Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)

Chapter 16. FIGHT TO KEEP CREATION

Jeremy Pearce at Sony was my main contact. Paul Russell was his boss. Jeremy had done some good work, backing us up at the right times, and though in an ideal world I’d rather not have worked with him at all, he’d shown belief in Creation and without him Sony might have pulled the plug while I was recovering from the breakdown.

We’d rewarded their trust by breaking the biggest band in the world. The year started with solid proof of how big Oasis were. At the Brits in February 1996 they won Best Band, Best Album, Best Video. That was great fun. We won three Brits, Oasis insulted everyone and Jarvis showed his arse during Michael Jackson’s performance of ‘Earth Song’ and completely stole our thunder. My dad had a great time there too. It was the last good year of the Brits before the Spice Girls won everything; I’ve never been back since. A year earlier Blur had been wound up when Oasis won Best Newcomer. Oasis were now in a different league now. Now, after all the talk, the competition really was U2.

By this point the tabloids were obsessed with Oasis. It was at this point that Mirror editor Piers Morgan sat Andy Saunders and me down and told us the Mirror was going to support us, that he was planning to put us in the newspaper more, and could we help him out? I was like, Fantastic, we’ve sold 22 million albums, are you seriously suggesting you can do something for us?

We didn’t want any more tabloid attention. I was there when the News of the World pulled a stunt in Dublin and brought Noel and Liam’s estranged father, Tommy Gallagher, into the hotel they were staying at. It was another thing the Gallaghers and I had in common: a difficult relationship with their father. Bringing him to the hotel really shocked me – it was horrible, cheap as fuck. Liam was threatening him down the telephone. Overnight they changed the level of security in place for the band. Before that, it had been very easy to get close to them. That there was no wall separating them from journalists played to their strengths, because Noel and Liam were very charismatic and outspoken men. Journalists saw them as down to earth and liked them. From that point on there was a barrier and their press began to change for the worse.

With the great success we’d had with Oasis I should have been in a strong position but I was getting worried about Sony. I couldn’t understand why Jeremy Pearce didn’t want to talk more about the future of Creation. When I spoke to him about selling my shares, he was always saying, ‘Let’s talk about it later, there’s no rush.’ I thought Paul Russell and he were trying to fob me off before they forced me to sell my company to them when the crunch came. They were legally entitled to do just that. But I wasn’t going to let that be the deciding issue.

What I hadn’t realized is that Jeremy Pearce had been talking to Richard Branson who was keen to set up a new record label, called V2 (he’d sold Virgin to EMI for £500 million in 1992). Branson wanted me to run it. It was a really ambitious plan: they offered me a lot of money to go and work for them and bring whichever bands I wanted. And they thought maybe we could get Oasis to come along too, at least in the UK.

I was very tempted. Dick too. We went to meet Branson, who I liked. He was wearing a big cream Arran-knit jumper and looked like the Queen Mum.

But I knew Oasis. They were loyal but they were deeply practical too. Sony worked for everyone. They’d had two massive albums with them. Oasis weren’t going to mess around with a situation that was working wonderfully for them.

I spoke to Paul Russell and accused him of not really wanting us to stay, of trying to show us the door. He denied it.

All I’d wanted from Sony was some recognition for what I’d done, for signing Oasis and bringing them all this success even while I was busy getting off drugs. I wanted them to offer me a decent wage and another four-year contract but Jeremy wasn’t closing the deal. They could have had us much cheaper if they’d done it earlier.

By the time we were talking properly about renegotiating the contract I was furious and defensive. I felt we weren’t getting enough respect. It felt to me like they were about to fuck us.

I often wonder if I should have taken the new challenge and gone to V2. I could have been a whore. I think we’d have succeeded in bringing everyone bar Oasis, and we might even have been able to buy the name Creation off Sony, who only really cared about Oasis, if they were honest.

But when you’ve spent twelve years trying to find the biggest band in the world and you finally get there, it’s too hard to turn your back. Financially, I should have done it – I was offered millions of pounds as a signing-on fee. They had a fund of a few hundred million, which we could have had a lot of fun with. I would have stuck it for the five years of the contract and made a lot of money. But Creation was mine, I’d built it, and I wanted to stay with it. We were at the top of the world, and we wanted to stay at the party a wee bit longer, even if it was a party where I drank Diet Coke instead of champagne.

