Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 8. LOADED
You could make an argument that My Bloody Valentine were the most influential of all the Creation bands. I’m sure Oasis and Primal Scream would have something to say, but you could still make the argument. We certainly saw a lot of bands who’d been influenced by Isn’t Anything. The most successful of these we signed was Ride.
They were just kids. Teenagers at art college in Oxford. I’d first heard them in 1989, in the middle of my acid house obsession. This had manifested itself for a while in me managing the Grid, who had signed a major label deal with Warners with a guy called Cally Calloman. I was round his office and he played me a tape of a band called Ride he was thinking of signing. Very trusting of him. I was nodding non-committally. They’re not that bad, I suppose.
But really I’d loved what I heard. It was a Creation band through and through, influenced by Valentines and House of Love but younger sounding, more romantic I guess. I left the office and got straight on the phone to them. They didn’t sound like a major label band to me – I thought they wouldn’t get through the bullshit, the marketing people’s distrust. I hoped Cally would have trouble getting Rob Dickins and Malcolm Dunbar onside. He really wanted to sign them but was having to do it almost secretly, funding a recording and an EP through an indie label to keep the music press sweet and because his bosses wouldn’t take the risk of signing them properly.
They weren’t signed so there was nothing to stop me from talking to them. They came to a meeting with me and didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. The Glasgow accent’s a problem for middle-class bands from the South. But they were big fans of the label. They didn’t want to be hustled into a deal, they were wary, so we just talked about the music. Other labels were scaring them, but they liked my attitude. My unprofessionalism, I guess! It wasn’t always such a bad thing.
I followed them around on tour for the next two weeks, all around the country, went to every gig. They were supporting my mates the Soup Dragons. They were great. Mark Gardener was an amazing front man, Andy Bell a great guitarist. I loved the drummer Loz Colbert. I wasn’t so keen on the bass player. He was one of those guys who read the NME back to front every week and thought he knew everything about the cynical practices of the music industry. He was an idealist. They all purported to be idealists, but the other three were really more interested in being rock and roll stars. They were at all the Creation parties, surrounded by women.
I took them to see the House of Love. We were having a good time. I thought it was Mark’s band then. We used to go out and do Es together. He was the spokesman and seemed to be the leader. We assumed he wrote all the songs and he never corrected us so we took that as the case. And then they signed with us.
We released their first EP Ride in January 1990 and it took off straight away. (It was actually the recording Cally Calloman had paid for but didn’t own; he never spoke to me again.) We sold out in three days and the music press went wild for them. Seymour Stein, who was a legend, appeared at the end of January to watch them play. The list of his bands was incredible: he’d put out British bands like the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen; and his American acts went from the Ramones to Blondie to Talking Heads and even Madonna on his label Sire. I’d met Seymour back in 1986 in Cannes when I was hanging out with my friend Luc Vergier, who was a music promoter then and later went to work for Sony. When I’d been introduced to Seymour then he was a bit rude to me – ‘Ah, the new Brian Epstein,’ he said, and he must have been taking the piss. I didn’t realize that was his style, that from him it was a compliment. So when he tried to sign My Bloody Valentine I refused for a year as a matter of principle. I told him to fuck off fifty times before he wore me down. Classic Creation: he was trying to give me money and I was more interested in winning an argument he wasn’t even having with me. My Bloody Valentine were the first band he signed from us; the next was Primal Scream. Selling bands to him and other labels in America was the way that we survived financially for a couple of years. But I didn’t have a deal in place for world rights for Ride. Part of the way I’d managed to sign them at all was by not being pushy, so I couldn’t do anything when Seymour Stein and his A&R man Joe McEwen offered the band a direct deal for America on Sire. Joe McEwen had really reinvigorated Sire. They’d had the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen but no big bands for a while and Joe signed Dinosaur Jr, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and (annoyingly) Ride.
Despite all the excitement around Ride at the beginning of 1990 I still hadn’t given up on my ambition to put out a brilliant dance record on Creation. Ed Ball was busy knocking out dance records, and had a bit of success with Danny Rampling remixing a tune called ‘Palatial’. But it was ‘Loaded’ that was really beginning to cause a stir, and we ended up having to switch it to the A-side and demote the original song ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ to the B-side. That was the moment everything changed, when the crossfader got flicked and Primal Scream became Screamadelica.
Everyone from the NME to The Face was mad for the song. The calls started to flood in to Laurence Verfaillie, who’d taken over Jeff Barrett’s job. She was Jim Reid’s girlfriend. She showed up the very first time they ever played Paris. On that night we’d only had ten places on the guest list and she barged her way to the top of the queue to order me to put her on. I thought she was German at first, she was screaming and shouting at me, ‘I must be on zee guest list now! You imbecile man!’ I thought: You’re turning me on, I’m putting you on the list. And she got together with Jim that night. She was so pushy, just what you needed for a publicist, I thought. We always employed people on their personalities rather than their experience.
