Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 14. RECOVERY
Back in London, I stayed in bed every day. I didn’t realize that I’d had a breakdown or how serious it was. I was waiting for it to finish so I could get back on with my life as usual.
But it was hard for me to even get up and go to the toilet. My brain couldn’t access the energy in my body. It was pretty wild. I was totally fucked. All I could do was lie there.
I asked my dad to come and look after me. I don’t think he wanted to, but he came. I’d run out of anyone else to ask. Belinda had dumped me and no wonder. Who would want to go out with a guy who’s had a breakdown, who can’t face the world? Maybe someone who’d been married to you for years, but not a girl nine years younger than you, a twenty-four-year-old. I don’t blame her at all. In fact it’s too cruel to say she left me. Cruel to her. She’d put up with enough from me. Although we’d split up all the time, I knew that this time it was for good.
There was nothing to be done about it though; I needed all my energy just to concentrate on staying alive. I went to the doctor and he didn’t know what was wrong with me. I went to see another doctor after that and he referred me to Dr Colin Brewer, a psychiatrist, and that was the very first step of recovery. I would see Colin Brewer for the next two years.
For the first two months I kept wanting to get back on the Primal Scream bus and have a party. It wasn’t so much the drugs I was craving but the excitement of the lifestyle. Without the excitement I had to think about all the things I didn’t want to, the huge amount I had to regret. I wanted to throw myself back into my old lifestyle and for things to be normal again, and at the same time I knew for a fact that my body and my mind couldn’t take it. I began to realize I wasn’t going to work for a while. I couldn’t give a fuck about Creation at that point. I was just trying to survive. And I had this epiphany then: I don’t want to do this any more, I want to get better. I don’t have to be in the music industry any more. I don’t have to be larger than life. I don’t have to take twenty-five calls every hour and shout at people. I can stay in bed.
Susan would come down to stay and Ed Ball would always come round, but for a while it was just me and my dad. He didn’t have to work any more because of me; so he didn’t have any excuse as to why he couldn’t help out. And he took keeping me off the booze and drugs seriously, which I suppose I should be grateful for.
Noel came round to see me with Marcus. I wasn’t able to keep a close track of what was going on with the business but I was still interested in Oasis. They played me new songs they’d recorded. After trying three different producers hadn’t worked out Marcus Russell had recommended Owen Morris. I thought that was a weird call. Johnny Marr’s engineer - who the fuck was he? He had no reputation at all. He was the guy who mixed Electronic. But Owen had got it bang on. He’d Phil Spectored it, a big wall of sound, a wall of guitars.
My dad kept a close eye on us all. He’d be peering round the corner of doors at us. Noel went to get himself a Jack Daniel’s at one point and found my dad had replaced all the bourbon in the bottle with cold tea! Noel loved it! It cracked him up.
My dad suggested I move back to Glasgow for a while. I was hating living in the penthouse by now - it looked like a big, empty party venue, the kind of place where a man like me would do damage to himself. I ended up staying there for six months, renting a little house in Renfrew. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me, to myself or to Dick Green. It was unquantifiable. I cut myself off from everyone - only Dick Green had my number, and I’d told him not to call under any circumstances. Jeremy Pearce sent me a text at one point asking if I wanted to come to Creation’s tenth anniversary (which by then was actually our eleventh anniversary; we were slow in getting organized). I went mental at him, told him to never speak to me again. I was convinced by then that I was never going anywhere near the music industry again. I just stayed in and watched football on Sky. I would literally watch any game at all, St Mirren v. Kilmarnock, anything. What got me through those days was the gradual realization that no one could stop me doing this, that I was a millionaire and instead of taking thirty phone calls an hour from loonies, musicians and managers, I could hide out on my own if I wanted to. I realized I could run at my own pace instead of at everybody else’s.
Around August I went for about six weeks to rehab in Charter Nightingale, Lissom Grove. By then getting me off drugs in the short term wasn’t the issue, because I hadn’t taken any for months. They were looking long term, trying to recalibrate the way I saw the world.
