A Q&A with Alan McGee of Creation Records

Alan McGee is a busy man. He’s just come back from Australia and New Zealand with Happy Mondays, is signing new bands whilst working on brand new, exciting projects, including a film. The music mogul is currently on tour doing Q&A sessions in small venues, and on Sunday 28 April, he stopped off at The Underground, Stoke on the fourth leg of the tour.

The Jade Assembly opened the evening, warming up the intimate crowd before host, Rob Fiddaman and Alan McGee pulled up two chairs on stage to chat about Alan’s crazy life, including that infamous story of the first time he saw Oasis, his friendship with Bobby Gillespie and the beginning of Creation Records.

Alan was born in Glasgow, in 1960, which means you should read all of his quotes in a thick Glaswegian accent. Rob asked Alan about his early years and where it all began.

Alan said: “All of Primal Scream went to school with me but were all a year younger. So, that’s how we all met. Bobby Gillespie went up to King’s Park Secondary School at 11, I was 12, and we became best mates. Not quite at that time, we were good friends at that point, but then I took him to his first concert.

“We were football boys, we just loved football. But then punk happened when I was 15. That made us best friends forever and we would go to gigs and that punk thing changed my life. It was the first thing I could ever identify with.

“Then it got to about 1980 and I was 19 and I was in a band called The Drains with a guy called Andrew Innes. The Drains never played a gig outside of Innes’ bedroom. Innes said to me “McGee, I’m moving to London and if you don’t move to London with me then you’re out of the band” and I was that scared of being thrown out of the band I said I’m coming to London.”

The way McGee reminisced made you feel as though you were there. A fly on the wall listening to his phone calls and exchanges. He was honest, down-to-earth, and the whole experience was personal. He’s probably told these stories many times, but it felt like we were the first and only ones to hear it.

Alan moved to London with £5 in his pocket. “I was effectively homeless but back in 1980 you could squat. Homelessness didn’t really exist in the early 80s. People were homeless but you just squatted so people got around it.”

“I was sleeping under the roof of Boots the Chemist for 10 days, but it was easy. I’d say i was hard-done to but it was June 1980 and 80 degrees. I got lucky. I met a drummer who was a squatter and he told me to come in this house and I was there for six months. Then I upgraded to a bedsit.”

Alan went on to work for the railways. A job he describes as “shit”, but it paid well.

In 1982, he started a club called The Living Room where bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Loft and The Pastels played. This was where Alan discovered emerging artists and spotted their talent. The club was making some £500 a weekend, which funded early Creation Records and the 7” singles Alan was releasing.

“The first 11 singles I put out never made any money. The 12th was The Jesus and Mary Chain and it fucking blew up and sold about 50,000 records. That’s when I thought “I’m in the music business… this is mad.””

Alan had begun creating singles for his own band and realised he could do it for others too. The process included manufacturing, designing the sleeves, production, promotion and distribution. He never really realised he was training himself up for the label.

The label hasn’t always been successful though. Since there was no seed money, there were no savings for McGee to dip in to. “In 1992 we owed about £1.2m and Sony came in and said they would buy half the company. I never wanted to do it but I did it to survive and it kind of worked out.”

Now, for that night at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut – you all know the night I’m talking about.

“After the Sony deal my friend Debbie Turner was doing a gig at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and I decided to go and see her. I had two little bands on, Boyfriend and 18 Wheeler. She said “don’t come, Al.” She had bought Oasis up with her because they shared her rehearsal studio. I walked in and it was Glasgow City of Culture week and i was like ‘who’s that guy?

“It was Liam Gallagher sat on a chair in a pale blue Adidas tracksuit. Amazing looking guy. I just thought, ‘that’s got to be the drug dealer, because it can’t be the singer’. I thought the lead singer was probably Bonehead. There was nobody good looking in indie rock in the 90s. Oasis came along and they connected.”

Oasis famously blagged their way on to the bill. McGee said, “Basically, they had sufficient numbers to intimidate security. There were two security guards and 12 Mancs, so I let them do four songs. I was kinda impressed that they had bullied their way on.”

He talked about the moment he heard them play, performing Bring It On Down and Helter Skelter. He met Noel and offered them a deal on the spot.

