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Ageing rockers hit high note

"We partied like drug monkeys till the ****ing sun came down." Sadly these words were not spoken by Bertie Ahern during Mike Murphy's Thursday night interview (I say sadly, because I feel those words coming from our delusional former Taoiseach would bring me some sort of closure). No, for candour it's best to avoid politicians and go straight to ageing musicians. And they could be found saying this and other sentences, while delivering hundred-yard stares down the camera lens and gleefully recalling times past on Upside Down: The Creation Records Story.

These craggy interviewees were there to recall the rise, fall, second rise (thanks to Oasis) then disintegration of Alan McGee's game-changing record label. This was interspersed with the best music of the past few decades (Primal Scream, the House of Love, The Jesus and Mary Chain) and nostalgic period footage of a type popular at the time (mopey bands barely in shot, as a camera wanders aimlessly around sunless rooms -- these videos were either produced by incredibly stoned camera-people or, possibly, a confused camera-dog).

Of course, the hugely entertaining tale of Creation's highs and lows is not really the story of drug-addled visionary musicians. It's the story of a drug-addled visionary businessman: Alan McGee. The role of business-minded scene-makers generally gets written out of rock history, so it's nice to see it thoroughly examined here. If there was any justice in the world, for every poster featuring a tight-trousered lothario soloing on a Stratocaster, there'd be another of a worried-looking nerd manipulating a set of accounts. Certainly if I was starting a band now, as well as finding a riff-tastic guitarist and a 'tasty' drummer, I would also find someone who played a mean balance sheet.

One way or another, McGee's vision, drive and attention to detail enabled marginal indie music to become mainstream. But in the wake of a massive drug-induced breakdown and the huge success of Oasis, the fun went out of Creation for McGee. The label operated best in the more neglected grimier corners of the music industry and when the outsiders became self-doubting insiders they ground to a halt.

Good music expires young. Bad music, on the other hand, is immortal. Over on ITV we got deathless Barry Manilow (or Cthulu Eater of Worlds as he was known to the druids) still crooning but looking increasingly like a puppet from the film Labyrinth (thanks to lots of cosmetic surgery).


He was presenting An Audience with ... , a long-standing television exercise in luvvie-ish sycophancy in which established stars perform before a throng of wide-eyed celebrity succubae (TV chefs, soap-stars, Lulu). As usual the b-list chuckled, swayed and nodded knowingly to the golden-throated, plastic-faced crooner's anecdotes and tunes, clearly desperate to inhale his life force and leach on his airtime.

He happily indulged them. He took questions ("Why are you so brilliant?" was a recurring theme). He recounted anecdotes (Mandy was originally titled Brandy). He sang Can't smile without you (but didn't add "because Botox has paralysed my face").

The audience adoration was clearly making The Manilow stronger, and I could tell what was coming next: a recitation of his greatest hit. This would be too much for the breathless sycophants. "Avert your eyes!" I shouted, as he picked out the opening chords of Mandy.

I assume, at this point, that angel/demon creatures emerged from the piano, and that, after a brief moment of ecstasy, the celebrity audience shrieked and their faces melted off (think Raiders of the Lost Ark). Of course, it might just have been a hand-wavy sing-along. I had my eyes averted. I can't be sure.

Upside Down: The Creation Records Story HHHHI An Audience with Barry Manilow HHIII