Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 19. THE END
In those days I had never ever used a computer. I didn’t have one in my office. I couldn’t understand what I would do on one if I did. It was Kate who turned me on to the internet. Predictably, I wasn’t interested at first. Fuck all that internet rubbish, etc. But she knew how to get me into it: type a band that you’re interested in here. So I typed in Oasis, and a whole list of stuff came up, and about an hour later I was, wow, I want one! How do I get an internet?
Straight away I saw the implications of it. It was obvious. That’s how people were going to get their music. So I wrote an article predicting the end of the music industry as we knew it, that people would stop buying CDs. Malcolm McLaren had helped me see that was going to be the case, but it was completely obvious as soon as you thought about it. But most people in the industry didn’t want to see the obvious, because of how disastrous the implications were for them. So my article pissed a lot of people off, particularly Rob Dickins and the BPI. They said I was insane.
I don’t want to say I told you so but . . .
Guitar bands were on the slide so we had a go at branching out in a different direction at Creation. We wanted to see if we could compete with the majors by doing what they did – moving away from white boys and guitars and focusing on pop acts. It was a sign of how far we’d come from when we started – it had been a passion to begin with; now we were making business decisions. But it was interesting too, or I wouldn’t have done it. You’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zone sometimes.
I’d put out an ambient record Underwater Symphonies with Kate first when she was recording under the name Scuba. I started seeing her just around that time. She was on Sony as part of a pop duo called Sirenes and they tried to screw her. Sony were trying to throw Kate out and release the tapes as though the singer was a solo artist, even though they were Kate’s songs that had been recorded. So I went in to get Kate’s tapes back. I was earning most of Sony’s money at the time through Oasis so I was never going to stand for them messing my girlfriend around like that. I went in and the boss said, ‘How can I make you happy?’ The tapes were delivered to mine later that night.
Kate had never seen anyone beat a corporation before. She thought it beat you every time. ‘No, it doesn’t,’ I said. It didn’t beat me, anyway. She became very confident after that in her dealings with the music industry.
She should be because she’s a very talented songwriter. We signed her new band Technique and tried to break them as a commercial pop act, but the singles stalled at about 64 and 56
in April and August 1999. The interesting thing is that her songs made her quite a lot of money. In 2001 we got an email from a star in Asia called Coco Lee who’d heard Technique’s second single ‘You and Me’ and was going to do a cover of it. It was number one for six months in the whole of Indonesia! So Kate had a number one. She made a decent amount of money out of writing songs. The first song ‘Sun is Shining’ was used in a major video game. Years later her next band Client put out four or five records with Depeche Mode’s label. They were a modest hit in England in 2005, but they’d play to big audiences in Germany and Hungary. They had a strong visual sense and all wore uniforms and Kate took this for the starting point for her fashion label Client, which she now runs from the house in Wales.
I didn’t just come back from my honeymoon with a new wife, I’d found a new act there too, Mishka, and we released his debut album a year later. He’s a white reggae singer and I’m supposed to feel embarrassed about that. Bollocks. That’s like saying black guys can’t play rock music. And I found out recently that in May 2013, he was America’s number one selling reggae artist that month with a record he put out on Jimmy Buffett’s label. Mishka, the album Creation put out in 1999, sold about 100,000 copies worldwide and went Top 10 in Japan – for a failure, that’s not too bad!
He probably would have worked better on another label without our reputation for white boy guitar rock. He would have been taken seriously then, but with us, people were jealous of Oasis’s success and would decide in advance that any attempt to try something different was bound to be ridiculous. We thought naively we could break out of our genre. But we couldn’t.
This is why I still think about what would have happened if I’d gone to V2 with Richard Branson and Jeremy Pearce in 1996. It would have been a fresh chance. I might have been able to break out of my mould there.
My final, glorious failure at Creation is the one I’m most proud of, the one that showed that the Creation spirit still lived, even if only in my head and a couple of other people’s. That was when I signed Kevin Rowland as a solo artist. He’d released one solo album in 1988 after Dexys Midnight Runners had split up, but no one had heard of him for the last ten years.
I’d always loved Dexys Midnight Runners but I’d been warned in advance that Kevin Rowland could be hard work. I’d heard a story that Martin from Heavenly had offered an opinion about his demo in a meeting they’d had; Kevin had told him to shut his fucking mouth, he only wanted to talk to Jeff Barrett. Of course, this just made me more interested.
When I met him, he was lovely to me. He had strange clothes on that day. He looked like a dethroned king. Like Henry VIII without the crown.
Anyway, he sang ‘Manhood’ to us. Just a capella. It was beautiful. He finished and I said straight away, ‘I’ll sign you.’
He was, like, what?
Everyone else he was talking to was umming and ahing, adding conditions. None of that with me: I just trusted my instincts, like I always had done.
So he signed and we got on with doing the album. He’d ask my opinion about certain things. I never sugarcoated anything, so I’d tell him, no, that’s shit.
That approach didn’t work. He was twitchy. He’d just got clean, and he was pretty raw. He couldn’t handle my directness then, not at that time. We agreed at a certain point that the record was never going to get made with me A&Ring it. So Mark Bowen babysat that record.
