Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 12. OASIS
Debbie Turner had been one of my very best friends since we met in the Hacienda days, and I did my best to keep in touch. On 31 May 1993 her band were playing her first ever gig, at King Tut’s in Glasgow, third on the bill, supporting a Creation band, 18 Wheeler, and another band called Boyfriend. Debbie’s band were called Sister Lovers – after the Big Star album; we all loved Big Star. I thought it would be really funny to turn up unannounced at Debbie Turner’s first gig and wave at her from the crowd when she came onstage.
She shared a rehearsal room with another Manchester band but I didn’t know she was bringing them down with her. People don’t like to believe in luck: they assume it’s too much of a coincidence, that Sony sent me to the gig on a tip, but I really thought I was just going to surprise my mate. I’d planned to see my sisters, hang out, go to an Italian house night at Sub Club, have a nice time, a holiday.
I thought I’d be arriving just in time to see Debbie’s band but I hadn’t been out in Glasgow for a while and didn’t realize the licensing laws had changed. They’d decided now that people could drink, in Glasgow of all places, till half past six in the morning. And then they’d open again three hours later. Somehow, that was supposed to cut down on alcoholism. Anyway, the change to the licensing laws meant that the first band wasn’t going on till half ten or something. So I was really early when I got there and had to get pissed. Debbie was shocked to see me. It didn’t help her nerves at all. I gradually became aware that there was all this drama going on with the bouncers and another Manchester band who had come down for an away day and demanding to play even though they weren’t on the bill. I could hear all these Manc accents arguing. I looked over and saw Liam Gallagher for the first time. He looked amazing. A proper, Adidassed-up mod. He had hair like a young Paul Weller. And I thought: He’s got to be the drug dealer. Because nobody in a band looks that good. So that’s what I thought.
I said to the promoter, ‘Why don’t you let them go on and play four songs?’ It was going to turn into a fight otherwise. They’d brought a proper little crew up. And when the good-looking drug dealer walked on stage and picked up the microphone, I thought, Okay, this is interesting now.
The first song they played was ‘Bring It On Down’. It was amazing. I’d had about four or five drinks so I thought, Hang on, Alan, maybe you’re wrong. Then they played the next song, ‘Up In the Sky’. It was unbelievably good. Liam could sing – he had the attitude – he was a natural star. And Noel was a hell of a guitar player – he really stood out over the rest of the musicians in the band. I was with my sister Susan, and I said to her, I think I’m going to sign them. Still, I was quite pissed. Hang on, Alan. And then they played ‘I Am the Walrus’, which is one of the most occult songs ever. It was that song that made me absolutely certain I wanted to sign them, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence because years later I became fascinated by occult writing. At the time I just put it down to the fact that they were Beatles fans too, that they might have the same way with a melody – that was enough for me.
While they were playing I found out who was in charge from Mark Coyle, who’d recently been sacked by Teenage Fanclub for taking coke and being a bad influence. (It was ironic that their manager thought Mark was a bad drugs influence on the band when they were signed to my record label.) Mark was doing the sound for the gig and I went over and asked him what the band were called.
‘Oasis,’ he said.
‘Have they got a deal?’ I asked.
‘Have they got a manager?’
I was getting excited now. ‘So who’s in charge?’ I asked, and he turned and pointed at the guitarist, Noel Gallagher. As soon as they’d finished playing I ran over and introduced myself.
‘That was great,’ I said. ‘Do you want a deal?’
‘Who with?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ he said.
I liked him immediately, he was together, intelligent, a proper little Manc: aright, aright, fookin’ right. We talked bollocks for a while. I caught him looking with slight fascination at my shoes – I had a pair of bright red Gucci loafers on.
‘Do you want a tape?’ he asked.
I didn’t. I knew already.
‘I don’t want your tape – I want to sign you.’
He gave me one anyway. The tape was good, not as good as the live thing, but still really exciting.
