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

Chapter 6. HOUSE OF LOVE

House of Love became Creation’s saviour over 1987 and 1988, though I would never have expected it when I first heard them. Guy Chadwick had been sending us demos for a while and Dick Green had rejected the first one. Jeff Barrett refused to put them on at his club night. In fact, my colleagues never ever liked them, even when they were single-handedly propping up the business. I hadn’t thought much of House of Love either at first, but then I noticed that Yvonne kept playing one of their songs, ‘Shine On’. I began to see they had quite a bit of potential, that their songs were really catchy, so I went to see the band play at the start of 1987. I told it to Chadwick straight afterwards: your songs are too long, too fiddly, you don’t look right, buy some leather jackets, go away and work on everything and then come back and we’ll do a single and that single will be ‘Shine On’.

Guy Chadwick actually seemed to like being talked to in this way. He was ruthlessly ambitious and I guess he saw the same quality in me. He wasn’t precious about his art – he wanted to be massive, as big as U2, and so despite coming from completely different worlds we became a good partnership.

They were an unusual band for Creation. Chadwick, the leader, was an aristocrat, the son of a major, high up in the army. He’d been in bands before, and had publishing deals, and I found out later he’d pretended to us all that he was younger than he was. Well, I’d played that trick before with the Mary Chain. His band were much younger than him. He’d picked them up from squats in Camberwell. There was Terry Bickers, a genius guitar player, Chris Groothuizen, a good bass player, good-looking, a bit of a space cadet, and Pete Evans on drums. Bickers and Chadwick were the strangest match. Chadwick – this was what I liked most about him – wanted to be Bono. Bickers, on the other hand, hadn’t just lived in a squat out of necessity – he’d believed in it, you know, as a philosophy, in communal living, opting out of the world of money. He was a hippy, a punk hippy, but still a hippy at heart.

Chadwick wrote all the music – he’d had songs saved for years for this – and all of Bickers’ guitar lines, but live you could still see what a great player Bickers was. Seeing them on stage was a different proposition to listening to them on record, when Bickers would turn everything to ten and really rock out, guitar hero stuff.

Their rise was slow. We put out a couple of singles that didn’t work. But meanwhile, they’d become an amazing live act after touring Europe with Echo & the Bunnymen. Jeff Barrett put them on in the end in Camden and the crowd were loving it. You could sense something was brewing, that they had momentum.

I used money from my own bank account to fund the recording of their first album. I’d given them a budget of £4,000 to start with, but they were sounding like a big-stadium band and they needed more money to get what they were after. So I gambled and threw everything I had left at it.

Just before Christmas 1987 I was in London at a Primal Scream gig – they were supporting New Order at Wembley – when I got really ill with food poisoning. Yvonne was there and took pity on me and invited me back to the house so I wouldn’t have to travel back to Brighton. We were lonely and had a brief fling on the third night, flirting with the idea of getting back together. It was a tough time. My heart was breaking. I felt like such a failure. It was a very short reunion and ended as soon as it started but it had serious consequences. In January I had a call from Yvonne. ‘Alan, I’ve got something to tell you.’

See, when a woman says, ‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ it’s going to be one of two things: You’re dumped or I’m pregnant.

She was pregnant and she wanted to have the baby. I understand why now. We decided we’d have one last go at staying together for the baby’s sake. I came back for a week. It lasted until she said this memorable line to me: ‘You can’t afford to divorce me.’ Whenever someone tells me I’ve got no option but to do something is when I’m at my absolute worst. I pretty much always do the opposite. So I walked out the door and never came back.

That’s Daniel, my son, who I’m talking about. Yvonne remarried in 1991 and her husband adopted him and so we don’t know each other well, and that’s a genuine regret. When he was eight I got back in touch with Yvonne, and contributed financially, but she thought it would unsettle him if I came into his life again at that time. We met when he was sixteen and, though we both tried, we didn’t know each other and it didn’t work out. I wish him the best of luck with his future and I’ll always be sorry I wasn’t able to be around for him when he grew up.

Just after I’d found out Yvonne was pregnant we went on the final Biff Bang Pow! tour in France, with Momus this time. It was shit. We were playing in shoeboxes to almost nobody. I was arguing again with promoters: just incredibly, furiously angry with the world. We drank and drank and drank and by the time we’d done ten nights we abandoned it. It wasn’t fun any more. In the past touring had been an escape, a chance for me to live like the bands in a way I couldn’t back home with Yvonne. There was nothing stopping me now and what I found I craved was the comfort of my own bed. I couldn’t afford to waste time like this any more – if I wanted success in the music industry I needed to focus on the record company now. And that was the last time I went on tour as a member of a band.