The offer from V2 certainly helped the nerves though, when I went into the negotiations to claw on to my company. Jeremy jumped and went with Branson. When he’d gone, I found myself missing him a lot. It was the beginning of the end of our relationship with Sony. He’d been integral to the deal from the start, the first real enthusiast at Sony for Creation. It was he who had the vision and made it work.

Now Jeremy was gone I was convinced Sony were about to usher us out of the door. I was prepared to fight dirty the only way I could. Andy Saunders and I invited an NME journalist to the pub for an interview. I read a prepared statement out and Andy taped it so I couldn’t be misquoted. ‘Creation is an A&R company,’ they quoted me saying. ‘The moment I let some fucking corporate arsehole in New York run the record company, I will resign. [But] it seems as if they are refusing to negotiate, and it seems to be saying that they don’t want me and Dick at Creation. We are Creation. If we go, I believe most of the artists and senior staff at the company will want to leave.’ And I mentioned Primal Scream, the Boo Radleys and Oasis.

Sony did their own bit of boxing in the press then, releasing a story that they were buying us out for 12 million quid. A total bollocks story that made it seem like we were desperate to sell.

Well, if they equalize, you can’t stop playing, can you? So we got in touch with a journalist at the Financial Times and prepared to make more trouble. We managed to get them to print a story about troubles at Creation and anxiety from the bands and whether Sony could afford another PR disaster after their recent court case with George Michael. This was when Sony started to negotiate properly and we sat down with Paul Russell. Dick Green was worried Paul Russell would have read the articles. John Kennedy was reassuring him: Don’t worry, he won’t. The first thing Paul Russell said when he walked in was, ‘Who’s your fucking press officer?’ Dick pointed to me.

‘Right, I’ll get us some coffees,’ Paul said, smiling briefly. He was amazed that I was that ballsy and I think he quite admired it.

I nudged John under the table. ‘He read it,’ I said.

It was only because I was such an unreasonable human being that we managed to avoid selling to Sony in 1996. By law, they had every right to buy us. And they wanted to. But I was so unreasonable and loud and was going to make such a fuss that they didn’t dare to exercise their right to buy. They worried it would be the end of any credibility they had, the end of their involvement in new music forever in Britain. Everyone would have thought they were a bunch of fucking cunts. They knew I would have made sure of it.

It was the type of brinkmanship that many others might not have tried. They were threatening me, and I learned from my dad not to listen too hard to threats. I felt pretty confident in those negotiations, even though the contract should have nailed me.

My position of strength was complete bullshit – there was no way on earth Oasis were going to walk away from the label that had made them rich, just to please me. But they couldn’t know that for sure.

Marcus wasn’t over-impressed by me using Oasis as currency in the negotiations. Noel, however, thought it was funny. There’s always been an evil genius streak to Noel; he enjoys a bit of machination.

In the end they paid Dick and me an eight-figure sum to keep the terms basically as they were for another five years. I celebrated becoming a multimillionaire in a very different way to becoming a millionaire. No booze, no drugs. I’d moved to a bigger, much nicer flat in Bickenhall Street by now, still not too far from Charter Nightingale. My next door neighbour was Michael Buerk who read the news on BBC. I went back home and put some records on. I think I must have played them pretty loud.

Now we could really go back to work. We had bands to find, records to release.

Dick Green had brought in an A&R man called Mark Bowen while I was sick. Big Mark was a total Creation believer. I never really dug him myself, but he wasn’t offensive, just a big guy who Dick liked. The one brilliant band he did bring us was the Super Furry Animals – perhaps the last great Creation band. They came out of the Cardiff music scene, and their lead singer Gruff Rhys was really charismatic. The rest of the band were Huw Bunford on guitar, Guto Pryce on bass, Cian Ciaran on keyboards and Dafydd Ieuan on drums. Big Mark took me to see them in the Camden Falcon at the end of 1995, where they were supporting Pearl Lowe’s terrible band Powder.

The sound through the PA was that bad I thought Gruff Rhys was singing in Welsh. I told him afterwards it would help sales if he’d sing in English, and he said, ‘I was!’

We put them in a studio and recorded a demo with them and they did ‘Something 4 the Weekend’. They reminded me of Blur, raucous, quirky pop, and I was really happy to sign them.

I didn’t play a huge part in their development. My only real interference with them was when Dick and Mark were going to put ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’ out as a B-side, and I insisted they bring it out as an A-side. They nearly missed that chance, and it became the band’s best known single. It could have been written for me, you know, there was no way that wasn’t going to be a single on my label!