I phoned Dick Green the next morning and told him that I’d found a band, the band, the one to take us stratospheric. I don’t think Dick opened the champagne straight away though. He’d heard that one before.
Liam, Noel and Bonehead came to see us at the office in Hackney on the next Friday. It made a good impression. We had a wall of heroes in the Bunker as well as the supermodels and atrocities: Rod Stewart, Paul Simonon, Alex Chilton. Noel was checking them out and nodding approvingly. The one thing that office made clear was that we fucking loved music. Liam was rolling his shoulders, giving everyone the eye. I’d told all the women in the office they were going to fancy him, so they were all determined to pretend they didn’t. You had the sense that Liam felt himself totally entitled to be there, that it was his destiny. Noel, who’d been burned before, was a bit more wary, not wanting to get too far ahead of himself in case it didn’t happen. (Tony Wilson had turned Oasis down for Factory in 1992, saying they were ‘too baggy’.) Bonehead was there to stop Liam and Noel from killing each other. Abbott understood what was great about them straight away. We were chopping out lines for Noel and Liam before too long. And they went away with a firm offer to come to Creation and we had their firm offer to come to us. A shake of the hand.
As soon as I’d said I was interested, Mother (U2’s label) offered to double the deal, and Go! Discs were in too. They were serious contenders. That used to happen – record labels would get interested in a band because they heard I was interested in them. But Noel had given me his word and I knew he wanted to go with me. He is a very loyal guy and I believed he wanted to sign with us.
Signing Oasis came a bit close to the bone. There were lots of suitors. They’d found a manager quickly – Noel had told me Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner’s manager Marcus Russell was interested, and I thought that sounded like a good fit and told him so. They took on Marcus and his company Ignition Management straight away. I liked Marcus and he had respect for Creation, could see we were a good bet to break the band in the UK.
I had to talk them up in LA to get Sony to come in internationally. Marcus Russell and Noel believed in me, but getting the wheels in motion for Sony was a reminder of how much autonomy I’d lost in the partnership. But we got them on board eventually and Marcus was more impressed with them than any of the other American labels who wanted them. Sony’s label Epic signed them for the world, we signed them for the UK. Marcus trusted me to do the business for them in Britain and I was determined not to let him or the band down.
I chose Johnny Hopkins for their publicist. He was new to the company but had loved them from the moment he saw them. Laurence was disappointed not to do it. She hadn’t seemed very happy over the last year at Creation, ever since I’d dropped My Bloody Valentine. She thought Tim Abbott was arrogant. Well, yes, but he was more than that too. She was supposed to report to him while I was abroad – I was always abroad – but she refused to. Then I found out she was slagging off Oasis. It had come to the end and Andy Saunders took over her job eventually.
There was some organization amid the chaos. I kept track of what I did each day with a list, which I’ve heard Tim Abbott describe as a stroke of management genius in interviews. A list, written on a piece of paper. The fact that this gets celebrated might give you some idea of how organized the place really was. On this list would be the phone calls I had to make and I’d go through them, score them off until they were all done. This was before anyone had computers in offices. Well, Dick Green had one, a little green-screened Amstrad. I don’t know what he did on it. I just had my list.
I was still taking way too many drugs. Cocaine all the time, and I’d get hold of legal speed in diet pills from America. My life had become very strange. I was always on planes. Flying to Los Angeles every couple of weeks – that’s no way to treat your body. Anyone who does that is going to start to lose it a bit with the time differences and those twelve-hour flights. I didn’t keep normal hours anyway, even without that jetlag.
I remember Sony insisting that I met Michael Jackson. This was in Japan. I was out there with Primal Scream. They love Primal Scream in Japan, still do. They go wild for Bobby. I was out there watching their gig when I heard I was to be honoured by getting to meet Michael Jackson. Sony really wanted me to meet him. I was thinking, That’s a bit weird, what am I going to say to him? Bobby got wind of this and demanded he got to meet Michael Jackson too. Sony were like: No fucking way are you meeting Michael Jackson. Bobby had something of a rock and roll reputation. They hadn’t figured out yet that I was much worse than Bobby at this stage. They still thought I was the guy in charge. They didn’t know yet that no one was in charge.
