Alan McGee Interview

Music guru Alan McGee was dancing on the ceiling (alright, sofa) before talking to What MP3’s Gareth Mason. He came down to earth to tell us about the recent launch of Poptones...

Alan McGee is no ordinary fellow. His CV records peaks and troughs of Himalayan proportions including founding Creation Records, discovering Oasis, overcoming drug addiction, joining and walking out of New Labour’s arts task force, supporting Malcolm McLaren’s bid for the London mayoralty, and invariably, speaking his mind.

His latest re-incarnation sees him heading up a music internet company currently valued at £17 million. He lives in London with his wife who is expecting their first child in September. Born in in 1960 in Cathcart, Glasgow, he spent his first working years with British Rail before transferring to London in 1980.

Four years later, after his punk band the Laughing Apple failed to get signed, he founded Creation Records with partner Dick Green. In 1992, he sold 49 per cent of his shares to Sony before cutting ties with Creation last year. As Creation supremo, his first major success was with Primal Scream, whose album Screamadelica won the 1991 Mercury prize propelling Creation into the musical big-time. Other big signings were the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Super Furry Animals.

WHAT MP3: What have you been up to?
AM: Dancing on the fxxxing couches till five in the morning drinking five tonnes of Red Bull at NME.com and dj-ing till the same time the night before. I think we’ve just replaced cocaine with Red Bull – I don't know which is worse.
WHAT MP3: Probably Red Bull.
AM: Yeah, that’s what Liam Gallagher tells me.
WHAT MP3: On a more professional note, what do you miss, if anything, about Creation?
AM: Nothing.
WHAT MP3: Is it a weight off your mind now?
AM: I don’t care. I very rarely keep any of my old records unless I really love them – I move on. Use it once, throw it away.
WHAT MP3: Poptones is worth around £17 million now – with that kind of value from a small operation, you seem to have made a canny business move. Was that as much a question of economics as personal?
AM: I just got fed up with Sony's dictatorial attitude – I wanted to move on. It was as if I was expected to be some kind of golden goose who’s just meant to produce another superstar for Sony.
WHAT MP3: How’s the Poptones website doing?
AM: It’s been going about a week now. We've got a digital radio programme up and running and the graphics are good. It has our own inimitable way of projecting attitude and fxxx-you-ness.
WHAT MP3: Is that what is going to differentiate you from your rivals?
AM: Yes, and it looks a lot better than most other people’s sites. But I don’t think many people know it’s up yet.
WHAT MP3: Where do you see MP3 a couple of years down the line?
AM: MP3 could grow into many different things. Transferring information in digital files is an on-going process which opens up all kinds of possibilities. If you had predicted seven years ago that you and I would be discussing sending songs down the phone and saying ‘what do you think of this one’ – I think you’d be well shocked. But nobody really knows where it’s going to lead.
WHAT MP3: Can you sympathise with bands such as Metallica and the hostile stance they’ve taken to MP3?
AM: I sympathise with the fact that they are Metallica, but I don’t sympathise with what they are doing. They’ve got a cheek. I mean they’ve made millions out of their music and they are taking the piss. I mean Knapster is the Michael Jackson of this year. The reason it’s huge is because it’s popular. It's an on-going process about the evolution of music. It’s inevitable that we’re moving towards a world of encrypted music. And as for MP3.com, it’s just buying everyone off anyway.
WHAT MP3: Given its penchant for control do you think the government on this side of the Atlantic is going to take any interest in MP3?
AM: I don’t think Tony Blair knows what an MP3 file is – so I don’t think we have to worry about that.
WHAT MP3: And do you think the stranglehold of the big record companies might be broken in the digital domain?
AM: I think it’s part of an on-going process moving towards a subscription-based model and I’m sure we’ll be part of that in a few years’ time perhaps aligned with some kind of service provider, who’s probably owned by some telecommunications company from which you’ll be able to download a number of Poptones tracks for a sum of money – I think it’s good that fans can go back to buying specific songs they like without a bunch of songs you don’t want.
WHAT MP3: Can MP3 take off without the support of the big record companies?
AM: I think the big companies are missing out. There is a real space for the independent labels. At Poptones we’re happy to run it on a small-scale. There’s only about six of us at the company and I don’t really want many more than that. Rather than another huge Oasis find which gets so big it changes your whole life, I’d rather have, say, two Primal Screams. I think some variety makes things more interesting. But obviously we’re not going to run away from success – if we get the biggest group in the world we would go for them. I don’t think you can hit the jackpot twice in a row, but I do have a talent for finding bands. In reality, I don’t think you’ll get another Oasis, but it’s feasible that we might find a few fairly major bands and that’s what Poptones is about – being culturally important.
WHAT MP3: Can you imagine working with the Gallagher boys again?
AM: They’re my friends but they’ve got their own thing and you’ve got to respect them for that.
WHAT MP3: Where do you think they are going to end up?
AM: In a place wherever they want to end up.
WHAT MP3: How would you compare working with Malcolm Mclaren and New Labour?
AM: Malcolm Mclaren is a genius and Peter Mandelsson is a would-be Malcolm Mclaren.
WHAT MP3: And what about London Live since it rose from the ashes of GLR?
AM: It’s actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Musically, I think it’s still okay to be honest. That was probably me getting over-excited over very little. It’s not as good as it was but I can still listen to it.
WHAT MP3: And what about the current music scene in the UK – do you think anyone is going to fill the shoes of those who were part of the Brit-pop phenomenon?
AM: Now it’s just instant gratification shite-pop music. I think people are getting fed up with that and they will want rock’roll back soon. Long may that continue. And when I say rock n’roll – that could mean David Holmes or Primal Scream, but I don’t mean fxxxing Hooty and the Blowfish!

What MP3 1999