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

Chapter 3. THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN

The Jesus and Mary Chain were Bobby Gillespie’s discovery. You can’t underestimate Bobby’s importance to Creation. He’s been like a member of staff at times, an unofficial A&R man. When Bobby first heard the band they were called the Poppy Seeds and Alan Horne at Postcard had turned them down. Everyone had turned them down. It was doubtful whether anyone had even listened to the demos. William and Jim Reid sent them out from their bedroom in East Kilbride and never heard anything back. Do you know East Kilbride? One of the new towns that people from Glasgow were shifted to in the 1960s when it had run out of places for people to live. It looks like Milton Keynes, a drab place, no character. Though whether the band would have been any cheerier if they’d come from somewhere more lively is another matter.

The way Bobby had come across them was a mad chance thing. They’d sent a demo taped on the back of a Syd Barrett bootleg to a promoter in Glasgow called Nick Lowe. Nick Lowe didn’t think much of them but heard the Syd Barrett bootleg and knew Bobby would like it. When Bobby listened to the Poppy Seeds songs on the other side, he absolutely loved them. The tape had Douglas’s number on and Bobby called him up at his mum’s house and made friends with the band, started planning joint shows with the Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream. After a while Bobby told them about me, about the Living Room, the club I ran in London.

On Bobby’s recommendation I booked them for their first London gig in June 1984 – we’d moved venue again to the Roebuck on Tottenham Court Road – and they came down.

I remember the moment they wandered into the pub. They were punk rockers from East Kilbride, six years too late. Scruffy clothes, hanging together. The Reid brothers, William and Jim, they looked like a punk version of the Bay City Rollers. What I mean is, they looked like they were punks by accident, like they could easily have been something else. Don’t get me wrong, they looked cool, but there was something wrong about it too, a small-town version of a movement that was dead. Douglas Hart, the bassist, was the most striking. He looked like a film star. He was only seventeen. Wandering round in motorcycle boots, tall as fuck and skinny.

So we said hello and told them when they were on and they sat down and started sinking pints. Lots of pints.

The demo we’d heard of the band was okay. Buzzsaw guitar, it sounded like the Ramones’ fourth album. So I wasn’t expecting wonders but when they got on stage they were fucking unbelievable.

A lot of that was down to Joe Foster. He was in control of the PA, which meant no one was in control of the PA. He didn’t know how to work a PA! He said he did but he just used to fiddle around with the knobs and eventually turn everything up to ten. William had never played a gig before and had no idea how to control his amplifier. When they started playing the feedback was outrageous. Howling. I’d never heard a noise that visceral. But buried beneath that were these great pop songs. The crowd was absolutely bewildered. The band looked like they were about to have a fight. They played ‘Vegetable Man’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘Ambition’. The feedback kept screaming, getting louder and louder. William was crouched by his amp with his guitar. It was hard to know if he was trying to stop it or make it even louder. And at the end of it they all attacked the drummer! Kicked his drums over and started kicking him round the stage. I loved it! As soon as they’d finished I ran up and said, ‘Can I sign you?’

At that time I didn’t really think they’d sell loads of records but I did think we might get them as big as the Cramps, who they really loved.

They were all very shy at the beginning. I had different relationships with all of them. I became very good friends with Jim, the lead singer. He wasn’t as temperamentally miserable as William, but he must have felt he had to be out of family duty. His brother William, well, William didn’t really get me. We’ve never really got each other. We had such different personalities. William’s probably a lovely guy if you can tune into him – I could never understand the controls on the television. He was the shyer one. He gave the impression of being really annoyed we were imposing on his life of being a hermit in East Kilbride. William is the better guitarist, better songwriter, the original talent – he’d write two songs for every one of Jim’s. He was a genius guitar player, and I don’t mean that lightly. No one else sounded like him. He wasn’t good in the conventional technical sense; there was only one band in the world he could have played for, and luckily he did. Jim was more of a natural rock star than William. In his head he probably thought he was the Lizard King. Jim was the best rock star, the most charismatic; William the best musician. Neither one of them will want to see it like that! But the best bands normally have that rub, that personality clash, that combination of different skills.

Bobby wasn’t originally the drummer. We drafted him in to replace Murray Dalglish. Murray’s dad was advising him he should be getting £100 a gig! And they were playing for £50 a night in London to twelve people! No wonder they liked to assault him on stage. When he left we got Bobby in. Bobby knew exactly what kind of a drummer he’d be. One snare, one floor tom, playing a simple beat standing up like Maureen Tucker out of the Velvet Underground. He looked cool as fuck.

