Alan McGee: "People Just Think I'm F*cking Mental"

The mastermind behind Creation Records talks about Britpop, life in the Welsh valleys and not giving a shit.
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The mastermind behind Creation Records talks about Britpop, life in the Welsh valleys and not giving a shit.

Unknowing mastermind of Creation Records - home of Jesus and the Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub and Oasis - Alan McGee has moved away from what he sees as a bankers world that is the music business and turned his focus on to a new way of life, now residing in an unlikely South Wales village. In between DJing across select venues from the Welsh valleys to Vancouver, acting in internet hit Svengali (rumoured to be developed into a film starring Alan himself) and supporting up and coming musicians, McGee’s life in the industry has been documented by film maker Danny O’Connor. But was it always planned this way...

Did you ever have a gut feeling a film would be made about you?

Never.  I don’t even know how I ended up founding a label, to be honest. I never aspired to be in the music industry. I sort of joined it because I was in a band and we couldn’t get a record deal or get signed, and then with Andrew from Primal Scream, we started making records. I was like 22 or 23 in ’83 and we started making a lot of money, around 600 quid a week which is probably about three grand a week now or even more. It was me, Joe Foster and Vic Green, just getting smashed. After months of doing that, we decided to do something with it. Joe Foster said “Why don’t we start a record label?” we had no idea what we were doing. We started putting 7” singles up for our band Laughing Apple but we’d no idea that I was gonna end up signing Oasis or the Primals, we absolutely didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing. And so we just carried on and it just exploded! By the time I was 24 I was he manager of Mary Chain, going all over the world and doing American tours, having number one records; it was really fucking mental to be honest.

What are your most surreal memories of those times on tour?

I remember we’d go to places like Cleveland, and there’d be these 37 year old groupies and they’d come up to us and say “Hey, I, like, fucked Angus Young”, another time we were playing Chicago and these women came up to us and wanted to have sex with us but were all around 22 years old and scared of them, they were saying ‘ah, you’re a bunch of fucking mummy’s boys, go back to your girlfriends’ [laughs].

I think I’m too genuinely weird for these people.  People in the music industry would just be scared I’ll open my fucking mouth, y’know.

So they didn’t break the band in then?

I think some managed to step up to the plate, but we were out of our depths. We were really innocent. Innocent in life. That was part of the genius of the band. They were innocent I was innocent and it was totally heartfelt. In rock 'n' roll it always ends up with lots of women and taking drugs, but that was our first experience and we were petrified. We were a big band in America, playing to 2000 people a night. I’m not ageist but when these older women bragged about other rock stars they’d fucked, it was really intimidating.

Any other times you’ve felt out of your depth?

Maybe the time me and Ed Ball got on a plane that had Michael Jackson sitting up the back with 5 bouncers... Michael Jackson started laughing at us, so Ed wanted to start a fight with him. Seriously. And Michael is sitting there with his mask on, still laughing, Ed’s shouting out “Let’s ‘ave it. I’m not fucking ‘avin it, Al, he’s laughing at us”. I thought I was never going to be allowed back in America, I’m saying “Please, please calm down, Ed” and he’s refusing to pipe down...

What were you doing on MJ’s plane, did you miss the turning for Easyjet?

No, we were flying Concorde, we were large! We used to go to NY once a month, has to be done, you get a free pen.

Speaking of stationery, your office in the film looks more like a 24hr party squat than a workplace, do you think more companies should adopt that approach to team building?

Probably. But I think the biggest problem the music industry has is that people can’t monetise the system anymore. I’m just so glad I’m away from it. On one level you’ve got your musicians and your James Browns and your Dean Cavanaghs, the amazing people, but then you get idiots that work for these big companies - imagine your bank manager, signing bands? Bizarrely my bank manager is a cool 71yr old black dude who loves rock ‘n roll, but most bank managers are boring, and that’s the difficulty, guys like this are boring fucks. And you don’t want to hang out with them. With your Dean Cavanaghs you want to hang out with them!