Bobby Gillespie started doing his interview routine, slagging off all the shit bands of the moment. Radio 1 playlisted the single. It hit the Top 40, in at 32, then 24, then it became our first Top 20 hit when it reached 16. They were booked for Top of the Pops. I’d had bands I’d managed on Top of the Pops before, the Jesus and Mary Chain and House of Love, but never for a record released by Creation.
Of all the successes Creation ever had, ‘Loaded’ was the one I enjoyed the most. House of Love had had a Top 20 hit, but that wasn’t Creation. House of Love weren’t Primal Scream, my best friends, and the band everyone had been telling me for years would never amount to anything. We’d worked for so long for this and it had happened. They’d gone from a joke to the hippest band in the land. It seemed like a number one, it was such a big record. One of those records you heard everywhere, that defines the era. I wanted to run around the streets jumping up and down. I wanted to march into Malcolm Dunbar’s office with Bobby and dance on his table together. I wanted to get loaded, and have a party. Go way baby, let’s go!
I set Ride up as House of Love’s support band for three nights in Europe in April – I always managed to set them up with Creation acts as support. Ride’s second EP was about to come out and Chadwick was scared stiff of them, hanging around by the mixing desk trying to turn their sound down. Ride were playing out of their skins, with pure euphoria, whereas the House of Love were now very paranoid and nervous and missed the dynamic presence of Bickers. I didn’t help their nerves by constantly buying champagne.
‘What’s the celebration?’ Guy would ask eagerly.
‘Primal Scream are at number 16,’ I’d say, and watch his face fall.
The major label pressure was destroying any harmony within the band. Their new single ‘Beatles and the Stones’ was coming out in about a dozen formats to try and rig the charts and Dave Bates wanted them to film a big budget MTV-friendly video in LA. All of the band except Chadwick refused to be in it. In the end Dave Bates forced them to do it. It never got played on MTV. The single only made the Top 40 for a week. ‘Play’ by Ride went in at 32, with almost no marketing spend. It was looking really bad for the House of Love. But at Creation we had never had it so good. I thought of Tony Wilson telling me not to quit, to do my own thing. This was what I was good at, I realized now. It was the best time of my career so far. Suddenly we had hit records. I wanted more of them.
It’s an amusing myth that waiting for My Bloody Valentine to deliver their second album Loveless turned Dick Green’s hair grey. The other myth, less amusing, is that all our houses were put on the line. Well, not quite, but very close.
No one really knows what went wrong between Isn’t Anything and Loveless. Maybe Kevin Shields was smoking a lot. Perhaps it was the weed that sent him mad. Who knows? How could we tell if someone had a drug problem? We all had drug problems and so we normalized and excused each other’s behaviour. Everyone dealt with their drug abuse in a different way. The Primals took drugs in a really obvious, Rolling Stones-madness way – champagne and cocaine and heroin. Maybe My Bloody Valentine did it quietly and internalized it all. You didn’t see the signs – you just didn’t see the second album.
A year earlier, at the start of 1989, we’d been keen to see some progress but Kevin wasn’t letting us near the studios the band were recording in, and the sessions were dragging on. They spent six weeks in one studio just recording drums! They were still at it in October.
So by the start of February 1990 Dick Green and I had pretty much no idea what they’d been doing for the last year. They wouldn’t let us hear anything. I had to beg Kevin and, eventually, in one of the twenty-one studios he ended up using, he let me hear one song. If he hadn’t I would have been close to pulling the plug on the recordings – the cost was creeping up and up. It was a clever move because the song was ‘Soon’ and I absolutely loved it. It was the Stooges meets the Mondays. The beat was amazing, the guitars were amazing. It was perfect for the moment too, an obvious single. From then he had me hooked.
We managed to get more tracks and released them as the Glider EP in April 1990. It was so hard getting even this out of him. Shields insisted on moving studios every week. Nothing was ever right for him. He was getting paranoid, lost in his head. He insisted on recording all night long, always overnight. Which limited the options for engineers slightly.
Glider was amazing – blew everyone away. But we needed the album. We were spending what was beginning to be a fortune on it. Money we just didn’t have. We were always ambitious and so any profits got swallowed with recording cost and promotions, and we were always on the verge of going bust.
My sisters and I found out my mother’s cancer was terminal two weeks before she died. Mum wanted to believe she was getting better and somehow that was the impression we had too.
While she was ill I’d been seeing her every couple of months, like I normally would. I wish I’d spent more time there with her. I didn’t realize how little time there was left, but it was my own fault I didn’t go back more then. I was so busy with the label and taking drugs that the time slipped away without me noticing.
I found out she was about to die imminently in the middle of a Lilac Time tour. I was managing them for Dave Bates (who thought I’d done a good job with House of Love now the record was selling well). I had been due to go up in a couple of days, but I told their singer and songwriter Stephen Duffy I had to go immediately and headed off. I was in Birmingham and I’d got as far as York before I answered a call on my mobile, one of the first ones, for which everyone (correctly) used to give me abuse and call me a champagne Charlie when I whipped it out.