The first thing we had to do was record them but that was harder than it sounded. For one, the sound that I’d signed them for had been a complete fluke of circumstance caused by Joe Foster’s ineptitude and a dodgy sound system. Their sound had been created then and there at that gig by an alchemy of fuck-ups and now the band needed persuading that was their sound. William and Jim weren’t having it at all. We had to get Douglas Hart and Bobby Gillespie to convince them. It had been pure alchemy at that first gig, the feedback and their pop songs combining together in a way that was absolutely magical.

We recorded ‘Upside Down’ in September 1984 at Alaska Studios under a railway arch in Waterloo. It was a typical Creation recording session of that time. The cheapest you could book was for an overnighter, starting at midnight, normally dead time for a studio. We didn’t have a promising lead-up to the session. Before they’d come to London they’d played a gig in Glasgow where they’d been thrown off stage in less than five minutes and down the stairs of the club with their equipment following behind them. We’d had the band playing gigs all week in London, one a night, and they were going to be getting the coach home in the morning after a week of heavy drinking and on-stage fighting during which they’d managed to break their drum kit. So, in the studio, Joe Foster had to break into the locker of another band’s and steal theirs. (‘Why didn’t you just ring us and ask?’ they asked him later. ‘It was one in the morning,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want to be rude.’)

Joe Foster was the producer of all the sessions back then. But when we listened to the recording, it was too clean, too weak. Joe mixed the feedback too low. So me and William went in and turned the feedback right back up again, arguing all the way with the engineer who kept telling us we couldn’t do what we were doing, that it would sound awful, that it broke every rule in the book.

He said it would be impossible to master. We ignored him.

I thought the end result sounded amazing. As close as you could get to the live sound. The Reid brothers unsurprisingly thought it was shit to start off with. They thought everything was shit to start off with. If they won the lottery it would put them in a bad mood.

And then it was the first tour for the Jesus and Mary Chain, in Germany. It was November 1984 and it was them, us (Biff Bang Pow!) and the Jasmine Minks. We hired a bus and off we went. The plan was to swap the headliners every night but after a couple of gigs we all got together and agreed the Mary Chain had to be the headliners. It was awful to follow them; they were just killing it every night. It would have been like having a Mini headline over a jumbo jet.

I first started getting into drugs on that tour. Joe Foster was on the bus still thinking he was Bob Dylan so there was a lot of speed there. We’d be washing it down with Polish vodka.

When we got back from touring Europe there was a great review by Neil Taylor in the NME. The Jesus and Mary Chain were the new Sex Pistols, he said!

I met Jeff Barrett for the first time then. They were the days we all wore leather trousers. Ours were fitted but Jeff’s were ahead of his time: he had the Happy Mondays look, in leather. Jeff had booked the Jesus and Mary Chain to play in Plymouth immediately after they’d got back from the European tour. We found it hard to get audiences for the band in London so I didn’t really believe he’d get any people to show up. But he did a brilliant job promoting it. First he rang the local radio station to wind them up. ‘They’re blasphemous, you know, they incite riots. They’re coming here!’ That sort of thing. I was doing it myself too. The local newspaper got hold of it and the gig sold out. There were cops, reporters, and loads of teenagers. Yeah, I thought, I like your style. Jeff was a brilliant guy, an enthusiast, believed in what we doing in the same way we believed. ‘What the fuck are you doing down here?’ I asked him, and it wasn’t long before I’d invited him to join the gang in London. He ended up working as our publicist, before he set up and had great success with Heavenly records.

‘Upside Down’ took a while to get going. Number 34 in the indie chart in its first week. Bobby had printed the sleeves for a thousand copies and sent them down from the printers he worked at in Glasgow. Then the press coverage of the gigs started and the radio play on John Peel’s show every night and suddenly Joe Foster and I were banging speed up our noses in my house and desperately trying to fold sleeves for thousands of records. Bobby would have more sleeves printed and sent down; we’d fold them into little plastic bags with the records. Fifty thousand records in the end – it was incredible numbers. We couldn’t fold the sleeves fast enough and as soon as we’d done a box someone at Rough Trade would whisk them away and onto a lorry.

