Creation Records

A decade and a half is a good run for any record label; not every imprint survives. But much like its slightly older but similarly short-lived Manchester compatriot Factory Records, by the time the London-founded and based Creation Records ended in 1999 it had, through a combination of circumstances and without any actual plan to do so, both commercially and subculturally impacted what rock music was on a worldwide basis, with effects still very much playing out to the present day. Creation was formed in 1983 by Alan McGee – the face of the label as much as Tony Wilson was for Factory – with his Biff Bang Pow! bandmates Dick Green and Television Personalities veteran Joe Foster also receiving shares (the latter was bought out in the late 1980s but would continue a regular association with the label). Creation was less driven by an exact sonic or aesthetic brief as it was by the idea of whatever sounded good at the time to McGee in particular, and as a result offerings either on the main label or its various affiliated sub-labels and spinoffs would range from bizarre sonic pranks to earnest tributes to earlier rock approaches to dance music experiments to much more besides. Given to self-mythologizing, and ultimately signing a few of the biggest self-mythologizers in music to boot, Creation wasn’t quite able to maintain itself in the end but the wild ride that resulted was more than enough of an experience.

McGee was born in 1960 and raised in East Kilbride near Glasgow, making him a perfect age for punk rock to hit hard when it exploded in the UK in the late seventies, with McGee also noting the early efforts of Glasgow’s own punk-inspired acts like Simple Minds and labels like Postcard. He’d already met future Primal Scream founder Bobby Gillespie in school and their own first band experience, the Drains, was with another yet-to-be Primal Screamer, Andrew Innes. After he and Innes moved to London, McGee grew more involved in performing, fanzines and club bookings throughout the early 1980s. Specifically, he was a particular presence in an incipient indie pop/rock scene steering away from the gloss of commercially triumphant synth-pop in favor of a scrappier approach dedicated to DIY ideals, punk’s lingering impact and general obsessions with 60s pop and rock culture carried into a new decade. Labels like Cherry Red and él had already set this scene when Creation debuted with an initial single by The Legend!, the stage name of soon-to-be music journalist Jerry Thackray (aka Everett True), followed by various other efforts including Biff Bang Pow! and the earliest recordings by the Peter Astor-led The Loft. But it was the debut single, “Upside Down,” of a new band also from East Kilbride that Gillespie drummed for – the Jesus and Mary Chain – that brought fuller attention to McGee and Creation as a whole.

For the rest of the 1980s, McGee kept up a balancing act involving angling for press attention, searching constantly for money to keep things going, a resultant impact on his health and with time an increasing indulgence in drugs all while both running Creation and managing various bands including his own. As the label’s profile increased so did its roster, including such skew-whiff efforts as the bizarrely cynical Baby Amphetamine single, a droll solo album by future KLF leader Bill Drummond and the truly odd characters in Five Go Down To The Sea? But at the same time, an increasing number of acts from like-minded labels and scenes found a new home at Creation, including Felt, the Jazz Butcher, Momus, Foster’s fellow Television Personalities member Ed Ball in his incarnation as The Times, and Swell Maps founder Nikki Sudden via various solo and group projects. Gillespie had left the Jesus and Mary Chain to concentrate fully on Primal Scream, who signed to Creation, left for the majors and then soon returned to pursue their slightly fitful career as late 60s psych/protopunk fiends. Two other Creation acts, though, rapidly gained wider attention. The House of Love, whose remarkable singles and self-titled debut album made a big splash in indie rock circles, were notable enough, but when at an early 1988 Biff Bang Pow! gig McGee and Green caught the explosively loud and strangely pretty set of the opening act – a formerly Cramps/Jesus and Mary Chain obsessed band called My Bloody Valentine – both band and label’s fate were changed forever.

1990 proved to be a pivotal year for Creation, not least due to the release of My Bloody Valentine’s third EP for the label, Glider, leading off with a remarkable rock/dance fusion called “Soon.” That group’s impact had already begun to be felt by the label as a whole as numerous bands followed in their general wake, either by intent or by accident, with Ride, Slowdive and Swervedriver, and in the next couple of years the Boo Radleys and Adorable, all being seen as part of a new style that would receive the dismissive tag turned statement of purpose ‘shoegaze.’ But it was the transformation of a Primal Scream song by a wide-ranging music fan with an ear for the exploding dance/techno scene in the UK – a first-time remixer named Andy Weatherall – into the anthemic track “Loaded” that made an even bigger mark, with the eventual Screamadelica album turning Gillespie’s group into a major draw and setting the course for their future. 

