September 13, 2002



Asked to describe the Creation’s music back in its heyday in the mid-’60s, guitarist Eddie Phillips famously remarked that it was “red with purple flashes”—a perfect description for one of the most colorful sounds of the psychedelic era.

At the time, Phillips sat down to write a song around what became the band’s catch phrase. Forty years later, he finally finished it. “We’re working on an album which is due for release early next year which needs some original songs, and I said, ‘Why don’t I finish that tune?’” he says by phone from his home in the U.K. “So I finally finished it. Basically it’s a new song, but it sounds like it was written 40 years ago.”

Perhaps. But the enduring legacy of the Creation is that it was radically ahead of its time, and swirling psychedelic gems such as “How Does It Feel to Feel,” “Painter Man,” “The Girls Are Naked,” and “Making Time” sound as fresh today as they did in the ’60s.

“You’re right,” Phillips says. “When we was rehearsing last year, we just felt like, ‘This is the sort of stuff that young bands in this country—the loud guitar bands—are playing today.’ It’s not completely old-fashioned or anything; it’s sort of timeless really, so we’re really lucky on that point. If you had said to me in 1966 that, ‘In the year 2002, you’ll be traveling to play these songs in America, and people from 17 to 57 will be singing along with all the words,’ I’d have said, ‘Are you daft? You must be smoking some good stuff!’”

The Creation first came together in Middlesex, England in 1966 from the remains of a mod combo called the Mark Four. Signed to a label started by Shel Talmy, the producer of the Who and the Kinks, the quartet made its recorded debut with a noisy three-minute epiphany called “Making Time” that featured Phillips soloing with a violin bow. (Jimmy Page was a fan of the band, and he later borrowed the trick on “Dazed and Confused.”)

An amazingly inventive player—legend holds that Pete Townshend offered him the lead guitar slot in the Who but he declined—Phillips was a master at creating layers of disorienting feedback. “For me, that all started around about ’62 or ’63,” he says.

“I’d always used a solid-body guitar, but I saw this cherry-red Gibson 335 looking at me through a shop window and I thought, ‘I want to give that a go!’ Being a semi-acoustic, the tone was different, and there was this feedback. I thought, ‘This is going to be a problem if I can’t play loud enough without getting that noise.’ Then I realized, ‘Why I don’t try and make it work?’ It was really good at that time, because we were coming out of playing rock ’n’ roll covers into more of our own beat—the guitar solo that would start and never finish. It was more free-form, and I got the hang of hitting a chord and making the feedback ring on the note instead of just being an out of control racket.

“Then I had this idea that I’d really like to get a big sustain,” Phillips continues. “Before the bow, I used a hacksaw, took the blade out of it, and put a guitar string in. Unfortunately, it sort of wrecked the guitar a bit—and let’s face it, a Gibson 335 in 1963 was a lot of money in comparison to other guitars, like three grand! So I went down to the local shop, which sold everything from piano accordions to double basses, and I saw this violin bow and thought, ‘Why don’t I try that?’ At first it wouldn’t work, then someone told me you’ve got to put this rosin on the bow. So it came along in stages, and pretty soon I could get a note out of it. It turned out to be a unique sound, and it was a great, great visual thing as well.”

Performing at legendary psychedelic shindigs such as The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream, the Creation tried to make every performance “a happening.” Its second single, “Painter Man,” was a humorous tale of art-school pretensions, and singer Kenny Pickett splashed paint Jackson Pollock-like on a giant canvas while the group performed. Sometimes, he set the art alight to end the show. (Shades of the Who’s explosions.)

“We always considered ourselves the world’s first graffiti artists,” Phillips says, laughing. “We was able to sort of do the Pop Art thing live while we was doing the stuff on stage; that’s how we got into the painting thing. That was just really, really different at the time. Our thing was always trying to look forward and trying to be just a bit ahead of things. It’s so easy to get on the stage and stand still and play guitar, but we always wanted to take it further.”

Phillips says the band plans to incorporate the onstage painting in Chicago, though it probably won’t set the canvas on fire. “We’re going to try to get as close to ’67 as we can. We’re doing everything we can to try to recreate that vibe—everything but hair transplants!” he says, chuckling.

Sadly, while the group scored several hits in England in the mid-’60s, its managers chose to focus on introducing the band to the continental Europe rather than attempting to conquer America a la the rest of the British Invasion. The strategy backfired, and the group started to fall apart in 1968. Pickett left and was replaced on vocals by bassist Bob Garner; for a time after Phillips quit, the guitar slot was filled by Ron Wood, now famously a Rolling Stone. By ’69, the band was no more.

In the years that followed, Pickett landed a job on Led Zeppelin’s road crew, and Phillips went to work for London Transport; the two later reteamed to write “Teacher Teacher” for Rockpile. Feeling that they’d never properly put the Creation to rest, they reunited in 1993 for a surprisingly vital live album called “Lay the Ghost.”

By that time, echoes of the group could be heard in a new wave of British psychedelic rock bands. Ride covered “How Does It Feel to Feel”; the Jesus and Mary Chain and Oasis shamelessly stole elements of its sound, and Alan McGee paid homage with the moniker of his label (Creation Records) and of his own band (Biff! Bang! Pow!, named for one of the Creation’s jauntier mod tunes).

Since the ’93 reunion, both Pickett and the band’s second bassist, Kim Gardner, have passed away. Of the original players, only Phillips and Garner remain. The group is currently completed by drummer Kevin Mann and bassist Tony Barber, a member of the Buzzcocks. But in recent years, awareness of the group has blossomed in America, thanks to two superb Retroactive compilations (“Biff Bang Pow!” and “Making Time”), and the use of several Creation songs in Wes Anderson’s 1998 film, “Rushmore.” That led to its first U.S. performance.

“We went to New York last November for the Cavestomp Festival, and we really enjoyed it,” Phillips says. “People knew the songs, and we thought, ‘This is really good! We should come back and do some more!’” Hence the current tour.

While some artists might be bitter that they came close without ever grabbing the brass ring, Phillips is philosophical. We chatted about the current tour by his old mates the Who, and he claimed to be happy that he isn’t in their shoes. “We’re free of all that—the baggage of nostalgia—and we can really just be ourselves and be what we want to be,” he says. He doesn’t begrudge the bands who’ve borrowed from him.

“You look at Oasis and all that and you say, ‘Hmmm….’ But we’re 40 years down the line really, and people still remember us. They still remember our songs, and that’s as good as it gets. Some people get really bitter and twisted by the whole thing, but I’m O.K. with all that. It’s just nice that in our time we can stand up and travel all that distance and play to people that like the songs.

“That never gets old,” Phillips concludes. “It’s hard to define it, really—to find out the reasons why—but there’s nothing quite like it.”