I knew then that we weren’t big enough to keep the Jesus and Mary Chain, but I was their manager as well as their label. (I don’t remember asking to be their manager, I don’t remember them asking me to be their manager, I just somehow was their manager.) I had a job to do and a commission to earn by finding them a good deal on a bigger label. Geoff Travis at Rough Trade had a new label, Blanco y Negro, which acted like an indie but was a puppet label of Warner Brothers. Whether he wore sandals or not, Travis was an A&R man for a major label. The meeting took place in Glasgow, in my mum and dad’s front room. I’ve seen this written up as me trying to provoke Travis by insisting he travel to Scotland. But the band lived in Scotland then, it was convenient for them! The truth of the matter is, I hadn’t been on a plane in a while and I fancied going on one to see them. It wasn’t me being Malcolm McLaren, it was me being a kid who wanted to go on a plane! The meeting went okay. The brothers were typically upbeat, staring at my mum’s carpet as if their own mum had just died, but Geoff said the right things. They saw him as a good halfway house: someone with indie values but the power of the corporation.

So he won the race and things started to move really quickly then. ‘Upside Down’ was still climbing, 12 to 6 on the indie chart at the start of December. Before Christmas they went into the studio to record a single with Stephen Street, who’d produced all the Smiths records. It was a disaster, and it wasn’t the last disaster one of my bands would have with Stephen Street. He wanted to rub off the edges, turn down the feedback, record the instruments one by one. The Smiths were technically brilliant musicians; my bands were punk and relied more on energy than precision. We abandoned those recordings and went back to Alaska, this time with an engineer called Noel Thompson. He did what he was told, left things visceral and screaming, and the recording was just right.

The comparisons with the Sex Pistols had inspired me and now I was really playing up to being Malcolm McLaren, trying to generate cash from chaos. Douglas Hart had brought me a video down of The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle and I watched it over and over. (The band liked the idea of having their own McLaren, it wasn’t just me.)

It was a way to justify my behaviour in some ways. I liked provoking people and the idea that you could sell records this way enticed me. We did things just to wind people up.

The last event of the year was 29 December, when the Mary Chain were booked to play the ICA. When they got on they were pissed as usual and the sound was awful, pure fucking white noise. There were loads of delays. The band didn’t want to go on, and then when they did they were too pissed to operate their equipment. I remember someone shouting at me that he wanted his money back.

‘How much did you pay?’ I asked him.

‘Three fifty.’

‘You’re a fucking mug then,’ I shot back.

The crowd were all football chanting: ‘What a bunch of wankers.’ I hadn’t ever seen a band create such an intense reaction from a crowd. I had no sympathy for people moaning about the lack of professionalism, the short sets. They were great gigs! The sound was awful, they didn’t go on for long, everyone was pissed, they probably wouldn’t even finish a song, but fucking hell, it was some spectacle. That’s why more and more people were coming to see them. I loved the gigs. This one at the ICA was too small for the crowd’s anger to feel threatening, but I knew now we were going to be heading for bigger and bigger venues.

We brought out our own Biff Bang Pow! album at the start of 1985, Pass the Paintbrush, Honey. People like to have a pop about me being in bands. Like I’m a failed musician. But at that stage it was never about us trying to become pop stars. We booked a cheap studio for five days and made the record for £500 with Joe Foster at the controls. It was the same with all the records we did. It might turn out shit or it might turn out okay. Most of all, it was fun – and actually most of them did turn out all right. It was a fun record to make. There’s three guitarists on it: I play the chords, Dick plays the lead, and Joe plays the noise. There are some people out there who think we were better than we were, there are some people out there who thought we were awful – I think the truth is, we were okay. As indie bands from the mid-1980s go, we weren’t that bad.

Being in a band was a laugh but it was running a label and managing bands that gave me the biggest sense of purpose in 1985. Creation had been a hobby up until then but now it was real. I may have lost the Jesus and Mary Chain from the label but I was managing the most exciting up and coming band in Britain. They were number 2 now in the indie chart. We did a publishing deal for £40,000 with Warners.

We were doing a tour starting at the end of January but the first date was cancelled the same day that the Sun ran a story in the morning claiming the band had smashed up Warners’ offices and been thrown out by security. It was a massive exaggeration. What had actually happened was that Douglas was the most clumsy motherfucking seventeen-year-old alive and while walking down the corridor had leant against the wall and managed to knock off loads of gold and silver Simply Red discs. The venue in Sheffield read the story and cancelled the gig! Annoying, but great publicity, straight away. More gigs got cancelled. I began to quite like it when they did. They used to have to pay us the money, and then they claimed it off their insurance. And obviously, I’d be on the phone to the NME and Melody Maker and Sounds, stoking up the fires. We went to number one in the indie chart in February.

