The dawn of Creation

January 20, 2012

In 1983, a Glaswegian-born, London-living British Railway employee named Alan McGee founded a music fanzine named Communication Blur, which span off into a fledging record label called Creation.

Having sporadically released records by the likes of Biff Bang Pow!, The X-Men and The Legend! (better known as NME journalist Everett True), McGee started a weekly music night called The Living Room in August 1983. The gigs fulfilled two purposes: the headliners sold tickets, meaning McGee could put the profits back into his record label, and it gave the largely unknown acts he had signed a chance to get some exposure.

The club opened at The Adams Arms (now the Lukin) in Conway Street, in an upstairs room which had been a folk club called Dingles from the mid-1970s. In front of an audience of some 150 people, the Television Personalities headlined the first night, and the gig was reviewed in Groovy Black Shades issue 6 (1983).

The PA was minimal, the lights were either an anglepoise lamp or a slide show depending on the band. And it was so bloody hot!! But there was a very relaxed atmosphere, so relaxed that the first band Miles Landesman were still in the bar when they should have been on ‘stage.’

The first Creation LP (released in August 1984) was a compilation entitled Alive In The Living Room, consisting of recordings made on hand-held recorders from the audience at the Conway Street pub.

The bands recorded at the Adams Arms for the album include The Television Personalities, The Mekons, The  Jasmine Minks, The June Brides, The Legend!, The Pastels and Alternative TV.

After a period as an O’Neills, the pub was renamed The Lukin in the 2009. I had wondered if this was a continuation of the pub’s musical history, and it was named after the American Mark Lukin, the bassist in the Melvins and Mudhoney (he’s practically the only Lukin that comes up on Google.) But after I said I thought it was a “crappy pun name” (as in ‘Look In’), I was emailed by Shaun, the owner. He rightly said if I’d wanted to know where the name came from, I should have just popped in and asked. So the next day, I went along.

From the outside, I’d thought it was a chain pub; I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a charming, large, jam-packed local, and on the Friday I went in, it was heaving with people ordering roasts. Shaun couldn’t have been more welcoming, and he urged me to pop upstairs to see the room where the club had originally been.

To the left is a bar, to the right, a huge fireplace. It’s exactly as it was when the club was running nearly thirty years ago.

Sadly, there’s no chance of it being used for any more live music, Shaun told me – the area is now residential enough to mean complaints about noise. He also let me know that The Lukin is named in honour of his grandfather (Lukin was his surname.)

The Living Room moved from the Adams Arms in 1984 to the upstairs room of The Roebuck (now The Court) at 108 Tottenham Court Road. The new venue already had a small musical footnote associated with it – in July 1965, 18-year-old Davey Jones performed a successful audition for manager Ralph Horton at the pub with his band The Lower Third (two months later, Jones adopted the stage name ‘David Bowie.’)

It was at the Roebuck “in front of 10, possibly 15 people” on the 8th June 1984 that East Kilbride’s The Jesus and Mary Chain performed their debut London gig.

Reminiscing about the night in MOJO, Jim Reid recalled “it was an absolute racket. We’re still having a blazing row while we’re supposed to be playing this song…” Bass player Douglas Hart remembered that “there was a lot of pent-up energy released. Years of frustration. It was total chaos. People just stood and stared.”With the guitars untuned, a broken fuzz pedal creating a horrible noise, the PA emitting ear-splitting shrieks of feedback as it struggled with the volume, and William Reid playing with his back to the audience, the set lasted just ten minutes.

Even though Creation’s co-founder Dick Green later admitted “I’m sure nobody meant it to sound like it sounded,” an awestruck Alan McGee signed the Jesus and Mary Chain to his fledging label immediately.

The Jesus and Mary Chain with (R) Alan McGee in Plymouth, 1985 (photo by Valerie Hicks)

Their first single Upside Down stayed on the UK indie chart for 76 weeks, becoming one of the biggest selling indie singles of the 1980s, and would kickstart McGee’s rapid rise into the big leagues. The Living Room shut up shop sometime late in 1984 as McGee went on to sign a who’s who of British indie acts throughout the next decade, including My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Oasis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub and the Super Furry Animals.

The name ‘Creation’ became famous worldwide, but it was in these two Fitzrovia pubs where the label’s rise truly began.

But it’s hard not to feel there’s something daft about changing pub names, which wipe out even the most recent years of history in a single stroke.

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The first sign that a vigil is ongoing in Camden Square comes on nearby Murray Street. Someone has added something to the road-sign in pen: “Amy”, followed by an arrow pointing towards the house in which she lived.

Since her death sometime in the early afternoon of Saturday 23rd July, the small strip of grass opposite No. 30 Camden Square has transformed into a shrine to Amy Winehouse.

Three days after her death, the road is choked with TV vans with vast satellites on their roofs. Spanish students lounge around, hugging one another and making peace signs into iPhones. Cyclists slow down to look at the crowd. Despite the hundred or so people standing around – waiting for something, but quite what it is, no-one seems sure – it’s incredibly quiet.

The main voices to be heard are those of TV reporters – no British ones on the scene by Monday, just American and Australian entertainment stringers filing back reports to unseen studios.

It’s not funereal as such, but there are no MP3 players, no radios, and no one singing any of the songs so intimately associated with the woman whose death has brought them here. Instead, there’s a sullen, hugely respectful line of people filing by the 18ft of mementoes that have collected at the entrance to the park which Amy Winehouse’s home looks directly out on.

The singer’s face beams back from dozens of photocopied photographs taken with fans over the years; with drawings of her famous beehive and thick kohl eyelashes; with handwritten notes; and with the occasional large painting celebrating the icon she’d become some time before her untimely death.

