Alan McGee is in fine fettle.
Following a couple of health scares in recent years, the Creation founder is sticking rigidly to a plant-based diet (with a lot of green mushy drinks – and the odd bit of fish).
It’s a far cry from the hellraising days of Creation’s pomp, when McGee’s daily intake tended to be… a little more punishing.
Creation was ultimately born out of McGee’s long-standing relationship with Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes – his former bandmates, and key members of one of Creation’s greatest exports, Primal Scream.
These days, McGee is still involved in Creation – but, having sold his legendary record company to Sony in 1999 (before founding, then closing, Poptones), it’s Creation Management which takes up most of his time.
The Glaswegian now manages the likes of the Happy Mondays, Black Grape, Cast and The Jesus & Mary Chain – as well as one new act in Willow Robinson, whom he deems “a genius”.
[PIAS]’s Kenny Gates sat down with McGee to ask him about the history of Creation, his experiences in the music business – and why he never felt part of the independent label community…
Tell me about school: you met Bobby Gillespie when you were both young?
Yes – I met Bobby when he was 11 and I was 12. We were kind of good friends, but it was when punk happened – I was about 15 – that we bonded.
We started going to all the punk gigs together. And we became intense friends.
How did you start Creation? Did you always want to start a label?
No. When I got into punk I was in Glasgow. I met Andrew Innes through a radio station and I became his bass player.
Bobby Gillespie became our singer, but we never did a gig. That was the early punk incarnation of Creation and Primal Scream!
In about 1980, Andrew – who’s a couple of years younger than me but a ballsy little f*cker – said: ‘We’re moving to London and changing the name of the band to The Laughing Apple. And if you don’t move to London, you’ll get thrown out, McGee.’ So I had to move!
I had no drive to move to London. I just didn’t want to get kicked out of the band.
Luckily it worked out. After about a month I was walking round London going: “This is f*cking amazing.”
What did your parents think about you moving to London?
My mum was into me – she loved me. My dad thought I was gay. He calls himself a ‘Glasgow bear’ – a hard man.
He’s still alive but I don’t talk to him. He’s 84, a piss-head in Scotland. He’s an absolute f*cking prize idiot, but he’s my dad, so what can you do.
I’ve got nothing in common with him. He thinks I’m an idiot, and I’m not his biggest fan.
My mum died when I was in my early 20s.
Weren’t your parents ever proud of your success?
My mum was before she died. And my dad… I think my dad just thinks I’m a dick, basically.
I don’t really give a f*ck to be honest. I don’t hate him. He’s an old piss-head.
Is this interesting to your interview?
Yes, because it’s important to know if your parents encouraged you or otherwise.
No, they didn’t encourage me at all.
So you’re in London thinking it’s great… What happened next?
We went from being the 17th biggest punk band in Glasgow in 1980 to suddenly being in the Mt. Pleasant rehearsal rooms. The Gang Of Four were in the next room to me, and The Cure were along the way.
Suddenly, I realised that by just moving 500 miles, we’d removed a glass ceiling. We allowed ourselves, in our own way, to make it.
I’m sure you’ve got a similar tale to tell – making that move.
You have to go where the action is. When did you make the move from artist to record label?
By about 1983, when I was 22, I’d mastered records and learned how to record – Bobby Gillespie made the sleeves we’d put in the plastic bags.
That’s how we became a label – because by default I’d learned the whole process.
How long did I think Creation would last for? About a year-and-a-half, then I’d get found out.
Creation is still going to this day, but as a publishing company. It’s sort of an inactive thing – I just get cheques every six months for my share.
Was the first record you put out on Creation by Primal Scream?
No. It was actually a terrible record by a guy called The Legend. It was shocking.
The only good thing about it was that it was so bad, and the press it got was so bad, was that it made me realise: ‘Fuck, I’ve got to up my game.’
We took six months out, then we came back with The Revolving Paint Train, The Pastels, The Jasmine Minks and Biff, Bang Pow!
Even though they weren’t trendy, people started saying: ‘Ah, it’s a retro label.’
The Jesus & Mary Chain was the twelfth record. Upside Down changed everything for us – made us a real ‘indie’.
Another band that changed everything for you was Oasis…
Creation was, in my head, always punk rock meets psychedelia. And that’s what Oasis were.
It was the same aesthetic all the way along.
Were your signings always instinctive?
We signed loads of things I knew would never be big, but I really liked them.
It was a different music business back then. You could take punts.
You signed a bunch of crazy people who made great records. Were you signing personalities more than artists?
I think we did. It’s a difficult concept.
