Creation Records founder shares his views on the state of music today
No Alan McGee, no Oasis. How you respond to this simple equation is entirely down to you. But no Jesus and Mary Chain, no Primal Scream – you start to realise we’re talking about a man who howled with nascent indie in its cradle, was present at its birth, and probably severed its umbilical chord with his gnashing teeth.
As the founder of Creation Records, a madly run British label that artists queued up to be a part of, McGee had a Svengali influence on youth culture in the decade preceding (and including) Britpop. He’ll probably be longest remembered as the man who signed the Gallagher brothers, though his breakdown in the mid-’90s ensured that he watched much of their success from the sidelines.
In 2010, director Danny O’Connor released the documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story, which McGee will show at Japan’s Summer Sonic festival in August, and also perform a DJ set. Ahead of it all, we took the chance to tackle the man himself, carefully navigating our way through his famously impenetrable Glaswegian accent.
You’re taking Upside Down to Japan for the first time in August. Did this country play much of a part in the Alan McGee story? Well, I met Michael Jackson for the first time in Japan at the Tokyo Dome. I had just done the Sony deal for Creation. He didn’t understand a thing I said.
The words ‘maniac’ and ‘insane’ crop up a lot in the documentary – not the kind of words you might associate with a successful business. Did anyone really know what they were doing at Creation, or were you all winging it? I always knew a great song when I heard one. Business-wise, we were making it up as we went along. We had no real experience, so we just tried to do our best by the bands.
How did Upside Down come about? Did it surprise you that someone wanted to make it? Danny asked me to do it in 2004, but I said no. Then, in 2005, I said yes, and five years later he finished it. I like it a lot. That’s the best compliment I can give it as I find things I do, looking back, always flawed.
The Creation Records of the early ’80s and that of the mid-’90s look like vastly different places, one with a keen urgency and the latter a kind of bloated Elvis version. At what point were you happiest with it? The early years were more fun, but in the later years we made a lot of money. I liked them both.
What do you remember about the time of your breakdown? It’s vague. I actually don’t remember 1993, apart from signing Oasis. It happens to people. You get success and you go mad. I am just me at the end of the day.
How do you go about sorting yourself out when you’re hanging around with members of Oasis? Oasis were cool about me sorting myself out. It was harder with me and The Primals, as I grew up with them. It must have been strange for them for a while, but these days it’s all good between us.
What was the most profound thing Liam Gallagher ever said to you? He said once to me, ‘We are Oasis and you are Creation, so it’s all meant to be’. When I thought about it, I took it as being very wise. Everything is written.
Will you try to see Liam’s new band, Beady Eye, this summer? Yeah! I love them. People are down on Liam and the band, but it’s a really good album, so I will go and see them.
You’ve said that you were responsible for looking after Mick Hucknall when you went to 10 Downing Street. Is Mick Hucknall a liability? Is he not to be trusted in a seat of power? He’s an idiot. I actually think he is a good singer, but as a bloke he’s a total cretin.
Can you imagine starting a Creation Records in 2011? Does the modern music industry even have a place for an Alan McGee character? I don’t think it does. I think I am too genuinely weird for the music business. Maybe I always was, but at 50 I know I am too weird for the modern day music business.
How the hell is anybody supposed to make money off music these days? I think unless you play big shows like The Primals, I can’t see how you will make money off CDs.
In hindsight, which band do you think you were most wrong about? I have no regrets about anything. Life is about going forwards, not looking backwards.
Can you tell us a wild Creation story that didn’t make it into the documentary? To be honest, there are millions, but some of them would get me killed. So, sorry, but on that question… pass.
You’ve only got 10 minutes left at the decks before the world ends. What do you play? It would be The Beatles and it would be ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Across the Universe’. I really love The Beatles. Always will, I think. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story is available from amazon.co.uk