My time with the Jesus and Mary Chain was a good introduction to managing bands because it was such a hard way to start. They were just totally depressing people. Douglas was bullied by the brothers. The brothers would just moan the whole time and whatever they were moaning about would be my fault. Sometimes, it would actually be my fault, and that would be depressing too. (Thank god Bobby was there, with his evil sense of humour, to take the piss when it all got too much.) So I assumed that managing every band would be like that: miserable. Later, when I toured with the House of Love and Primal Scream, it was a great surprise to me. Then I was like, wow, rock and roll can be fun! That was a delicious surprise. You could even say it went to my head.

But a Mary Chain gig in those days was designed to give no fun to the crowd at all. An average set wasn’t much longer than quarter of an hour. It would be a shambles. They didn’t play their hit single! The interviews they did before their first big UK tour had them calling the audiences sheep, saying they were thick as shit. William’s biggest ambition, he said, was ‘to be murdered’! I’m surprised he’s never achieved it. The crowds on that tour were furious. The tour finished in Brighton. A great crowd to start with. Cheering after every song. Seventeen minutes later, gig’s over, and the crowd go mental. Jim Reid starts waving money at them and next thing Bobby’s girlfriend was hit by a flying glass and we had to take her to hospital. A hospital that’s full of members of the audience who’ve also been hit by flying glass. A girl started going berserk at us. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Her boyfriend had been cut up quite badly.

We were excited when the band was booked for The Old Grey Whistle Test. The producers were worried the band would turn up drunk if they put them on early and so they booked them for eleven in the morning. I took that as the challenge it was, woke them up at six and had them drinking by seven. And they were at their best: confrontational, screaming feedback, each of them looking every inch the rock and roll outlaw. They watched it that evening after sleeping off their hangovers.

Miserable bastards or not, the Jesus and Mary Chain were growing bigger and bigger. The second single, ‘Never Understand’, came out on 22 February 1985 and entered the national chart at 47. With all the hype I managed to book a well-paid gig at North London Poly in March. It would be their biggest yet.

The Reids moved down to London then. Bobby was still living in Glasgow so he found it hard to make practices. Who cared? Who needed them? They did without. The chaos of the gigs continued. The new Sex Pistols tag got mentioned more and more. The band had the spirit of punk and their gigs were dangerous and confrontational in a way that gigs hadn’t been for years. As the gigs got bigger and bigger there were a lot more heckles from the audience. They’d go on late, drunk, shouting at them to shut up, that they hated them, that they were wankers. The sets stayed as short as they had always been.

When we turned up for the London Poly gig we realized they had got the fucking band’s name wrong on all the posters. So I started daubing abuse all over the posters for a laugh. It was a horrible atmosphere that night. They’d oversold tickets massively, and loads of people were outside who couldn’t get in. Bobby Gillespie being Bobby Gillespie decided to kick the firedoors open and let them in that way. Then the police got called.

We should have known what was going to happen eventually. When the band finally came on, Joe Foster was stood at the side of the stage, winding up the audience, mouthing abuse at them. He had to dive into the moshpit to rescue Jim when he got pulled in by one of the crowd. And then they did their usual and cut the gig after twenty minutes. You can see it on YouTube. When the crowd realize the band aren’t coming back on, they start smashing the place up. There was an OAP in charge of security there and he got completely overrun.

Geoff Travis came out, got on the microphone and told the crowd to calm down. A bottle sailed through the air towards his head. He left as the crowd invaded the stage. They ripped the PA apart. Then the man who I’d hired the PA from nearly ripped me apart!

That was the first gig that got written up as being a riot. It was scary, yeah, but exhilarating too. It was 1985 and I was managing the only band in the country who could cause riots at their gigs!

I released a statement. ‘The audience were not smashing up the hall, they were smashing up pop music. This is truly art as terrorism.’

Soon after that Jim got attacked and beaten up in the crowd of a Birthday Party gig. That was my fault (despite the fact that Jim used to scream ‘you’re all a bunch of cunts’ at the audience when he was on stage).