We had fun marketing the band. We were going to give them a full page in the NME, and they said, ‘We don’t want that, we want a tank. We want to deliver the single to Radio 1 in a tank.’

That kind of logic wouldn’t have appealed to every label boss, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I happily handed over the money. It probably got loads more press attention than an advert would have done, but that wasn’t the thinking behind it. It just appealed to my sense of mischief. I wonder if my sense of mischief, whatever trouble it’s got me into, has also led to some of my greatest successes.

I was starting to hang around with Oasis again around that time. I found it much easier to resume contact with them than with Primal Scream. It hadn’t been such an intense personal relationship and so it was easier to come back and be a different person to the one I was in the beginning, when I was off my face all the time.

Liam was really lovely to me, really kind. There’re a lot of different versions of Liam. People focus too much on his aggression. Overall, my relationship with him has been great. There have been some tense moments when he’s coated me off, and maybe I’ve deserved those. But he’s a warm guy. Great fun to be around. He has the best one-liners out of anyone I know. In 1997, when I’d started flying again, he decided that he wanted me to take him to India. ‘But none of that Brian Epstein stuff,’ he warned me. Now, I’m guilty of many things but not of repressing a secret bisexuality, despite any early confusion about David Bowie. ‘None of that funny stuff,’ he said, and I assured him there would be no problem about that. We went as far as booking tickets.

Just before we went I was beginning to have serious reservations about my ability to cope with Liam Gallagher on this kind of trip, so I rang up Marcus: ‘Marcus, he wants me to take him to India – to meet the Dalai Lama.’ Marcus couldn’t stop laughing.

Kate really didn’t want me to go either, but not because of Liam. She didn’t want me to get the anti-malaria tablets, which can send some people mad. ‘You’re mad enough, Alan, already,’ she kept saying.

But I didn’t want to let Liam down. And then, on the day I was about to take the first pills, Liam phoned me up.

‘Al,’ he says, ‘we can’t go to India. I’ve only got a week off. Patsy won’t let me.’

My biggest breakthrough in terms of getting back to fitness came when Oasis played Maine Road in April 1996. It was the biggest gig they’d done, 20,000 people, and they were doing two nights. I went up with Kate and her mates. My family came from Glasgow and had a great time. Perhaps it helped that it was in Manchester, which had always had good associations for me. The whole stadium singing every word of every song – it was wonderful. I felt flooded with energy. And after that each day was better than the next. It was like I’d had a shot of speed. I really wanted to work again then.

I’d never seen the Sex Pistols first time around, and I was suspicious of going when they reformed in 1996. But Noel reckoned they were good, and dragged me along to see them in Shepherd’s Bush one night. They were brilliant. I spoke to Andy Saunders in the morning and told him I wanted to review them for the NME. So I rang Steve Sutherland and he told me to send it to the letters page. Because my ego was so enormous at the time, and my bands were selling so many copies of his newspaper, that was not enough for me. Tell you what, then, I said, I’ll buy the back page. That really upset Sutherland, that I could do that. Bobby Gillespie loved it, kept calling me Citizen Kane for a while.

I did it because I was so pissed off that all these journalists were saying how rubbish they were. They’re a bunch of cunts. So predictable. It wasn’t true! The band were all better musicians and they were only in their late forties, and they were fucking great. Lydon got in touch afterwards: he loved it.

And then people started saying, oh, genius branding. Fuck off! That’s not how I thought. I might have a lot more money if I thought that way. Except I don’t think the people who go on about what genius branding it was are millionaires.

Knebworth would have made a brilliant end to Creation records. In 1983 Joe Foster and I had dreamed of a psychedelic punk label to refresh the British music scene – and now thirteen years later, on 11 August 1996, we had a psychedelic punk band playing to 300,000 people, with millions having applied for tickets. We’d done exactly what we’d set out to do.

The actual concert wasn’t much fun. It was overblown. Too big. The bouncers wouldn’t even let me in my own fucking hospitality tent at times, there were so many liggers there. It wasn’t my thing. It was an Oasis thing. It wasn’t even their thing. They just wanted to push it as far as they could, just like I would have done if I had been them. If I’d had the balls, I would have chucked it in right after Knebworth. It would have been a glorious, poetic exit. I could still have all I have now. I’d made all the money I ever needed to make. It would have been a better ending, that’s for sure. But it was too hard to walk away from the success of it. Everybody wanted us. We’d never had it like that. So we carried on.