Alan McGee: ‘I know if something’s great – I don’t check social media, I just sign the band’

"I've always had it, it's a weird thing I've got," says Alan McGee, who's trying to explain the knack he has for discovering classic bands. Creation Records, the independent label he co-founded, enjoyed a spectacular run in the 1980s and 90s, signing The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fanclub and, most prominently and lucratively, Oasis, supplying an indelible soundtrack for a generation.

By Richard Blackledge
Tuesday, 06 August, 2019, 16:07
Alan McGee.

But there never was a secret tactic, confides McGee. He simply loved the groups.

"To be honest, I'd say I'm a music fan, not a manager or executive," he says. "That's kind of how I do everything, from a fan's point of view. Maybe that has given me a wee bit of understanding of what people want. I know if something's great. I don't check their social media for any numbers, I just sign the band."

McGee is on the phone from London – he lives 'about a minute away from Tower Bridge', but his Glaswegian accent is strong as ever.

"I'm sitting in a wee café," he says, the sounds of a busy weekday in the capital buzzing around him. "I'm doing an interview with you, then I'm hopping up to some guy that wants to buy publishing. Just a normal kind of day."

However, he will be in Sheffield this month for An Evening with Alan McGee – one of a series of spoken word events that are taking him around the country to reminisce about his life and career.

"I'm looking forward to it, it'll be great," he says. "I'd do it for nothing, to be honest, but I quite like the money as well."

The Creation audience, he thinks, has got older and 'they want something different'.

"Since about 2000 I've done four or five of these a year, mainly for colleges, and sometimes for weird things. I got offered to open some fashion thing, and it sold out, then off the back of that I got offered two shows in Scotland, and they sold out.

“An agent then said 'There's a market for this, I could book you 50'. I didn't ever see it as something I would ever really do. It's only this year I've started getting paid for them. But there's a demand now, so I may as well."

It is, he points out, a full evening's entertainment, with local bands and a film screening, usually the Creation documentary Upside Down or one about Oasis. "You might get charged 15 quid but you'll see a film, a band and I talk for a couple of hours."

Is he fond of looking back?

"I don't hate it, obviously, because I'm asked to do it quite a lot. I'm pretty much living in the current. They're making a movie of my book, I've got a load of new bands on Creation 23 which I started up just under a year ago, I manage a load that are a bit older from the 80s and 90s. I am still doing s**t."

The movie is Creation Stories, an adaptation of his autobiography. Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has written the script, Ewen Bremner portrays McGee and Danny Boyle is executive producing.

The book told McGee's story in depth – born in East Kilbride, he experienced violence at home and left school at 16 with one O Grade. He then formed bands with future Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie and others, and set up Creation in 1983 after moving to London.

"They've finished filming, and they'll be editing until the beginning of December," says McGee, who visited the set 'about four times'. "Ewen Bremner plays me brilliantly, he's completely got me down. I've read the script Irvine Welsh has done and it's amazing. I think they've done well with the filming. Let's hope they've got a good editor."

Creation - named after 1960s band The Creation - was a legendarily hedonistic place. McGee spent a lot of time in Manchester, when the city's Haçienda club and the acid house movement were at their height.

“It was one big party which lasted from 1989 to 1995,” he said in 2014. “I wrote myself a prescription of ecstasy, speed, acid, coke or Jack Daniel’s every day.”

Such excess led to a drug-induced breakdown on a plane to Los Angeles.

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"Yeah, it was chaotic," says McGee today. "But it was still brilliant. We put out brilliant records and made brilliant acts."

He signed Oasis after seeing Liam and Noel Gallagher's group at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow in 1993. Their huge success, propelled by debut album Definitely Maybe which was released 25 years ago this month, came after McGee sold half of Creation to Sony Music in a bid to stave off receivership.

"We did the deal and we had the money to be able to break Oasis," he says. "I'd like to say it would have happened anyway. Things are meant to be sometimes."

McGee signed guitar bands, but there wasn't a totally unified style - for instance, clever, off-kilter Welsh rock outfit Super Furry Animals had little in common with 'shoegaze' purveyors My Bloody Valentine, who specialised in distortion-drenched compositions played at ear-splitting volume.

"They all had a spirit that I recognised in them," McGee says. "I suppose, ultimately, they all had good songs. I've always been a sucker for great songs. My bands could write really great ones and make good records. That's ultimately why I worked with them."

Oasis split 10 years ago. McGee recently suggested the warring Gallagher brothers could be reunited by 'bad news', but now he's being more circumspect about the chances of a comeback.

"I don't think it's any time soon, my friend," he says.

I suggest it's difficult to tell whether the siblings' back-and-forth exchanges in the press are simply point-scoring banter or signs of a genuinely bitter fallout, but McGee becomes tetchy.

"Look, I've answered your question," he snaps. "I don't know what you want me to say."

In 1997 McGee was a high-profile supporter of Labour's election campaign, and visited Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street with Noel Gallagher after the party's landslide victory. Gallagher has since said his invitation was a 'publicity stunt', but McGee - who continued his involvement by backing the Government's New Deal for Musicians - does not share his feelings about attending.

"I don't regret it, not at all. I thought I'd go and see what it's like. Up until Iraq, Blair was doing pretty well. He should never have done that."

He identifies 'the rise of populism' as the reason for the prevailing sense of cynicism about politics in 2019.

"Jeremy Corbyn's a populist as much as Boris Johnson is. Maybe it's always been like that but it was a wee bit more subtle before. I'm a Labour supporter, 100 per cent, and I don't like Corbyn, so I'd struggle to put my X in a Labour box. I'll always be Labour - when I'm down with them I'll vote for them and give them money. At the moment I'm a bit frustrated because of Corbyn's position over Brexit."

McGee moved into the property business after shutting Creation in 1999, selling his remaining shares to Sony for many millions. Creation 23 is self-financed, and puts out 7" singles by up-and-coming acts such as Young Garbo and The Clockworks.

As to his musical and cultural legacy, McGee doesn't dwell on such things.

"If I'm being honest, I don't think like that," he says. "Hopefully people would think 'He's done good work'. I suppose that's all I could ask for."

An Evening with Alan McGee is at The Foundry, Sheffield University Students' Union, on August 31. See https://tickets.sheffieldstudentsunion.com/ents/event/13814 to book.