How Does It Feel to Feel?
Play America after 35 Years of Obscurity?
Sometimes you have to hand it to the old codgers. On a Sunday night in November, at a newly converted venue (Warsaw, a.k.a. the Polish National Home) in northern Brooklyn far from easy subway access, on a night that almost every one in New York City was gathered round the television hoping the Yankees would win the final, game seven of a thrilling baseball 'World Series' and finally give New Yorkers something to celebrate (which they didn't, losing in Phoenix at around 11.30pm eastern time, after which most drunk and depressed New Yorkers called it a night), then a band that had never played America before, had never sold more than a handful of records in the States and whose median age would be late fifties but for the fact that two of its original members are already dead, took to the stage at the almost impossible hour of 1.45 in the morning . . . To face an audience of 500 variously-aged fanatics who showed no signs of going anywhere until they could look themselves in the mirror the next morning and say "I saw the Creation play live."
All of which suggests either:
1) Trainspotter music fans are anal lunatics who should know when to call a day on their obsessions and have the guts to tell the musicians likewise, or:
2) Trainspotter music fans are anal lunatics who get an unmatched visceral thrill from hearing the original musicians playing their most treasured songs live - regardless of ongoing age or musical relevance.

Of course, ultimately it's a bit of both. I generally try and avoid bands on the revival circuit but as someone who's owned Creation compilations since around 1980, clearly I was in no minority when I rousted myself across Brooklyn for the group's US debut on the night of Sunday November 4. The occasion was the conclusion of the two-night Cavestomp! 2001, hosted by Little Steven (of E Street Band and now Sopranos fame) and also featuring the Electric Prunes, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders and a handful of newer garage acts out to prove that the 70s, 80s and 90s never happened. The Cavestomp! nights have been building up through smaller NYC venues, collecting a cult following which ensured that the Creation's headlining stint would not be ignored. Indeed, Little Steven himself introduced them by saying that this was the group he'd always wanted to have come over and play, the band he thought was beyond his reach.

No reason he should feel that way. The Creation may be legendary among cognoscenti of the sixties, but it's not like the founding members are kicking back in country houses, living off royalties. There were only two Creation hit singles - 'Making Time' and 'Painter Man,' both hailing from the group's brief heyday of 1966, when Eddie Phillips pioneered the violin bow technique of playing guitar (later made famous by Jimmy Page), vocalist Kenny Pickett established himself as a potentially great white soul voice, bassist Bob Garner and drummer Jack Jones were as tight a rhythm section as many a sixties band could boast, and the live shows were peppered by Pickett spray-painting a canvas at the back of the stage in true pop art style, the canvas often set alight at the end of the night. Though treasured then and forever by Brits who looked beyond the Who, the Stones and the Small Faces for loud pop-art-mod anthems, 'Making Time' and 'Painter Man,' the Creation's first two releases, charted but lowly in the UK at the time. However, 'Painter Man' was a number two hit in Germany - which might explain why it was covered by that country's disco act Boney M in 1979, ironically coming back to make the UK top ten.

Unfortunately, the Creation's career was hampered by in-fighting and line-up changes; following the sacking and rehiring of Jones, Pickett was booted in early 67, just as the group should have been capitalizing on its initial successes. Garner moved sideways to sing, Kim Gardner (no relation) was hired on bass, and the group went on to release a slew of excellent singles, but the Creation never again made even the foot of the UK charts. In '68 Phillips called it quits rather than keep banging his head against a brick wall, and he wasn't heard from thereafter until Alan McGee, who had named both his record label, Creation, and his own band (Biff Bang Pow) after this cult sixties band of all British cult sixties bands, talked the four original members into reforming and writing a self-titled song, thereby ensuring he could release a single 'Creation' by Creation on Creation. It wasn't great, and I never bought the album. The reformed band toured the UK, but the members squabbled like they always had in the old days and promptly broke up again. When Kenny Pickett died in 1997, that would appear to have been, um, the last nail in the coffin.

Where to find vintage Creation material: Making Time and Biff Bang Pow! were two separate CDs issued in 1998 by Retroactive that betwwen them feature everything released - and much that wasn't, with many an alternate mix thrown in. Given the way they split the best songs between the two CDs, it would have made more sense to issue the retrospective as one double CD. Red With Purple Flashes is a UK only compilation with most, but not all, the best stuff on there. The only Creation song on the Rushmore soundtrack is Making Time, but by placing it in pole position on a soundtrack that also features the Who, the Kinks and many another British Invasion band, it did much to bring the Creation's music to an audience that was amazed to hear what it had been missing. CD Now has all these albums.