The band’s mood took a turn for the worse, which I would never have believed possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. They’d drink after gigs for a bit then William would have a nervous breakdown and start smashing bottles. The first time I saw him do that was in Denmark. We were on the way back from our first trip to New York together, where the band had played two nights in a row in the Danceteria. We’d been brought over by a brilliant promoter, Ruth Polsky, who showed us an amazing time and was very keen on Douglas Hart. (She died a couple of years later, far too young, hit by a taxi while she was standing in a queue to get into the Limelight club.)

So we headed back via Denmark and Bobby and I were having such a great time but then William started losing it in the dressing room. Bottles of beer were sailing over our heads and smashing against the walls. Jim and Douglas made a dash for it. Bobby and I stuck around, laughing at him, encouraging him. Just gawping really. Voyeurs. I don’t know what that says about me and Bob. There’s always been a sick humour that connects us. All of Primal Scream pretty much have it, certainly Andrew and Throb. The black humour, sarcasm and sheer verbal nastiness when we get together is quite a test for anyone hanging around with us. The ones who can put up with it – well, you can imagine why Primal Scream have a reputation for a ferocious entourage. Our humour was very dark. All of us from Cathcart in Glasgow. Andrew was nasty, Bob and me were worse, and Throb was the worst of all – because while we were nasty, he was nasty and hilarious at the same time. Innes was funny too, but a bit kinder than the rest of us.

Once William had run out of things to smash and we had stopped laughing, he calmed down for the night.

I was having the time of my life back then handling the band’s press. I made stuff up and fed it to the papers, who were happy to print whatever I said. ‘Arrested on a bus for drugs!’ ‘Banned from Warners’ offices for stealing Rob Dickins’

wallet!’ Rob Dickins was the chairman of Warners – he liked that last one.

I’d lowered their ages too: they were all teenagers in the press releases. (Jim was 24; William was 27.)

It would have been easy to forget about our other bands then, but we were still releasing records. The Loft were reaching the peak of their popularity with ‘Up the Hill and Down the Slope’ and in June we released the very first Primal Scream single, ‘All Fall Down’. Primal Scream were always going to be on Creation; from the day I started the label I knew I wanted to put out whatever records Bobby would make. (He was still in both bands then: Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream.) Bobby wrote the songs at that point with Jim Beattie, another friend from school, who played a twelve-string Rickenbacker that gave them their 1960s Byrds pop sound. The band had had a false start with a recording session in Edinburgh but we got them down to London and in Alaska studio with Joe Foster, and we recorded two songs quickly and put them out in June 1985. The press preferred the B-side ‘It Happens’, which they always did with the first few Primal Scream singles.

It wasn’t a good time for me and Yvonne though. It was a terrible time actually. Yvonne was supportive of Creation to begin with but it wore her down. Having the Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream constantly staying on their floor would drive any sane woman up the wall. But the bands had no money, what could I do? Yvonne would be stepping over them to leave the house early to go to work. I’d quit my job when the Living Room took off, borrowed a thousand pounds from the bank which made me eligible to sign on for Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Creation was full time for me now and we were already beginning to live incompatible lives. I realized that year that we shouldn’t be married. Our lives didn’t fit together any more. Yvonne hung out on the Creation scene too, and she was very well liked by everyone, but it must have been weird for her with me at the centre of it. She was so beautiful that for years I’d felt like I was punching above my weight, and the balance of power in the relationship had been in her favour. Now I was flying high with managing a top band, giving interviews to the music press and having everyone want to know me and be my friend. I loved being at the centre of things and what we wanted from each other was becoming more and more incompatible. We broke up for a few months in 1985. She finished her job and went back to Scotland.

We moved into our first office in August 1985, on Clerkenwell Road. The broom cupboard. It had room for one desk, Joe Foster on one side and me on the other. It was just the two of us – most of the time it was just the one of us. Joe Foster would wander in about four in the afternoon and start to do speed. Helpful. No, it actually was. He’d get a lot of work done after that.

Yvonne came back and we had another go at it. For that year, it was better. She came to work at Creation for a while.

A great thing about that office was that Factory Records’ London office was upstairs from ours. I made sure that I met Tony Wilson. Because I was managing the Jesus and Mary Chain he was quite interested in me. He had a respect for independent music, for people who did things on their own.

The Jesus and Mary Chain toured again in September. I remember bouncers beating Jim up in Edinburgh after he was sick on one of their shoes.

