my parents were driving to my sister's house on the coast when they were involved in a rather serious car accident. My father suffered the most serious injury. There followed a three-year ordeal of pain and suffering - eventually he was placed in hospital where he died. You can imagine all the stress this was putting on me. Although I tried my best I was becoming more and more worn down by the whole thing, getting farther and farther away from my duties to the extent that Iain and I were at loggerheads most of the time. I often felt that I was getting in the way of his climb to success and that Cressida was just another rung on his ladder. Anyway it was decided I should step down and get my personal problems into line, maybe to return later. But the band was history soon afterwards, so I let it be".
Heyworth (who would contribute one last piece to the second album, although he didn't appear on it) was replaced by John Culley, who had been playing with Geno Washington. The new line-up recorded Cressida's second LP, Asylum, later in 1970 (again with Ossie Byrne producing, and with orchestral arrangements by Graeme Hall), but as it turned out, would only be released posthumously in 1971, the band having broken up in September 1970. "I was the one who was most insistent on leaving", Jennings recalled. "Feelings of disgust had been building up within me for some while over what I considered to be ethical bankruptcy of the field in which we were involved. In hindsight this was all rather ironic, for the period in which Cressida were active was remarkable in respect of the freedom given to bands such as ourselves to record precisely what we wanted to play without undue interference".
After the band split up, Clark joined Uriah Heep, Culley linked up with Black Widow, and McCarthy joined Tranquility. (Wikipedia)
01. To Play Your Little Game
02. Winter Is Coming Again
03. Time for Bed
05. Home and Where I Long to Be
07. One of a Group
08. Lights in My Mind
09. Only Earthman in Town
10. Spring' 69
11. Down Down
12. Tomorrow Is a Whole New Day
Peter Jennings - keyboards
Angus Cullen - vocals, guitar
John Heyworth - guitar (1969-1970)
Kevin McCarty - bass
Ian Clark - drums
John Culley - guitar (1970-1971)
Paul Martin Layton - guitar (1970-1971)
Harold McNair - flute (1970-1971)