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

Chapter 17. 10 DOWNING STREET

One of the things I really enjoyed about being sober was that people would invite me back again to parties or to dinner. When I was still drinking, I’d never get invited back to anything, ever. I could never see what a nightmare I was being. I thought I was being funny but I was just rude, embarrassing. I thought to be accepted you had to be mental, so I’d been acting up for years.

Now I was sober people would invite me and Kate to parties, and not just once. People started to like me. I thought everyone had wanted Alan the whirlwind, Alan the car crash, but they didn’t: they liked sober Alan who’d listen to what they were saying and think before he spoke. And being this way was taking me to places I never would have thought possible.

I wasn’t really famous at this point. Okay, so NME readers knew who I was, and some Oasis fans. But the average person who sung along to ‘Wonderwall’ had never heard of me, never would. In the end it was through politics that I got the most attention.

Now I was sober I was paying a lot more notice to what was going on around me, to what was happening in society. I’d barely even noticed the last election, except that Kinnock fell in the sea at the party conference. Now I could see the country was fucked up. You saw that at the Maine Road gig – so many people going to that gig got mugged in Manchester. What kind of society is that where all those kids feel that’s their only option?

I’d decided to join the Labour Party in 1995 but they never even sent me the little card to say I was a member.

A year later, just after Knebworth, Margaret McDonagh, the general secretary of the Labour Party, rang me up. ‘Are you Alan McGee, who runs Creation Records?’

‘Yes, I am,’ I said. ‘Where’s my membership card? You’ve cashed my fifteen pounds’ cheque.’

‘We’ll be right round with it,’ she said.

Within ninety minutes Margaret McDonagh and two others were at my flat and they stayed for three hours to talk about politics. She was trying to work out if I was sincere, or a fascist – and I was sincere, and I wasn’t a fascist. She asked me if I’d like to help get the Tories out, and I said I would. So the first thing they asked me to do was to come to the Labour Party conference in Blackpool, and to give Tony Blair a platinum disc on stage. They wanted me to bring Noel, but he was just back from tour and knackered, so he suggested we give them his platinum disc for Morning Glory instead.

I went up with Ed Ball and Andy Saunders. It was a special event at Norbreck Castle Hotel, a party for young Labour members. We arranged for one of our bands – 18 Wheeler, who Dave Barker had found – to come down and play a gig there. They were a good band from Aberdeen, and had been the headliners on the famous night at King Tut’s when Oasis had blagged their way on to the bill. I didn’t know who all the Labour dudes were at that point, not really. There were only ten of us when I arrived and Peter Mandelson was dancing next to me, shuffling around. There were some cool people there. Waheed Ali, Steve Coogan. Me and Ed Ball were immaculately suited, done up in Paul Smith. Loaded journalists queuing for the bathroom. Andy Saunders was walking around trying to boss everyone about, like he normally did. ‘Andy,’ I had to tell him at one point, ‘you’re not in charge of the Labour Party.’

Tony Blair came in and walked through the crowd, shaking everyone’s hands, smiling wider than I knew was possible. He gave a speech on stage and I came up with him, shook his hand and gave him Noel’s platinum disc for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?.

Then Blair introduced the band and got their name wrong, calling them ‘Wheeler 18’. He’d never heard of them, of course he hadn’t. The party was pretty boring afterwards. There were no women around, just lots of teenagers coming up, saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and telling me how good their bands were. So I went to my hotel room early and turned on the TV. And it blew my mind. I was on the TV, shaking hands with Tony Blair. I stayed up till six in the morning watching the news channel. I was on it every hour.

That was the start. They began to invite me in for more meetings. Alastair Campbell would be there. I liked him. I know it’s not cool to say but I have to be honest, I liked Blair too. It’s hard to justify the way they took us to war in Iraq but at that point it hadn’t happened. My experience of the party then was positive. I believed in Blair’s good intentions, like he might have done himself then. Andy Saunders did too, and so we did everything we could to help him.

A little digression here, because I haven’t introduced Andy Saunders properly yet, and he was very important for Creation.

Andy had come in just before the Sony deal in 1992. He was seven years younger than me. He came to Creation to do press after a stint at Roadrunner records and it was me who hired him.

We’re very different but he’s like me in one way: he just says what he thinks. He would offend everyone in the office; those types of employee would always be the ones who ended up being my best friends.

This is a typical story. He brought me over a letter in the office one day, an official complaint to me from the editor of a London paper, telling me Andy is a liar and a cunt and implying that unless he’s sacked the paper is never going to give any more coverage to Creation bands. Andy knew I’d like this letter. I took the letter, took a big felt pen and wrote FUCK OFF on it. You know what to do with that, I said, and Andy went away with a smile on his face, wiped his arse on it, and sent it straight back. How are you not going to love a man like that? We had Oasis: how are they not going to mention them in the paper? What are you going to do, not write about Oasis? – go fuck yourself. We could behave as badly as possible and no one could stop us.