Then, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, one of the few venues in London who would agree to put them on, we had the worst riot yet. This was serious violence, like Chelsea v. Millwall. I’m not sure if it wasn’t literally Chelsea and Millwall hooligans who’d heard this was the place to have a fight. Because of their reputation, people were turning up on purpose now just to smash stuff up. It was a shock when the riot happened at North London Poly but when we saw the mood of the crowd here we realized it was going to be a shock if there wasn’t a riot. The sound was awful and the band went off early, even earlier than usual. The audience invaded the stage straight away. There were glass bottles flying through the air. Lights smashing, raining broken glass. The bouncers couldn’t cope and the crowd smashed up the amps, the PA. One of the security guards we’d employed got brained with a metal bar.

That’s when we decided it had gone too far. The band weren’t up for continuing the provocation in the way we’d been doing. If they’d wanted to continue, I would have, but I thought they did the right thing. It wasn’t like we bottled it, like someone claimed in the NME – we turned back and got on the right road after having been on the wrong road for a while. When you had Jim being battered in clubs, people ending up in hospital – in the end, it was pop music, not war. And we realized we’d been naive thinking we could charge people a tenner in the mid-1980s for ten or fifteen minutes of songs. And when we realized that we had to change the nature of the gigs, the band had to focus more on the music.

We employed more security for the next tour. But security were as dangerous as the crowd. By the end of the tour they wanted to kill me. What was provoking them? Me! They hated me. Whenever I asked them to do something for me they’d normally threaten to kill me or one of the Reid brothers. I can’t imagine what I did to annoy them.

I liked touring abroad most – going to Portugal, America – it was all good fun. For me, anyway. Yvonne was finding it difficult. She wanted me to be home, with a regular job, a normal guy. I was out with the Mary Chain trying to create rock and roll history, as crazy as that sounds. I was thriving on the attention I was getting. It’s hard for it not to go to your head.

I gave Jeff Barrett his first job for Creation as the manager of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s next tour of Germany. That one tour was enough for him. I asked him for the tour accounts afterwards and he dug into his jeans pockets and pulled out this enormous ball of crumpled paper made out of receipts and handed it to me. I’d thought that I was unprofessional. Tour management and Jeff Barrett parted ways forever that day. We hired him as Creation’s publicist instead.

In October that year the Jesus and Mary Chain recorded ‘Just Like Honey’. We dropped the intensity of the feedback from this record, aiming to let the pop melodies come through more. Then their first album Psychocandy came out in November. It was everything I hoped it would be. I knew they were going to get bigger and bigger.

Joe Foster went mad pretty early. We’d released a couple of his singles that year under his alias Slaughter Joe. I basically wrote the first one, ‘I’ll Follow You Down’, though he’ll claim it as his own. Same for ‘She’s So Out of Touch’, which he definitely did claim as his own and registered with a publishing company. So he claimed all the royalties for it being used on the Creation documentary. Which I thought was quite funny, if inaccurate.

By the end of 1985 the amount of speed he was doing had sent Joe crazy, paranoid, psychotic. He wasn’t the only one on occasions. We were on another tour in Germany and had both taken so much. Joe was annoying me so badly that I tried to hit him over the head with a bottle. Bobby Gillespie caught my arm when it was about a foot away from his head. Joe and I were always fighting on that tour. I had to whack him a few times, though that was the only time I tried to do it with a bottle.

But if I was getting bad, then Joe always outdid me. I lost it on drink and drugs by about 1994. Joe was the precocious one – he had lost it by the end of 1985. I was in Canada when I got the call from Yvonne.

‘Joe Foster has to go, Alan.’

‘What’s he done now?’

‘He’s punched out the head of Rough Trade distribution.’

Oh.’ I thought for a minute. ‘He probably has to.’ That was unacceptable, even by my venomous standards. I told him then to take a break. I didn’t know the break was going to be seven years. We needed the break by then, though I don’t want to underplay how important he’d been to Creation in those early years. He’d been the one in the studio, getting our records done quickly, capturing the energy of the bands so that the low budgets (£150, a lot of the time) of the sessions didn’t matter. He got great results. But he’d also fall out with band members at the drop of a hat. By the time we temporarily parted ways at the end of 1985, the bands were getting confident enough to want to control their own recording sessions, and so he wasn’t missed as much as he would have been in the beginning.

I’ll save the story of Joe’s return to Creation for later. Most people wouldn’t have employed Joe then, or later. I think I’m one of only a few people who can deal with his madness. Well, some people think I’m madder than Joe – which is scary. I hope to god they’re wrong.