Alan McGee Talks Creation Documentary – Part 1

Drugs, Debauchery & Disenchantment

Misrepresented? Possibly. Machiavellian? Potentially. Maverick? Certainly. Alan McGee, former label boss of the hugely influential Creation Records, has been called all of the above and worse. Not that he gives a fuck. During the 80’s he propelled two musically inspired misanthropic brothers into the public consciousness in the form of The Jesus and Mary Chain. And just to show it wasn’t a fluke he did it again a decade later with the Gallaghers, when he signed Oasis. Throw Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and a host of others into the already heady mix of bedlam and breakdowns and you have one hell of a story.

‘Upside Down’, premiering at next months London Film Festival charts it all; the deals, drugs and disenchantment of Creations unprecedented 15 year history. In an exclusive interview about Danny O’Connor’s film (see trailer below) Clash spoke to an amiable, amusing and always provacative Mr McGee.

Are you calling from London today?

I’m in Wales. We just came back from a month in Spain, it was 90-100 degrees and I’ve spent the last week in London just doing stuff. I’m back in Wales this week; we’re based here. Our business lives are in London but we moved the family to Wales. I’m too old for London now, you know. I’m 49. I’ve done London

You feel that’s a young mans game?

Well in a way…I don’t know what would drive me back? It’d have to be something really remarkable to drag me back to London. I love the country and I love the whole Welsh kind of vibe. Love the laidbackness. I read books and I’m just into what I’m into. Which isn’t really music. I just kinda got bored of music. When I was away in Spain, I was talking to one of my friends, Bob Geldof. We were talking about music. He reckons the music business killed the music business; rock & Roll…in the history of two, three hundred years of music, rock n roll was like a 50-year pop. I think he’s probably right.

It has become a multinational business now…

It’s too corporate man. For people like me. You know we’re gonna be talking about this Creation movie. I’ve actually seen it now, I watched it with Geldof when I was on holiday, I said ‘come over and watch the movie’ and he loved it and I really, really liked it. But I don’t think it’d be possible to do Creation now to be honest. I don’t think it’s possible to be that ‘fuck you’ or maverick.

You do get guys doing their independent thing, putting stuff out, but in really small amounts. Niche markets.

We were having million selling albums. Sometimes we were selling more than a million. We were like ‘fuck you’ and sometimes we had 4 or 5 big bands on the go, which is quite nuts. I remember at one point in the mid nineties the editor of the Evening Standard wrote a complaint about the head of press at Creation, a guy called Andy Saunders, I’m sure you know him. He’s quite a rude individual, well not to me personally, but he can be a bit of a rude individual

Straight talking…

Aye, so the Evening Standard wrote this letter of complaint to me personally asking me to sack him and he showed me it and I just went “well, you reply” and he said “what will I reply?” and I was like “fuck you”. So the guy from the Evening Standard got it (laughs) on a wee bit of paper written in marker. “Fuck you, Alan McGee”. That what we were like (sounds incredulous) it was fucking nuts really to be honest (descends into laughter).

It was good though and we got away with it, you wouldn’t get away with telling the editor of the Evening Standard to fuck off in 2010, you’d probably get a visit from the cops.

So you were setting a precedent of sorts, if unconsciously?

Oh we weren’t consciously but maybe in a way, for kids growing up now ‘Oh this is what it used to be like, this is the wild side’. I’ll be really serious, we didn’t actually understand what we were doing really. We were just a bunch of drug addicts really to be honest.

In similar sort of terms we run an independent magazine and we’ve done everything the way we thought we should do it and not necessarily the way that other people do it.

I think the music business now is incredibly corporate. I’ll be honest,I’ve lost interest in music now really. The only things that interest me are Noel Gallagher and Glasgvegas, if you’re talking about current music. The demos of Noels new record are fucking amazing and James Allan I think is an incredible talent. And I’m interested in Liam’s new band and hear what he’s doing. They could maybe come up with something amazing. Who knows?

Do you think your lack of interest is just because you’re older, been there, wore the t shirt?

