Alan McGee, the music label founder who signed Oasis and surfed the crest of the Britpop and acid house scenes, thinks Tony Blair will already have received a message assuring him there are no hard feelings. “He’s probably been told by a friend of mine the things I say in the film are not what I really think,” McGee says from lockdown in Wales. “I will certainly tell him when I bump into him, because that rant my character does about Blair, that is all Irvine Welsh, not me. Irvine hates Blair, but I still quite like him.”
McGee is the subject of a hectic new biopic, Creation Stories, out now on Sky Cinema, that unravels the history of the record label that made McGee rich and famous. The script, written by Welsh, is notionally based on his autobiography, but McGee is amused by how much fun the Scottish author of Trainspotting and the film’s director, Nick Moran, had with the facts: “I realised what I’d be getting was Irvine Welsh, and that’s what I got. I just let him get on with it.”
At the dawn of New Labour rule in the late 1990s, as a publicity war raged between Oasis and rival band Blur, McGee was one of a handful of notables invited to Downing Street to celebrate the new government’s cool associates. Moran’s film caricatures this moment gleefully and also shows McGee weekending at Chequers with the Blairs, where he shrinks with horror from fellow guest Sir Jimmy Savile, played by Alistair McGowan.
“That’s not true. I never knew Savile was a paedophile until 2014, although I could see he was a dodgy fucker who was creepy around my wife. Fifty per cent of this film is absolute nonsense, but I let it all go in. And anyway I get it in the neck in the film more than anyone else, so that’s fine.”
McGee says he only balked at a couple of digs at his first wife in the original script. “There were two one-liners I said they couldn’t do because I’d get slaughtered. I asked Irvine to take them out, partly because I don’t think she can really take a joke. Also it’s taken us years to get back on track, so let’s not go and blow it up now. But otherwise, I was paid some money to be a consultant on the film basically so I would shut up. And that’s fair enough.”
In one scene McGee, played by Ewen Bremner, ironically claims to hate biopics. Untrue, says McGee. “That hip-hop one about NWA, Straight Outta Compton, is good. And the new one we have here is pretty funny. It is just a representation rather than what really happened with Creation Records, but I’m not going to moan.”
Tickled as he is by Moran’s cheeky film, it does pose an odd problem. McGee will now have to defend not just the things he really did do, but also those Welsh has made up: “People are going to come up to me for the rest of my life and ask questions to do with Ewen Bremner and his performance.” Already, McGee says, interviewer Adrian Chiles has queried his apparent hatred of his grandmother after watching Creation Stories. “Well, my gran was a funny woman and she did beat me, but at the end of the day she was OK, you know?” corrects McGee.
“And that bit about me driving around on Sunset Boulevard with the posh drug addict character Jason Isaacs plays is total rubbish. I’ve never done that, although I’ve met plenty of people like that. I wouldn’t necessarily hang around with them though. But did I ever end up in a crack house in California? Of course I did. Just not quite in the way Irvine tells it.” Strangely, this satirical sequence is one of the most persuasive scenes in the film.
Some of the more sentimental screen moments, in praise of McGee’s supportive mother, also stretch the truth, according to the 60-year-old who was raised in Glasgow. “Nah, it wasn’t really like that. She was a lovely woman, of course, and I loved her, but she was not on my side. It was more than just not getting the music thing; my parents really didn’t get me.”
All the same it is possible that Welsh and Moran get closer to their film’s subject than he realises. After all, record industry reputations are built on anecdotes and tall stories. “Yeah well, you’ve only got to look on my Wikipedia page. Most of that is not true either,” says McGee, but he will not concede that the business he has worked in for 40 years is founded largely on tales of male excess.
“Maybe it was like that in the old glam rock days, when I was young, when it was more male-dominated, but when punk came along it changed all that and let a lot of women in.” McGee still counts Courtney Love as a good friend, he says.
The film salutes the way pop reinvents itself with every generation, but once again McGee suspects this is Welsh’s own romantic view peeping through. He himself is a realist, although an optimistic one. There is a chance, he feels, that a good new sound is being developed out there during the lockdown. And he’s looking around, just in case. “It makes you realise how much you’ve been missing live music,” he says. “The trouble is, youth culture is not the same any more. People are obsessed with their phones. It’s like the way steam trains are still great, but they’re not practical in 2021. I suspect the world has moved on, but I’m carrying on with it anyway.”
Adversity can prompt interesting musical moments, he admits: “Sometimes it feeds into creativity.” A case in point might be the publicity tournament staged between Oasis and Blur: “It worked particularly well for Oasis because Blur were much bigger at the time it started. Their album Park Life had sold around two million, whereas Morning Glory had sold only about half a million. But suddenly Oasis were on the news and they were mainstream too.”
It was not him but Andy Ross, the man who signed Blur, who actually set up this productive bit of band rivalry, although McGee is the one who often gets the blame. He had discovered the Gallagher brothers by chance in 1993 at a Glasgow club, and the film makes much play of a supposedly pivotal moment when McGee misses a train back to London and is left with time to kill. “The truth is I was chasing a girl. That is why I went to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut that night. I fancied someone,” says McGee.
Nowadays he credits Oasis for having the courage to break up in 2009. “A lot of bands still hang out, playing together for money. At least when Oasis fell out, they split up. You’ve got to give them that. It was incredibly honest. It’s hard for a band to split up when there is so much money riding on it.”
In the film McGee is shown as a chaotic chancer, but the real man defends his ear for music. “I don’t think I’m as talentless as I say I am in the film. Again it’s Irvine who thinks that. I have a real knack for signing successful bands, as I’ve shown again and again.” The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine were other influential groups signed and promoted by Creation in the early days.
All in all, McGee can happily live with Bremner’s portrayal. “It’s a version of me: Alan the cartoon. When I was on drugs I probably was a bit like that, but that was nearly 30 years ago. I wish I’d never taken them. It would have saved me from lots of nonsense down the years.
“Also I never would have said that being a rebel is as important as my character does. I probably would’ve said, ‘Feed your fucking kids’ instead. But I do agree I’ve always been a maverick.”