The first two years of Creation Records’ output is captured on Cherry Red’s brand new boxed set, Creation Artifact: The Dawn of Creation Records (1983-85). Here, Louder Than War’s Arash Torabi has a chat with some key figures from that era.
The album is packed with the singles, album tracks and bonus rare material, plus a brilliant booklet by indie historian, Neil Taylor. Our very own John Robb’s band, The Membranes are also included, as are current & ex members of Primal Scream, The Jasmine Minks, Biff Bang Pow!, The Loft and The Weather Prophets, who have all been talking to Louder Than War for an inside view of the label’s wonder years.
It’s a great move by Cherry Red, to create a boxed set that is only concerned with material from the first 2 years of the label that started life with the battle cry of “total dedication to the destruction of mediocrity”. Creation was a scene, a style and an attitude- not just a record label. There is of course nothing from the label’s later years, when it went on to launch the career of Britain’s most successful band (Oasis) a decade later. This initial start for the label (which was strictly indie at the time, with no help from a major label) is seen by many as its finest time (and I would happily include the next couple of years also), and not just because of its then cool, non-mainstream and underground status, but mainly thanks to the wealth of incredible material created by its colourful roster. From this time, there were no chart hits, but 2 of its bands, Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain obviously went on to achieve this later. Despite his post-Oasis public persona, label boss Alan McGee’s own band, Biff Bang Pow! never got a sniff of the mainstream, and they remained very low-key, even by the underground standards of the time. .
So here are 4 band members featured on the Dawn of Creation boxed set: Martin St John (Primal Scream’s tambourine player, ’84-’87), Ken Popple (drummer for Biff Bang Pow!), Jim Shepherd (Jasmine Minks’ co-frontman/guitarist/songwriter) and Pete Astor (frontman, songwriter and guitarist in The Loft and The Weather Prophets)
Biff Bang Pow! Love & Hate
Ken, did you feel that Alan McGee spent more of his efforts on building the careers of the other artists, rather than trying to promote his and your band? He wrote some incredible songs, but to the world at large, he is only known as the man who signed Oasis.
Ken Popple: I totally agree with you, Arash. I may be biased but he wrote a handful of classic songs which stand up to anything on Creation. Alan just did what he wanted and I never questioned why he spent more time on other bands than Biff Bang Pow! I think he saw us as a side-line, a hobby, which fine by me at the time. Alan is an extremely loyal person and if he liked and admired a new band or person then he gave them 100%.
Jim Shepherd: “Alan was a revelation from the start. He had a way of getting you on board with his 100 mph excitement. He was always going to be successful. I honestly think he was the same drunk or sober: full of energy and a very giving person who had the label at heart and had a cutting, insightful ear for new songs and saying the things that would get people thinking in a new way. I certainly know that I wouldn’t have been able to forsake my own band for running a record label like he did. But he had the bigger picture in mind: the label and the foresight to see that managing a band and building a label is just as important in success as the music and the recording etc… something I could never get my head around then.”
What was he like to work with as a musician?
Ken Popple: He was really easy to work with. If it worked it worked, if it didn’t it didn’t. The songs were classic verse/chorus etc, and easy to play. None of us were brilliant or really gifted musicians but we did make an absolutely ferocious noise when we played live, something that Joe Foster would endeavour to capture in the studio. We were so slack and laid back in our recording approach. The whole LP would be done in a weekend! I agree he was a great songwriter, and I wish just once in a while he would get that acoustic guitar out and do a set at The Tabernacle, because I reckon he would blow people away! A lot of his songs work brilliantly on just guitar and voice, the mark of a great song.
So how did Biff Bang Pow! end?
Ken: I have absolutely no idea. It was always an unspoken thing that the other bands would take priority, and I suppose when Oasis really took off there was no time for us. I have no idea when and where our last gig was, and it certainly wouldn’t have been billed or announced as the last one.
As a fan, those early Creation records are underground classics to me, every bit as much as the garage & psych records from the ‘60s, as captured on compilations such as Nuggets & Pebbles. Did it feel like you were involved in something special at the time?
Martin St John: “I got a free copy of the Creation boxed set myself, and truthfully a lot of the records for me don’t come anywhere near the Pebbles or Nuggets compilations. I still play Creation records, and Felt, Jesus & Mary Chain, Primals, The Pastels and Weather Prophets still sound good. Yes, that early period definitely felt special to me: meeting up with all these people who were on the same psychedelic punk trip as myself. Every week you were discovering new bands -one week The Seeds then The Elevators then Big Star, then it was a Tim Buckley LP. We must’ve discovered the music through word of mouth, music mags or the excellent Julian Cope NME article from 1983 Tales From The Drug Attic was a major influence on myself, Bobby Gillespie and (original Primal Scream guitarist) Jim Beattie.”
