- 29 Sep 20
Happy 60th Birthday to music industry icon Alan McGee! To celebrate, we're revisiting one of his classic interviews with Hot Press – originally published in 2001.
"Are you bugging my office? Fucking hell, it's only me and the band who are supposed to know that!"
Alan McGee is aghast, and very possibly agape, at Hot Press being fully up to speed with him taking over as Primal Scream's caretaker manager. The previous incumbent, Alex Nightingale, has been handed his P45; litigation may well ensue, so we won't go into it here, but McGee, ever the knight in shining armour, has come to the rescue.
As for where this juicy titbit came from, I'd be guilty of gross dereliction of journalistic duty if I was to reveal my source. Not to mention in intensive care for a fortnight after having my legs broken with a baseball bat.
"I was asked as a favour to step into the breach, and with them being family, I couldn't say no," McGee explains. "People seem to think that it was me who sacked Alex, but it was entirely the band's decision. I've told them I'll hold the fort till Christmas, which gives me three-and-a-half months to line-up a replacement, and renegotiate their Sony deal.
"Taking the job on full-time is a non-starter for a couple of reasons. The first is having my new label, Poptones, to run, and the second is knowing that prolonged exposure to Bobby Gillespie will kill me. The man's a fucking savage."
It's 5.30 on Friday afternoon, and rather than buggering off to The Met Bar, Alan McGee is still attending to the record company business of the day. Having decided last year to knock Creation on the head, he's working overtime to ensure that its successor is just as all conquering.
"Poptones has only been up and running for three months, but we've already got a huge roster of people we want to work with. Shall I list em for you?"
Do we have any choice?
"No," he cackles. "For starters, there's The Ping Pong Bitches, which is sort of disco punk. Arnold from Creation have re-signed. We're close to concluding a deal with Donna Matthews, ex-Elastica. We're making a record with Danny Supergrass and his missus, which is going to take everybody by surprise. We've got Liam Flowered Up off the smack and itching to get back in to the studio. There's an amazing group, January, who we've signed cause they remind me of The Rain Parade. We're putting out a band from Glasgow who are 5 ft 3 and hard as nails. To counterbalance all that testosterone, we've a French girl, Charlotte, who sounds like she's been listening to Serge Gainsbourg and Syd Barrett all her life. There's another lovers rock girl who's made a record with The Mad Professor, and Captain Soul who've as many brilliant songs at this point in their career as Oasis did."
With the imprint committed to releasing 30 albums in its first year, finance obviously isn't a problem.
"Magazines like the NME have given us stick for floating on the stock exchange y'know, What's that cunt doing colluding with public schoolboys? but it's better than being shackled to a big corporation like BMG or Sony. It's a bit rich of the NME to criticise Poptones when all of their wages are being paid by IPC. That just shows the fucking hypocrisy of the British press. I wouldn't mind, but these right-on socialist pronouncements of theirs are being made from the 25th Floor of the extremely capitalist King s Reach Tower.
"17 million in the bank or not, we're signing bands for peanuts and looking to develop them long-term. I've no problem with an act selling 20,000 copies of a record, so long as the next one does 40,000, and the one after that 60,000. Platinum discs are great, but they re not the only means of measuring success."
McGee is letting the significance of that sink in, when an even more important thought occurs to him.
"Fucking hell, I forgot to mention that we've signed Damien O Neill. I've got an Undertone on my label!"
This is said with the zeal of an 11-year-old who's just completed his Pokémon collection.
"His record is a work of esoteric genius," goes the sales pitch. "This represents a career peak for Damien O Neill. It's like Egyptian music merging with My Bloody Valentine. He's a very, very special talent who I'm privileged to be working with."
Was he in the moshpit for The Undertones reunion shows?
"No, the last time I saw them was 20 years ago when they played the Glasgow Apollo. People say, They shouldn't have got back together, but fuck it, they deserve the money. The thing about Damien is that he loves music. I had him down at my Radio 4 club last night, and he almost orgasmed when one of the MC5, Michael Davis, came in. Him and Bobby Gillespie were fighting each other to talk to this guy, who let's face it, is a fucking legend.
"Actually, if John O'Neill's reading this and has any new music, send it to me! The address is Pop Art Mansions, 3 Berkley Grove, London NW1 8XY and he doesn't even have to enclose a stamped addressed envelope for a reply."
A wonderful display of generosity from a man who was nearly bankrupted by another esoteric Irish genius, Kevin Shields. Given that Kev's now a Primal Screamer, will McGee be attempting to extract the third My Bloody Valentine album from him?
