In a darkly lit room a whole generation of ex rock n rollers, many of them with rough Glasgow accents tell their story. It’s a story of great rock n roll, idealism, drugs and fuck ups. It’s also a tale of friendship and bonding through esoteric seven inch singles and a love of the electric moment of great music.
After months of talk and a slow burning press campaign, Upside Down, the film about Creation Records is finally available.
Perhaps one of the most rock n roll films ever made, Upside Down, the film documentary about the label, is a wild trip remembered, with Alan Mcgee, Bobby Gillespie, Noel Gallagher, Kevin Shields amongst many others interviewed capturing the insanity and the madness of what was arguably the key label in the UK of its time. It’s a very human story told with an abrasive honesty telling the tale of Creation records, with great interviews by wildcard director Danny O’Connor.
One of the key independent labels in the UK along with Factory, Rough Trade and Mute, Creation was one of the pillars of the UK alternative scene in the eighties and nineties. It was also the most successful, peaking with the extraordinary rise of Oasis.
This is a tale of music freaks, mavericks, drugs, bust ups, decades long relationships and some great rock n roll- a sound track to the last days of a rock n roll Rome.
It’s also the tale of Alan Mcgee and his key friendships that stretch back to his birthplace of Glasgow.
Label boss Mcgee was the firebrand spirit who signed bands on instinct risking bankruptcy and madness on the way. Despite this the label had an astonishing run of artistically and commercially successful bands following its first breakthrough with Jesus And Mary Chain in 1985 and then key band Primal Scream before continuing with House Of Love, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Teenage Fan Club and Oasis.
For Alan Mcgee the formulae was simple.
”ËIt was always about the merging of punk and psychedelia and when I signed stuff it was purely instinctive.’
Partially retired Mcgee claims to ”Ëhate the music business but still loves music’ and DJ’s occasionally whilst studying Aleister Crowley and getting involved in magick.
Creation’s marriage of the love of seventies noise and confusion and sixties pop art started off in a Tottenham bed-sit in 1984 and ended up filling stadiums but it’s the core relationships between several Glasgow music freaks is at the heart of ”ËUpside Down’, a film named after the Jesus And Mary Chain’s still astonishing sounding 1984 debut single.
For Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie it’s this musical equation that was key.
”ËFor the people like us who grew up with punk, the eighties music was bad and drab and un-soulful, so we all looked back to the sixties for inspiration.’
It’s Bobby Gillespie and Alan McGee’s relationship and interviews in the film that are the key to the story.
The pair met in their mid teens going to pre punk gigs in Glasgow were fired by punk and were at the core of this story.
Now 50 Alan Mcgee lives on the Welsh borders and has retired from the music business. His conversation is peppered with unprintable anecdotes and delivered with the same firebrand enthusiasm that he once reserved for bands and nowadays is saved for his fascination for Aleister Crowley and the dark side.
He laughs as he recalls the high times at Creation.
”ËOn the Primal Scream ”ËScreamadelica’ tour in Glasgow at the Plaza in 1990 there were 700 people there. The whole club was off their nut and my dad, who was there, said it’s great in here son everyone is so happy!
After the gig I went into dressing room and it was bacchanalian. It was Beggars Banquet. It was debauched. There were women lying on tables with their breasts out fucking amongst the sandwiches. Throb, the guitar player, was sitting there like the lizard king and people were hoovering the carpet.’
A triumph for working class art, 1991’s ”ËScreamadelica’ is now an acknowledged classic but it wasn’t always that simple according to Bobby Gillespie.
”ËA lot of people wanted to see us fall flat on our face. They like nothing better than to see the working class fail. Sometimes I felt it was like us with our swords and shields against the world.’
Initially a very DIY operation based out of McGee’s Tottenham bedsit. The label took off with the release of Jesus And Mary Chain’s key 1984 ”ËUpside Down’ single which still sounds as enormous and thrilling over the film’s titles as it did upon release.
Ex Mary Chain frontman Jim Reid remembers.
”ËMcGee put us on in London for a favour to Bobby who loved our demo. He was going to put us on a compilation album but when we did the gig he was astounded by our unprofessional attitude. Me and my brother, guitarist William, had a massive row at the sound check two minutes after we had met McGee and I think he thought we must be deranged or mental and he started ranting on about 5 album deals. We thought this guy is mad. And then as soon as he saw us play that was when it all started.’
Mcgee’s insane enthusiasm was driving the operation.