Primal Scream: It Happens
Pete Astor: “We were very aware of older scenes but I know I always felt like we were not as cool or exciting. Looking back I’m guessing quite a lot of the people at CBGBs probably thought very similar things; wishing that they could have been part of Kerouac’s scene or something.”
The Loft: Up the Hill and Down the Slope
Jim Shepherd: “We started off as a Postcard Records kinda band with Velvet Underground influences, but we soon got into the ‘60s Nuggets sounds too. We did ‘60s cover versions like Love’s Seven and Seven Is and We The People’s In The Past. The scene was very definitely ‘60s influenced with a bit of post-punk and a few other odd things going on.”
Ken Popple: “I play the records about once or twice a year and am always impressed by how energetic and punk rock they sound. I enjoy them for what they are: not a nostalgia thing.”
The Jasmine Minks: Think
Was there a sense of camaraderie between the Creation bands, and others that appeared at The Living Room, or was it more of a competitive spirit?
Pete Astor: “We got on very well with most of the bands – there was no overtly competitive spirit – to have been seen as being competitive in any obvious way would have been a bit lame. However, deep down, in private, I’m sure we all were!”
Martin St John: “We hung out a lot with fellow Creation bands, especially Douglas from The Jesus & Mary Chain, and also Felt and The Weather Prophets. We were constantly gigging, and we would share bills with The Jasmine Minks or The Bodines….always good fun, no hassle and no competition: just real feel-good vibes. And let’s not forget Meat Whiplash.”
Jim Shepherd: “Yes: we were making friends with the bands we regularly played with and would see each other at gigs. The Loft, Primal Scream, Television Personalities, The June Brides would all play together at other venues, not just the Living Room, and we’d share gear and wanted Creation to be a label with a focus against the more hippy-like independent labels we’d come across before then.”
Did it feel like you would eventually break out of the underground scene?
Pete Astor: “I just didn’t think like that – we didn’t do ‘strategic thinking’. Perhaps that was our downfall; but, again, that kind of ‘making it’ stuff was against our philosophy. We were just going day-to-day in the rather, grey, rainy England of the early 1980s.
When things grew I was aware of wanting to try and reach as many people as we could – we wanted to be like all the groups we grew up looking up to, connecting with as many people as possible.”
Jim Shepherd: “It did feel for a brief time that we could bring back guitars and real drums into the mainstream pop charts again. But it quickly became clear to me that it might take a while to do that and it might be in tandem with groups like The Go-betweens and Hurrah! from Rough Trade and Kitchenware record labels. As it was, I was amazed that it was The Jesus and Mary Chain that really gave the label a bigger audience. Alan was so excited when he brought them down to play their first gigs with us in London. They quickly blew us off the stage and Alan’s sixth sense was right! He had to give up managing us and concentrate on them which was hard at the time, but it was the right decision. I thought it was going to be Primal Scream who were going to lead the vanguard, and give the label its distinctive sound. I even went up to help them do some recording in Edinburgh, so convinced was I that they had greatness in them.
At that time, could you see yourself as being able to enjoy recognition all these years later, and still making records and playing gigs?
Pete Astor: “Nope!”
Ken Popple: “I’m teaching at a new school in Gloucestershire and the other day the Head of Art saw me looking at an equipment website. He asked me if I played and I said that I made several records decades ago and toured Europe a few times. He asked me what band and I said “well you won’t have heard of us, but we were called Biff Bang Pow!” To my absolute delight he named three of our albums that he had, and said he’d he seen us play at Bay 63 (Ladbroke grove). There’s always one somewhere!”
Was it a bit strange seeing Creation grow from your time, into this million-selling superstar-making monster?
Pete Astor: “Yes and no. You just kind of adapt and accept. Of course it was weird seeing Oasis at Knebworth; basically standing there, doing their stuff in what was, in many ways, a very ‘Living Room’ way to do things. I also remember all of us (McGee very much included) standing in the VIP area and laughing at how odd it felt. Deep down, I think we all felt that that kind of thing is not who we were.”
Weather Prophets: Worm in My Brain
Martin St John: I would never have thought at the time that Creation would take off into another stratosphere! Watching that recent Creation documentary (Upside Down: the Creation Records Story), for me that early period looked exciting, until Oasis came along and then it got a bit Led Zep! The true joy and innocence had well and truly disappeared! But I have no regrets about leaving Primal Scream in 1987. In my fantasy I’m always bashing a tambourine in The Byrds, or shaking my maracas in The Stones. Those are my kinda bands….In the jingle jangle morning!
All words by Arash Torabi.