I didn’t even want to meet him, that’s the joke. But anyway, I went through three security checks to get to a room of fifty people. There was a screen at one end of it, surrounded by security, and only five of us fifty people were going to be lucky enough to meet Michael Jackson. They pulled our names out of a hat, and it must have been set up, because the first out was Alan McGee. I was like, For fuck’s sake. I was with Luc Vergier, my pal from Sony, he’s a good guy. Me and Luc went behind a screen and Michael Jackson was there. We’d been given our instructions carefully. I had to introduce myself and say: Alan McGee, Creation Records. Now when I get nervous I get really Scottish, super Scottish. So I just growled at him. Aran McGree, Creashrecads. He looked at me shaking his head with this expression on his face, like I was from outer space. He was really tall too, six foot two, looking down on me. Really thin. Must have been on that drug. He was so, so thin. OxyContined off his fucking tits, I expect, even then.
So he didn’t even say a word to me before I was ushered away. Sony dragged me to his show in the evening and I’m glad they did. It was unbelievable. Hit after hit after hit. Mind-blowingly good. This was just before all the allegations about abusing children came out.
I had my first big scare around that time. It was on a plane. Always on a plane. I was going up to Glasgow again. I thought I was having a heart attack. If you’re always taking coke and speed, it’s easy to think that. You put your hand to your heart, and surprise, surprise, it’s hammering. So you panic and that raises your blood pressure further. And then it’s a full-blown panic attack and you have to get off the plane before it’s taken off. Andy Saunders gets a bit flowery in David Cavanagh’s book about Creation, has me checking in to a hotel and holding a bellboy’s hand and weeping. Well, that never happened, but it was pretty terrifying.
What I found out later was that it wasn’t just me suffering these panic attacks. Dick Green had one too, in the middle of Morrisons supermarket. It was the speed we were buying. And it wasn’t just me and Dick – loads of other people nearly had heart attacks. One of the Creation staff, who in this case shall remain nameless, was knocking out the stuff, left, right and centre, and it had crazy effects. God knows what he was cutting it with. Imagine the most insane person you can think of. Imagine how insane you’d have to be to buy the stuff off him. We all did. We all went back for more. We all nearly died.
I was in a terrible state, I realize now. Belinda was sick of me – I was never straight. I was incapable of reflecting properly on anything. I was really unhappy and I couldn’t face confronting that unhappiness so I just numbed it instead of dealing with it.
I was still working hard though. I was actually very good at working the day after a night out. Primal Scream couldn’t believe I could do it. For seven years I ran on rocket fuel.
In July 1993 I won the Weber Prize for excellence in business and music at the New Music Seminar in New York. I took my dad with me. We were trying to get on at that point. He was quite proud of me then. I had given him 5 per cent of shares when they were worth nothing and so he had been paid £100,000 when we sold the company. It was enough for him to retire from the panel-beaters – I gave him a nominal job on the company and a salary too. I felt sorry for him, on his own now he’d lost his wife.
It was a strange do. I was seated next to Boy George, who I think was flirting with me. ‘Ooh, you’ve got Irish blood in you,’ was the first thing he said. A black female record president won the main award, which was announced before my award, and she did a ten-minute speech during which she was crying in true American Oscar-night style. There was about nine minutes crying and one minute’s speaking. I see now what an achievement it was for a black woman to have succeeded in the music industry then, but at the time I remember thinking, Typical Americans. It was both theatrical and sincere at the same time, which only Americans can do.
I was announced afterwards and walked up to collect my award. But how do you follow a Whitney Houston-style performance like that? So I just said thank you and walked off. For a minute there was a shocked silence, before everyone started laughing.
I gave the award that night to my dad, who might still have it on his mantelpiece. Primal Scream were in New York that night to play a gig, and later we all ended up chasing Boy George around a night club, asking him for drugs. ‘I’m clean, get away from me,’ he kept saying as we ran after him.