Back in Brighton I made a discovery that would change Creation for ever: ecstasy. I’d started hearing about this new drug and was curious. I found a guy who could sell me six and phoned a girl I fancied and asked her to come and take them with me. It was nothing about the clubs then. We just sat on a hill.

We did one each and I felt this incredible empathy for her. I did another, and for some reason we moved to a burger bar. So I remember sitting with a coffee about six or seven at night and saying, ‘I think I’ve fallen in love with you,’ and she was the same, ‘I think I’ve fallen in love with you.’

And then I did one a few weeks later with Ed Ball, and it was the same – I’d fallen in love with Ed Ball – and it was then I realized how powerful the drug was.

Ed Ball was in many ways the soul of Creation Records, and it was around then he came to work for us. I met him in 1983 when he was in the Television Personalities. I had the first album he’d recorded as The Times, Pop Goes Art!, and I loved it. Ed was one of the most enthusiastic guys I ever met, and he came to be the engine room of belief in the idea of Creation, just as much as me. He really believed in our purpose (and so, unfortunately, he was very upset when it finished). We did so many records with him, in so many different genres. He was so talented: he made some of the most amazing acid house records as Love Corporation, then the next minute he’d be doing a death metal record with the guy from Extreme Noise Terror. But to begin with, his involvement was helping out in the office. He used to come down to Brighton to see me after everyone else had written me off, and try to convince me that there was work we needed to do, that Creation was important and that it could also be fun. I owe him enormously for that because it helped me a lot, and we came roaring back with a fantastic year in 1988 with House of Love and My Bloody Valentine. In that late period of the 1980s, and later too, he was like a blood brother to me.

Dick Green also really came into his own while I was pulling myself back together. He’d quit his job as a pensions clerk in 1987 and joined the crew signing on to the Enterprise Allowance Scheme in the office in London. I only worked from the office half-time – the rest I was doing from Brighton or wherever I happened to be. Jeff Barrett was there in the office too, doing press for us, for the House of Love. He hated the House of Love’s music but he was doing a good job on the press. It was a good atmosphere in the office then. Ed Ball would be there too, sort of answering the phone, helping do the PR, getting what needed to be done done. We all pitched in with everything – there wasn’t such a thing as a job title, unless we were taking the piss. I called myself ‘The President of Pop’ if anyone ever asked.

The House of Love just kept getting better and better live. Bickers was really challenging Chadwick by now for star of the show. We scheduled the album for the start of May and I really believed that we could make it work.

But when it came out it was disappointing yet again. Middling sales in the first week and the tour to go alongside it didn’t sell out.

What made the difference was a John Peel review in the Observer. He’d never really supported our bands before but started playing the House of Love every night on his show. ‘Destroy the Heart’ came out in June and the album started to sell really well.

In Brighton I’d begun to cheer up. I’d moved in with Bobby Gillespie’s brother Graham, and we began to run riot. We took all the drugs we could get hold of and went after every woman we could find. For the first time since I’d started Creation there was no hindrance to me living the life of the bands.

Bobby and his girlfriend Karen Parker arrived in town then, shortly followed by Andrew Innes and Robert ‘Throb’ Young. Jim Beattie stayed in Glasgow and that was the end of Primal Scream for him. That was sad – we’d all grown up together – though him leaving might have been best for the band’s musical progression. If you have a twelve-string Rickenbacker player, you have to use him, and your songs are going to be defined by that sound. Now you had Throb and Andy armed with Les Pauls, and the music changed direction, became more raucous, straight-out rock and roll, influenced by the Stooges, by MC5, New York Dolls. It was totally unfashionable dirty rock music. I didn’t know what they were hoping to achieve and it was clear to me the new direction was really unfashionable. Having said that, they were a better band live. Innes could really play and he was rocking the whole band. They went from being a fey indie band to rocking like animals. It was great fun. Innes was the real energy, and Bobby was getting off on it. There was no point me trying to step in and guide them at that point. They were finding themselves. My philosophy with Primal Scream was always to let them do what they wanted to do and see where they ended up.

I’ve always been grateful to Primal Scream for being such great friends in those Brighton days. I had been so sad and they picked me up, made me see that life could be fun again. They made me remember why I’d founded Creation in the first place. I wanted to make them famous.

