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The Creation

One of the most powerful and forward-thinking British bands of the 1960s, the Creation fused mod style to a freakbeat sound in a manner that anticipated psychedelia and boasted a sonic impact that was matched in their day only by the Who. Rooted in the adventurous guitar work of Eddie Phillips, whose bracing use of feedback and work with a violin bow gave him a unique sound, and the impassioned vocals of Kenny Pickett, the Creation also incorporated the influence of pop art in their music, and they attracted a loyal cult following. However, the group's popularity in Europe far outstripped their following in England or the United States, and the only LP they issued in their original incarnation was a collection, We Are Paintermen, that appeared only in Germany and Denmark. They broke up in 1968, but would cut a pair of solid reunion albums in the 1990s, 1993's Lay the Ghost and 1996's Power Surge. The band's history began in 1963 with a group called the Blue Jacks in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, to the north of London. The band had just gotten a new lead singer, Kenny Pickett (who'd previously driven the van for Neil Christian & the Crusaders), and with the addition of a new lead guitarist, Eddie Phillips, they changed their name to the Mark Four. The band got signed to Mercury Records' British division in 1964, but the resulting two singles failed to sell. Though audiences in the U.K. were slow to warm to their music, German audiences were greeting their performances at the Big Ben Club in Wilhelmshaven with rousing enthusiasm. It was during an extended residence in Germany that the band chanced to cross paths with a local band called the Roadrunners, who were wowing fans with their use of guitar feedback in their songs. Eddie Phillips made note of the effect and started working out how he might assimilate it into his playing. The Mark Four got a second crack at recording success with Decca Records, which resulted in the single "Hurt Me (If You Will)" b/w "I'm Leaving." Sales were disappointing, but it did establish the beginning of a new sound; on that record, Phillips incorporated his own approach to guitar feedback. It was a little too wild for Decca, which stuck the song on the B-side, but it was a promising beginning. It also coincided with an ending, as the band's rhythm guitarist, Mick Thompson, and their bassist, John Dalton quit (soon to join the Kinks, replacing Peter Quaife). The Mark Four finished their history with a temporary lineup and one last single in early 1966. During the weeks that followed, Pickett and Phillips, along with drummer Jack Jones, held the group together and began rethinking their precise image and direction -- for a brief time, future superstar bassist Herbie Flowers even sat in with them. By the spring of that year, the group had evolved into the Creation, with ex-Merseybeats bassist Bob Garner filling out the lineup, and they had also signed with an ambitious young Australian-born manager (then closely associated with Brian Epstein) named Robert Stigwood. The Creation burst on the British pop/rock scene that June with "Making Time," a single that seemed to have everything going for it -- a killer beat after a brief (but catchy) stop-and-go intro, a great chorus, and a flashy, slashy, crunchy lead guitar part by Eddie Phillips that expanded upon the kind of sound that the Who were carrying high onto the charts. The parallel was not a coincidence, as that single was produced by Shel Talmy, who'd also worked on many early Who sides. In portent of their future, "Making Time" soared to number five in Germany but peaked at an anemic number 49 in England, even as the Creation were getting enthusiastic press for their stage performances, which included artists creating and destroying "action paintings" on stage. An in anticipation of what Jimmy Page would one day be doing with the Yardbirds, Phillips began playing his electric guitar with a violin bow. The group finally saw some slightly significant chart action at home in the fall of 1966 with "Painter Man," a cheerfully trippy pop anthem with a feedback-oozing guitar break that made the Top 40; predictably, the same record hit number one in Germany. The B-side, "Biff Bang Pow," opened with a "My Generation" guitar riff and jumped into a pop/rock idiom with a psychedelic edge that should have earned it airplay on its own. By the start of 1967, however, the Creation had hit a crisis point, as Kenny Pickett quit over creative differences and frustration over constant touring in Europe, where their biggest audience was rooted. He was eventually replaced by Kim Gardner, late of the group the Birds. With Phillips still on guitar, the group's sound initially changed very little, but they soon took an unexpected turn into blue-eyed soul with "If I Stay Too Long," which was a good showcase for Gardner but offered little from Phillips except some emphatically