It was Dick Green on the phone. He told me my mother had just died. I’d missed her by two hours.
My sisters saw it all first hand. They said it was horrible to see her go. They both had a hard time for a few years afterwards coming to terms with it.
I arrived in Glasgow and a minister came round to talk to us. He said a lot of clichéd Christian things I didn’t believe in and that really annoyed me, that seemed really false. My dad was trying to keep it together. My gran was heartbroken to have lost her daughter. After a couple of days I went back to London but returned soon for the funeral, with Ed Ball and Belinda.
I couldn’t grieve at the time. I felt really disconnected. It hit me hardest when I got sober in 1994. The amount of drugs I was taking until then stalled the process and distanced the grief.
There was a notice in the paper about the church funeral. Someone must have read that notice and realized our house would be empty, because when we returned for the wake the house had been burgled. They stole my mum’s jewellery, the stereo, nothing of much financial value. It was probably a desperate junkie, and it’s a good job he didn’t get caught. It was a big crowd at the funeral and there was a dark element to my family. The thief would never have made it to prison. He’d have been showing up in tins of dog food.
It was a tragedy Mum died so young. If only she’d had a few more years and could have seen the rest of the 1990s. She would have loved Kate. She would have loved my daughter Charlie. She’d have loved the fact that I had it away and sold millions of records. I could have bought her her own big house. She never got to see any of that.
Or who knows? Maybe she was sitting next to me the whole time. The only thing you know is that you don’t know.
Over the next few months, if I started to feel pain over the loss of my mum, I distracted myself by working hard and by the frantic life I’d always lived. It was work and drugs separated by sleep and not so much of that, and it had been like that for years by then.
That year I ended our relationship with Rough Trade and signed with their main rival Pinnacle. We were about to be out of contract with Rough Trade and in typical Rough Trade fashion they used that as an opportunity to try to raise the percentage they charged us.
I’d always hated Rough Trade’s attitude, their indie values which just seemed like hypocrisy to me. I liked Pinnacle for not indulging in any of that bollocks and for treating it honestly as a business about making money. They were really keen to sign us, particularly as George Kimpton, Steve Mason’s old partner at Pinnacle, had now taken over Rough Trade. We played them off against each other until they were both offering ridiculously good deals, down from 28 to 12 per cent. That was incredibly low, no one had a percentage deal like that. But for years I had felt that Rough Trade hadn’t given us the respect we deserved. It wasn’t a problem with Geoff Travis, it was a company-wide thing. They still treated us like we were chancers. Now they were desperate to show us how much they wanted us but they’d left it too late. We signed with Pinnacle and I bought a lot of bottles of champagne that day.
We’d never had a formal contract with Primal Scream but after having lost out on Ride in the US I thought it was about time we did. We formally signed them for £15,000 and waited to hear the next Weatherall collaboration, ‘Come Together’. It wasn’t an easy record to get right. It came close to breaking up the band at points. We were doing two mixes of it, a Weatherall one and a Terry Farley one. The Weatherall one was superb. But one big problem. He’d taken Bobby’s vocals off it completely. They didn’t fit with what he’d done, an epic house track. Bobby understood what a phenomenal song the Weatherall mix was but felt totally redundant. Robert Young had walked out too because his guitars had been taken off. Both of them were thinking there was no point in them being there if they weren’t on any of the records. We knew we were going to have a problem with Robert Young. Throb got into ecstasy and acid house around summer 1990 when the scene was pretty much over. Before that he wanted Primal Scream to be the New York Dolls and was threatening to leave all the way through the making of Screamadelica. Funnily enough, if Throb had left, it would have been a disaster for the album. If Throb hadn’t been resistant to the new direction, I think Bobby and Andrew would have taken their experimentalism too far. I think Throb reined that in, kept the link with the band’s past and future as a rock and roll band.
But we were more concerned about Bobby than about Throb. To everyone in the world, Bobby Gillespie is Primal Scream. His vision for that band is absolutely essential to it being what it is.
Then to compound the situation, Farley’s vocal mix wasn’t working and he sent a new version that didn’t have Bobby on it at all! Bobby heard it and was really pissed off. It wasn’t a good mix anyway. The band had written a great pop song with a brilliant melody, and we had to have it in one version or what was the point? So I phoned Farley and threatened him. I told him to put Bobby back on the mix or he wasn’t getting paid. I kept on at him until he got it right and to his credit he pulled off an amazing mix, great percussion, piano high in the mix, gospel singers dropping out for Bobby to sing clear over the top of it, completely blissed out. (There might even be a little bit of Throb’s guitar at the very end of it. The band certainly made it up to him with the next album, anyway.) I actually prefer the Farley mix to the Weatherall one. Weatherall’s version is great but here’s no hint of the original melody left there.
Bobby was strutting after that. Front cover of the NME, head to toe in white, like there had never been an issue. We had the two bands of the moment. We were becoming the hippest label in the UK. We hit the Top 30 with ‘Come Together’ in the summer. A bit disappointing, but it was time to build an album around those two singles now.