Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 23. 2013
I chucked music on 12 September 2008. No more management, no more record label. I’d become so bored with the music world. I’d been in it for thirty years since I moved to London with Andrew Innes, and I was convinced the world had more to offer. Three days later, 15 September, everything kicked off with the banks – and it felt like confirmation to me that I’d made the right decision, that we were getting out of the rat race at the right time. We decided to leave London then and settle for good in the house in Wales.
Here in Wales I seek nobody’s attention, affection or friendship. It’s my ongoing rehab from drink and drugs and rock and roll. I try to live a spiritual life here.
As I’ve got older I’ve realized that the thing that most annoys me in life is people. I was a social animal on drugs. When I was sober, I thought people were a bunch of twits. And I just don’t have to deal with them here.
I’ve had a great five years, reading, teaching myself new things.
I’ve found out I have an eye for art, for instance. I started wandering into galleries when I went to London, buying paintings with the money I earned from DJing. I just bought art that appealed to me, that I wanted to put on my wall. Some of what I’ve bought is worthless in terms of money, it’s just I like it. But Keith Vaughan has now become the biggest gay painter in the world. I used to have two of them in my office – I just liked them. My pal, who’s gay, came in one day and asked, ‘Do you know what these are?’
‘Er, Keith Vaughans?’ I didn’t know anything about him.
‘What do you think they’re paintings of?’ he asked me.
I said, ‘Well, that one’s depression, and that one’s kind of, like, bleakness?’
‘No, Alan,’ he said, ‘that one’s a guy fucking another guy up the arse; and that one’s a cowboy giving another cowboy a blow job.’ I’ve been sitting in the office beneath all this gay erotic art for years and never noticed. Now, I get it. They’re fucking good paintings.
I made a film in 2012 with my friend Dean Cavanagh, who shares my interest in occult thinkers and books. On a simple level Kubricks is about a director going mad trying to make a film at my house in Wales. We did it as an experiment to see if we could make a film and, incredibly, we could. It’s a completely improvised film; I play myself. I don’t act, I’m just myself. It’s about quantum reality. I’m living in one reality but the main actor Roger Evans is living in another existence where he thinks he’s shooting a movie. It took five days to shoot, all in my house and the grounds surrounding us. My friend Joanna Pickering is in it, a great actor and writer who one day should write the book about Death Disco. The premier screening was in Leeds in June 2013. Loads of my pals were there: Lee Mavers, Debbie Turner, James Allan. Mavers is a smart cookie: as soon as it started playing he came up to me, ‘What’s wrong with the screen?’ He was right, it was too small so we were missing lots of what was happening on the edges. It’s a film about someone living in two separate dimensions, and there was a whole third of the screen that was happening in a complete other dimension to the people in the room. I’d like to say it was intentional. But it was just a cock-up. The Creation ethos continues.
I’m in a film called Svengali! too which was written by my friend Jonny Owen. I play myself. People say to me I’m a good actor, to which I say, I’ve been acting since 1974. The real Alan McGee was left bleeding at the foot of the stairs in Glasgow; ever since then I’ve found it hard to know whether I’m playing a part, who’s really there behind the appearance. There’s a character called Alan McGee I’ve been playing for years, and I might play him a bit differently these days, but I can’t promise I’m not still playing him all the same.
Taking a break from the music industry was necessary for me. I needed to refresh myself, follow my nose and discover what it is that inspires me. I’ve loved this time. I’ve had a five-year break from the music business but I’ve never forgotten about it, never been able to take my eye off what’s going on out there, and now I feel ready to return.
A lot of the music I love has returned in 2013. There’s the great new record by My Bloody Valentine. Primal Scream have their best album for years, back at their best. Even House of Love are back too, with Bickers back in the band and another really good album. When they were touring recently someone in the audience shouted to Chadwick, ‘Take your clothes off!’ Chadwick thought about it for a second. ‘Those days are over,’ he replied.