Three months after the House of Love’s self-titled album came out we were selling a thousand copies a week. I was trying not to think about the inevitable but it happened in July 1988: Guy Chadwick turned round and said, ‘We’re leaving.’ I knew Guy’s ambition was too big for him to be happy with Creation now he was big enough to interest the majors. They were already beginning to circle. I didn’t do contracts so there was nothing stopping my bands from leaving Creation.

At the time I was fatalistic: ‘Big surprise – every other fucker’s left me, Jesus and Mary Chain, Yvonne – why shouldn’t you?’

But then Chadwick asked me to be the band’s manager and I cheered up (much as I’d rather have kept them on my label). They’d asked other people to manage them, I found out later, but Chadwick’s ambition had frightened them. The other candidates had thought that the size of the advance he was seeking was unrealistic and that, even if someone would give it to him, it would put too much pressure on the band.

I was as ambitious as he was. I’d helped them secure a good publishing deal for their songs that June, playing one of the interested parties off against another and getting a much better deal than they’d first offered. To be a good negotiator I think you need courage and cunning. You can’t be scared they’re going to take the money off the table, whatever they say. Don’t worry about the ones who threaten you.

Because I’d done so well for them, even when I wasn’t taking a cut, Chadwick must have wondered how good a negotiator I’d be if it was also my money I stood to gain. They decided I was the ideal man to broker a deal to the majors for them, and unlike the other potential managers they’d spoken to, I was extremely ambitious about the money they could get. The more the better! We wanted the world. Chadwick and I were beginning to be a dangerous team.

The House of Love had restored my sense of purpose. Creation’s reputation was on the up again. We were having fun with the marketing then, playing on my public persona. We did a special 99p offer for ‘Christine’ by the House of Love and ‘Hollow Hearts’ by the Weather Prophets with an advert in the NME: ‘our president still loves the kids’.

I was back on top form, out all the time, a prominent figure even if I still wasn’t doing interviews. We made lifesize cardboard cut-outs of me and sent them round the record stores before organizing a one-day festival in August, ‘Doing it for the Kids’ at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town. We put out ‘Destroy the Heart’ by House of Love to coincide and put them on as headliners. I even considered flying around the stage on wires – thank god I thought better of that.

Primal Scream played in the middle of the line-up. They’d lost a lot of their jangly indie fans with the change of direction – it was a real transition period for them. Just below House of Love we put on a band we had signed recently called My Bloody Valentine.

I had first seen My Bloody Valentine in 1987. Joe Foster had recommended them to me after a label called Lazy put out a single. I went to see them at a gig Jeff Barrett had put on and they were absolutely rubbish. They really wanted to be on Creation, Joe told me, but there was no way I was having any of it.

At the start of 1988, they’d offered Biff Bang Pow! a gig supporting them in Kent. Supporting them? I thought. Supporting them? They’re fucking anoraks. They’re like a bad Pastels. A bad Pastels; can you be a bad Pastels? Anyway, fine, I said, but we’re headlining.

That was a mistake. Kevin Shields magnanimously said, okay, we’ll go on first. And they went on and they absolutely destroyed the place. They were playing out of their skins. Dick and I were watching them and turned to each other. The power was so amazing. It was so raw. The feedback hadn’t emerged yet, and they sounded like a psychedelic Motörhead (and in fact none of their albums sound like they sounded that night). We were shocked at how good they were. So when we went on to headline Biff Bang Pow! sounded distinctly underpowered in comparison. Quite embarrassing. As soon as we got offstage we offered them a deal and they accepted.

That night at our Town and Country showcase My Bloody Valentine were incendiary, the best band on, but it was House of Love who headlined and they didn’t let themselves down at all. Professional as ever. Anthem after anthem. Terry a guitar hero, Chadwick a great singer and front man. We had found some stars who everyone in the industry now agreed could be massive. Well, such is life. Now it was time to sell them to another label.

I decided I would conduct the auction for House of Love in style and checked into a suite in the Waldorf with my new girlfriend Belinda. I meant business, I wasn’t some naive indie chancer – I was there to discuss money, and I wanted to discuss a lot of money.

Belinda was a mate of James Williamson, a friend of mine and Bobby’s who lived in Brighton. James is an entirely diabolical human being but we had great fun with him at the time. Belinda was incredibly beautiful, and James was really into her, so I was very pleased when I realized it was me she was interested in.

I didn’t normally stay at such a posh hotel but I didn’t let on when the record labels came to visit. We were having the time of our lives, doing coke and speed, drinking champagne.

