Interview

Alan McGee: ‘We all took too many drugs, my behaviour was quite mad’

The legendary music manager is the subject of a new biopic by Irvine Welsh about his rock star-making label, Creation Records. He tells Roisin O’Connor about getting sober, Welsh’s artistic licence, and why he’s not looking to sign another Oasis

Sunday 14 March 2021 08:04
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<p>Alan McGee: ‘I was called a lightweight when I went sober’</p>

Alan McGee: ‘I was called a lightweight when I went sober’

I think the rock’n’roll lifestyle is f***ing bulls**t,” says Alan McGee, former manager of the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world. “If anybody’s into that I pity them, to be honest. There are loads of people my age – in their fifties and sixties – still caning it. That’s frightening.”

The Creation Records label co-founder, whose colourful life is the subject of a new biopic written by fellow Scotsman Irvine Welsh, is very aware he risks sounding like a hypocrite. McGee and several of the rock bands he managed were notorious in the late Eighties and early Nineties for their drug and alcohol-fuelled antics. But McGee gave it all up aged 32 – with one exception. He was prescribed Valium for anxiety after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1994 (“they used to hand them out like sweeties”) and only managed to ditch it a few years ago. Oasis were cool with McGee going sober, but Primal Scream were less impressed. “We all took too many drugs, and I accept that my behaviour was quite mad,” the now-60-year-old tells me over Zoom from his home in London. “[Primal Scream] were the ones who were f***ing crazy, like properly off their nut. They called me a lightweight because I sobered up. It was terrible.”

He’s in a much healthier place now, both physically and mentally, and says he’s lost nearly three stone after getting into walking during the pandemic. As you’d expect from someone who spent the better part of a decade ingesting all the amphetamines he could get his hands on, though, he lives with the consequences every day. Would have he done anything differently? No, he insists, but then adds: “I look back on it and think, ‘I shouldn’t really have done the drugs, if I’m honest.’”

Creation Stories – based on the 2013 autobiography of the same name and directed by Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels actor Nick Moran – jumps between a rich-and-famous McGee (Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner) as he’s interviewed by an eager young journalist in LA, and the 20-something punk fan who ended up co-founding one of the most successful independent record labels of all time. There’s a hefty level of artistic licence that’s been taken, which McGee says he doesn’t mind too much, because Welsh is one of his heroes.

“Tony [Wilson] and the other Factory Records lot struggled with [Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 biopic] 24 Hour Party People,” he says. “I worked out really early that this is just Irvine’s version of my life. Once you get your head round it, that it’s not real, then it’s fine.” He says the film is “50 per cent true, 50 per cent f***ing bollocks”, but “you’ve got to let Irvine Welsh be Irvine Welsh, because the guy’s a genius”. Probably the most glaring deviation from fact is the ending (also the film’s cheesiest moment), which (spoiler alert) shows an adult McGee visiting his abusive father for the first time in years, and discovering him sat on the sofa wearing headphones, belting it out to Oasis. “I haven't spoken to my Dad in 20 years,” McGee says, “and [Welsh] has got me going off into the sunset with him… he probably would have belted me over the head with that Oasis record.”

Ewen Bremner as Alan McGee in ‘Creation Stories’

Born in East Kilbride in 1960 and raised in a violent Glasgow household, McGee was 19 when he jumped on a train to London with his mate and fellow punk-rock fan Andrew Innes. There, they formed the band The Laughing Apples, releasing three singles (one under their own label, Essential Records) over two years. Around the same time the band split in 1983, McGee quit his job as a ticket inspector at British Rail and co-founded Creation Records with Dick Green and Joe Foster. Guitarist Innes would go on to join Primal Scream with their old school friend, Bobby Gillespie.

McGee was, in his own words, “a f***ing chancer”, but laughs off the pivotal “twist of fate” moment in the film where he supposedly discovers Oasis after missing his train back from Glasgow to London. “I was chasing a girl,” he exclaims. “I was chasing Debbie Turner.” Turner, the lead singer of the band Sister Lovers, became friends with McGee after meeting him at the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. Back in 1993, she was playing her first gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow. McGee thought it would be funny if he turned up unannounced, as did Oasis, who demanded to play despite not being booked. McGee then intervened in a bust-up with the bouncers and convinced the promoter to let them play four songs. After they were finished, McGee marched over and offered to sign them on the spot. By then, Creation Records already had a reputation with growing successful rock acts including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine. Noel Gallagher said yes.

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“Around that time, none of the record companies were trying to sign a mainstream rock’n’roll band,” McGee says. “They were looking for really arty music – it was like they wanted to outdo each other on the level of pretentiousness of the bands they were signing. And then I came along and just signed this band that f***ing blew up, and then suddenly everybody's trying to sign rock’n’roll bands.” McGee says he wasn’t even thinking about what the public might like, when he signed Oasis: “I was just plugging into my own record collection.”

McGee onstage with Oasis at the Brit Awards, 1996

He still chats to Noel, but hasn’t seen Liam in years. “I basically get on alright with everybody, I think.” Last year, Liam threatened to slap McGee over a comment he apparently made in Daniel Rachel’s Britpop book, Don’t Look Back in Anger, which claimed Damon Albarn sleeping with Liam’s then girlfriend was the incident that really sparked the infamous Blur v Oasis feud. Liam denied that was the case, then tweeted: “And as for you McGee you f***ing wasp keep your f***ing mouth shut about me or you’ll get slapped.” “He never really told me what that was about,” McGee shrugs, “but two days later he went, ‘I love Alan, I love McGee’, so f*** knows. I don’t know what it was about to be honest.” He doesn’t see any of Liam’s regular outbursts, because he’s not on Twitter. “Both my kids are on there, but I don't see the point of it. It really just legitimises people being c***s to each other.” His daughter was studying at Manchester University when her entire halls of residence suffered a Covid-19 outbreak. “She wouldn’t talk about it at first and then I said, ‘How did you deal with it?’ She said, ‘Dad, we just partied the way through it.’”

A long-time Tony Blair supporter, McGee says the state of politics in the UK was “terrible” even before coronavirus threw the UK government into an even bigger pandemonium. “I f***ing hate the Tories,” he says, but adds: “Deep down I’m Labour, but it's hard to be Labour at the moment because they're so ineffectual.” Party leader Keir Starmer, he claims, is “a f***ing limp penis” for all the impact he has – “he’s f***ing useless, man”. He wasn’t a fan of Jeremy Corbyn, either. “I think the last time [the party was] really good was with the New Labour thing, they wanted to win,” he says. “Now they just want to be ideologically correct. Rather than getting power and trying to give the working class a say.”

McGee thinks we should get out of the pandemic before worrying again about the “f***ing disaster” that is Brexit. Right now, he’s living in his own little bubble, signing bands he likes and trying to help them release music on his new label, Creation 23. He seems to have willingly distanced himself from the mainstream industry – this film is the most high-profile project he’s worked on in a long time – but believes it’s still full of the same old characters. To this day, he receives pitches from managers and promoters claiming to have discovered “the next Oasis”. “I don’t even click on their music,” he says, laughing. “Because why would I want to go and do that again?”

Creation Stories is out on Sky Cinema on 20 March

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