With the release of the double-disc anthology Action Painting, Chicago’s Numero Group has provided the most lavish collection yet for the little-known sixties British rockers The Creation. Surely this set will go a long way in cementing the legacy of the group. Though The Creation left behind roughly a couple dozen core songs – expanded to 46 tracks for this collection, via various mixes, alternates, backing tracks, and recordings by early outfit The Mark Four – the band epitomized the hard ‘n’ heavy mod sound, fusing pop, R&B and rock within an adventurous and even experimental framework. For this collection, original producer Shel Talmy (The Who, The Kinks) has supervised remastering and the creation of new stereo mixes, as true stereo versions of the Creation output were never released in the 1960s.
Action Painting has been assembled with the 23 master takes recorded between 1966 and 1968 (originally released in the U.K. on Planet and Polydor, in France on Vogue, in Germany on Hit-Ton, and in the U.S. on Decca, plus archival outtakes that appeared in future decades) gathered on Disc One, and the supplemental material on Disc Two. The group was beset by personnel changes throughout its short lifespan; Eddie Phillips, Bob Garner, Kenny Pickett, Jack Llewleyn Jones, Dave Preston, Kim Gardner, Tony Ollard, and Ronnie Wood (in his post-Birds, pre-Faces days) can all be counted among its members.
The band’s very first single, “Making Time” b/w “Try and Stop Me,” shows The Creation’s duality. The A-side is a riff-rocker that introduces guitarist Eddie Phillips’ signature use of a violin bow to play his guitar, while the B-side is a more pop-oriented nugget. (Phillips and vocalist Kenny Pickett wrote both sides, as well as much of The Creation’s original oeuvre.) Both sides, however, show the similarity in their hard-driving approach to one of Talmy’s other famous clients, The Who.
The stomping sing-along “Painter Man,” the group’s second single, is likely their most famous song thanks to a 1979 cover by Boney M that reached the U.K. top ten. Thanks to “Painter Man,” Jimmy Page took notice of Phillips’ violin-guitar technique. The spirited, high-octane B-side “Biff Bang Pow” is equally as strong, though: think The Beatles-meet-The-Who, with a dash of “Him or Me”-era Paul Revere and the Raiders.
But potential record purchasers might have been confused if they picked up The Creation’s next single, their first on Polydor. The ballad “If I Stay Too Long” moved bassist Bob Garner to lead vocals, replacing Pickett, and presented the band in a soulful vein far-removed from the group’s earlier singles. (Garner also took over from Pickett as Phillips’ frequent co-writer.) The flip, “Nightmares,” was more in line with past Creation records, albeit with a more surreal, cacophonic and, yes, psychedelic edge that recalls The Move at their most outré. Subsequent singles “Life is Just Beginning” and “Through My Eyes” showed the band growing in ambition, with intricately-arranged vocals, and strings bringing to life the parts that might earlier have been played solely by Phillips with his violin bow. “Ostrich Man” and “I Am the Walker,” neither of which were released at the time, show the band even more firmly entrenched in psychedelia.
The searing, electric “How Does It Feel to Feel” (a Polydor single) and “Can I Join Your Band” (part of a French EP) have the group’s ferocious attack on display. Young Ron Wood plays on The Creation’s first session of 1968 featuring “Midway Down,” originated by singer-songwriter John Wonderling on the U.S. Loma label, and the track also boasts the returned Kenny Pickett, and guest Nicky Hopkins on jaunty piano. The same session also yielded a strong version of the pop-ish “All That I Am” via The Tokens. Pickett, Wood, drummer Jack Jones, and bassist Kim Gardner jointly penned “The Girls Are Naked,” the subject of which would almost certainly have please Wood’s future bandmates in The Rolling Stones! The even seamier “Uncle Bert” is presented from what may have been the group’s final recording session; it saw release in Germany only. A few familiar covers are present on Action Painting, too, including a rollicking “Bony Maronie,” faithful takes on “Cool Jerk” and The Buckinghams’ adaptation of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
The second disc kicks off with a quartet of songs from The Mark Four – the pre-Creation five-piece featuring Kenny Pickett, Eddie Phillips, Jack Jones, John Dalton and Mick Thompson – recorded with producer Mike Smith in summer 1965 for two 45s on Decca and Fontana. (The Mark Four’s first two singles, or four sides, aren’t included.) These first four original songs, all co-written by Pickett and three with Phillips, already show the group’s ambitions. “I’m Leaving,” the B-side of “Hurt Me If You Will,” has the band extensively jamming on a “Baby Please Don’t Go” pattern; they had played that blues favorite in their onstage act. The seeds of The Creation’s sound are evident on these tracks, especially “Going Down Fast.” The centerpiece of this disc, however, is the premiere of fourteen new, pristine and muscular stereo mixes overseen by original producer Talmy. In addition to offering a fresh, sharp, and more detailed perspective on the tracks heard on Disc One, the brace of new mixes also includes stereo debuts of fairly straightforward covers of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Hey Joe.” The splendid sound comes courtesy of Talmy and Lurssen Mastering.
Numero Group can be reliably counted upon to deliver the most lavish packages possible, and Action Painting is no exception. Housed within its sturdy slipcase is a remarkable 80-page hardcover book which also stores the two discs. The book is a definitive history of The Creation, with a lengthy essay by producer Dean Rudland, a full discography of releases with unique material, and track-by-track annotations by compiler and fellow producer Alec Palao. (Ken Shipley is the third producer responsible for this beautiful set.) Palao’s annotations are particularly fascinating as they go beyond the norm to discuss in detail the studio creation (no pun intended) of each song from the first rhythm track to any subsequent overdubs. The book is also copiously illustrated with picture sleeves, original tape boxes, and more.
Perhaps The Creation didn’t have a chance, being a singles-oriented group during a rapidly-changing time in the music industry. Their only album was an afterthought, released only in Germany and Sweden. As Talmy produced the tracks himself and licensed them to various labels, they also didn’t have the chance to be closely identified with one label and promoted in kind by that label. Nonetheless, The Creation have left behind a legacy of melodic mod rock that, at its best, can stand proudly alongside The Who, The Pretty Things, and the group’s other contemporaries. Action Painting beautifully and comprehensively tells their largely untold story. As such, it shouldn’t be missed. Play it loud!
Action Painting is available now:
For those seeking more on The Creation, look no further than to Edsel’s upcoming box set Creation Theory. This 4-CD/1-DVD collection, due on April 28, expands its purview beyond that of Numero’s definitive 1960s chronicle. The four CDs include all eight single sides by The Mark Four (and three live reunion recordings from 1985), all of the Shel Talmy recordings, in both mono and Talmy’s new stereo mixes, the band’s 1987 album and a subsequent reunion album for Creation Records (the label founded by Alan McGee and named after the band), plus Phillips’ solo recordings from 1990 and 2011. The DVD features a lengthy new interview with Eddie, filmed in October 2016, five songs from The Creation’s two live appearances on the legendary German 60s TV show Beat Beat Beat (from the original tapes, with three songs appearing on DVD for the first time), and 21 songs from the band’s two reunion concerts at the Mean Fiddler in the 1990s. You can order Creation Theory at Amazon U.K. (in signed and standard editions) as well as, soon, Amazon U.S. and Amazon Canada!