Rehab isn’t like the telly. Rehab is pretty fucking boring to describe. It takes you a long time to come round and start seeing the world normally. I had Colin Brewer, my psychiatrist, in the morning and Keith Stoll in the afternoon, and I was really getting into the therapy. Keith Stoll was brilliant, a psychotherapist who every day made me think hard about myself in a way I hadn’t done before. I’d always run away from anything painful. Now he was encouraging me to ask questions of myself and I was willing to do it.
I kept myself to myself there. I refused to do Twelve Steps, knew immediately that it wasn’t for me. Surrendering to a higher authority? Me? Fuck off. I wasn’t going to remove my entire personality.
I remember reading a lot. Head-On by Julian Cope, his autobiography, and thinking it was brilliant.
I started to get my energy back. I’d go for long walks in the afternoon, down to Harley Street and back to Lissom Grove. The parts of London where you don’t see one indie person! It was amazing, I never saw one person I knew out on those walks. No one was looking for me. I loved it. I’d put on a lot of weight by doing nothing and being in Scotland and eating too much, but I lost two stone on these long walks.
I wasn’t trying to follow everything that Oasis were up to, but I knew the singles had done well and that the anticipation for the album Definitely Maybe, which came out on 30 August 1994, was massive. Liam and Noel’s charisma - and dangerousness - was winning everyone over. They’d have fights during interviews for the NME. There was a legendary one with John Harris, the tape of which was later released on vinyl, called ‘Wibbling Rivalry’. It will be on YouTube now, everything is. They had a huge argument, with Noel taking Liam to task for being arrested on the ferry to Amsterdam. It was the first time in years there’d been such an outspoken band, the first time in ages there’d been two huge personalities who weren’t scared to say what they thought. They didn’t watch what they said and they weren’t scared of anything. I think that’s why I liked them so much.
When I finished rehab I went back to Glasgow, and it was a shock to be away from the routine and be confronted again with my loneliness. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life. One morning I even went to church. That’s how desperate I was. I came out of church knowing it wasn’t the answer, got back into my house and there was a voice message waiting for me from Dick Green. ‘Hey, we’re number one with Definitely Maybe!’ I just wiped the message, didn’t even smile. It meant nothing to me, in fact it annoyed me. I felt like I’d paid the price for everyone else to have a good time. I know it was no one’s fault but my own but I felt incredibly bitter that I’d been destroyed while they were all still having a party.
But I’d had enough of Glasgow by then too. The walks around London while I was in rehab had got my strength back up and I thought I could go back and see if I could stick it. But when I got back to Rotherhithe I couldn’t stand it. I remember sitting in my massive penthouse with Joe Foster, looking around it, thinking, Is this it? It felt so lonely, so empty. It was a different man’s idea of where a man should live, a man who I’d only ever pretended to be. Pretending to be that man had almost killed me, and I worried that it still might do, and I couldn’t stay there any more.
I never went back. I moved straight out and booked into the Landmark Hotel, just round the corner from where I’d been in rehab. I’d walked past the hotel a few times and thought it looked a nice place to stay. I felt safe in this part of London, safe from the music industry. I ended up staying there for two months. Andy Saunders would come round to visit me and we’d stay up till one in the morning watching Spanish football matches. The rest of 1994 disappeared this way. I wanted nothing to do with Creation Records; I couldn’t bear to even think about the place.
By coincidence, Noel Gallagher was staying there a lot of the time too, and we’d bump into each other occasionally. He’d worked really hard that year, touring constantly. Abbott had saved Oasis on one occasion, after Noel had left the band and gone missing in America. He’d flown out and tracked him down at a girl’s in San Francisco and talked him out of it. I remember the night when Noel was going off to the Q Awards and he came and knocked on my door. I think he was a bit taken aback at how out of it I still was. It must have been a shock to him - he’d known me for only nine months before I changed so drastically. He was just getting started with the rock and roll lifestyle, but I felt like I was finished with it forever.
He’d give me reports on what had been happening. Fucking hell, I met Bono! He knows who I am! At this point, we were both still blown away by things like that. We didn’t feel famous yet, we felt like we had gatecrashed a famous person’s party.
