When it comes to British Music folklore; there are certain eras, styles, and names that are still obsessed over on a mass scale to this very day. They are obsessions that people have based their whole lives around.
In a nutshell, it’s pop culture. To many it’s much more than this.
Whether it’s the reason that someone works a certain job (or walked out of said job), dresses a certain way, drinks in certain bars (or doesn’t drink anymore), found the meaning to their life, or pissed it all up the wall – the cultures that they follow and the artists within them will most likely play a part.
These cultures in question are thanks to the work of a select group of, for want of a better word, pioneers, over history; who mix their unwavering passion for creativity and freedom with a ‘right place right time’ stroke of luck, and build something that will truly stand the test of time, inspiring millions as they go.
One man who it’s fair to say has done his bit in this area is Mr Alan McGee. A major ambassador of British music over the past four decades. There could be a whole other article in itself name-dropping the groundbreaking artists he has championed, mainly from the helm of legendary label ‘Creation Records’ – but to note a few, he has been instrumental in the careers of Primal Scream, The Libertines, My Bloody Valentine as well as a couple of brothers from Burnage – forgetting their name now.
Alan’s got a film out about him next month. Available on Sky Cinema from March 20th, it’s a feature length adaptation of his acclaimed biography of the same name ‘Creation Stories’.
He is played by Trainspotting star Ewan Bremner, with the film also featuring Suki Waterhouse, Jason Isaacs, Paul Kaye, Thomas Turgoose, Jason Flemyng and Ed Byrne.
While there is brilliant acting talent on screen, it’s the residents in the writers room that raises the most eyebrows. McGee was a consultant on the film, but when I asked about the level of his input, he responds…
“When you get Irvine Welsh to write it, Nick Moran to direct it and Danny Boyle to produce it, you just gotta go: ‘you know what, just fucking go and make this film.’ You can’t be telling brilliant people like that what to do.”
The question ‘Who would you have playing as you in a film of your life?’ was made into reality for Alan upon visiting the film set:
“When I went down, and Ewan Bremner was standing there dressed as me in 1986, that weirded me out. But after that it was fine. I’m not as posh as Ewan, he’s a posh guy from Edinburgh and I’m a scumbag fae Glasgow! So he didn’t even sound like me, but what can you do? It’s Hollywood.”
In the film snippet that has been released so far, it’s clear that the reunion of Trainspotting partnership Welsh & Boyle has seen their trademark absurd grittiness injected into the film. They’ve had fun with the storyline and told their own renditions of the truth.
“It’s not factually correct, a lot of stuff didn’t happen like the way it’s made, but it doesn’t really matter. It just is what it is – Irvine Welsh’s take on my life. If you wanna know my version of it, buy the book ‘Creation Stories’!”
The film follows his antics within the label, which – to borrow the quote off Creation rockumentary ‘Upside Down’ – was notorious for investing in ‘the people – outsiders, chancers, lunatics, misfits, drug addicts and sociopaths.’
While the film reminisces in the labels heyday, Alan’s definitely not stuck in the past. Here in 2021 he has a new label, ‘It’s Creation Baby’, where he is investing in the new generation of talent and hoping to carry his work into new successes under the same ethics and beliefs that the Creation name was born under some 38 years ago. Artists on the label range from indie to post-punk to electronica, and are all there under his nod of approval. Business plans aside, it’s the music of these artists above all that is ever the priority.
“We’re successful on the level that I like it, and that to me is true success. I enjoy doing what I do.”
I sat down with Alan for more background, and so our interview began by discussing London in the early 80s:
In 1983 you started up your band Biff Bang Pow as well as Creation Records in the same year. Was this so they’d coincide with each other and you’d have a label to go with your band?
I came to London in 1980 when I was 19 and had a club called The Living Room, and from the money that I made from that, I started putting out records. I knew that my band was never gonna make it, I was just doing it to join in and have a laugh really. It was a bit more serious than a laugh, because we tried making the best records possible, but we weren’t deluded in the level that we thought we’d be. We were having a good time doing it.
We put out one record – ‘The Legend’ which was CRE 001, but it wasn’t good. It sounds mad to say this but it probably did us a favour to put out a really bad record, because it meant that we had to get better. Most people start great and go shit, we were the other way round.
By January ‘84 the Creation label had put out four singles – Biff Bang Pow, The Revolving Paint Dream, The Pastels and The Jasmine Minks. That was the beginning of Creation.
I picked up a bit of Robert Smith and The Cure in the sound of Biff Bang Pow.
That must have been on ‘Loves Gone Out of Fashion’. The real truth is, we were just influenced by the 60’s, TV personalities, and The Creation (band) as well as all the punk stuff.
So your taste and ethos revolved around the punk/new wave of that time.
It still does.
You carried this ethos over to your label too, where the music always came first for the artists. In saying that would you say that Creation had a good balance of artistic value and profits on the whole?
We didn’t make any profits in the day. It took us 10 years to make any money. I was funding it from the management company and putting it into the label – it was just my passion to be honest.
But then once you did start making profit and the label gained more financial structure, did you ever feel it necessary to push artists to be more commercial?