But then 'Making Time' was featured prominently in the brilliant 1999 movie Rushmore, and given pole position on its highly successful soundtrack, and a generation of American-based British Invasion fanatics were introduced to the Creation. Though Pickett may have died - and Gardner also passed away earlier this year - the opportunity to milk a thirty-year delayed introduction to Americans was too great for Phillips and Garner, with the assistance of second-generation Buzzcock Tony Barber, and young drummer Kevin Mann, to pass up. Besides, the band's catalogue runs so much deeper than two minor hits: The Creation wrote and recorded a solid dozen classics during their core run from 1966-68 - and, with hired hands for a rhythm section, the band ensured to play almost every one of them at Cavestomp! to an audience that ranged from twenty-something New York mods to fifty-something original rockers, with a healthy smattering of us thirty and forty-something parents nervously looking at our watches making up the remainder.

The show started with Phillips taking the stage solo, delivering some wild power chords on a guitar decorated with a Union Jack, the same flag draped over his Marshall stack, a self-made pop art shirt featuring both the Union Jack and Stars & Stripes. Garner followed, his shirt also featuring both countries' flags, and started spray-painting across the back of the stage the words 'Imagine 1966,' a warning that this show was going to make no compromises for the modern age. But fair enough: the first four songs were four of the best from that period never to have made its songwriters wealthy or its singers famous: 'Biff Bang Pow,' 'Try And Stop Me,' the somewhat psychedelic 'Life Is Just Beginning' - dedicated to New York City and ending with Phillips playing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' Hendrix-style - and 'Making Time,' in which Phillips picked up the violin bow for the first time of the night and stroked out some phenomenal pop-art power guitar sounds.

'I'm A Man,' covered by almost every British R&B band of the mid-sixties, was introduced with an explanation of how the British bands sped up the blues to keep their speeded-out audiences dancing, and then it was back to the original compositions: 'Nightmares' and 'If I Stay too Long' (Garner's first single as singer, and dedicated by him the deceased band members). The punky b-side of the 1994 'Creation' single, entitled 'Shock Horror,' was introduced as a new song, which I suppose it is if you you only release an album every twenty-something years, its "life in the UK today" lyrics alternately amended to "life In The US of A." The band's thrill at playing America was evident throughout and their highly visible support for the States was much appreciated at a time when most Guardian-reading middle class Brits are rejoicing in kicking America while it's down and expressing hypocritical dismay that the States might just feel the need to take direct action to prevent further murderous attacks on it. I would apologise for digressing but with Garner spray-painting 'UK Loves USA' across the back of the stage, and coming at the end of a New York City Marathon Day on which I personally witnessed so many British runners similarly expressing their love for this wonderful city and country, then it was greatly reassuring to see that the true British spirit is not the one represented by the armchair media.

Tony Barber took the opportunity to sing the psychedelic 'I Am The Walker' after which Garner recounted how the group were smart enough to name their music 'Red With Purple Flashes' and then write a song of that title - and yet dumb enough never to record it, which made its performance the only one worth bootlegging for completist's sake. With the clock now showing 2.30 in the morning - way past Phillips and Garner's usual bedtime I'm sure, and for most of the older folk in the crowd too - it was onto 'Tom Tom' and the superb set-closer 'How Does It Feel to Feel', which, just as 'Making Time' has much of an 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' arranegment to it, would not have sounded out of place on the Who's 'A Quick One' or 'Sell Out' album. The encore was bound to be 'Painter Man,' Phillips opening with a blast of 'God Save The Queen' to round out his UK-USA patriotism, going on to give his bow to delirious fans in the front row to attack his guitar with, before the group took the opportunity to play 'Making Time' once more for good luck.

It was a wonderful show for all these above reasons, but driving home, listening to the original material for the first time in a few months, it was obvious the downhill difference that 30-35 years makes. Those original singles, many produced by Shel Talmy, were superbly crafted and produced, with pioneering feedback effects, unusual fade-ins and abrupt endings, string arrangements and harmonies to rival the best of them - little of which was replicated onstage. Phillips is still going strong, looking much younger than his years; you could claim he is the most under-rated guitarist and songwriter of the 1960s, yet he shows no bitterness at his lack of global recognition. Bob Garner was fun, his voicing holding well, but he was not a show-stopper. Bassist Tony Barber is a journey man in the best sense of the word, whose mod-punk roots made him an ideal bassist for the Creation as it does for his more permanent role in the Buzzcocks, but drummer Kevin Mann, who played alongside Barber for Alternative TV in the States recently, hasn't the pedigree of the other players; while he's certainly capable, the Creation's music really requires dynamism and physical strength of Moon-like proportions. Add in that the original vocalist for the songs 'Making Time,' 'Biff Bang Pow,' 'Painter Man' and 'Try And Stop Me' was Pickett rather than Garner, and we were clearly far from seeing the Creation in all their original 1960s glory.

But you can always dream, and for the 300 brave souls who made it all the way through to three in the morning, this was something of a dream come true: yes, I saw the Creation live and it was, if nothing else, a reminder of what greatness that rock music has aspired to over the years, reinforcement of how well the best of it can last, and yet how some of that same best of it can fall through the cracks. It was also affirmation of how the older generation - performers and audience alike - can stay up late, rockin' on a Sunday night, with the best of them all.

Tony Fletcher, November 2001


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