Rob pondered whether the other bands signed to the label would be upset by Oasis’ success. Alan said: “Oasis were so much bigger than anything else. The other bands on Creation didn’t really care that Oasis were bigger because it was like getting pissed off with Google or Tesco compared to the other bands. They were on their way to becoming their own Stones.”

From Knebworth, to getting government legislation passed and making Malcolm McLaren stand for Mayor of London – McGee isn’t a man known for doing things by half.

Jumping forward into the noughties, he wrote a book, which has inspired the new film being produced by Danny Boyle. Playing Alan in the film is Ewen Bremner, who plays Spud in Trainspotting and its sequel T2 Trainspotting. Alan joked he will be portrayed as “the most exotic drug taker after Danny Boyle has finished with me.”

Work begins on the film in three weeks’ time (May 2019) and is set to be released in 2020.

Creation23 comes 35 years after Creation Records. Alan started the new record label six months ago and has begun to sign small bands like The Clockworks, Rubber Jaw and Juggs. Not only this, but Creation Management is managing the likes of Happy Mondays, Black Grape and Cast.

Rob asked: “When you sign bands now, are you still looking for the things you were back in the day?”

McGee replied: “Sadly, I am. I still will go off a gut instinct. If I like it, I sign it. The only reason that I don’t want to change that is that it’s always worked for me quite well. If I feel it, I’ll sign it.”

Alan and Rob stepped off stage for a break whilst Marquis Drive, a band managed by Fiddaman, took to the stage. A band who looks like The Stone Roses having a party with Happy Mondays, and certainly entertained an obviously indie-loving audience. After their set, McGee returned to his bar stool on stage, as Rob mingled with the crowd, passing the microphone around the room to ask insightful, fun, and some serious questions. You know – like which Gallagher brother he prefers.

Q&A

What made you think that Oasis were going to be the next biggest band in the world?

I didn’t – I didn’t have a clue. I thought they were a good band and I signed them and as it grew I realised. But I had no idea that they were going to sell as many as they did. 

What do you think about Spotify? 

As a consumer I think it’s great. You can just put in any track and get it up. On the way they treat bands and pay bands I think it’s horrible because they don’t pay properly. It’s almost like a mafia thing. You have to be on Spotify – you have to break on Spotify. It’s difficult for new bands to break through on there, but as a consumer I think it’s great.

If you had the opportunity to sign one of them tomorrow, would it be Liam or Noel?

I would sign Oasis.

If one song could symbolise you, what song would it be?

Cortez the Killer – Neil Young or Cigarettes and Alcohol – Oasis

If you could press a reset button and go back to 1980 when you went to London – would you do it all again? Would you change anything?

I wouldn’t have married my first wife and I’d have taken less drugs. We were sold a myth that it’s cool to get fucked up and then you get old and go ‘what the fuck was I doing?’

If Noel hadn’t have slagged off Be Here Now so much, would it have sold more?

He’s actually on holiday in Mustique and he said to me “I’m going to write some songs because the last time I was here was when I was writing Be Here Now and that was a gigantic flop” complete with the laughing emoji. It sold 11 million so it wasn’t a flop.

Do you think that Brexit and right-wing politics in the UK will change music?

I hope so. I hope there will be bands with a wee bit of attitude, but I don’t know – I like to think that it would. 

Who would you say have been the hardest band to manage?

The hardest band I ever had to manage was The Libertines. Every gig, I assumed it was their last ever gig. 

Alan went on to tell a story of how Carl Barat got blind drunk on whiskey, headbutted McGee’s marble sink, causing £450 of damage, and popped his eye out of its socket.

Who do you think will be the next biggest band?

British band, probably Arctic Monkeys. If it’s any band – I think Tame Impala are great. They’re well in the waiting to becoming massive. 

Beatles or Stones?

Beatles.

When did you realise Noel Gallagher was a songwriter of his generation?

Quite early on. Probably with Shakermaker and Supersonic. Shakermaker was great and we knew Live Forever was coming. 

What is the next step for a local band who have released a few singles and played gigs in the area?

BBC Introducing. Try and get the BBC to get behind you. If you’re good, send me some tracks.

Favourite Oasis song?

Slideaway

As the night drew to a close, fans had their burning questions answered and the last drops of Red Stripe were sipped. Rob thanked the audience, and McGee, for a wonderful night before Alan headed into the audience for some photographs and a chat as the club night commenced.

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Where I am

Staffordshire, UK