Alan McGee is a name that almost transcends the music industry. Arguably as famous as the Creation label he steered to global infamy, the McGee brand is a byword in speaking your mind, sticking to your guns and remaining true to the ethics that spawned you.
Returning with a new book, Creation Stories: Riots, Raves And Running A Label, and newly minted imprint 359 Music, the industry mogul is refreshed, rejuvenated and bristling with new ideas. Sitting down with Clash at a west London hotel, the conversation is free-flowing, shuffling from topic to topic like a wailing, feedback-ridden guitar.
“I don’t know how to not speak my mind,” he muses at one point. “So that’s probably why it’s so free-flowing. But I’ve never censored myself. The only people that have censored me are magazine people. I’ve never censored myself. I’m not saying I’m always right – because I’m not – but I do say what I think.”
At one point renowned for his appetite for rock ‘n’ roll debauchery, the 21st century McGee is drug and alcohol free. Residing in rural Wales, his is a private life – but not one free from difficulty.
“It’s been a busy year, it’s been a good year,” he states. “I mean, there’s been a lot of stuff happened. I got really ill, and through February, March, April I was in bed. I went to a doctor who recommended me to a Harley Street specialist, and he told me my immune system had collapsed.”
Continuing, McGee describes the experimental treatment he underwent to entirely re-boot his immune system.
“He gave me the drug and other, more obvious things, like Vitamin D and anti-cholesterol stuff. I mean f*ck me, man! I finished the book, started the record label and lost 34 pounds. Thirty four f*ckin' pounds! It’s weird that drugs have rejuvenated me, but they did rejuvenate me. The only difference is that they’re prescribed drugs rather than illicit drugs. It’s very Neo, very Matrix. You go and get a re-boot. I got the up grade! F*ck me, man! I’m up for the cup again, as Pete McLeod (359 Music signing) would say.”
A chance phone call from Cherry Red regarding a long-lost Creation royalty cheque sparked his next move.
“I was on the phone because Cherry Red told me that they owed me £166 from 33 years ago that I’d never collected,” he laughs. “I was like, aye okay whatever, but they were so diligent and honest. I was suddenly thinking... it’s just about having the idea, the difference between majors and indies is minute now. The thing is, the real problem with music is not the record companies, it’s not the magazines, it’s not the managers – it’s the apathy of the consumer to buy music.”
Signing a flurry of new acts, McGee has once again stepped in with a new idea, a fresh identity: 359 Music. Artists such as John Lennon McCullagh are commercial yet socially informed, ambitious yet aware of their roots, their background and their heritage. So what alienated them from the rest of the industry?
“I think people were scared to take a chance. I don’t really know why people are scared to take a chance, but they kind of are. Maybe because people aren’t buying new bands. I mean, I think the fact I came out with six bands in one go over three months was actually the only way I could establish 359. Outside England, 359 is perceived as very, very happening. The vibe is there. It shows you that if you make good music and you’ve got a good story and maybe a little help that people go: maybe this lot know what they’re doing. I think that’s helped.”
Of course, such rampant enthusiasm isn’t to suggest that McGee has lost his disdain for the mainstream, for the overly commercialised schlock so often forced down the public’s collective ear holes.
“I think Radio 1 is actually unlistenable. It’s shockingly unlistenable,” he says, just about reining in his rage. “I think probably the best compliment they ever paid Noel Gallagher is when they said: 'Your music isn’t suitable for Radio 1.' Thank f*ck! I mean, they’ve dumbed down culture to the point where David Guetta plays T In The Park, puts on a Rihanna record and 40,000 people go f*cking mental. I mean, I could do that. You could do that. We could all wave our hands around in the air, there’s no art to that.”
It’s a curious facet of McGee’s resurgence that while half his time has been spent on new music, the remainder has been occupied by the past. Penning his memoirs, he released Creation Stories... to widespread acclaim. However, the book’s gestation wasn’t quite as smooth as the hardback might seem on the surface.
“The book was a f*cking shambles, really,” he admits. “We started with a ghost writer and he handed in one chapter in a year. Then from that I hired my own editor, via my agent – I would mumble into a dictaphone and I would scribble bits of stories down. He synchronised it, we sent it to (publisher) Pan Macmillan out of politeness… and they went f*cking crazy and said it’s coming out at Christmas!”
“It’s done pretty well, to be honest,” he continues. “It’s not Morrissey, it’s not going to be number one at Christmas, but it’s done well. Probably a bit better than I thought. Initially, two years ago, I thought: no c*nt's gonnae want this. If I’m being perfectly honest, I think I came out at a really good time because Morrissey’s got a book out, Alex Ferguson’s got a book out and people are in the mood for outspoken people having books out. I think Ferguson’s book is righting wrongs, and so is Morrissey’s book, but my book… it’s actually not like that. If I’m righting wrongs then I’m only righting wrongs about myself.”
“I’m not putting the boot into anybody at all, I’m just saying: that happened,” he states matter-of-factly. Creation Stories... naturally dwells on classic tales from the label, but the book also reveals some harsh truths about McGee’s childhood – and his physical abuse at the hands of his father.
“I sort of almost thank him for it,” McGee explains. “I mean, it was horrible going through it, but the experiences I had when I was growing up, they made me mentally hard. I consider the music business to almost be a f*cking comedy compared to being brought up in Glasgow in 1974, 1975, when your old man kicked the shit out of you, giving you good doings to the point of you going to the hospital and getting your head stitched up. So some idiot in the music business tweeting something snide about you, I just think it’s like a f*cking kindergarten. Worry about them when they come and shoot you, man.”
Check out 359 Music signing Tess Parks below...
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Words: Robin Murray