Alan McGee started Creation Records on a shoestring budget and a near infinite supply of bravado.
Emerging from the ashes of post-punk, it would become a defining indie label, birthing everyone from The Jasmine Minks to Primal Scream, Felt to Teenage Fanclub, House Of Love to Oasis and Super Furry Animals, veering from chaotic disaster to stunning success.
Folding as the Millennium dawned, Alan McGee looked back on this time in his memoir Creation Stories, discussing the records, the drugs, the bust ups, and the breakthroughs.
Moving from the music underground to Downing Street, the story hits the (virtual) silver screens this year, with a biopic – helmed by Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh – due for release in just a few weeks.
Ewen Bremner, best known as Spud in Trainspotting, plays Alan McGee, and the film attempts to tap into the magic and mayhem that made Creation such a vital force in British music.
The film Creation Stories will premiere at the virtual Glasgow Film Festival on February 24th, before gaining a wider release through Sky.
Clash caught up with Alan McGee to discuss the film, how shifting perspectives on the Creation story, and his latest label venture.
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How does it feel for this film – which touches on so much of your life – to be getting its general release?
Well, the best I can say about it… that I don’t actually hate it! And that’s a pass mark, to be absolutely honest. I don’t hate it… and that’s quite huge. I know Tony (Wilson) didn’t really like 24 Hour Party People, and I think Shawn found it difficult. A few people in it found it difficult because it wasn’t really them. The fact that I can live with this is quite a compliment.
There must be an element of trust there with you, as you’ve known Danny and Irvine for some time now.
Yeah! But this is Irvine Welsh’s view on my life, and Creation. It’s not factually correct… but I can live with it all. There’s stuff in it that didn’t happen. Like, me going into the sunset with my father – well, I haven’t spoken to my father for 20 years, we don’t talk! Shit like that is not real. But then other things, like the Jimmy Saville stuff – I mean, that actually happened! Some of it happened, some of it is Irvine. But I can live with it all!
For those who don’t know, what is this Jimmy Saville element…?
It’s when I went to Checkers. It was a posh dinner in the late 90s. I was sat there with Tony Blair, and then there was a knock at the door. The first guests had arrived! You know what I’m like – I was there at 25 past seven! But then at 20 to eight, all you hear is: now then, now then, now then! It was fucking Jimmy Saville! He’d shown up… obviously at the invite of the British government, so there you go!
Did Danny and Irvine get free rein with this?
I didn’t ask them to change anything. My attitude is, if you’re gonna have Irvine Welsh then you’ve got to let Irvine Welsh be Irvine Welsh. I’d accepted that the book is me, but the film is Irvine. And that’s it. And that’s how I’ve managed to live with it.
How important was having Irvine’s voice in there to bringing this film to the screen?
Irvine brought in Danny Boyle, Nick Moran, and Ewen. It’s Irvine’s movie – really – but it’s about my life.
What’s it like to watch Ewen Bremner playing you?
He played me great! I’ve not been like that for a long time, so it’s quite difficult sometimes to watch me being a head case… because I don’t think I particularly am any more! But I was nuts in the 90s and that’s what it’s portraying.
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Creation had a real punk attitude through its life span – where did that come from?
I think that’s just who I am. And I’m still like that. I’m kind of still like that. I’m putting out my records on It’s Creation, Baby and I’m still doing it kind of for myself. I just got successful in the 90s through being like that. When I first started in the early 80s that’s exactly who I was as well.
The trailer has an incredible moment where you drag Creation rarities down to a record shop, so you can flog them and pay the rent. Is that something that really happened?
It’s not untrue. Maybe it was a little bit more like: let’s take them to Germany and sell them to collectors, right? But it was kind of like that. We used to go to Cologne and sell thousands of pounds worth of vinyl – me and Joe Forster – and then we’d stay and have a party. That’s really what happened! Irvine’s version has me going to Camden Town, so that’s OK.
Does Irvine’s take on Creation get the mania of it all?
Yes. It does. I’m really happy with it! There’s loads of it where I’m like: that’s kind of what happened…! Sometimes it’s like: specifically that didn’t happen but as an idea… yes, it did!
Did any moments in the film cause you to flinch on screen?
I don’t think they went far enough. If you look at my Dad – my Dad fucking hospitalised me a couple of times… bad doings. Jumping on my head. And I think the violence in the film is quite tame in comparison. And it ended up in the kitchen – me with a kitchen knife to stop my Dad fucking annihilating me! So it was a lot more mental than the film… but that’s Irvine’s take. It’s Hollywood.
Creation were known for signing outsiders and misfits – is that a hallmark of the label, do you think, seeking out voices on the fringes?
Yeah. I think you’re probably right. They were all weirdos, ultimately. The Gallaghers were about the most normal but even they were still outsiders. But Bobby’s a weirdo, Kevin Shields is a weirdo, I’m a weirdo, Guy Chadwick’s a weirdo, Kevin Rowland is a weirdo. We’re all weirdos.
Is there a band or artist whose work doesn’t get recognised enough during the Creation story?
I wish Felt had been bigger. I don’t think I got Felt right. I put out five albums, and I think I got them when I was too young. I was 26, 27 when I started to put their albums out and I don’t think I was that good at it by that point. By the time I got into my mid 30s I was really fucking good at breaking bands. I’d had some success – Mary Chain, House Of Love – but I wasn’t great at it. And then by the mid 90s I was really good at breaking bands.