played chords; it confused the Creation's most loyal fans, and was mostly ignored by the mainstream pop audience. Much more like their established sound were "Can I Join Your Band," which somehow only got issued in France, and the U.K. single's B-side, "Nightmares." Still struggling for a commercial foothold in England despite being one of the most widely touted live acts of the time, the group's German label decided it was time to release a Creation LP. We Are Paintermen was highlighted by the titular hit plus a surprisingly good, crunchy rendition of "Like a Rolling Stone," and a jagged, powerful version of "Hey Joe." There was also a rousing rendition of "Cool Jerk," though much of the rest was either off-point or represented the earlier lineup of the group. One more single, "Life Is Just Beginning" b/w "Through My Eyes," showed up in the fall of 1967 -- the A-side was a rousing psychedelic showcase, with elements of Indian raga and a catchy, chant-like main body, plus forceful guitar and a string orchestra. "Through My Eyes" was no throwaway, either, with a lean, crunchy guitar, beautiful choruses, and a great central tune, with three-minutes-and-change of spacy sensibilities ending in a feedback crescendo. Eddie Phillips apparently felt that the single was as good a showcase as he would ever get, and in October of 1967 he quit the Creation. His departure was followed by Kim Gardner's decision to exit the group for a team-up with Ron Wood, Jon Lord, and Twink in what became known as Santa Barbara Machinehead. The Creation was kept "alive" into the spring of 1968 when their U.K. label, Polydor, released a single of "How Does It Feel" b/w "Tom Tom" on both sides of the Atlantic, with the U.S. version tarted up with all sorts of dubbed-on psychedelic effects. They were both impressive but failed to chart, and that might have been the end of the group, but for the sudden re-emergence of Kenny Pickett, who got Gardner and Jones back together to form the core of a new Creation. That band went through a couple of lineup changes, played around Europe for a bit with Ron Wood as a member, and then dissolved. Somewhere in the midst of all of those lineup changes a new album was started and abandoned (and forgotten for 36 years). The "new" Creation didn't sound dramatically different from the classic lineup, although they lacked Phillips' knack for brushing up right against the edge of chaos with his guitar breaks. That might've been the end of the group's history, but four excellent (and very early) sides were issued in Germany in 1968, probably demos by the Pickett/Phillips lineup with Herbie Flowers guesting on bass. They included a fine soul side, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," and a killer rendition of "Bonie Maronie," kitted out in a manner not that different from "Hey Joe" or "Biff Bam Boom." This time, however, the group's breakup stuck, as the members went their separate ways. Phillips joined soul singer P.P. Arnold's band, and Gardner became part of Ashton, Gardner & Dyke (who had a hit with "Resurrection Shuffle") and Tony Kaye's group Badger. Dalton and Thompson tried reuniting under the name Passtime, and Kenny Pickett, after enjoying some success as a songwriter and performing in a variety of contexts, returned to being a roadie, this time for Led Zeppelin and other bands; he eventually re-formed the Creation in the first half of the '90s. His reactivation of the Creation was a response to a long series of events belatedly recognizing the band. In the early '80s, Eva Records of France released an LP that combined the singles by the Mark Four and some of the key sides of the Creation, while England's Edsel Records released How Does It Feel to Feel?, the definitive LP collection of the Creation. The group gained a reputation as one of the great lost missing links of '60s rock, sort of England's answer to Moby Grape in terms of massive talent unaccountably caught in a dead-end. The latter-day group enjoyed three years of success before Pickett's death from a heart attack in 1996 ended their history. Since then, Demon Records in England issued a slightly fuller, better mastered compilation (Our Music Is Red -- With Purple Flashes), and Retroactive Records released two CDs of their work, complete with outtakes, alternate mixes, and television performances, an amazing output for a band that couldn't get a proper LP recorded in their own time. In 2017, the Numero Group released Action Painting, a double-album that included new stereo mixes of most of their records, and Edsel made a bid to top that with a four-CD set called Creation Theory, which gathered up later-period recordings in addition to their classic sides. Edsel went back to the well for a 2023 two-fer release, We Are Paintermen/How Does It Feel to Feel, a remastered collection that gathered all the material they released in the '60s.
© Bruce Eder & Richie Unterberger /TiVo


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