He’d always ask me if I wanted to come to the parties in his room. I never once went and had to beg him not to tell anyone I was there. The last thing I wanted was people knocking on my door asking me round. And I have to thank Noel, because he never told anyone. He’s a man of his word, a great guy.
I was angry at the people who hadn’t come to see me. I tried to contact Primal Scream a few times during their tour of America with Depeche Mode, when they were really coming apart at the seams. They didn’t get back until months later, by which time I was too offended to take their calls. I’d been having a nervous breakdown and I’d needed to talk to them then. I realize now that they needed me as much as I needed them and they were feeling abandoned. They were as lost as me and having their own crises, just a little more privately. (Bobby Gillespie got sober, I think, in 2008. Toby Toman can’t even set foot in London, to this day.)
I was only thirty-four years old at this point. It was a bit early to be feeling like I was finished. My energy was beginning to return and I took longer and longer walks and became a member of the Landmark’s gym and swimming pool. I remember walking in at eight one morning in my Adidas to the Landmark just as Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallagher were driving off in a taxi after having been up all night drinking in the bar, Liam leaning out of the window shouting, ‘McGeeeee!’
I began to get curious again about Creation at the start of 1995. I began to think about going over to Hackney to see what was happening. I’d built the ark, and I wasn’t ready to completely give up the chance of sailing it again. But I knew the office in Westgate Street was the absolutely worst place for me to be around. There wasn’t a room there I hadn’t taken drugs in. The place was inseparable from the crazy times that had nearly killed me.
So I approached slowly. I would walk all the way to Hackney from Marylebone, a good two-hour walk, at least five miles, I reckon. I’d do it twice a week and as soon as I arrived I’d look at everybody and think, What the fuck am I doing here? I’d only last half an hour before I’d have to get a taxi back to my nice hotel! I was behaving like Syd Barrett. I made everyone feel really awkward. They’d tell me stuff which wouldn’t compute, that I’d just have no interest in. I was a completely different Alan to the one they were used to. They didn’t know what to say to me any more. They’d tell me about a great party they’d been to and it would engage me as much as if they were reading out a shopping list. More than anything it was the memories Westgate Street inspired that I couldn’t cope with. It brought all the monsters back, all the ghosts. It felt like I was being pulled back to the life I’d left behind. It made me scared that it wasn’t behind me at all. Everything associated with my past brought the nightmares up. I couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to come back properly again. Everyone was basking in the glory of the success and the man who’d signed all the bands was too ill to join in. I didn’t mind them enjoying the success, but I couldn’t see how there was a place for me there any more. I was depressed and it was hard not to be bitter sometimes.
Once the contract had run out at the penthouse I rented a tiny little flat around the corner from the Landmark and moved in. I know it sounds berserk, but living close to the place where I’d done my rehab was very calming; it made me think help was on hand if I needed it.
I should have been in therapy a long time before then, really. I’m very grateful for what that did for me. I’m still friends with Colin Brewer. He’s in his seventies now and we meet for lunch occasionally. We saw each other professionally for a couple of years and I feel like in doing this we really got to the bottom of me. We spoke a lot about my past, my childhood. The violence and the fear and the powerlessness had fucked me up, there’s no doubt about that. Big deal: everyone’s childhood fucks them up. But it had fucked me up in a big way. Once we worked that out it was a lot easier for me to go on. I could never work it out: what is this fucking thing going on in my head? Why am I so miserable? They worked out all the things that had fractured me. We worked out I’d had some sort of breakdown when I was fifteen and never really recovered. I’ve only just finally begun to close it all. I can control my reactions to things these days, whereas before, because I wasn’t facing up to what was bothering me, I’d fly off the handle whenever someone or something tried to make me confront it.
One day, when I was on one of my walks I ran into Laurence Verfaillie. We were pleased to see each other, and she told me she was going to see Slowdive that night with her friend Kate. ‘Kate from Frazier Chorus?’ I asked.
She’d introduced me to Kate Holmes before. I’d first seen her on TV when I was going out with Belinda. She’d been dressed as an angel, in a TV appearance for her band at that time. Frazier Chorus was a bit like Britpop before Britpop, like Pulp at the wrong time. They were a whimsical indie-pop band from Brighton, signed to 4AD, ended up on Virgin, never made it. After that she fell in with Youth and his Butterfly records label. I thought she was very cool.