It’s funny that Kevin Rowland couldn’t cope with me. I was the one being warned in advance from other labels that I wouldn’t be able to cope with Kevin, and he couldn’t cope with me!
I give Mark Bowen his due, it’s a great record. Kevin wanted to reinterpret records that had got him through his depression, and it was a brilliant concept.
Andy Saunders was really upset he wasn’t going to work on the publicity campaign. He was a big Dexys fan, but Kevin wanted a woman. Saunders thought I’d betrayed him. So, I said, ‘Look mate, you don’t want to do the publicity on this, trust me. Wait till you see the cover. It will blow your mind.’
The truth of the matter is the record was brilliant. The thing that stopped people liking the record was the cover: Kevin in a black velvet dress, pulled down to show his nipples, pulled up to show his silky black knickers, stockings and suspenders.
It’s Kevin Rowland, you let him do what he wants. You’ve got two choices: you do what he wants to do, or you don’t do the record. It was eleven years since his last record. It could be eleven more. Why would he listen to Alan McGee about his image?
The choice was to try and influence him and fail, or just to put the record out.
There was a naughtiness to my decision too. I knew Creation was likely to end soon. And I knew that this was a great record. Once I saw the cover the first thing I did was order 10,000 posters printed and put them up all over the country in accident black spots trying to cause a car crash. I imagined these commuters, barely having woken up, at eight in the morning being confronted by Kevin Rowland’s big balls in black knickers and driving straight off the road.
I liked the sleeve a lot. We both did. He thought it was a work of art. I thought it was bonkers.
Going ahead with it was old school Creation, not giving a fuck about what anyone thought. And all the corporate people at Creation, the people who worked on Oasis records, thought it was outrageous, that it was ruining the name of the label. They thought the label stood for corporate indie, but I thought the label stood for bonkers brave fuck-you creativity. For provocation. Independence wasn’t a fucking musical genre. A lot of the staff couldn’t take it and were bitter that I was still allowed to make decisions they thought were crazily uncommercial.
Their animosity was symptomatic of the new music business landscape. The independent music scene was dying, and this was just a reflection of that.
We sold 500 copies of the first single, 700 copies of the album in the UK. It was a shame the cover put everyone off because otherwise, as an album of respectable covers of pop standards, it was perfect Radio 2 music, like a good Robson and Jerome. But you’d never see that pair wearing women’s knickers in public, and therein lay the problem. How much of a disaster the record was is always exaggerated. We ended up selling 20,000 copies of the album worldwide: not bad.
And that was one of the last things we did. There was an incredible Primal Scream album due for release at the end of 1999, XTRMNTR. They had their own studio by now, could move at their own pace and we never had any troubles again like we did with recording Give Out But Don’t Give Up. By that time the band had become a Bobby and Andrew creative partnership. Throb had been missing in action for a while.
In the first words Bobby sings on the album he accuses a money man of losing his soul. I had the money now. But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my soul yet. And every day in the office felt like it was killing it. There were fifty people in the office and I only really talked to half a dozen of them. Joe, Ed, Dick, Jon Andrews, Andy Saunders – after that I was struggling to find anyone I had any affinity with.
Dick and I were hardly going in any more. I remember one particularly bleak February morning in 1999 I phoned him up.
‘This is rubbish. I hate it.’
‘I fucking hate it too.’
‘Do you want to carry it on?’ I asked.
‘I haven’t wanted to carry it for four or five years now.’
‘Why didn’t you say?’ I asked.
‘I thought you wanted to carry on.’
He’d wanted to go from the beginning of Britpop!
Well, that was that then. It felt like a huge relief.
Sony weren’t happy that I was quitting. Paul Russell would have liked to keep me on and strip the company right back, make three-quarters of the staff redundant, drop all the acts apart from the big four: Oasis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Super Furry Animals.
But I just wanted out, to quit while we were ahead. Bobby was upset – he’d been involved since day one and believed in what we were doing and he was about to release what he thought was Primal Scream’s best album. We told Oasis in November. Liam was disappointed too. He thought I was abandoning him to the tabloids. There was quite a gap in our ages and perhaps he found it helpful to have me around as a sort of father figure. Noel was much more cool about it. ‘We won,’ he said. ‘They didn’t.’
We were going to shut up shop after the fourth Oasis album in 2000, but Oasis decided to start their own label, Big Brother, and license it to Sony. The Sony accountants looked at the huge operating costs we had and decided to pull the plug earlier than we’d intended. They were going to take the big four successful bands, Oasis, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Super Furry Animals, and let everyone else go. I felt sad for artists like Ed Ball, who lost their musical outlet.
The staff took it badly when we told them we were closing. They hated me for my decision, saw it as a betrayal. I understood that. A lot of people had their dream job at Creation. But the times were changing. They didn’t understand that they would nearly all have got the sack whether I’d continued or not. It was unsustainable and Sony were moving in to drastically change the way it was run. It was a glorious impractical love affair, and it was incredible really that it had lasted so long.
I hadn’t meant to hurt anyone and I’m sorry if I did. But I’d never promised to be their dad.
Shutting early meant that the last Creation album, very appropriately, was by Primal Scream. XTRMNTR. Exterminator. It was released on 31 January 2000. We kept some people on till April to manage that record. But for most of the staff Creation was dead from January. I never went in again.