The early 90s also brought other notable signings including a newer Glasgow band, the engaging Teenage Fanclub, and two American acts in particular, the power-pop-crazed Velvet Crush and the Bob Mould-founded Sugar. Yet it was the ruinous recording costs of My Bloody Valentine’s second Creation album – the now-legendary 1991 release Loveless – which had the biggest impact all around, feeding into a cash crunch that led McGee and Green to decide to accept a buy-in from Sony Music to keep the label going. In the atmosphere of the early 1990s, as the success of Nirvana had shown in America, there was a new rush on the part of major labels in particular to see what could be done with indie labels and acts, so the business deal in and itself that wasn’t so remarkable – or wouldn’t’ve been if in May 1993 McGee hadn’t accidentally seen a Manchester band that had blagged its way onto a Glasgow-venue bill and immediately fallen in love with them. It was a tangled scenario given various preexisting US distribution deals but when all was said and done Oasis had signed to Sony worldwide, got licensed back to Creation in the UK and started releasing singles at a rapid pace.

McGee himself had hit a drug-driven health wall in 1994 and took some time off to rehabilitate but the Oasis phenomenon fully kicked in then as well, eventually leading to the volcanic worldwide success of the 1996 album What’s The Story (Morning Glory)?, as of 2022 still one of the top five biggest selling albums in the UK ever. So singular and overwhelming was that triumph that the label, increasingly professionalized in feel and outlook as Sony got more involved in its doings, essentially couldn’t replicate it no matter what was tried. Some striking signings kept the label’s spirit going in different ways, including the stellar Welsh band Super Furry Animals and solo releases by Suede’s former guitar player Bernard Butler, as did the spirited work of Lesley Rankine, continuing on from the band Silverfish in a new project, Ruby. But a combination of Oasis wannabes and general Britpop hangers-on in a saturated market and atypical acts that failed to deliver – not to mention a sadly ignorant reaction to Dexys Midnight Runners leader Kevin Rowland’s genderfluid public image approach for his My Beauty album – left both McGee and Green increasingly frustrated with their business arrangement and ultimately led them to approach Sony to wind the label down in late 1999 so they could pursue new musical and artistic interests. The full story of Creation as told in books like David Cavanagh’s 2000 overview My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize is well worth looking into, while other efforts like the 2021 film Creation Stories and McGee’s own knack for self-presentation means that the label’s story, from highs to lows, will yet be discussed for some while to come.

Big Planet, Scarey Planet cover

For his band’s second album for Creation, Pat Fish assayed a bit of hip-hop flow on “Burglar of Love.” The essential Butcherness (Butchery?) remains, his winning voice and wry humor remaining the center even as samples emerge on various songs like “Line of Death” (in that case along with the spaghetti western horn arrangements, of course). The brisk energy of “The Word I Was Looking For” and the snarky character study of “Bicycle Kid” are other standouts. Great line, via “Nightmare Being”: “I know I look like Altamont/And smell like Richard Nixon.”

Screamadelica cover

Rarely has any rock band, much less one that already had some years, various singles and two full albums already under their belt, released a record that was essentially a collective effort from any number of performers, producers and DJs. But that’s why Screamadelica succeeds: building on the pivotal Andy Weatherall-remixed single “Loaded,” Bobby Gillespie and company took in everyone from the Orb to singer Denise Johnson, who has a great lead turn on “Don’t Fight It (Feel It),” to create a dance-party-into-morning-comedown delight.’’

Loveless cover

It took far longer to be released than anyone planned, it almost bankrupted Creation Records as a result, and it went through any number of producers and technical staff as Kevin Shields led his band to carry out a particularly obsessive artistic vision. It worked. Truly a monumental rock masterpiece, Loveless built on the astonishing new possibilities of the earlier Glider and Tremolo EPs to create a dense, shimmering web of sculpted feedback, cooing, calm vocals, drones, beats, serene melodies, 60s pop hooks, howling overload, all combined into utter sonic rapture.