I’d mentioned to Belinda at the time that I thought Kate was attractive, and Belinda had told me, like she always did about other women, that she was disgustingly ugly.
Then Laurence had introduced me to her in person a couple of years earlier, in 1992 around the time I moved into the penthouse with Grant and Karen. I was moderately sober that night (for me, that is) and Kate was wasted - one of the few occasions ever when she was out of control while I was in control. Because I fancied her I told her to come and play me her new stuff. She never did, because she couldn’t remember having had the conversation.
It took a long time for me to be able to enjoy gigs after my breakdown, so it was a big thing when Laurence invited me to the gig that night and I said I would. There’s no way I would have gone if Kate hadn’t been going.
After the gig we ended up in Blacks, a private members’ club in Soho. I was supposed to call her in two days but I messed up by calling her after two weeks, thinking that’s what she asked. (I actually think I’ve got that right rather than her, because I’m really good with dates. To this day, she claims she’s said things that are completely different from what she actually said when she’s drunk.) When I finally called her she was annoyed because she’d been waiting for me to phone her for a week and a half. She thought I’d been playing a game but I hadn’t at all. We sorted out that misunderstanding and started to hang out. We’d go to art galleries, to gigs. She realized quite soon that I was in recovery, that I wasn’t all there yet. It wasn’t until the end of that year that I began to start feeling a lot better. Her mother was a bit freaked out for Kate that she was going out with this guy with issues. I’m not surprised she was worried.
We moved the Creation office to Primrose Hill in April 1995. The Hackney premises were getting broken into all the time and we needed to change the office lifestyle. Until I’d had the breakdown, the office had been the world of Alan and Tim. Cocaine at the desk. Parties still going on when people were arriving for work in the morning. We’d set a bad example for the younger members.
When we moved to Primrose Hill it felt like the start of a new day. I was beginning to come clean to everyone about what had happened to me - before I’d just said I ‘was ill’. That was true, of course, but it wasn’t the half of it.
We couldn’t be a drug label any more. The office in Hackney was the office of a drug addict. When I got straight, Creation had to straighten out too. Sony wanted me back and I couldn’t go back to that environment. People couldn’t get fucked up in the office in front of me - I would have run a mile and never come back. Dick Green was a true friend and wasn’t going to put me into a situation like that. He had always hated the McGee and Abbott brand of madness in the office anyway, and he was glad to enforce a new regime for me.
I’d missed a lot during 1994. Ride’s new album Carnival of Light had come and gone, sold 10,000 copies and wouldn’t nearly recoup the recording costs. As I’ve said, Primal Scream were touring America with Depeche Mode and coming apart at the seams. Sony forced Dick to drop loads of bands: Adorable, the Telescopes, Dreadzone … They nearly pulled the plug on the whole company and if Oasis hadn’t gone to number one when they did, they probably would have done. Definitely Maybe had come out and smashed it. The fastest selling British debut ever, by a band I’d signed, and I hadn’t cared.
What made me care again was hearing the new tracks for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. I remember the first time I heard them. Around June 1995, I was on one of my long walks when I ran into Noel on Marylebone High Street. Noel claims now that when he saw me then was the first time he knew I was getting better, when he’d seen me without glazed eyes.
They’d recently played their biggest gig at Sheffield Arena and I’d still felt too fragile to go. All I did in those days was go from the new offices to the flat, the flat to Kate’s house, Kate’s house to the offices. It was always one step at a time. Kate was helping me a lot. I was in the office but not with nearly the same presence or involvement as I had been. I was coasting, to be honest. It was all I could do.
Noel told me he’d finished the album and Marcus had a tape. I called up Marcus and he sent it round.
He put three songs on the tape: ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. Within about eight seconds of hearing ‘Wonderwall’ I had shivers down my spine. It was quite humbling. I knew they’d done it. Exactly what they said they were going to do. It was a song the whole country was going to love. I knew then that we could sell 20 million albums. And I wanted to be there when they did. I wanted to come back.