GFF blog: Danny O’Connor on documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story
A documentary starring McGee, Noel Gallacher and countless other Creation alumni
When I talk to Danny O’Connor on the phone, he manages to answer my first question (‘Tell me a little bit about yourself’) with an extensive 16-minute history, covering his radio roots on the BBC’s Evening Sessions and Lamacq Live, to his television experience on Channel 4’s The White Room, bringing him up to his recently-completed documentary on legendary British independent label Creation Records, entitled Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. ‘That really is a very verbose answer,’ he concludes, laughing. ‘Do you know what it is, it’s absolutely freezing, so I’m talking to keep warm!’
Thankfully, he’s an interesting man to listen to – aside from his own history in music broadcasting, the Creation Records story is one with immense mileage. ‘People have asked if I did this because I’m a mad fan,’ he says. ‘To be honest, my record collection is not solely made up of Creation records, so it’s not that I’m a complete obsessive – I’m just a story teller, and I saw about eight million stories to be told there, and thought I couldn’t lose.’ Among those eight million, there’s one particular story that stands out, although O’Connor assures me that this won’t be Oasis: Unseen. ‘Noel was, understandably, completely fed up, and embarrassed really, by the countless attempts to tell the story of Creation, but really tell the story of Oasis through the back door. Because you know, every commissioning editor in the world says, “Get me Oasis. I’m not interested in any of the others.” Noel was adamant from the beginning, as I was, that this be the story of the label, and everyone involved.’
So what other bands feature, I ask, receiving another colossal, War and Peace-length answer in return. ‘Creation’s first significant success – although admittedly it wasn’t massive by anyone’s standards – was a band by the name of The Loft (aside, obviously, from The Jesus and Mary Chain, who kicked the whole thing off). The Loft were the first Creation band to appear on TV – we’ve got the footage from that appearance as well as the band themselves in the film. The film follows a kind of narrative. You go from The Jesus and Mary Chain, to The Loft, which morphs into The Weather Prophets; that then takes you into The House of Love; The House of Love are really the precursors to Ride, My Bloody Valentine and the whole shoegazing scene, which Creation were very much the figureheads of – you’ve got Swervedriver thrown in there, and The Telescopes.’ The film doesn’t just stick to pre-britpop indie either. ‘All of that stuff paves the way for Creation’s little interaction with grunge: Teenage Fanclub toured the world with Nirvana, and become really quite significant in the US; Swervedriver do quite well touring with The Smashing Pumpkins. A lot of people have left test screenings saying, “Fuck’s sake, I didn’t know that.”’
Anyone who knows anything about Creation (and the record industry as a whole) will know that there’s much more to making music than simply making music. ‘While all this was happening, what’s actually going on at Creation HQ is they’re popping pills like mad bastards, and [label boss Alan] McGee’s relocated to Manchester because he’s so fucking away mental on acid house. And from that undercurrent to the whole situation, Bobby Gillespie has his epiphany, and they all get right into it, resulting in Screamadelica, arguably one of the most important albums of that decade if not also the 25 years that preceded it. And so you get all these amazing stories weaving together, with all roads leading to King Tut’s, and McGhee meeting Noel Gallacher in 1994.’
And so to Oasis, the selling of the company to Sony and the massive landmark Knebworth performance (footage of which makes it into the film). Does this share the DNA of a concert movie then? Or is the film a straightforward, talking heads documentary? Or even – given the style of shooting – a much more cinematic, almost noirish tale? ‘Without wanting to summarise too much, to me the film is a story of men,’ says O’Connor, ‘because Creation was a fundamentally male label, and you’ve got all these intense male relationships at the heart of it. McGee and Gillespie went to school together and had this long, up-and-down relationship; you’ve got the Reid brothers in The Jesus and Mary Chain; and then of course you’ve got the Gallaghers. And you’ve got the rest of them too, with all their ups and downs – The Lost split up on stage at the bloody Hammersmith Odeon, and they were really posh in comparison to everyone else. It’s really about how brilliant and crap men are. There aren’t many of us who live in that environment, who spend 20 years working so intensely with other men, in a sort of make or break, do or die, we’ve got no money, we’re half off our tits, we’re half broke, we don’t know where we’re going situation. And it’s perfectly summed up, actually, in the lyric for the film’s title: ‘I feel like I’m going made / Best friend I ever had / Feel like I’m spinning round / Oh yes, I’m upside down.’
Before I can thank him for his considerable time, O’Connor signs off. ‘I’ve got that thing now where I’ve had a mobile phone pressed to my ear for ages and I can’t feel my hand or my ear, so I’m gonna go,’ he says cheerily, as if I’ve been the one nattering on (albeit entertainingly) for over half an hour. No worries, Danny, I think I got what I needed.