People Move On cover

Following his work helping Suede become a sensation and then magically repeating the trick with his short but memorable mid-90s collaborative singles with David McAlmont, Bernard Butler had been known as a killer guitar player and songwriter, but not as yet a singer. His full solo debut People Move On demonstrated he had a reasonable enough voice, while letting him happily indulge his taste in both big 60s-style orchestrated rock/soul numbers like “Not Alone” and “Woman I Know” and moodier, quieter songs like the title track and “You Light The Fire.”

Nowhere cover

Ride had already burst out of the gate with a rush with their earliest EPs, almost singlehandedly defining shoegaze as a combination of My Bloody Valentine-damaged hooks and noise, floppy haircuts and a great secret weapon, the harmonizing of guitarists Mark Gardener and Andy Bell. Nowhere proved to be that most unusual of beasts, a full-length debut that actually built well on what had preceded it: keeping only the epochal wallop of “Dreams Burn Down” from the third EP, the rest of the album ranged from the giddiness of “Kaleidoscope” to the moodily anthemic “Vapour Trail.”

Bandwagonesque cover

Ragged in the right corners but never without a spirit of sweet singalong energy and hooks to spare, Teenage Fanclub’s second album (the contract-busting goof of The King aside) proved to be perfect power pop for a slightly shaggier generation both in the UK and more broadly, thanks to the US major label deal the cover art nodded towards. Starting with a miniature multipart epic called, rightly enough, “The Concept,” the quartet hit the heartstrings hard on songs like “What You Do To Me”; other highlights include “Alcoholiday,” “Metal Baby” and the trippy “Star Sign.”

Beat Torture cover

Edward Ball’s vision of rock and roll as processing any number of feelings and styles kept on keeping on with Beat Torture, The Times’s debut for Creation Records and in a way a kind of summary and skew-whiff parody of the label’s aesthetics: there’s indie jangling on “Heaven Sent Me An Angel,” sitar-tinged psych on “Chelsea Green,” stomping glam on “How To Start Your Own Country” and screaming mania on “Godevil.” Above all else it’s just Ball’s forthright way around writing and performing instant singalong choruses; “I’ll Be Your Volunteer” is a great example.

Forever Breathes the Lonely Word cover

Felt’s sixth album was in many ways seemingly atypical to what had preceded it – all its songs had vocals from Lawrence while Martin Duffy, himself the subject of the cover art, had as much presence with his organ and keyboards as did Lawrence’s typically elegant guitar playing. But as a result Forever Breathes The Lonely Word was perhaps Felt’s high point at capturing a psych pop Velvet Underground feeling for an 80s audience, with songs like “All The People That I Like Are Those That Are Dead” and “Rain of Crystal Spires” sparkling with mood and energy.

Mezcal Head cover

Swervedriver’s second album neatly avoided the sophomore slump trap on several levels; whether the reason was a new drummer in Jez Hindmarsh or just a general creative recharge, Mezcal Head showed them in full command of their 100-mph-desert-highway-at-night sound. Having a couple of stellar singles in the form of the flowing charge of “Duel” and the shuddering quick pace of “Last Train to Satansville” certainly didn’t hurt either, the secret ingredient of Adam Franklin’s contemplative but never listless drawl in full effect there and throughout the album.

Just for a Day cover

At the time, some critics saw Slowdive’s debut album as not quite equalling the standards of the three remarkable EPs that came before it, but time has made the stronger case for Just For A Day, an album which arguably has inspired as many musicians across genres as Loveless has — perhaps even more. The reason lies in the quintet’s ability to interweave melody and mood, less the raging beauty of My Bloody Valentine as the sense of deep oceans and vast skies conjured up by the performances on songs like “Catch the Breeze,” “Brighter” and “Primal.”

In The Presence Of Greatness cover

Right from the charging start of In The Presence of Greatness, with the satisfying power pop crunch and harmonizing of “Window To The World,” Velvet Crush showed that the promise of the trio’s early singles could be fulfilled on a full-length in spades. The core duo of bassist/singer Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck had found an excellent counterpart in guitarist Jeffrey Underhill to start with and with Matthew Sweet’s production skills a perfect match, it was one killer song after another, including “Ash & Earth,” “Superstar,” “Speedway” and “Asshole.”