The world of music changes all the time in the internet age. But it was a bit looser on Creation – we’d do things because we wanted to do them. Even Poptones was like that.
Did you ever feel like as a Scotsman you wanted to show Londoners you could make it?
No. I can’t really be arsed with the Scottish thing.
People like Rough Trade were always very middle-class. Ex-students.
I was punk-rocker, Glaswegian working-class. They never really took me very seriously.
That’s why we ended up with Pinnacle [for distribution]; because [Rough Trade] thought I was such a little dick, they never even really studied the records.
At the point of Loaded, we changed gear and went with Steve Mason [at Pinnacle].
It sounds horrible, but I was so mistreated by the Rough Trade thing, I just thought f*ck you – we’re about to become successful and you’re not getting the business.
I loved the idea of Rough Trade Distribution, and it gave me a chance – I will always be grateful to Geoff Travis [pictured] for that. But the actual running of it was full of middle-class students who thought I was a dick.
They probably still think I’m a dick. But I went away and sold more records than they ever sold. So who won and who lost?
Is it still possible to launch a label like Creation these days?
I think it would be really difficult. We’re putting out a Jesus & Mary Chain album [now] and it’s going to be a real test for the market to see what that sells.
The world changed, and we’re in the midst of the change at the moment. At a certain point, streaming has to spill over and the money has to funnel down to the artists – which isn’t really happening at the moment.
Do you miss running Creation Records?
No. Why would I miss it?
It’s more important to everybody else than it is to me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a really good label, probably even much better than I realised. But I’m not nostalgic – I don’t give a f*ck about the past in a lot of ways.
I love that I’ve been involved with a lot of great bands. But I live in the present. If I wasn’t doing music at all, I’d probably really miss it. But I’m still involved.
Me and Dick [Green] could have carried on with Creation. Paul Russell, a brilliant guy at Sony, was saying: Cut back the staff, take the roster to seven or eight bands and carry on.
But me and Dick had had enough of Creation Records – and the Sony politics.
I would have felt like the ambassador of some brand.
You first sold 49% of the company to Sony in 1992. Why did you do that?
We were going bankrupt. Sony took on a huge debt.
And they had an option to buy you out?
Yeah. They could have done it in 1996 to us, but they didn’t because I kicked off via [Creation Comms boss] Andy Saunders to the Financial Times and people.
So you PR’d your way to keeping control of your company?
Yes. I made them all look like a bunch of cunts, basically.
To this day, I think I’m still not allowed in the Sony building.
There was a lot of conflict with Sony?
Yeah. I did take the piss a lot.
I commandeered [then Sony UK boss] Paul Burger’s limousine to go to football matches. And there was a Sony helicopter I commandeered to go and have my lunch in Dublin and stuff.
They f*cking hated me! I had 7% of the British market at the time…
How did you end up managing the Happy Mondays?
I’ve know them since 1987.
It probably happened because Shaun and Bez looked up one day and said: ‘Who’s still around? F*ck – Alan’s alive! Do you want to be our manager?’
What did you do after Poptones closed?
We did Creation Management for 5 years up to 2007 and then I took 5 years out and I nearly died – my immune system crashed.
That’s why you can’t retire. You get ill!
A doctor switched my immune system back on and I decide I’d better work till the day I die – that’s the only way I’m gonna stay alive.
Was it drugs that made you ill?
No. I stopped taking drugs in 1994 – I was an addict from ’87 to ’94.
The only thing I’d say about the drugs thing is, in the context of my whole life – and I’m 56 – I was only ever a drug addict for seven years.
But it still defines me – Alan McGee: lunatic, madman, drug addict… who sold a lot of records. I don’t mind it, I don’t give a f*ck.
I’ve been clean since 1994. I got pissed for a couple of years – 2003 and 2004. But then I got yellow-carded by the wife, so I stopped.
I remember dancing with you in a club called Red Zone, New York in 1989.
F*ck. I’d have been off my tits.
I remember some mad nights out in New York. It’s the only place I’ve ever been mugged, ever.
I got off drugs in 1994, and I signed Oasis in 1993. It’s the only thing I can remember from that year.
As well as being in Los Angeles with Primal Scream, and running away with all the cocaine.
How did you sign Oasis?
It was a fluke. I was there two see two Creation bands that had signed to an offshoot label called August: Boyfriend and 18 Wheeler.
A girl I was good friends with was in a band called Sister Lovers, and she brought Oasis up to King Tuts. I didn’t even know they were going to be on the bill, and they played first.