By 1997 there weren’t many men like Andy left at Creation. Sony’s influence was everywhere and the place was full of people who had to deal with them all the time, who felt they had to play Sony’s game. Whether Sony had brought them in, or Oasis’s management had brought them in – they were loyal to Creation, but they played the corporate game. Saunders was old school and refused to go along with that.

For four years running we won the Music Week award for being the best independent label, 1995–1998. On one of these occasions we were sitting at a table, surrounded by suits, and Andy Saunders goes to me, ‘This is fucking rubbish.’ I agreed with him, it was fucking rubbish. Rob Dickins from Warners had already picked up an award. We knew we’d won and were waiting for it to be announced. Andy leaned over and said to me, ‘I’m going to shout out, “You’re all a bunch of corporate cocksuckers” when we collect the award.’ Everyone at the table heard this and started saying, ‘Don’t say that, Andy, you can’t say that.’

I looked at him and said, ‘You can say that if you want.’

So when they picked up the award, there’s Andy on stage: ‘You’re all a bunch of corporate cocksuckers!’

This did not go down well. The whole room began to shout abuse at our table, about what hypocrites we were and how we’re owned by Sony – fair enough, we are! ‘Sony, Sony, Sony!’ the whole room is screaming their piece at Andy, and we’re flicking the Vs back. It was top. Just madness.

I knew Saunders was out of control at that point. He had to sober up after that. Moira Bellas, who was high up in Warners then, told him he was never going to work in the industry again if he carried on like he was, and I think that made him sit up and think about where he was going. He cleaned up then. I think it was me who sent him to the drug doctor. They got him sober and then he was depressed so they put him on speed. So then we had Andy Saunders charging around on speed. He’s a big guy and doesn’t need to be any more aggressive than he is. The only way he could get away with his behaviour was that we had the biggest group in the country and he was my personal PR guy. He was unsackable, or he definitely would have been sacked by Sony.

And I thought he was brilliant at his job. He made me famous for five minutes in the 1990s and I’m still reaping the benefits – people calling me up to play DJ sets in Brazil for £7,000 a time – that only happened because of the mid-1990s.

You need people in a company who don’t give a fuck, who are outspoken and brave. It was being fearless that was the key to my success, I’ve always believed that. The punk spirit. There were still people in the office who had it but they were being more and more outnumbered by the week.

By the end of 1996 I stopped going in. I didn’t know who anyone was any more. There were about forty people in the office and I only liked a handful of them. I bought an office block round the corner so I wouldn’t have to see anyone if I didn’t want to. I had it done up and rented half the space to Meg Matthews’ promotion company. She was good fun to have about if I wanted to talk to someone. The only person who was allowed in my half was Bobby! Sometimes Dick Green. But if anyone wanted to give me a message, the easiest way was to go and give it to Bobby.

No wonder politics became so interesting at the time. I was beginning to hang out with Margaret McDonagh more and more. We’d go for dinner a lot. I’d started going to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea with Ed Ball and Andy Saunders, and we’d hired our own box now. So I took Margaret to Chelsea too.

Creation, Oasis and McGee gave Labour ‘a sense of now’, that’s what she told me. I gave them some money too. I gave £15,000 in early 1997 to the Scottish Labour Party. I did it on the condition that it was all spent in Scotland. Because I don’t like living in Scotland doesn’t mean I don’t still care about the place and want it to be better than it is for the people who live there. (Of course they probably took my money for Scotland and spent it on whatever they wanted; how could I know otherwise?)

Peter Mandelson and Margaret McDonagh then took me on a tour of Millbank, showed me the campaign videos they were preparing leading up to the 1997 general election – ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. I said they should choose a better song. ‘Wake Up Boo!’ would have been brilliant. They kept with fucking D.Ream.

As I was getting into politics, I was aware of how Paul Weller had been damaged by his involvement with the Labour Party through Red Wedge. But I hated the Tories and I thought I could help. I never imagined to what extent they’d involve me. That wasn’t why I was doing it. I just thought I could help. I gave them another, bigger donation then.

If I don’t remember there having been an election in 1992, I definitely remember there being one in 1997.

I was at the Royal Festival Hall in May when the election results came through. I’ve never heard a louder cheer than when Portillo lost his seat, even at Oasis gigs! Everybody hated him and the whole place went off.

There wasn’t much suspense about the result. It was obvious Labour were going to win. Branson was working the crowd, and when you see him hanging out with the Labour Party you know the tide has turned.

I went up with Kate. We were having a great time. Then Margaret McDonagh asked me to look after Mick Hucknall, who was making a nuisance of himself with the blondes, and I had to stand beside him to distract him. We’ve said some pretty snide things about each other actually, but you have to hand it to him, he’s a hell of a singer.