Salt Peter cover

Lesley Rankine had met producer Mark Walk via the fluctuating industrial rock project Pigface; when the former left Silverfish and moved to Seattle to collaborate directly with Walk, Ruby was the result, with a debut radically different from her old group’s noisy feedback rampage. Salt Peter showcased her gripping vocals across a variety of electronic and rhythm-based arrangements, from the stirring musical melodrama of “The Whole Is Equal To the Sum Of Its Parts” to the focused beat punch of powerful singles such as “Paraffin” and “Tiny Meat.”

Radiator cover

The giddy, knowing joy that characterized Super Furry Animals almost out of the gate continued apace on their second album, 1997’s Radiator. If mildly less anarchic in ways it’s only a matter of degrees, with the same cockeyed and all-encompassing spirit evident throughout, an early Roxy Music for a later generation. “Hermann ♥’s Pauline” is the best salute to Albert Einstein since Sparks’s “Talent Is An Asset,” while “Chupacabras” may be the best glam-stomp anthem about Mexican monsters sung by Welshmen ever.

Tender Pervert cover

It’s little surprise Momus’s third album has become his widely-agreed-upon standout effort; balancing vicious wit, consideration of homophobic societal horrors and vivid overall imagery with synth-pop on a budget that carved out its own chansonnier-tinged late 80s space, Tender Pervert takes no prisoners from the start with “The Angels are Voyeurs.” His close, almost whispered delivery suits the situations both intensely sexual and wryly intellectual throughout, and song titles alone like “A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Pt. 17-24)” about say it all.

Giant Steps cover

It takes some guts — or just an utter foolhardiness — to casually name a second album after one of the greatest works by one of jazz’s greatest players, so no matter the reaction, the Boo Radleys knew exactly what they were doing. If that level wasn’t quite achieved, Giant Steps did show that the quartet was happily moving beyond a basic shoegaze tag to try everything from sweetly sunny pop to noise collages to dub-informed slow burns that turned into majestic fanfares.

Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 cover

When the Telescopes moved to Creation Records the near anarchic sonic violence that marked their earlier work slightly shifted over time to a gentler psychedelic and dreamy flow across four singles and a self-titled album. Splashdown brings those all together with some extra cuts and a 1991 John Peel session for a comprehensive overview of that change, as the still serrated edges on a single like “Precious Little” turn into more harmonies and sweeter trippiness on “Celeste” and “Everso,” with album cuts like “You Set My Soul” aiming for calm understatement.

The House of Love cover

Following their initial singles with a full album might have been a tall order given the excitement they’d already generated, but with their self-titled debut the House of Love delivered beautifully, with ten songs over half an hour that were nearly all miniature masterpieces of rich melody, contemplations of love, life and loss and exquisite performances. It was pretty easy to sense how Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers were dubbed a new Morrissey/Marr thanks to stellar songs like “Road,” “Man to Child,” the tense “Love In a Car” and the thrilling opener “Christine.”

Definitely Maybe cover

Call it a success of fused influences, the Gallagher brothers’ arrogant gift-of-gab autohype in nearly every interview, or their ability to make wishes into reality by acting the part but Definitely Maybe was a blasting debut album. By being a less rollicking (and undeniably more straight in all senses) early 70s glam group for two decades on, Beatles and Neil Young loving in equal measure, Oasis delivered up both mouthy anthemic singles like “Supersonic” and “Live Forever” as well as some solid album cuts like the yearning power of “Slide Away.”

Ghost Trains & Country Lanes: Studio, Stage & Sessions 1984-2015 cover

Covering most of the available recordings of the Loft over the decades, not counting a separate cassette featuring demos from when they were still called the Living Room, Ghost Trains and Country Lanes is a remarkable document of the band’s engagingly fitful career. Their Creation-era tracks such as “Why Does the Rain” and the sweetly anthemic “Up The Hill and Down the Slope” are understandable 80s indie pop legends, but the 2005 sessions that produced the “Model Village”/”Rickety Bridge” single showed that spirit hadn’t wavered.

Copper Blue cover

After two initial solo albums, Bob Mould returned to a full trio format with Sugar, this time as core bandleader, recruiting bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis and looking to make a bang – and they did, in spades. Copper Blue found Mould in fine yearning voice and with songs that readily recalled the catchy roar and connection both from the Hüsker Dü years, as easily heard on the Pixies-nodding “A Good Idea” and the one-two lyrical gut punches of the harrowing “The Slim” and the upbeat song/fraught words of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”