Despite working in music radio for years, I only ever saw Amy Winehouse once – and naturally it was in Camden. Coming down from the private room at the top of the Hawley Arms much too late one Friday night a few years back, I passed her on the stairs, small, tottering on massive heels, resplendent in a clingy black and white checked dress. It wasn’t a special moment by any means – it just seemed like the natural order of things. You went out drinking in Camden every so often and, sooner or later, you’d see Amy Winehouse.

She was one of the few contemporary musical acts to be intimately associated with a specific area of London. Camden and Amy; the two were synonymous. Drugs, vintage clothing, live music, rough boys, late nights, hard drinking – it’s hard to think of another star whose attributes match so exactly the place where they lived.

She was living in Camden when she became both an international star and domestic tabloid dynamite. At the height of her notoriety in 2008, she briefly moved to Bow (leaving Camden was intended to remove her from familiar habit and temptation) but returned after a year, buying the house in Camden Square in March 2010. But as soon as she did, as the Sun put it, “the parasites…crept back in and dragged her into the gutter.”

Three days before her death, her final on-stage appearance was fittingly at the Camden Roundhouse, where she sang with her goddaughter Dionne Bromfield as part of the iTunes Festival. Camden was the melting pot where she created her internationally celebrated work Back To Black; it would also be the last place her majestic voice would ever be heard.

On Thursday, walking back into town after a meeting in Kentish Town, I wandered down Inverness Street. I was thinking of doing an entry on the Good Mixer pub, but there were spits of rain in the air, and I decided I’d postpone snapping away. As I walked back, I noticed one of the stalls in the market had a large airbrushed picture of Winehouse on the back. It read: “Nobody stands between me and my Camden.”

I pondered taking a photo, but as the rain started to pick up, I skipped past and headed for the station.

When I walked back past it today (the record shop immediately behind playing You Know I’m No Good loud enough so that it could be heard by anyone passing by), the stallholder had covered the whole thing with a black sheet. Whether it was a tribute or just to keep the tourists and their pens away from his stall, I don’t know, but it seemed apt.

Further up the road, the probable future of the Amy Winehouse brand was prominently displayed. In the window of Escapade, sandwiched between two Blues Brothers, was the Winehouse fancy dress kit. The tragic story of a phenomenally talented young woman is boiled down to a beehive and a microphone you can wear at a hen party.

The house in Camden Square will undoubtedly become the newest exhibit in the London rock tour, another pilgrimage site filed alongside the residences where Mama Cass and Jimi Hendrix expired.

The graffiti appearing on the road-signs this weekend is just the start.

As soon as the police tape is rolled up, the wall of No.30 is going to be scribbled on by people from all over the world. The residents of Camden Square will have to get used to stepping over half-melted candles and soggy hand-written notes scattered across the square. The house will become as essential a Camden destination as Stables Market and the Electric Ballroom.

Walking round the collection of letters, photos and drawings that celebrate her life in Camden Square, a man in his sixties pointed out a glass of rose to his wife. “She liked a drink, that’s true! She certainly liked a drink!” As he pointed, his voice suddenly cracked and he started to sob.

There is something undeniably moving about the piles of single cigarettes, the half-size bottles of vodka, the nicorette patches plastered onto the trees, and the half-full wine glasses standing up on the grass. It seemed to me like the communal equivalent of everyone getting together in a pub to toast the deceased after the funeral.

It’s just so terribly sad.

There’s nothing else to say.

UPDATE – August 2011

As the days went on, ten of the road signs around Amy Winehouse’s former home (the first photo in this post shows the sign two days after her death) became completely covered in graffiti from fans. The Ham and High reported that four were taken by souvenir hunters, who ignored pleas from Camden Council to return them so they could be passed on to her family.

Camden Council’s environment boss Sue Vincent told the paper: “We are appealling to the good nature and conscience of the person or persons who stole the signs and are asking for them to be returned. We are not concerned with who took them and will not be investigating this if we can get them back. The signs can be returned to any police station in Camden and no questions will be asked. They will then be given to the Winehouse family.”

Sound Tour of London

May 25, 2011

Years ago, I picked up this single in a charity shop  – but sadly just the sleeve. With no record inside, the actual recording of Sound Town: London – The West End remains a tantalising mystery. It’s undated, but the inclusion of the BT Tower (which was completed in 1964) on the sleeve means it was released in the mid-1960s at the earliest.

Produced by Travelsound of 1-14 Canfield Gardens, NW6 (a couple of roads away from Finchley Road tube station), the record celebrates “the sounds that are London. A small treasure of knowledge this – it will enrich you in many ways, help you to understand the people of this Island. You will then be able to say, “nice to know you.””

I’d always presumed it would consist of field recordings of noises, ambient sound or conversations – a prototype art project – but looking at the back, one T.Z. Kurkowski is credited with the script, which was read by Ian Clark, a registered British Travel Association guide. In some ways, it’s an early prototype of many of the modern London walking tours you can currently download through iTunes, where someone takes you on a walk in real time, their commentary running over the sounds of the roads they’re walking down and the sights they stop outside.

The track ‘Speaker’s Corner at Marble Arch’ is the one I’m keenest to hear – for something which has been running for so many years, it’s shocking how meagre a selection of recordings seem to have been made at Speaker’s Corner. In recent years, it seems to have fallen off the list of  tourist destinations, but having wandered over a few months back, it’s as full of racists, cranks and End-Is-Nigh-ers as ever.

A second record – Sound Tour of London – The City – was also released at the same time, but neither return any results on the internet whatsoever. It seems I’m never going to get to hear this thing…