Blair and New Labour threw a party at 10 Downing Street to thank those who’d supported them during the campaign. Noel and I were invited. I was in the Landmark gym that afternoon on the running machine and watching Sky News. The newsreader was telling everyone that Alan McGee is going to be asking Tony Blair some awkward questions tonight. Is he? It took me a few seconds to realize it was me they were talking about. What’s Alan McGee going to say? They were having a discussion about it. Fucking hell!

That evening Kate and I went round to Noel’s, got in the Roller with him and Meg. It was madness when we arrived; cameras were going off everywhere. It suddenly occurred to me that this was going to be a part of history, like when Harold Wilson met the Beatles. There will be a picture of Noel meeting Tony and I’ll be in the background with Kate and Meg, and we’ll probably see this picture being used in twenty years’ time. It was an incredibly optimistic time. Princess Di was still alive. Be Here Now hadn’t come out. Labour were just in. We all believed in them.

Sure enough, Blair shook Noel’s hand and the cameras went mental. The Pet Shop Boys were there, Kevin Spacey, everyone. We spoke to Blair for five minutes and then Alastair Campbell kept on our case for the rest of the night, a big Scottish hoolie assigned to make sure we behaved. There were some really funny moments. Kate gets pissed pretty easily. Jack Straw had me cornered at one point, asking me why I liked cocaine, a question I did not begin to know how to answer for him, and Kate used that as an opportunity to run off and explore. I looked across the room and saw she had Tony Blair trapped against a wall and was giving him a Grooverider remix of her band on CD. She’d drunk a whole bottle of champagne by then. You could see him looking at her with a fixed grin on his face, slowly trying to back away.

The funniest bit was when we were leaving. The Rolls-Royce was right outside, where there were 200 cameras. Noel and Meg went first and walked through the Downing Street gates and then they shut behind them, leaving me and Kate trapped. I saw Noel suddenly stop and realize he’d lost me, all the cameras going crazy. Where’s Alan? I’m banging on the bars, shouting, ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ He had to shove all the journalists out of the way to let me out.

We went back to theirs afterwards and watched the news all night. That was the news, us four walking down the street. It was surreal.

After the election victory I was invited to be a captain of industry to assist Chris Smith, who was the new government’s secretary for culture, media and sport. There were six of us: Paul Smith, Waheed Ali, Richard Branson, Gail Rebuck and Lord Puttnam: the Creative Industries Task Force. I’m still proud of the work I did to try to get musicians a fair deal. I thought they should be exempt from the forced employment training scheme the government were planning for eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, the New Deal for the unemployed. I wanted to create a New Deal for musicians that recognized they needed time to develop their music. This wouldn’t even have been discussed without me speaking up against the plans, and Labour didn’t like me for doing it, but my attitude was, if you ask me to the party, you’ve got to listen to what I have to say.

Everybody else in the music industry, George Martin, Rob Dickins, was dead against the New Deal for musicians. Their argument was that it should be hard for musicians. You won’t find the next Rod Stewart unless he’s been through the mill. It was a rubbish argument. It seemed to me they were just Tories who didn’t believe in welfare and wanted to pretend that it wasn’t just because of their selfishness. We were in a position to help people and I thought it was our duty to do so. I worked with John Glover and Stuart Worthington to propose the idea that musicians could be given time to develop while claiming benefits and not being forced to look for other jobs, and after some consideration Chris Smith passed it: the New Deal for musicians.

It really wound up everyone else in the music industry that I was in this position of influence even though they worked for much bigger companies. They couldn’t get nearly the same access to politicians. These were the people who actually ran the music industry. And there was me, walking round the corridors of power!

Say what you like about Thatcher, may she rot in hell, but her enterprise allowance scheme helped me and Tracey Emin, for example, and a lot of others who probably wouldn’t want to put their hand up to it. It’s what funded most people at Creation Records to begin with, including Jeff Barrett. I just wanted kids to have the same chances that I had.

I don’t know how successful the New Deal for musicians was, but we did it in good faith. I never wanted a medal for it; it just seemed like a good idea, and something I could do.

I got a load of stick for doing it at the time. Bill Drummond took me to task on the Today programme about working too closely with the government. I didn’t even want to go on but reluctantly agreed. It was one of those things where you get surprised and don’t turn it down quickly enough: okay. So I went on, really early in the morning, said my piece, and then they announced that of all the people you want to argue with at quarter to eight and half asleep, they’re about to go over to Bill Drummond. That woke me up. No fucking way! He took me to pieces. There was only one person who’d have been worse to have to talk to then, and that would be Malcolm McLaren. Drummond absolutely lambasted me. I tried to give it back but my heart wasn’t in it. What a disaster.