And rock ‘n roll has been taken away, well, it’s not been taken away, it exists on a different level. You see it happen in places like Tony Rivers’ pub in Mountain Ash (The Mountain Ash Inn) and bands like The Broken Vinyl Club. And that sort of stuff is going on and it’s not going to go away – people still having a party, people still having a rock ‘n roll time.

But you go into Universal or to Sony and you’d probably have a more rock and roll time going to a Soho branch of Barclays.

There’s always the risk, without people like you around, that good bands don’t get signed and end up working in McDonald’s.

Everybody says ‘I wish you’d come back, you’d be great’ but I don’t think I would fit in. I think I’m too genuinely weird for these people.  People in the music industry would just be scared I’ll open my fucking mouth, y’know. It’s an easier time to just leave them alone and they leave me alone. They’re probably not even worth the contempt I feel towards them, but I bet they all hate my guts [chuckles away...].

I think the Primals and Oasis are special people. Bobby's the anchor to our record label, the star who attracted people there, and Liam and Noel are the goal scorers.

I enjoyed the scene in Upside Down where you were on primetime TV being interviewed and just didn’t give a shit!

People are scared to say what they think, it’s just the way society’s changed over the last 15-20yrs or so, it’s become utter control, people are scared to say what they think about anything, political correctness is the new fashion. Say anything about anything and you’ll be called a name, and it’s bollocks. I’m just glad I get away with it; people just think ‘it’s Alan McGee, he’s fucking mental anyway’.

Said affectionately, I’m sure. You were key to the Britpop movement, you can’t be that fucking mental...

I don’t think I’m very objective about Britpop, I think it was probably monumentally huge, all the things that happened. But I don’t understand Britpop; I don’t even think Noel Gallagher does actually understand what we did.

Screamadelica are still doing it, Bobby’s still amazing. I’m going to see him in Poland, I’ve got a DJ gig in August and I may be doing Summer Sonic in Japan. I think the Primals and Oasis are special people. Bobby's the anchor to our record label, the star who attracted people there, and Liam and Noel are the goal scorers. These were the true stars of the label.

What type of music could the next movement come from?

I’ve no idea, but nobody saw us coming in 1983-84 so who’s to say what it’s going to be, I just know there’s too many bald people my age, there’s too many bands been around 45yrs that have made the same record ten times and it’s a shit record anyway, and that’s what’s wrong with music.

If you could speak to the driving forces of manufactured pop, such as Simon Cowell, what would you say?

I could say something cocky but y’know, what’s more important is to focus as there is stuff going on out there, what’s happening in the Welsh valleys is something fascinating to me at the moment. I’ve been humbled, like went I went to an Institute in the valleys the other night for a screening of the film, these people have got each other’s backs, people in old mining towns where there’s so much unemployment, and the respect they show each other, and me, is amazing whereas all these cities like London, or New York or Los Angeles there are so many ‘me, me, me’ types and it’s fucking boring. Where in the valleys, at least people give a fuck about each other, y’know?

That’s why people are loving the new nights you’ve been involved with in South Wales, what’s all this about a valleys pub, The Mountain Ash Inn?

I’ve been DJing there recently for the pub manager, Tony Rivers, we got The Broken Vinyl Club to play and they’ve since been signed to Acid Jazz Records. We’re getting lots of bands through and there’s some really good stuff happening and amazing talent like Christian Patermore. There is good music around, I think you’ve got to just keep going, and some day some genius will find the way to change how things are done. I think there’s a scene developing out of the valleys right now, I doubt if music bods even know where the valleys are. They’d probably come down with their Sat Navs and end up in Ireland. But as the real Dixie (who Svengali is based on) says: MA is the new LA! [Laughs].

Can we hope for another movement, 20yrs on, this time a rebellion against manufactured music and the X-factor generation?

I just feel that there has to be another way, it’s all repetitive sedation you eventually just buy. I think there will be change, there’s always hope. Like John Lennon said ‘There’s no one you can save that can’t be saved’. Of course there’s hope. There’s never such a thing as no hope, I just don’t know where it’s coming from.

Upside Down is available to purchase here

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