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

Chapter 4. SACKED

Psychocandy was out now in America after we toured it in late December. The people there said we shouldn’t tour then because all the students would be on holiday. I knew from the momentum we had that we’d sell out, that this wasn’t just a band for students, and I was right. Americans got the band straight away. Full crowds everywhere. We flew back on Christmas Day.

The Jesus and Mary Chain had some New Year resolutions for 1986. They wanted to be taken seriously. They were sick of the violence, of the amateurism. The songs were getting better and better. They were learning how to play their instruments properly. They consented to soundchecks. Sets were beginning to clock in at almost forty minutes as their first tour of the year started in January.

At the start of 1986 Bobby Gillespie decided to leave the band to focus on Primal Scream. I admired him a lot for doing that – it took some courage to leave a band having that kind of success – and for a band who wouldn’t experience success for many more years. He didn’t take any of the advance offered to the band when they signed to Blanco y Negro.

Creation had started to get it in the neck from the music press. At the end of 1985 we’d lost the Pastels and the Membranes, who had a certain amount of indie credibility. It wasn’t a financial decision. We weren’t capable of that at the time. It came down to a coin toss with the Membranes and Pastels as to who would headline on a night we were all playing. Joe won, but they claimed he’d cheated. There was an argument and the Pastels were dropped, and then the Membranes left out of solidarity. Up the workers again. So we were seen as the bad guys for that. (It was one of Joe’s final acts for Creation in the 1980s.) But we weren’t interested in pleasing the indie purists – the Jesus and Mary Chain had shown me that if Creation combined my favourite punk and psychedelic influences it would be a rock and roll label first and foremost.

In those days, rock and roll was a dirty word for some journalists. They didn’t like the leather trousers Primal Scream and Pete Astor and me were wearing. How dare they play a guitar solo. That sort of bollocks. You weren’t supposed to reference anything before 1976. There was no point trying to please those cunts. It was more fun to annoy them.

The whole indie thing wasn’t a philosophical choice. We recorded on a budget because that’s what we had to work with, and we were lucky that it suited a lot of our bands. But if recording on a budget was fine for my band – we weren’t doing it to smash the charts open – I knew that it wasn’t enough for Primal Scream or the Weather Prophets if we had real commercial ambition for them. If they wanted to move beyond the indie charts I knew we needed more money for studio time, for experienced producers.

Primal Scream’s second single came out in April 1986. ‘Crystal Crescent’, the A-side, was backed with ‘Velocity Girl’ on the B. Bobby had wanted to have another go at recording the A-side but there wasn’t the money available for a second go. The B-side in fact grew much more popular than the A-side when the NME included it as the opening track on their C86 tape. This was a compilation of jangly indie pop, which launched the supposed C86 scene and found the band a lot of fans they’d quickly alienate with their next album. The single climbed up the indie chart and when they came back to London, this time we filled the University of London Union.

Running the label and managing the Mary Chain was becoming exhausting. We were stepping up the releases. I’d just signed Felt. This was a real coup for Creation at the time. I’d been a fan of the records they’d put out with Cherry Red. I was amazed we could get Lawrence – who would never tell anyone his surname – to come to Creation. Felt were number one in the indie chart with the single ‘Primitive Painters’; he was a pop star to us. We didn’t chase him at all – Lawrence just called up and told me he wanted to sign with us. He was the singer and wrote all the songs for Felt. He wanted to be on a cool label and we had one of the coolest reputations at the time. The first album Lawrence gave me was insane. There was no singing on it at all. Loads of brilliant organ by Martin Duffy, who later joined Primal Scream. It was called, get this, Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death. With Lawrence I thought you had to let him do what he was going to do. He was very creative.

So we were really excited about Felt and we also had ‘Almost Prayed’ about to come out by the Weather Prophets, a pure pop single we had high hopes for.

That’s when my legs gave up on me. I just couldn’t walk on them any more. It turned out I was seriously ill, with sarcoidosis. I was very unlucky; about one person in every ten thousand gets it and it was incredibly painful. It took me six months to recover, so from then on I had to take a less hands-on role in the day-to-day management of the Jesus and Mary Chain. I think it was me being away that gave them the courage to do what they next did.

Just when I was getting better I went to see Felt in a club on Portobello Road. Warners were quite interested in signing him at this stage. Lawrence took an acid tab that Douglas Hart had given him and had a freak-out right on stage, demanding that everyone stop looking at him! Then he legged it off stage. I tried to calm him down, persuade him back on. And he totally blew it, came back out, freaked out, told the crowd to ask for their money back and ran away again. It was quite clear to me then that Lawrence belonged on an indie label.

In May 1986 the Jesus and Mary Chain headlined Hammersmith Palais. We were bricking it beforehand. It was the first London gig since the Electric Ballroom rampage. It went well. They toned down the feedback, which created less sound problems, though I thought it also made the gig less visceral, less atmospheric, less frightening.

Warners had a lot invested in getting the next single right. ‘Some Candy Talking’ was an expensive recording, backed with an expensive video. The band’s playing was still a bit limited. Dick Green had had to play Douglas Hart’s bassline on the single. None of that mattered. When it was released in July it entered the charts at number 20 and by August had gone to 13. It was the first chart hit for a band of mine and I remember feeling so proud of it.

Then Radio 1 banned it from the breakfast show – ‘Candy’ was a reference to drugs apparently. Everything’s a reference to drugs if you want it to be. I got ready to make a fuss about the establishment trying to censor the music the kids wanted to hear.

But no – I wasn’t allowed to. The band and Geoff Travis were sick of controversy. Just ignore it, I was told. There was to be no more provocation.

And then in September I was called in for a meeting in the usual venue, a Wendy’s burger bar on Oxford Street. It was William who told me the news. I was fired.

It was cruel, but I wasn’t really surprised. I knew William and I didn’t understand each other. Geoff Travis had probably shown them when I was ill that they could do without me. I don’t know whether he ever suggested as much to them – he certainly wouldn’t have missed me. We never going to be great mates, me and Geoff: he’s a rich kid and I’m the son of a panel-beater. But I absolutely loved Jim Reid though, and thought he loved me, and that made being sacked hurt terribly. They said I was unprofessional. Probably right! But what the fuck did that matter? At this time they were in the Top 10, these depressives from East Kilbride! Who looked like they’d fallen out of an Oxfam shop! So I wasn’t doing that bad a job. They’d been on the dole for five years before I signed them. I’d made them believe they were as big as the Sex Pistols, because I believed that myself. I believed they were the revolution and with me they believed they were the revolution. So they sacked me. And after that, though they may have had their business taken care of more professionally, I think a lot of their self-belief walked out the door alongside me.

I had a moment, I admit it, when I thought, what’s the point in going on with the label? I was absolutely gutted. I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bills, and I got paranoid wondering who else was going to betray me.

Primal Scream were important to me then. I tried to imagine them abandoning me and I couldn’t. I knew Bobby would never let me down. So I kept going when I wanted to give up by holding on to my defiance. I decided then and there that I would make Primal Scream into stars.

At the same time I wanted to know what I would have to do to get to a stage when I would have been able to keep the Mary Chain at Creation and never have had to involve Geoff Travis. How I could do what he had done and get the major labels to work for me?