”ËIt was really infectious. Alan he made you feel enthusiastic about what you were doing. We all had the self-belief and the drive. You had to because there was no alternative. We had the band he had the label and if it did not work we were fucked.’
The band took off and Creation had arrived as Douglas Hart the Mary Chain’s bass player ponders.
”Ë”ËThough I will say that us selling lots of records with Creation felt like the triumph of the freak outsider, because that’s what we all were, there was no scene around us, there wasn’t enough of us, and besides, we were all too paranoid and neurotic to sustain a scene!’
”ËThe label was tiny. It was Alan and a couple of hundred quid. We would be sat in a back bedroom in Tottenham packaging singles ourselves, folding the covers into all those bloody plastic bags. The single started to really take off and the gigs were chaotic. There were the riots but they were accidental. We would be sat there drinking in the dressing room and forget that we were ninety minutes late getting on stage. Alan was getting really into it. He said ”Ëart is terrorism’ in the press. He thought it was cool but we wanted to be about the music.’
Now lets have a look at just what Creation was at this time. There had been a bunch of singles that hadn’t really sold despite some real gems in there like the Pastels, I Wonder Why, and the Revolving Paint Dream. The singles all came in these funny little sleeves- sort of pop art pieces that were folded up into plastic bags wrapping up the seven inch.
It was a very small operation but Mcgee talked great label.
We had been talking about it for along time. I used to hang around with the firebrand, ex pat Scot in London hopping from one bed-sit to another in the freezing autumn nights powered by idealism, shit milky tea and thrill for the electric new.
We shared a punk rock vision. I wanted to make a racket with the Membranes and Mcgee wanted to create a record label. Creation was initially a slow burner. The singles were smart and hip but no-one was getting it initially. He was going to release the Membranes single- Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder but there was no money in the kitty to go to the studio. In the end McGee came up to Manchester the night we recorded it and stayed over with us, a willing ally even though he could not afford to release the single.
The Mary Chain was something different. I listened to the tape and felt that euphoric rush. And when Upside Down was eventually recorded in October with that thrilling wall of sound it changed everything. Produced by Mcgee cohort Joe Foster but remixed by McGee himself, the single was swiftly picked up the music press with the NME describing them as ”Ëthe best band in the world’.
It was one of those perfect pop moments. A record that sounded like it could change the world. It was sullen, dark, lustfull, melancholic, sexy, dangerous and astonishingly powerful. It was a punk rock moment right in the middle of the barren mid eighties and somehow managed to make the feedback driven noise that the likes of us were fucking about with into something that could escape the ghetto.
I recall being in Rough Trade distribution with Alan a couple of weeks after the single release and buzzing with him as the record was shipping thousands.
The Mary Chain had arrived complete with loads of press, sultry leather and riots. The perfect band. For a brief moment indie music wasn’t earnest or safe. It was out of control and dangerous. Perfect.
There is a bit more to the Mary Chain story as well, the Membranes had played this gig at Reading University in September 1984 and there was a bit of a kick off with the promoters, we kicked over all the gear and attempted to demolish the PA. It got us banned from loads of gigs and to number one on the PA blacklist! McGee was, unknown to us, at the gig and after the show he was buzzing, ”Ëthat was total sex’ he kept saying and gave our mate and Membranes fan Fat Mark a lift back to London. Fat Mark was a wild drunk loon and a Doors obsessive. He kept telling McGee to put the Membranes in leathers. The next day McGee phoned up and told us to get leather trousers. We were far too skint to do that though. Weeks later the Mary Chain riot happened in London and the band were dressed in leather. We had missed our chance to be hip for ten minutes!
The Mary Chain gig on march 15th 1985 at the North London Polytechnic was their breakthrough moment. A busy venue and people locked outside was creating a tense atmosphere which was stirred by the Mary Chain arriving on stage an hour late. Cans were thrown and there was some jostling and a sullen attempt at a riot. It’s on youtube. And whilst it’s not Armageddon it felt sexy and dangerous. Still that didn’t stop the press and the band was now the public enemy number one.
McGee, now fully on the case, issued a statement saying that “the audience were not smashing up the hall, they were smashing up pop music”Â, going on to say “This is truly art as terrorism”Â
The Mary Chain had also already been to Manchester to stay round my house in late 1984 for their first ever national press interview which I did for the now sadly defunct Zig Zag. The Reid brothers, Douglas and McGee turned up on the train because Alan could blag these free train fares because he worked at British Rail.