My hero has returned too. Who apart from David Bowie could record an album in secret, release a single overnight and have it the most talked-about record of the year?
I’ve got my music buzz back. Music has completely changed as a business and that for me is fantastic, because I’m interested in it again after having found it stale for so long. There is actually a huge amount of good unsigned bands around these days, because it’s so hard to get signed. It’s not hard to find good music. Whether you can penetrate the market with it is another question, but I’d like to find out. In one way it feels similar to when we first started in the 1980s. The record labels don’t take risks any more so I think there’s room for someone who will take a risk.
That’s why I’m setting up 359 records with Iain McNay at Cherry Red. It feels good to be working with an independent again. I want the label to be a launchpad for new talent and some ignored older talent. But it won’t be like it was running Creation or Poptones. My conditions for the deal are 1) I never have to go to another gig in London; 2) I never have to go to another marketing meeting; 3) I never have to go to another awards ceremony; 4) I will never come to your office again. Thank god for Ian McNay and Cherry Red! Who else would put up with those conditions?
I’ve signed a number of acts already. One of the first was Pete McLeod, who I’d met in 2007 and who had stayed in touch, badgering me to start up a label. He did more than anyone to get me back into music and I thank him. John Lennon McCullagh was another. He’s only fifteen years old at the time of writing, and full of talent. I met his dad in Australia, a mad Oasis fan. He asked me to DJ in Rotherham which I thought was hilarious – you can’t get a worse sounding gig than DJing in Rotherham – and I went along to see just how bad it could be. I had a great time in the end, but then John’s dad told me he was putting his son on stage, and I thought, Oh god. A fourteen-year-old with a sixties haircut stepped up. I’m going to have to try and be polite here. But he played six Dylan songs and it was incredible. A superb voice, great guitar and harmonica playing. I told him to go away and write some songs of own, and he might have a career. When he came back with a bunch of his own I signed him up.
These days technology means I can run a record label from a BlackBerry in rural Wales. Or on the beach in Goa if I prefer. And actually, I think I can run a label better from here than I can in London. No one here cares about Oasis or Creation and I can focus on finding genuine talent.
In London, it’s, ‘Hey, how’s the new label?’
‘Hey, can I send you a tape?’
I don’t mind that for ten minutes. Then I can’t wait to get back home. It’s so peaceful here, up on the hill. It has to be something special to bring me down.
Like managing one of my all time musical heroes, for instance. Perhaps I’ll do that.
Joe Foster is in Glasgow and wants to leave. I’ve just bought a chapel and am thinking of doing civil marriages there. Joe Foster says he’s an ordained minister. That would be a fitting ending – Joe Foster marrying people in my chapel in Wales. He’ll always be a part of what I’m doing. When he gets too much, I just don’t answer the emails.
Creation took its toll on all of us. Dick Green and I still have a publishing company together. Recently we were changing the company bank account and our adviser said to me, ‘I’ve checked out both of your addresses, and you both live absolutely in the middle of nowhere. What is that about?’
‘I suppose you had to be there,’ I said.
It would be easy to think my life has become less interesting over the last decade but, if anything, it’s the reverse. The journey has been worth it. Instead of being a yes man to a corporate boss, I’ve become a property dealer, an art collector, a DJ who travels the world, and now I’m writing this book. I love my family and I see them every day.
I remember buying my first guitar and deciding I wanted to be a punk rock star – I’ve travelled a long way from that teenager. Charlie’s got a little guitar and sometimes I’ll have a strum on it. She’s picking it up, and she’s a good piano player. We talk about music sometimes; she worries that One Direction might have gone off the boil, that the third album’s been a long while coming. But mostly I try not to comment on anything musical to her, to let her find her own way. When I tell her she’s a good piano player, she thinks, What does he know? She’s like me, she wants something to rub up against. So I listen to her playing classical piano, thinking how good she is, and I keep really quiet.
I would like to thank Luke Brown who has done an incredible job assisting me to pull my life story together. He was an amazing partner to work with.