They nearly all came to see us: EMI, Phonogram, Columbia, Siren, MCA . . . Graham Carpenter, who I’d worked with at Warners on the Primal Scream album, and had now gone to Polydor, was interested. No sign of Rob Dickins or Malcolm Dunbar though.

I was asking for £80,000 to start off with. That got rid of MCA. The other four kept talking. Guy Chadwick and I wanted a firm two-album deal, to make sure that if the first didn’t work for whatever reason there was a second chance.

I was there in my suite with my beautiful girlfriend while the major labels came and told me what great taste I had. It helped me put my time at Warners in perspective. The money would go up £50,000 every week. We were talking about £200,000 in the last week.

After three weeks we checked out of the Waldorf. I’d done my job there. The auction was feverish. Graham Carpenter drove down to Brighton to see me, tried to get me to promise it to him, for old times’ sakes. Well, I’ll do my best, I said.

But I’d been very impressed with Dave Bates at Phonogram and his Fontana label. He was a real music fan, and an unashamed capitalist too. He’d signed some awful shit – Def Leppard, Tears for Fears – but he’d also signed Pere Ubu and Julian Cope. He made enough money with the awful shit to give him the power to sign whoever else he wanted. He was a maverick – he didn’t toe the corporate line, said exactly what he meant, no matter how rude it was. I suppose I saw him as an example of how I could be successful without giving up on who I was. He was one of the few people I met at the majors who you could speak to like a human being. And when I said I wanted House of Love to be as big as U2 he understood exactly where I was coming from, that I didn’t care about indie values at all, whatever they are. I wanted House of Love to be massive, sell millions of records and make us all loads of money.

He offered £400,000 plus the costs of recording. Carpenter surrendered in shock. He hadn’t come close to that kind of money. But by playing on his interest I had driven the other two contenders right up.

Chadwick loved Columbia, and CBS offered nearly a million but, crucially, with the recording costs and expenses having to come out of that money. Chadwick wanted to go with it. (I hadn’t let that lunatic anywhere near the hotel by the way, just reported to him at the end of the day.) But I just didn’t like CBS as much. Bates seemed to know more about America – he had Def Leppard at number one there in the singles charts.

During this time Jeff Barrett did a really fucking cheeky thing and pretended to both the NME and Melody Maker that they were getting exclusive interviews with the band in the same week. We had two front covers in the same week! Perfect timing.

It took nearly two months to finalize the deal. There was a very high late bid from EMI but in the end we went with Dave Bates at Phonogram and his Fontana label. I’d just made £80,000 personally, and we were set to make House of Love the next big British band.

The thing we didn’t predict was that the band would go completely fucking mental.

Both Chadwick and Bickers lost their minds. Kids from military backgrounds, they’re fucking nuts when they start taking drugs. I’d have that confirmed fifteen years later when I managed Pete Doherty. The drugs drove Guy mental. While we were still negotiating the deal House of Love were on a European tour and Chadwick completely lost it, ripping all his clothes off and trashing a dressing room, winding Pete Evans up till he was chasing him round a fairground trying to kill him. Jeff Barrett was there with a Sounds journalist and had to get him to hush it up.

With Terry, it was different – there was something wrong there that couldn’t withstand the madness of touring, the pressure of recording the album and justifying that massive advance. I didn’t know what to do. People from Glasgow didn’t get depression. How would you tell if they did? I just didn’t have the vocabulary to comprehend it. Or the experience. If only I’d known then what I later came to understand.

Meanwhile, we were getting very excited about putting My Bloody Valentine on record. They were living in squats in Kentish Town at that time. Pretty sordid places, I hear. I knew enough to go nowhere near them, not that I was ever invited. The band’s line-up has always been the same: Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, Colm Ó Cíosóig and Debbie Googe. The first album was unbelievably easy to get off them. We did it in two sessions. Kevin Shields had two kinds of song then. The Jingle Jangle Pastels sounds I hadn’t really liked. And then he had what I called the weird stuff, the strange droney noise he was getting out of his guitar with the tremolo and some weird tuning. The only thing I ever did to A&R My Bloody Valentine was to ask Kevin for some more of the weird stuff. Red rag to a bull: he came back with loads more weird stuff! Isn’t Anything cost £7,000 to make. It was done in six weeks in 1988 and released in November of the same year. It went silver quite quickly and continued to sell steadily. Straight away the journalists loved it. We got a lot of credit for reinventing the band which we didn’t deserve – the truth was that they’d reinvented themselves. It looked like they were going to be big.