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Kids watching this might be inspired to form their own label, what words of advice would you give?
I don’t know if I can offer advice. Just follow your heart. If you love the music and one of your friends is really great and talented then you may as well have a go. That’s all I ever did. I signed up my pals from The Living Room and some of them broke. One of them – Bobby Gillespie – is still going to this day, still playing big shows.
You’ve now got It’s Creation, Baby – is that an entirely new project?
It’s a new venture, new shareholding. We’re going to actually put albums out this time. Basically, Creation23 was the first two years of me being back doing new music – as in putting new bands out – and I’ve changed the name because I’m now the sole owner of it. It’s called It’s Creation, Baby.
It’s a tough time for music right now.
Absolutely. I mean, we’ve got lots of bands, lots of records, but no shows. A lot of going to come out of this period, but I’ve yet to see it. You like to think there’s gonna be an anger, and people will want to do shit.
Is there a political element to some of the releases you’ve got lined up?
If I like the tunes then I work with the people. And I’ve got some good stuff. I like what I like, I put the records out, and I’m having a good time doing that. I don’t know how deep I’m penetrating into the nation’s psyche but I’m enjoying it, y’know.
That enjoyment is key, isn’t it? There’s a quote from you towards the end of Creation, saying that some of the people there may as well have been working at Tetley’s putting out tea bags…
I mean, I was probably being a bit of a cunt saying that. At the end of the day, I was on prescription drugs for 20 years, so I used to say mad shit. There’s a lot I wish I hadn’t said… but there you go!
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Were there points in the Creation story where you didn’t enjoy being in charge?
Oh yeah. Most of the time! (Laughs) But half the time if I hadn’t taken charge of a situation nobody would have done anything… so I didn’t have much choice. Do you have any regrets about it all? I don’t know if I should have closed it at the height of it at the end of the 90s. But I had a really good next 10 years, so maybe I did do the right thing. Who knows?
Death Disco, Poptones… that’s a good legacy in itself. Do you feel like that period gets over-shadowed somewhat?
Well, I don’t feel like it was particularly successful. The management company – for a period – was really fucking successful, with the Libertines, Mogwai, Charlatans, and all these bands. I had a good time, the next 10 years after I closed it.
I had 17 years of full-on Creation Records and I wanted a change. But I don’t know if I did! Maybe I should have hung on in there and milked the Sony train, let Oasis put albums that sold five million… rode that train right out of town. I don’t know.
Has the music industry adjusted to permit outsider voices or do you feel it’s more business-like than ever?
It’s more business-like than ever. I seem to ultimately get a pass because I sold a lot of records. But I don’t think I’m part of the music industry – they just think I’m an old fruit. They just let me go waffling on!
What are your plans for 2021? Well, lockdown has been tough… but I’ve been walking about 15 miles a day, I’m really healthy! So there’s that. But I’ve got a lot coming out on It’s Creation, Baby – maybe 15 singles. On the management side, we’re waiting for corona to move on so we can put bands out on tour. In the meantime we’ve got an amazing Kyle Falconer album coming. If that gets on the radio then it’ll be a number one record – the album is incredible, easily the best thing he’s ever done!
And alongside that, there’s a documentary coming. A friend of mine – who’s actually a photographer – has followed me for years, so he’s picked up some amazing footage of me and my son. He’s been getting clean, so I met up with him in Tokyo after not having seen him for 10 years. Mad shit like that. Really good stuff.
It’s a work in progress… but is for us all!
Is that how you view your own life? Work in progress?
Oh yeah. Nobody ever gets it right. The drink, I’ve sorted it. The drugs, I’ve sorted it. And that took years – I was on prescription drugs up to three, four years ago. My health is good. Shit pops up but you’ve got to try and deal with it.
Do you keep in touch with a lot of people from the Creation days?
I do. I’m not actually on bad terms with any one, so far as I can tell! Noel, I’m in quite a lot of contact with. Haven’t seen Liam for five, six years now. But we’re OK. Kevin Shields I saw a few years back for dinner. Fanclub I run into every so often. I’m OK with everybody… for what I know!
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My Bloody Valentine could have a film in their own right! ‘Loveless’ was so protracted and painful, but vinyl copies are still selling every single day. Is it gratifying to see that come to fruition?
The fact that we recorded it, and it cost so much money – more than a quarter of a million, we were told – then it’s more fucking relief than anything. Like, shit, we get our money back! But I don’t regret that record, it’s just such a great record.
That’s the past – what does the future hold for your new label?
Well, it’s in a good place for me personally. Especially during lockdown. We put a single out every month and I’m staying healthy and that’s good enough for me! Putting records out by artists has kept me sane.
Has time given you a greater perspective on the Creation story?
Yeah. I think everything I’ve said in the past 25 years… I know that if I wasn’t on prescription drugs over that time then I wouldn’t have been so vociferous. So, I apologise to anyone I’ve actually offended. But it is what it is! Some of it is very funny… but at the end of the day, a cunt’s a cunt!
But you feel positive going forwards?
Oh I’m a good place! I’m having a good time, I’m healthy, and I work with all the things that I want to work with.
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Creation Stories available only on Sky Cinema from March 20th.
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