The licensing laws had changed to a 24hr bar – which is insane for a city of alcoholics. So the bands went on at 10pm.
I saw Oasis play. And it was a total f*cking fluke.
Did you immediately think they were amazing?
I didn’t think they were amazing – I thought they were really good. I thought I could nick in and steal the Stone Roses’ audience for one record, so I signed them.
I had no idea I was signing something bigger than The Stone Roses.
It was an incredible few years. The maddest thing was me, Noel and Liam thought it was going to go on forever. It wasn’t to be!
Are you still friends with them?
I’m big mates with Noel. And I’m friendly with Liam, but I don’t have his phone number.
You know… [PIAS], as Vital, distributed Definitely Maybe. You’d left Pinnacle to go into 3MV.
One thing that pisses me off when people talk about Creation: we kept so many people alive in the indies, because I put Oasis through Vital.
To be fair, it was Sony that wanted it to be Vital. But I never stopped it.
The abuse we got from the indie people about being in business with Sony, when in fact all of the distribution money went into the indie sector which funded loads of other records.
People are cynical. Success breeds criticism…
I don’t really care. But loads of people who give us a hard time seem to forget we put 21m record sales through Vital.
Did you ever feel part of the independent community?
No. I never liked it.
And you didn’t like the majors either?
No! I like people, not companies.
I used the indie thing to my own advantage. I was indie when I wanted to be indie, and I was major when I wanted to be major.
I only did it for completely self-serving interests.
I’m not an indie guy. People think I am, but I’m not.
Are you romantic?
No. I love music. But I’m not romantic.
That’s very honest – you really didn’t feel part of an independent community?
No. Geoff Travis, Daniel Miller, Martin Mills… they all feel an affinity.
I don’t feel any affinity with these people – I’ve got nothing in common with them on any level.
I’m a scumbag from Glasgow who found the biggest band in the world and had it away.
I knew they thought I was a scumbag. I came from the gutter – a Glasgow council estate.
I wasn’t looking for their approval to be ‘indie cool’. I didn’t give a f*ck.
The only person I liked was Tony Wilson (pictured). I didn’t feel an affinity with anybody else.
Tony was more like me – a rascal. I was a Junior Tony, really.
You stayed in business. As brilliant as Factory was, we can’t say that about it…
Yeah. Factory was a better label than Creation, though. They had Joy Division.
Oasis aren’t as good as Joy Division. One of the reasons the Mondays exist is because of Joy Division.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
I can’t answer that I’m afraid. It’s not about music.
I hurt people’s feelings.
You’re big fan of Alistair Crowley?
Huge. It’s like religion to me.
Everyone told me not to get into him. And then I went away and read the books and found he was a genius.
I started doing magic and it started working for me. So I was like: F*ck, this is amazing.
So the best way to get you to do something is tell you not to do it?
I hear you like Spotify.
Yeah. I know it’s really untrendy to say that in the music business because they don’t pay well, but as a consumer I love it.
I spent the other day going through The Waterboys catalogue with a friend, playing all the best tunes. It was f*cking amazing.
For £9.99-a-month, you can have anything you want.
How do you feel about the NME now it’s gone free – it’s a bit sad, no?
They should just burn it. It’s f*cking rubbish.
Up until about 2001 I used to buy it every week. And then it became pointless. Who cares?
After Creation, Dick Green and Mark Bowen went on to form Wichita and have their own success. How do you feel about that?
I love it. I like some of the things Dick’s put out, like that Young Folks record – I loved that.
I’ve got tonnes of respect for Dick as a human being. He totally means it.
In one way, he’s achieved with Wichita what I never achieved with Poptones.
Dick was an amazingly loyal business partner.
My only disappointment is that we barely see each other. I’ve seen Dick about three or four times in the 17 years since we split the label up.
He only went on Facebook about six months ago. And he only added me as a friend about two months ago!
He’s quite reclusive, and I guess I’m pretty reclusive as well. We’re very similar in one way: we both live in the middle of nowhere.
I’d love to see him once a year. But I understand that I’m a very high maintenance individual.
I’ve probably done his head in being a bit mental. But what can I do?
In the last 10 years, I’ve got a lot better.
Ten years ago, if someone said: ‘Alan McGee’s a dick,’ on the internet, I’ve had been like: ‘Fuck you – you’re a dick too.’
Now, I wouldn’t care. I’m 56 and my family [tend to] die in their ’50s.
I’m going to work till I drop, but if I get to 70 it’ll be beyond a result.
Will Oasis get back together?
I hope not. So long as they don’t get back together, we’re all fucking legends.