"The only way you're going to extract the third My Bloody Valentine album from Kevin Shields is with a pair of pliers," he says switching into Gorbals gangster mode. "I love the bloke, I really do, but there's no way he's coming near this record label. He's probably had half a million pounds off Island, two hundred thousand off Warners, and two hundred thousand from EMI Publishing, and none of them have heard a single piece of music. What's more, according to him, it's their fault! Why would you want to be in business with Kevin Shields, other than that he's a genius?"
As befits a man with such an individualistic take on life, Shields gets his own chapter in Paolo Hewitt's new tome, Alan McGee & The Story Of Creation Records: This Ecstasy Romance Cannot Last. No blushes are spared as McGee describes his living arrangements at the time of the Loveless debacle.
"I think he had some sort of nervous breakdown," he tells the Oasis biographer. "He built a 16-foot fence round his house so that nobody could get in. He saw one of his neighbours sleepwalking early one morning in his garden. So he built a huge fence. Colditz. He then sent his sister out to get green barbed wire to put round the house. He said, You can't go on holiday until you go and get sandbags. So he sandbagged himself in. And at that point the band left him. And he was pretty happy because he was saying to himself, Nobody can get in. And I said to him, Kevin, who would want to come in? And he went, You're right. That's when he realised it was fucking desperate. He'd built this thing round himself and nobody wanted to fucking come in. And after that it all got very weird. I think to this day he still thinks he was abducted by aliens. He never went to sleep for about a year. All this shit."
You'd have thought this would've cured the Glaswegian of his fondness for eccentrics, but nope, the first signing to Poptones is a Mexican fellow by the name of El Vez. While no great shakes musically, the tortilla take on Presley demonstrates that McGee has lost none of his playfulness, or determination to prove the bastards wrong. Along with this japery, one assumes that he ll be keeping an eye open for the next Oasis.
"Am I looking for landmark bands? I'd like to think that one or two will earn themselves a permanent place in rock n roll history, but I'd settle for a handful of really great records, which are still remembered 20 years from now. I could lie to you and say, I always knew Primal Scream would make Screamadelica, but I was as gobsmacked as everybody else when I heard it. At the same time, with the characters they have in the band, that sort of genius was always possible."
One of the criticisms levelled at Creation is that it was almost exclusively white and male. Is Poptones the same?
"I don't think we are, mate. We re putting out Mad Professor records. We've got records with Lee Perry rapping over them. There's no racial or sexual bias."
Rather than assembling a cosy cartel of friends, McGee has surrounded himself with a team of young industry Turks who are as up-for-it as he is.
"Instead of taking the old farts from Creation, who were Head of Marketing and Head of Looking Out The Fucking Window, I've got the third person from accounts and the third person from press, and told them to make a name for themselves. These 25 and 26-year-olds are biting your hand off to have their chance, which is exactly what you want in a record company. I've no problem with some snotty-nosed kid saying to me, 'You're talking out your arse,' as long as they're right. I don t mind giving people leeway, but I'm no soft touch."
There is, by his own admission, a don't fuck with me! side to Alan McGee, which has resulted in regular fallings-out with friends and colleagues. Today, though, he's in the chipperest of form as he holds simultaneous conversations with me, and the four other people who are wandering round his office.
"Excuse me, mate," he says as person number five enters the room. "No thanks. Tomorrow. To-mor-row. Sorry Stuart, that was our Czechoslovakian cleaner."
Don't give it a second thought. With the City so eager to give him seventeen million quid for Poptones, has he thought of exploiting their generosity further, and becoming a multimedia tycoon 'la Richard Branson?
"Nah, I'm not as bright as him. He's an amazing businessman, whereas I'm just good at music. I don't go in for role models, but the people I respect a lot are Daniel Miller at Mute, Seymour Stein at Sire, and Atlantic who've been releasing great stuff for 40 years. Creation was me trying to be the British Atlantic Records, and for brief moments succeeding. The difference between then, and now, is that I'm not into empire-building anymore. The things I want Poptones to be are cool, credible, stylish and the most important f-word of all, fun."
What about wildly profitable?
"If we unearth a superstar and sell loads of records, great, but if we don't, fuck it, I'm not going to let it do my head in like it did before."
He may be in the rudest of health now, but in the mid-'90s Alan McGee was a gibbering wreck who couldn't go for more than 24 hours without ingesting a Class A substance. Things reached their nadir when, after ding-donging a little too merrily on high, he suffered a breakdown.
