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Sunday 24 February 2019

Music: President of Pop - indie svengali Alan McGee

Eamon Sweeney speaks to former indie svengali Alan McGee about the reality of the music scene in the 1990s

Alan McGee
Alan McGee

The music industry would be an extremely boring place without anarchic mavericks and risk takers like Alan McGee. The Glaswegian founded Creation Records, discovered Oasis and cheekily called himself the President of Pop during the whole zeitgeist defining process in the 90s.

"You could be as ridiculous as you wanted back then," McGee reminisces. "The music business is a ridiculous occupation. I was just taking the piss."

McGee is starting to regain the prominence he enjoyed during the 90s when he signed Oasis. His autobiography Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label has become an acclaimed bestseller. The film Svengali, which stars Martin Freeman and Johnny Owen, extensively features McGee playing his own inimitable self.

"I'm having a very good time at the moment," McGee says. "It's kind of weird. It's called convergence. It wasn't planned. It just happened."

In stark contrast to the hedonistic 90s, when he partied as hard as any of the talent he signed, McGee is now as clean as a whistle.

"I actually don't remember 1993, apart from signing Oasis," he admits.

The Dublin-bound mogul will speak at the imminent Youbloom conference on the invitation of Bob Geldof. McGee has huge admiration for Geldof, especially in the light of recent tragic events. "I attended Peaches Geldof's funeral," McGee says. "I am so proud of him. If I lost my daughter I really don't think I'd be able to deliver the eulogy in the way that he did.

"I'm over alcohol and drugs completely. I was only a drug addict for seven years. I'm 53 now, so I've essentially been clean for 20 years. I relapsed around 2003 and 2004, but my missus threatened to divorce me. I got the yellow card. I realised I could lose £20m, so I sobered up."

At the height of the Creation years, McGee used to borrow the Sony helicopter just to pop over to Dublin for lunch. "I'd hook up with people like BP Fallon or Craig Walker (ex Power of Dreams and current singer of Mineral) or whatever lunatic happened to be hanging around," McGee recalls.

"I saw BP at Bob's kid's funeral. He's still the man and he's still got it. He's like a little urchin and a really nice guy." Fallon and Geldof go way back, as BP worked as a publicist for The Boomtown Rats. Legend has it that Fallon posted rats preserved in formaldehyde to English journalists.

While McGee is close to Geldof and Fallon, one Irishman he famously fell out with is Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. Their career defining album Loveless is reputed to have nearly bankrupted Creation Records. However, the pair settled their differences years later during an Oasis concert in Dublin.

"Kevin (Shields) arguably made the best record of any of them," McGee says. "We're very, very different people. We've a lot of mutual friends like Bobby Gillespie. His sister Anne Marie [MBV, Sunshine HQ head and industry tutor in Dublin music college BIMM] is fantastic. As far as I'm concerned, there is zero bad blood between me and Kevin Shields."

McGee has worked with some of the most celebrated crazies in pop, but there is one famous misfit who Alan considers to be completely in a league of his own. "I found Pete Doherty to be completely unmanageable," McGee says. "If you could get him sober, I'm sure he could be fantastic."

Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis asked McGee to utilise his expertise in dealing with the unhinged to attempt to 'manage' The Libertines. Curiously, Travis doesn't come out particularly well in either McGee or Morrissey's recent autobiographies.

"Geoff set up Rough Trade Distribution, which was one of the greatest things anyone has ever done for music," McGee says.

"I might not actually like him, but I give him credit where it is due. Morrissey hates Geoff. I don't hate Geoff. I just don't like him.

"One of the reasons Geoff Travis has always turned his nose up at me is because I'm a working class Glaswegian scumbag. He's a fucking rich kid."

As a self-made man, McGee has accumulated a considerable amount of wealth. "I don't really need to work again because I've so much fucking property, but I chose to do music for love," he says.

As you can probably tell, Alan is a man with plenty to say and he certainly isn't afraid to say it. In the prologue of his memoir, he notes that members of his family tend to "check out" when they're in their 50s, something McGee attributes to the diet, weather and booze-soaked culture of Scotland, all of which he has put behind him.

It still begs the question, how would Alan like to be remembered? "That's a very good question because I was thinking about it after poor Peaches' funeral," he answers.

"If I got cancer and it was terminal, I'd just go to Dignitas (Swiss assisted dying organisation), drink the poison and die. I'd like it all to be as low-key as possible. Just my missus and my kid scattering my ashes over the river Clyde.

"That's my take on it, but what actually happens to you when you die is probably the exact opposite. Every fucker who has ever met me will probably show up."

Alan McGee delivers the keynote address at Youbloom on Friday, June 13 at the Royal College of Surgeons. Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running a Label is out in paperback on June 5.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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