Oasis to Primal Scream: Alan McGee's legendary record label

ALAN MCGEE’S record label Creation created the sounds of a generation before it folded up in 1999. It included acts like the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Oasis, as well as his oldest and best friend Bobby Gillespie’s band, Primal Scream. McGee, who was born in 1960, a year before Gillespie, grew up around the corner from him in a working-class neighbourhood in Glasgow.

Oasis to Primal Scream: Alan McGee's legendary record label

As he writes in his book, Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label, McGee couldn’t stop the bands from stressing him out, but he could always buy another gram of cocaine. If he was on a business trip to the United States and couldn’t get any coke, he’d jack up on legal speed in diet pills. The drugs might have made him mouthy, but he had the Midas touch when it came to ordaining music bands. McGee puts his self-belief, in part, down to a troubled upbringing, which imbued in him a ferocious competitiveness.

“It was so negative, it was a positive for me,” he says. “The upbringing was violent, but I don’t like to make a big deal of it because I’m sure there are guys of my age in Dublin who had as violent an upbringing. It just made me want to prove every fucker wrong.

“Also, I got ill from the domestic violence. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was about 35 but I reckon I had it for about 20 years. I remember when I was about 15, I never even went out of the house to do anything for a whole summer. I thought that was a bit weird at the time. I was really down.

“My father thought I was a loser. My teacher thought I was a loser. My father thought I was gay. I didn’t even know if I was gay or not until I was about 15 or 16 when I realised I wasn’t, but I loved Bowie so much I’d no idea if I was gay or straight.

“I remember being taken to the hospital when my father punched me and kicked me down the stairs and my head was split open. It was bleeding pretty badly. I think I was about 14. I got told by my father that if I went to the cops and reported him I’d be out of the house. But what do you do at that point? You’re 14 and told you’ll be homeless so you report it.

“My choices were: be homeless, come to London — God knows what could have happened to me — or shut my mouth and luckily it all came good for me via punk rock and music. Punk rock afforded people like me and Gillespie a way into the music business, and a way to be creative.”

Music dragged him to London where he played as a bass guitarist in a number of indie bands. The lifestyle suited him. During one tour with Biff Bang Pow! in Germany in the mid-1980s he drank a bottle of vodka a day, blacking out on one occasion while chasing a promoter around a venue until he had to lock himself in an office.

He’d started running his first club in 1982. A year later, he started Creation. By 1985, he was telling London’s music press: “I run the greatest record label in the world.” He was a master publicist, never averse to putting in an advance call to a local radio station if one of his bands was coming to town: “They’re blasphemous, you know. They incite riots. They’re coming here!” The music game didn’t, however, suit married life. His marriage in 1980 disintegrated towards the end of the decade. As he points out, three years of having Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain sleeping on their living room floor was enough to do for any marriage.

McGee describes Primal Scream’s hedonism in detail. “They did not suffer from a Calvinist work ethic,” he says. “They worked a two-day week to record Screamadelica — Wednesdays and Thursdays. The weekend was for partying while they needed Mondays and Tuesdays to recover.”

Their next album took even longer to produce. They spent two months demoing new songs at Roundhouse in Camden, an unproductive stint that became known as the “Brownhouse sessions” because all they did was smoke heroin, watch The Simpsons and record cover versions.

After he recovered from a nervous breakdown and got sober in 1994, McGee became less aggressive and more considerate. People’s attitude to him changed. They wanted to see him more than once, he half-jokes. He ended up at dinner parties at Chequers with the Blairs. It has been an extraordinary, roller- coaster ride for the self-styled “president of pop”. The success of Oasis has been his crowning glory.

“They had a drive that I’d never seen before,” he says. “They only understood one thing — more. They just wanted more of everything, at every level. Up until I met them, I always had a bigger appetite for success than any of the bands. Primal Scream realise now, as they’ve got older, that they want it, but 20-year-old Liam Gallagher and 25-year-old Noel Gallagher were up for the cup. They wanted it. Their heroes were U2.”

Is there anything negative, about that aspiration — that it can lead to a bit of whoring? “They were being honest about what they wanted. Whores are more honest than bankers. Banking might be a more respectable profession but they’re a bunch of crooks. At least whores are honest about what they do. I don’t think they were whoring it. I think they were just kids. They just wanted to be the biggest band in the world.”

* Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label by Alan McGee is published by Sidgwick & Jackson, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, €19.99

Oasis discovery sealed the legend

The Jesus and Mary Chain were the first big band Alan McGee signed to Creation Records. Bobby Gillespie, McGee’s best friend, played drums for the band for a spell, but went on to greater fame as lead singer for Primal Scream, another Scottish act in McGee’s stable.

The Mary Chain’s gigs were short and explosive (fuelled by speed, the band’s drug of choice). They often concluded after 20-minute sets, and to the clanging sound of a riot, including one notorious one at North London Polytechnic in 1985 in which one of their security guards got throttled with an iron bar.

The band dropped McGee as manager, but re-joined Creation Records after a decade adrift, only to finally split up in 1999 (a year after the release of their final album), when the battles between brothers Jim and William Reid became too much to bear: “After each tour we wanted to kill each other,” said Jim, “and after the final tour we tried.”

Primal Scream’s gargantuan appetite for partying got in the way of success in the early years. Their journey was in marked contrast to House of Love, who imploded shortly after McGee secured a mega deal with Columbia (the winner of a long auction conducted by McGee). They blew £10,000 on taxis in a matter of months.

While House of Love were on the way down, Primal Scream caught the zeitgeist in 1990 by adding a bit of acid house to their sound. Singles such as ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ captured the spirit of the rave scene that had been burning up Brighton, London and Manchester.

My Bloody Valentine’s relaxed/perfectionist approach to recording infuriated McGee, reducing him to fake tears down the phone to the band’s creative genius, Kevin Shields, who once erected a tent in the recording studio, says McGee: “to get a special guitar sound only he could hear in his mind”. McGee was proud “to squeeze” two albums out of the band in five years.

McGee knocked out hit band after hit band in the early 1990s, among them Ride, the Boo Radleys and Teenage Fan Club (who were a big hit in the United States with grunge fans, payback for McGee’s tireless, drug-addled shuttling across the Atlantic to cajole American music executives).

It was the chance discovery of Oasis, however, that sealed McGee’s legend. He was in Glasgow in May 1993 for a gig and to hang out with his sisters. There were three bands on the bill, but before they got on stage, McGee overheard some Manc accents arguing with the bouncers, trying to get a wild card entry to do a set. McGee looked over and saw Liam Gallagher for the first time: “He looked amazing. A proper, Adidassed-up mod. He had hair like a young Paul Weller. And I thought, he’s got to be the drug dealer. Because nobody in a band looks that good.”

McGee persuaded the promoter to let them on to do four songs. Once they did The Beatles’ ‘I Am the Walrus’, McGee knew he had to sign them. Three years later, the band played to 300,000 people at Knebworth.

It was around the same time that McGee signed Super Furry Animals, Creation’s last great band. McGee loved the Welsh crew’s sense of mischief and said their most famous hit (which he insisted be released as an A-side) could have been written about him: “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up