Yeah, it is. We got a new au pair, she’s over from Mexico and she’s into The Beatles. She’s 23, 24, something like that and she’d made her own hand painted Beatles T shirt, which I thought was really great. My little daughter’s into Lady Gaga, my daughter has genius taste in music, she’s nine and she’s into Jayzee, Beyonce & Lady Gaga and you’re thinking to be honest, if I was nine I’d be listening to that. You don’t expect your kid at nine to be into Led Zeppelin and if they are into Led Zeppelin when they’re nine there’s something fucking wrong (laughs). To have worked out that Jayzee, Lady Gaga and Beyonce are where it’s at nine is fucking rock n roll. It’s brilliant.

I caught her playing ‘Decades’ (Joy Division), unbelievably, on her mum’s piano so suppose some of the music must be sinking in. She can actually play pretty well. She told me the other day that she wanted to be a drummer, which is a bit scary. We would rather her be a lawyer of something (laughs).

I’ve heard you speak in the broadest of terms about the documentary and I remembered the guys that did the Oasis documentary a while back…you didn’t want to get involved?

Aye, ‘Live Forever’, terrible…I knew they were wrong, they lied to me initially, told me they wanted to do this, to do that. It was too soon. To be subjective about anything you need a bit of distance. So to make a ‘Britpop’ documentary 3 years after, well arguably it was still going on, but to do it 3 years after it’s supposedly dead? It just doesn’t wash. Nobody had any objectivity. It was a shit documentary. Danny O’Connor obviously does a big bit about the Britpop thing but a lot of it is about me and Bobby Gillespie growing up and coming to London. So it’s a very Celtic story about Irish people and Scottish people,

So what was the difference with Danny? Did you just like the cut of his jib?

I liked him because he was honest, because he wasn’t a bullshitter. If he tried to join the Groucho Club they’d probably ban him and I like everything about that vibe.

He said that making the film almost drove him over the edge mentally and into bankruptcy.

I personally didn’t but I’m amazed that he got everybody in the film. There’s a couple of people that I wish were in it a bit more.

But I’m guessing to get hold of all those disparate characters was hard?

Really. All the difficult people, including me (laughs) are in it, it’s pretty amazing. It’s the story of me and Bobby in London, him being a rock star and me being a label guy and succeeding via a band called The Jesus & Mary chain, them coming down and finally finalising our dreams through a band called Oasis. I dedicate the film to Bobby Gillespie because without him I would never have found the Jesus & Mary chain or Teenage Fanclub. I actually couldn’t have done it without that guy.

You were in your own band though. Biff Bang Pow…

People took that a bit too seriously. We made these records for like £500 a shot. For me it was about accepting that I wasn’t a rock star. If I was trying to be a rock star I would have been spending £50,000 and making videos. Instead I made them for £500 and they were selling between 5 and 10 thousand copies. It was actually profitable business (laughs).

You had the foresight to realise that you maybe didn’t have the same musical talent as Bobby or Jim & William (Reid)?

Because I didn’t I wasn’t driven in the same way towards the creative side and I could sit in a room with the business people at the likes of Sony and get the deal needed to go forward and become an international record label.

You’ve said you watched the finished film, they’re showing it to open the London Film Festival…

Yeah. Its’ a pretty amazing film. Its amazing to me cause it’s about me and Bobby and Noel Gallagher (and Liam) and The Jesus and Mary Chain and everybody that were involved with it and on the label. In a way am I the best person to say its good? Maybe I am, maybe I’m not? I don’t know. I like it. Will the general public get it? I suppose the minute they see Noel rabbiting away they’re gonna get it.

It’s a very Celtic story; two weirdo’s coming to London, Bobby playing in a weirdo band, me managing them, becoming big, the label eventually becoming big and then eventually finding the biggest group in the world. How can I put it? I was like having too much chocolate. Being locked inside a sweetie shop and getting fed up of the chocolate. If that makes sense?

Does it contain live footage or is it mostly talking heads?

I was calling Danny O’Connor, cause he took there years to make it, I was calling him Kevin Shields (frontman Shields notoriously took years to complete My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’) I thought fuck, this things never gonna get finished. But if Danny O’Connor ever makes a better film than this, I’d be very surprised. The other side of it is we’ve always been misrepresented. The Dave Cavanagh book was a total misrepresentation. Danny wasn’t there but he fucking gets it right. Dave Cavanagh wasn’t there and gets it wrong. That’s all I can really say.

Danny certainly sounds like a kindred spirit then.

Listen if Danny had come in I’d have probably signed him. We’d have got him in on bass or something.

Click here to read Part 2…

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.