Whatever state I was in, I knew with Oasis we had something with potential to be really big. It was my big remaining ambition. I wanted to break a band on a massive, international stage. I’d always thought this would have been Primal Scream, but we’d been stalled by the band’s drugs problems and the effect they’d had on recording.
And to start with we had similar recording problems with Oasis. We tried with Dave Bachelor, with Anjali Dutt, with Mark Coyle. It wasn’t working – the demos Noel had given me were better than the studio recordings. They were trying to record the instruments separately, something that never works for our bands. It was another of our links to the 1960s; our bands worked best when recorded live.
Noel was innocent at the time and said, ‘Oh, we’ll get it right by the second album.’ There was no way I was going to take that risk – most of the time you only ever get one chance. It was their time – they had to do it properly. We did keep ‘Slide Away’ from those sessions.
So much hope was beginning to be pinned on this album. Our sales were down in 1993 from 1992. Our biggest album, Giant Steps by the Boo Radleys (a great album), had only done 60,000 in the UK despite ten out of ten reviews everywhere and the full page adverts we’d taken out. Sony were pressuring us to rein in the expenses, to cut back on releases, on new signings.
Ride were hoping to do their third album with George Drakoulias, who produced the Black Crowes and the Jayhawks – hoping he’d help them in their new American rock direction. Drakoulias had rehearsed them but then decided he couldn’t do it, so they were suddenly aimless and lost after their incredible beginning. They did the album in the end with John Leckie, who’d produced the Stone Roses, but the mood of the band was really bad. Andy Bell had never recovered from feeling he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved. When I’d met them, they’d been as tight a unit as you’d find – they shared songwriting credits, stuck up for each other, had complete artistic control of what they did and a manager who wasn’t going to let that end. Now Andy Bell was dictating what the bassist and drummer played, very possessive about who owned the songs – it was a battle for control. One side of the album would be written by Mark, the other by Andy, and unlike the early days there was no cross-current of ideas on each other’s songs.
Ride had wanted Drakoulias, but I’d always wanted him to work on the Primal Scream album and been ignored. Instead Primal Scream were working with another legend, Tom Dowd, who was about sixty-six by then. He was one of the few people they’d respect enough to get some work done, who Bobby would listen to when he told him not to take cocaine before he was recording vocals. But when Dowd sent me the tapes, I couldn’t find one hit on it. There was something weird about all the recordings, they sounded flat. Dowd’s hearing was shot by then. He couldn’t hear high frequencies and the high end of the record was all missing. In the end Innes flew out to LA to work on new mixes with Drakoulias, and they ended up mixing all the singles there. Drakoulias put the incredible drums on ‘Rocks’, and suddenly we had a big single. Drakoulias saved Give Out But Don’t Give Up in the end.
I probably sound like a cunt when I say running a label is like a dictatorship, but you’ve got to remember how few people at Creation at that time liked Oasis. James Kyllo didn’t rate them. Laurence hadn’t. Andy Saunders didn’t think they’d work. If I hadn’t seen the business as a dictatorship, if I hadn’t had absolute faith in my judgement, Creation would not have put out the records of the band who became the biggest in the world.
A lot of what was so good about them was Liam and Noel’s charisma. There was a whole generation of music listeners who had come through Acid House, which was phenomenal, a new form of music, a new culture – but there had been no personalities in the scene to inspire people. I mean, Paul Oakenfold, you know what I mean? With Liam and Noel we had two enormous personalities. We thought it could be like the Beatles again, who’d had real personalities, like the Stones. We thought people were going to love them. Marcus Russell was very patient about releasing an Oasis single. He didn’t want to move too quickly. We put out a white label demo of ‘Columbia’ at the end of the year, and Radio 1 played it twenty times in two weeks. Just for a demo that wasn’t on sale. We knew then that the band were going to be massive. More than anything now it was going to be a matter of not fucking things up, of not missing an open goal.