No, we never did anything like that. We tried to stop people from blowing themselves up. When I say that I mean destroying themselves, not making themselves superstars. There was a lot of nihilistic behaviour. Drugs were a given, but it was more career wise that we tried to sort out.
Are there examples of any of your bands that were too experimental and you thought ‘fucking hell that’s not gonna work’, sales wise?
Not really, if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have put it out. It was all just my taste. I went into rehab in 94, and came out in 95 – Oasis were number 1 at this point. Because I’d come out of rehab I was a bit weak, and I let other people on the label sign bands which I probably shouldn’t have let happen.
The last five years of Creation were a bit diluted because of this, but the first ten were 100% my taste. Without being arrogant, none of them were like me.
You’ve admitted in the past that you thought Oasis were “probably good for a one album deal.”
I’m not saying I admitted anything, I’m just saying I didn’t think they were gonna sell 65 million albums for me. Like a lot of bands I thought they were maybe going to be big for one album then fall off a bit on their second album. I didn’t know they were a career band, I knew they were a good band – good enough to sign, but I thought they were going to have their moment and then go away. Pretty soon after getting involved with them I realised they were a serious band.
At first you wanted to latch onto The Stone Roses crowd ahead of their second album?
Yeah, Stone Roses had just been in the studio and I was trying to nick in and put Definitely Maybe out before them.
Did you ever make these tactics known to the band or was that something you kept to yourself?
I might have told Noel as it was developing, but initially I don’t think that would have been my pitch.
I was wondering how they might have responded to that.
They would have taken it because nobody else in the world was interested at that point.
They then went on to play a huge role in the BritPop movement. Creation was always at the forefront of these movements, with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless pioneering Shoegaze, and Primal Scream with the acid house/rock n roll blend on Screamadelica.
It’s up to the artist to create this groundbreaking music, but just how much is the label and the team around that musician paramount in creating this big new thing?
We’re not involved in the music side of it at all, we bring these musicians in and hope they know what they’re fucking doing. We were just a good platform, if that’s what you wanna call it, for Primals and Valentines and Oasis to exist.
You’re carrying all of this over into the present day with your new label ‘It’s Creation Baby’. What I wanted to know is how’ve you adapted as a label to maximise success in the present day challenges of digital media and streaming?
We’re learning like everybody else, I’m not saying I understand streaming and Spotify, because I don’t. I do okay at it, but I’m not a master at that.
We’re not really a successful label anymore, we just put records out. We’re successful on the level that I like it, and that to me is true success. I enjoy doing what I do.
We’re not commercially successful like in the 90’s where we’d bring in 40 million a year, but it’s fine. If it’s meant to come around again and we become a massive label then it’ll happen. I’d love to think that it would happen, but I’m just putting it out because I want to do it. It’s really a self obsessed thing.
Another thing is DIY ethic today. A lot of artists feel that they can get by independently without a record label.
What are the present day benefits of being on a label?
I think that people come to me for branding mainly. Maybe they just wanna say they’re on Creation because of its history. Whether that is Creation in the 90’s, or It’s Creation Baby in 2021.
Would you say that modern day advancements make it easier or harder for artists these days?
It’s harder. The market is all so saturated. The great thing about DIY is that everyone can do it, the bad thing is that everyone is doing it. There’s so many bands on the second step of 25 steps to the moon. It’s difficult getting off the second step, do you know what I mean?
Of course another thing making it seriously tough for everyone in the industry is Covid. What do you foresee within a post lockdown music industry? A lot of people are predicting an explosion of art, similarly to the 90’s in a way.
Well, there won’t be as many venues. Hopefully, socially distanced gigs will go away soon, but I’m not even thinking about it. It’s difficult to make sense out of anything because of the tories. 6 weeks ago they were telling everyone that we were out of it, and now there’s restrictions until September. I don’t know. You’d have to think that young people will express it through music.
One positive is that it might have served as an ideal situation for artists to be locked away for so long to focus on work.
I agree with you. I used to get people saying “I don’t have any songs…” I mean if you don’t have any songs after a year in lockdown, what were you doing?
I suppose at the moment, we’re just trying to get through it. It’s more like the second world war than the 90’s in a real way. A lot of people don’t have anything and are just trying to get through it.
Going back to the film, it captures the excess of the 90’s in its heyday, with producer Nick Moran describing it as ‘the last great days of rock n roll’, and with you being sober since 2005, do you think the whole ‘sex drugs rock n roll’ thing seems quite tired these days?
I’m sober since 1994 with drugs and 2005 with booze, so I would agree. If I was 60 years old and getting on the crack pipe you’d get a bit worried about me, know what I mean? I don’t really have any take on what young people get up to, because I’m an old guy. I go to bed at half past 9 at night. I mean, I got bored with all that shit in 1994, but people are gonna do what they’re gonna do.
To finish, outside of Creation Records, what album do you wish had gone out under you? Whether that’s because of good sales or generally because you thought it was great.
One of the older records from before the time – Ziggy Stardust.
‘Creation Stories’ is available on Sky Cinema from March 20th.
Hear a playlist of ‘It’s Creation Baby’ artists below: