Creation Artifact box set : album review
CREATION ARTIFACT box set
Cherry Red Records
A long time ago when pop culture meant everything and social networking was high decibel bands playing in smokey rooms and a guitar was the symbol of revolution and indie meant independent the very at of releasing music not on major labels was a political act.
Alan McGee is now famous as the man behind Oasis but there is a whole history before that which is beautifully captured on this box set that delivers the early days of Creation as it formed its own striking identity.
The clues are everywhere- being named after sixties, art rock psyche psychos, The Creation was enough of a hint of what was coming way back in the early eighties when a youthful Glaswegian relocated to London with headful of great sounds and eye for trouble. The band were proto punks and artful dodgers who combined pre psychedelic, riffing madness and a touch for golden melody with a tuff art aggro – they were template for the 60s meets 80’s combination that defined Creation and their best known song Biff Bang Pow was even borrowed by Alan for his own band’s monicker.
Creation started small but would become, alongside Mute, Factory and Rough Trade, one of the big four indies. These were the big alternative (as it was so quaintly termed then) labels that flourished after the punk wars, the days when you could dream vinyl dreams and create a world outside the music business.
There was a plethora of labels of various sizes driven by people with a maverick relentless vision who sweated and bled music. Alan McGee was the perfect example of one of these people – inspired by punk his vision was the firebrand of punk rock, the opportunity of DIY and the sixties dream – a switchblade sharp, jangling rush of sound that somehow started with his fanzine toting club night compere the Legend’s eccentric 73 in 83 and ended somewhere around the biggest band in the UK – Oasis.
It shouldn’t have happened like that. Indies were not meant to escape from the bedroom and take over but McGee pulled it off and whilst Oasis are often look on as being a stand out band of their own, to me they still feel like a Creation band – and I should know because I was in one – the Membranes who have two tracks on this box set.
We were even meant to be the first release on Creation – Mcgee had been an avid fan and had persuaded us to play London again after we had given up on the place after the usual duff and pointless capital city gigs left us concentrating on the firebrand faithful around the rest of the UK. His wave of enthusiasm and phone calls during 1984 were enough and we played his Living Room club – the tiny above the pub venue that was the real birth place of Creation. McGee has always promoted small gigs- he still does it now – it’s how he gets his fix of the electricity and how he keeps on top of the game. The Living Room hosted all the underground bands of the time like Nightingales and also the Three Johns (never on Creation but given a nod on this album for their key position with their almighty AWOL).
In many ways the label was an extension of the club and the two ran in parallel.
Back in the early eighties, in the post post punk era there was a revolutionary fervour in the air. For a lot of the punk generation it really was a revolution – music, bands and running a small label was recreating the world on our own terms, creating your own soundtrack, changing the world one seven inch single after another.
When I was in London, which was quite often, I would hang out with McGee – running around town talking about changing the world and setting up labels, bands and magazines – vive le three chord revolution!
It was no surprise when Mcgee started Creation and the first ten singles were released in those weird fold over sleeves encased in plastic bags. They were a machine gun of one man’s frenetic taste – this was classic indie – a label releasing whatever they liked. There was no business plan. It was just releasing stuff by your mates who were luckily pretty good and being convinced of their innate genius.
Phase one Creation documented on the first few sides of this box set was the fresh out of Glasgow Mcgee. This was the young man just moved to London and taking his mates with him – there was his own band – the Jam fused, pop art experience of Biff Bang Pow, the tough lads with melodic hearts on their sleeves of the Jasmine Minks, and the brilliant Glasgow refuseniks the Pastels – whose I Wonder Why still sounds fab after all these years as well as the tripped out Revolving Paint Dream with Andrew Innes lurking in their ranks before becoming the architect of Primal Scream. There was that aforementioned, eccentric DIY jolt of the Legend single – a sign of the new Mcgee in London and the building his metropolitan profile with a new gang of obsessives and music eccentrics.
Initially it seemed that this was going to be another small label steeped in the quark, strangeness and charm of the UK DIY underground but then there was the final piece of the jigsaw that sent the whole thing supernova and made sure that these initial charming guitar missives would become a footnote in musical history.
When Bobby Gillespie, who was now running his club night up in Glasgow, sent Alan Mcgee a cassette of Syd Barrett/early Pink Floyd outtakes the young label boss flipped it over and listened to the demo of the Jesus And Mary Chain that was lurking there. Brilliantly Mcgee did what he always did and decided to sign them on the spot. His instinct was always perfect and he always dared to follow its eclectic electric twitching. The Mary Chain single (still sounding stunning on here as well as the reading Syd Barrett’s never released Floyd demo Vegetable Man – arguably the great song to never be released) sent the label overground and Mcgee hurtling into the mainstream and into part 2 of the label’s history.
McGee was a key part of Mary Chain story and during the band’s first ever interview, which I did in the freezing cold from room of my rented house in Manchester, he was delivering all the best quotes and egging them on to notoriety and genius.
No longer a small concern after the Mary Chain become big media and sold thousands of singles all eyes were on Creation. The firebrand label frontman was now dressing in leathers and with a shock of red hair McGee entered his Malcolm McLaren phase. We would see him in London gobsmacked by the Mary Chain single selling box and after box of singles. The Mary Chain were presented as riots and leathered up sex, bad news and were leading a mainline youthquake of disaffected Thatcher indie kids looking for good time or at least a riot or some beautiful melancholic feedback drenched anthems. The band may not have been this in reality but their manager was loving every minute of it and even as the band were signing to Warners Creation was going into a new phase.
The label went from meetings in small cafes to a scene of leather kecked young men with wistful heart on the sleeve melodic indie pop sensibilities – like the Loft who were Mcgee’s next great hopes and whose tracks sound untainted by time on here and old Glassky mate Bobby Gillespie’s skinny, liquorice legged, droogs Primal Scream who became the heart and soul of the label – from swopping cassettes (like the Mary Chain one) and tips and delivering strawberry switchblade guitar pop like All Fall Down and It happens which are included here and which were the template for mainstream Creation action for evermore. There was proto Madchester band the Bodines, whose two tracks on here a sharp reminder of the young band who McGee sent round to my house for showbiz tips at the time. There is also a nod to the label’s diversity with my band the Membranes – who were signed for one album underlying Alan’s love of the dark and noisy side and the discontent discordant that also manifested itself in other signings on the box set like Five Go Down To The Sea and the Moodists. It’s too easy to remember Creation as a jangling indie affair but these bands are proof of the label’s noisenik leanings of its boss and his love of the wilfully awkward and dangerous.
The second phase of Creation was the label in its early pomp – there was a definite idea of the house style and sound and the devil may care sound of the eighties combined with the pop art experimentalism of the sixties forged a Sex Beatles sound that would go off in all kind of tangents in the future that are beyond the boundaries of this compilation. That future of My Bloody Valentine, Ride and all the other big sellers is out of the realm of the box set which is to the compilations advantage as it gives you a clear idea of hat creation really was. Oasis may have been the nineties British mainstream bands but somehow and oddly you can hear all their roots in this album from the love of melody of the Mary Chain and the wall of sound of that band to the northern noise of the Membranes to the Sex Pistols meets the Beatles meets the sixties that was at the heart of Creation and Alan McGee’s pop art experiMENTALism.
Artifact is perfectly named. Like one of those long lost boxes dug up from the soil full of treasures this is a portal to another time when this kind of stuff really mattered.