ROCK / Wonders of Creation: The record label that gave us the Jesus and Mary Chain is 10 years old. Ben Thompson meets the proud father

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The Independent Culture
ALAN McGEE - jet-setting Glasgow exile, British Rail clerk turned indie-music mogul - sits in the corner of a London brasserie, sipping a cappuccino in the refined manner of his hero, Paul Weller. His much-celebrated ginger hair is short, but his sentences are long. He talks very quickly, in rolling, fervent cadences in which the phrases 'Do you know what I mean?' and 'and all that bollocks' act as commas and colons. For a man renowned for his abrasive qualities, who has just flown back, via lunch with executives in Tokyo, from the LA earthquake zone ('It was as if someone was kicking the room'), McGee is affable in the extreme.

He has good reason to be. Creation Records, the 'Motown in leather trousers' he founded 10 years ago on a pounds 1,000 bank loan, has looked bankruptcy in the face on several occasions. But this year it has an expected turnover of pounds 8- pounds 10m, and a complex and lucrative deal with Sony has brought new and unprecedented stability. Perhaps more importantly, all this has been achieved with no dilution of the label's mystique. McGee's name used to invite comparison with charismatic British chancers, like Andrew Loog-Oldham and Joe Meek. But nowadays he's just as likely to be mentioned alongside US music industry giants, such as Seymour Stein and Ahmet Ertegun.

He finds this 'ironic'. ''I've had a few Top 20 hits in Britain, Ertegun's Atlantic had Led Zeppelin and Aretha Franklin - there is a difference.' Still, Creation has provided three of the defining moments of British rock music in the last decade: the 1984 feedback eruption of Jesus and Mary Chain's 'Upside Down', My Bloody Valentine's breathtaking 'You Made Me Realise' in 1988 and Primal Scream's euphoric Screamadelica three years later. True, for every great band there have been 10 or so which weren't so great - McGee's own band Biff Bang Pow] must sadly be numbered among them - but without the enthusiasm that often gave hope to the hopeless there would have been no space for genius to flourish.

''We've always been brilliant at the music,' McGee observes modestly, 'but we've had to learn the business part as we've gone along.' McGee's sharp eyes and ears have always been the label's greatest assets, but the time when his best discoveries had to move away from Creation in search of fame and fortune is long past. Now he is in a position to help out heroes who have hit hard times, like Husker Du's Bob Mould in 1991-92 and, currently, veteran shockabillies The Cramps. Creation's offices are still in less-than-salubrious E8, just south of London Fields, but they have expanded to take over another floor.

'We are never going to be too big,' McGee insists. 'We'll always be what the business calls a 'boutique' independent, reflecting one man's tastes.' These range 'from Lynryd Skynryd to the Orb, from Miles Davis to Willie Nelson'. Does it ever frustrate him that despite such catholic roots, the image of the classic Creation band has always been of a gang of white boys playing jangly guitars? 'It used to be that, but I don't think it is anymore. If someone knows what the classic Creation band is supposed to sound like now they'd better tell me . . .'

There was a tribe for a long time though - fey-looking young men in brown suede jackets and their small girlfriends in polka-dot dresses. 'I think we lost that Creation train-spotter kind of person in about 1990, when we started having proper hits,' McGee observes. 'I can't criticise those people at all, because they were the lifeblood of what we did for five or six years - there were probably five thousand kids around that time who would buy every record and they kept us going.'

It was Creation's long overdue and patently drug-induced embrace of dance culture in 1989-90 that eased their way into the pop mainstream. Primal Scream, led by McGee's schoolfriend Bobby Gillespie, were the key players here - and their new album, already the subject of furious debate in the music press two months prior to release, will be the key to Creation's 11th year. 'I took Bobby to his first concert,' McGee remembers, 'I was two or three years older than him and his dad wouldn't let him go to concerts.' Which concert was it? 'Thin Lizzy in 1975.'

The most striking thing about Creation, given its iconoclastic reputation, has always been its classicism. The label was named after an obscure Sixties psychedelic band, and always had its basis firmly in the Pop art of that decade. But does McGee feel that Creation's best efforts could stand next to the music that inspired them? 'Nobody knows if what they're doing will stand the test of time. I've been buying records since 1969, when I was nine years old, and I remember Exile on Main Street coming out and it got panned, and now it's revered as the ultimate Rolling Stones album. Obviously I hope that in 20 years time I'll be getting interviewed by kids asking how we made Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque, but I've gotta be honest - it's just as likely that

it'll be Gabrielle who turns out to be the totally influential one. I mean' - and this obviously still rankles - 'T-Rex were regarded as a joke . . . did you know that? That guy was the master of boogie]

'You just don't know what's going to happen,' McGee continues, 'and', he adds modestly, 'guys that run record companies are not the deciding factor; the next generation of musicians are.' And with that he pays his bill, and wanders off to find them.

(Photograph omitted)