The interview was mainly the band being fantastically surly in the freezing cold front room of my house and Alan plying them with a plastic bag of beer from the off licence to try and get the Reids tanked up. McGee was ranting away about how the band were going to change the world and Creation were going to be massive- oddly it all came true. That night I blagged everyone into the Hacienda to go and see Lee Scratch Perry and Alan got to know the Factory people- an oddly crucial night in the musical scheme of things.
The Mary Chain swiftly moved out of the indie orbit and became press darlings and were signed to Blanc Y Negro, a major, and had proper hits with great songs. Never Understand was an Upside Down part two but that didn’t stop its power. It had one of those perfect rock n roll titles, the surly shrug of the shoulders that’s at the heart of all great rock n roll. By now the Mary Chain were proper stars and the indie scene was full of slouching kids with those curly bouffant hair do’s that flopped over one eye.
McGee’s enthusiasm had powered the first phase of Creation before the drugs took over as he recalls.
”ËWe were normal kids and Joe Foster, who was part of the label, slowly perverted us. Then Manchester perverted as even more when I started going there in 1987. The Mondays really twisted my melons. It was meeting Sean Ryder and Bez that made me turn left at the lights for the next six years.’
The party continued back in London.
”ËI never thought I would end being the ringmaster but by 1992 I was in charge of the party. It changed the label. You could split Creation into few different periods. When we started we wanted do to be an underground label like Whaam Records. We grew out of that and in 1988 signed My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream and House Of Love. The drugs kicked in during acid house and then in the middle of that Ride and Teenage Fan Club blew up. It was a strange old time. I was left to run the madness. I ended up going to the office one day and didn’t leave for six months, There was no point in going home. I had no home to go and the party was always in the office.’
The Creation offices in Hackney were legendary. When you would visit there was total chaos and somehow a record label getting run in the middle of the party. Acid house had changed the British attitude to drugs as Alan explains.
”ËI think and this is the crux of story. The nineties were more mental than the sixties. In the sixties people got off heads for spiritual reasons, doing it to understand magical entities or different dimensions or to see what the afterlife was like. In the nineties we were getting fucked up to get fucked up for the fucking sake of it man.’
It was into this madness that Creation somehow signed Oasis and made them the biggest band in the UK. ”ËUpside Down’ is a reminder that Oasis fit very firmly into the Creation family. Signing to Creation made sense to Noel Gallagher.
”ËI was aware of Alan Mcgee when I was younger. I remember there was a big cardboard cut-out of Alan McGee in Eastern Bloc record shop in Manchester in the late eighties and I remember him being interviewed on local TV by Tony Wilson when Alan claimed he had moved to Manchester in 1988 because there was better drugs.’
After Oasis started the band were blagging gigs round the UK including the famous Glasgow King Tuts gig in 1993.
”ËWe ended up blagging on stage for four songs as the doors opened. Mcgee had missed his train to go back to London. He saw us play and as I came of stage he asked for a demo. At that time we had the demo with the swirly union jack thing on the cover and we had one in the van so I went out of King Tuts and got it and he said he wouldn’t play it in case it was crap! When I got back to Manchester I asked around to find out if he was serious and someone rang and said McGee is deadly serious about signing us and I was like, ”Ëwow!’
Oasis signing to Creation was a perfect marriage. The perfect culmination of the art is terrorism, punk meets sixties ideal of Creation, a watching Jim Reid ponders.
”ËI was astonished by similarities with the feuding brothers- an incredible coincidence.’
As Oasis took off the Creation party came to a sudden end with the inevitable breakdown of Alan Mcgee. A meltdown which is covered in the film with McGee’s accomplices still reeling from the sudden full stop of their totemic boss.
”ËThat was at height of the party with Oasis joining on top of Primal Scream and top of Sony picking up the label. It was a massive freak out and on the plane to Los Angeles I broke down. They had to get, fucking, 17 paramedics when we landed and I was given oxygen. For nine months I couldn’t access energy in my body. I had to change my lifestyle. It was simple before that, when you are out of your mind why would you have fear? You are fearless and then suddenly you are sober and you realise that you have loads to lose.’
The film details this change in the dynamic of the label.
”ËI had to pull back from people like the Primals and they found that hard to understand. Maybe I had lost interest in running a label but then I had Oasis and I fucking loved having the biggest group in the world and I fucking loved ramming it right up the music business. I hated the music business and I had 7 per cent of the market in the UK.’
With nothing left to prove McGee shut down Creation in 1999, twelve years later Upside Down is the perfect document of the label that was more rock n roll than any band in the UK, overshadowing even it’s bands.