"I had an event in my house and I did maybe a gram of pure MDMA," he informs Paolo Hewitt. "I don't know how many E's that's the equivalent of but I think it's about 35 or something. I think I nearly overdosed that Christmas. I was in the house and I definitely had psychosis. I definitely went somewhere else for about three hours. They talked me back into reality. And when I say I d been over the edge, that I looked over the edge of insanity and pulled myself back across into reality, it would be an understatement."
Reflecting today on those chemical misadventures, he reveals that, "The only time I wanted to chuck it, believe it or not, was in the middle of Oasis going mega. I was bitter about the music business because it had turned me into a drug addict."
Given the fragility of his own relationship with them, does McGee give a wide berth to bands that are overly fond of pharmaceuticals?
"Are you joking me? Half the people on Poptones are addicted to drugs! If you don't want to be around drugs, don't be in the music business. I'm not a born again puritan. I don't do the 12-Step Programme and I don't lecture anybody. If I can help somebody get off em, though, I will do. Me and my mate Terry McQuaid, who used to be a Clash roadie, decided last year that we'd try and get Liam Flowered Up off smack. Terry s going to manage him, and I'm going to put the records out."
Did he ever come to after a bender, and discover that he'd signed someone whilst mind-altered?
"Aye, I've done loads of those," he laughs. "Some i.e. Oasis worked, and others like Counterfeit were a disaster. Being completely off your nut, as I was for a large part of the nineties, makes you better in certain situations, and worse in others. Succeeding in the rock 'n' roll business is 50% instinct, and 50% luck. It s probably 75/25 with boy bands, but I'm no good at manufacturing stuff. Honestly, Boyzone wouldn't have got anywhere near the charts if I'd been managing them."
There are two things in life that Alan McGee bitterly regrets: letting Hurricane#1 do the Sun advert, and nailing his colours so firmly to Tony Blair's mast. The latter resulted in him, Noel Gallagher and a load of other Cool Britannia-types being invited round to Number 10 to brief Tone & Co on youf culture.
"The Government looked at me blankly and ignored any advice I had to do with drug addiction and instead asked me to pose for photographs with Chris Smith. I hate the idea that drug addicts are scum. They're people who have an illness, so we can't lock them up. We've got to try and help them. I'm a complete libertarian where drugs are concerned. I think all drugs should be legalised cut out the criminality and you help regulate the problem. It's so widespread that legalisation is the only way to control it. I don't think Keith Hallawell, the drugs tsar, knows what he's doing, he's so out of touch. It's ironic, but I think the police are more in tune with what s going on than the Government."
What's irked him most about New Labour since they took power?
"Where do I start? Tuition fees, the National Health Service, Millbank, spin doctors, style over substance, being open to be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling themselves the Labour party. Can I have a refund?
Of course, New Labour has started to get its comeuppance, with the Sunday papers dishing the dirt on Tony Blair's spats with Mo Mowlam and Gordon Brown. So bare knuckled have the disputes been, that you'd almost think you were reading about Oasis."
What does McGee make of the latest round of fraternal bickering?
I love them to pieces. Noel's a really loyal, good friend to me, and Liam Gallagher's my hero. He makes me believe in rock n roll. MC5, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Primal Scream, Oasis... it's a lineage."
Who of that lot floats his boat the most?
"For me, the greatest rock n roll band in the world...ever! are the Clash," he replies immediately. "The second greatest are Oasis, who actually get angry with me for saying that cause they reckon the Clash are posh punk. Fuck 'em I've been going to see bands for 30 years, and never seen anything that compares to the Clash in their prime. They mightn't want to acknowledge it, but Noel and Liam had the door opened up for them by those guys.
"I know I'm being a wrinkly old rocker, but my proudest moment was having Joe Strummer at my 40th birthday party. I love that man so much!"
What's the other stuff he's proud of?
"Putting out My Bloody Valentine. Breaking Primal Scream. Giving the world the Gallagher brothers. Releasing Trashmonk records even though your lot ignored 'em! Giving a load of people a job for 18 years."
Finally, a question that's been sent in by a Mr. J. O'Brien of Trinity Street. On a scale of one to ten, how sick did Alan McGee feel at the end of the last Old Firm derby?
"A Spinal Tap 11! To make matters even worse, Noel fucking Gallagher was there supporting Celtic. The battle may have been lost, but the war's just starting!"
Watch a teaser clip from McGee's upcoming biopic Creation Stories here.