Interview: Alan McGee

I’m not interested in people being lukewarm – love or hate are the only options worth anything to me, emotionally.”

 

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Legendary music mogul Alan McGee was the head honcho of Creation Records, which brought us Oasis, Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain, but now he’s given up the rock and roll lifestyle and lives in rural Wales, studying the work of the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley. But could he be tempted back into the music biz? I spoke to him to find out more….

Sean: Hi Alan. How are you? What’s it like living in rural Wales? Have you adapted to the country life style?

Alan: It’s amazing. I live on a ley line, which runs underneath my house. I live with my family in the middle of nowhere and I love it. It’s 40 minutes to a train station – Hereford or Abergavenny. I have 11 acres, so what’s not to like about living like that? I saw The Song Remains The Same [Led Zeppelin film]. They all lived in mansions in Wales, with loads of land; so, when I got some cash I bought one! I moved here for good three years ago. I bought the place in ’96 and we used to come and use it at weekends for years.

Sean: What, if anything, is currently exciting you musically?

Alan: I like what I’ve always liked – The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Clash, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, New Order, Oasis, Primal Scream and Led Zeppelin. I just like what I like.

Sean: Do you yearn for a decent, new rock and roll band to come along, or have you given up on all that? Could you be tempted back into running a label, or managing a band?

Alan: People are trying to tempt me back at the moment – they must have remembered I sold 60 million records with the groups I signed. Maybe I will come back – I’ve had an offer from Japan and they have the cash. To be honest, it needs a kick up the fucking arse – every fucker is sedated!

Sean: Your current main interest seems to be the work of Aleister Crowley (19th century English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician and poet). What’s the appeal?

Alan: He was the ultimate libertarian. People that demonise him have never read him, or they’ve read a sentence out of context. Crowley was Malcolm McLaren before McLaren. The fact that he’s still demonised says everything – job done. The Beatles loved Crowley, as did Led Zeppelin. I started reading him because everybody told me not to, so I did. Sure enough, he was the original rock and roller. Jimmy Page loves him because he was rock and roll before rock and roll music.

Sean:  What did you think of the recent Creation documentary Upside Down?

Alan: I liked it. I had no say in the making or editing of it, but the director did a good job. What I like about it is if you love me, Joe Foster, Dick Green and Tim Abbott [fellow Creation bosses] then you love us, or if you hate us, then you hate us. I’m not interested in people being lukewarm – love or hate are the only options worth anything to me, emotionally. I enjoy them both, either way.

Sean: You’re working on your memoirs. What can we expect? Should anyone be worried?

Alan: I’m writing it with a shrink called Harry Mulligan. To be honest, I have no idea how he will get it into one book. We’re meeting the editor this week. She seems nice, but she’s got a job on her hands cutting it to fit. People shouldn’t be worried – I’m not Glenn Mulcaire!

Sean: I recently bumped into you in Sheffield, at the Smart Art Galleries, for the opening of a new exhibition of paintings by ex-Hurricane#1 front man Alex Lowe.  Alex, a former Creation act, also performed a solo acoustic set. Was it good to see him again after all those years?

Alan: He’s a great talent, isn’t he? We always got on from day one. After Creation, he wandered around the world for a bit and made some solo records. I ran into him at Heathrow a few times and found that the vibe between us was still alive. I saw his paintings, bought a couple and started to think about an art idea of 23 paintings. I asked him if he wanted to do it with me. We were good friends at Creation, but we’re probably closer now than we were then. The set he played in Sheffield was beyond my expectations, as he hadn’t played live for two years. The place was packed, his paintings are great and he nailed it. I never say anything is good, to be honest, but that night he was. He says he’s putting a band together with bassist Nick Repton, another friend, so it should be good, I hope.

 

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(Pictured: Sean Hannam, Alan McGee and Alex Lowe at the Smart Art Galleries, Sheffield)

 

Sean: You and Alex Lowe have been working on a new art project called The Aquarian Conspiracy. How did that come about and what can you tell me about it?

Alan: Just through us being mates, really. I can only work with friends. The paintings bring together occult and pagan symbols and Magikal sigils. I got into the Chaos Magickians about four years ago. It’s a long story….

Sean: Unlike a lot of other music journalists, I was a big fan of Hurricane#1  –  I championed them from the start. I still maintain they were ahead of their time. Looking back now, what are you memories of that period in Creation’s history? Wasn’t there a clash and a rivalry between Oasis and Hurricane#1, who were both signed to your label?

Alan: It was weirder than that, Sean.  Creation had 50 employees in the UK and another 50 around the world  – each band had their own camp. Hurricane#1 were great in general – Andy Bell [guitarist] and Alex Lowe were a good combination. They did well and they had five hits – two of which were in the Top 20. Weirdly, they did well in Japan. Their first album did about 100,000 copies in Japan, so I would call that successful.

Sean: Didn’t using the Hurricane#1 song Only The Strongest Will Survive on a TV advert for the Sun newspaper lose the band some credibility?

 

Alan: People were pulling off from Britpop by 1998, so Hurricane#1 suffered and we should have never done the advert, but overall, whether people like it or not, Hurricane#1 did pretty well. If we had formed the band a year earlier than we did, they would have been massive.

 

Sean: So, what does the rest of 2012 hold for you?

 

Alan: I’m off to Japan to talk to some people about forming a label. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I’m shooting a film called Kubricks. Dean Cavanagh is writing it and directing it – he’s a genius. I’m launching the art project with Alex Lowe in the summer and I’m finishing my book. I’m also working on a West End musical, with Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh. I let things come to me and decide if I want to do them, Sean. It works for me.

 

Sean: Was there ever one band you wanted to sign, but you couldn’t get? If so, who and why?

 

Alan: The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays or The Beatles.

 

 

 

  

 

 

Interview: The Long Insiders

 “Rock and roll ain’t dead – it’s a zombie that won’t go away.” 

Oxford’s ’50s throwbacks The Long Insiders, who describe their live shows as ‘sweat, grease and lipstick’, have made one of the dirtiest albums you’re likely to hear all year.  
Doing just what it says on the (petrol) tin, The Sound of Cat Gut & Engine Oil  is a revved-up, rockabilly riot of a record that’s influenced by The Cramps, Johnny Burnette, Link Wray and Dick Dale. I spoke to bequiffed guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Nick Kenny to find out what’s the secret to making good, old fashioned, primal rock and roll and why Radiohead bore the crap out of him…

 

 

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What’s the appeal of ’50s rock and roll and garage rock?

 

I think the ’50s was the height of style in so many ways. Rock and roll was still pretty embryonic back then.

If you listen to some of the early rockabilly stuff, you can hear that. From the way it was recorded, to the way people performed it, it was like it was the only thing they knew how to do. Things changed so quickly, which meant that a lot of great music went unheard by the masses. By the time it got out of America, The Beatles came along and ruined it!  

What attracted us was the primal aspect. If you are lucky enough to listen to early hillbilly and rockabilly, like Hasil Adkins or Warren Smith, well, it doesn’t get anymore primal than that – that is rock and roll. It’s all about the carnal urge and the desire to get wild. Who doesn’t want that from their rock and roll music? I think it’s a lot more fun than having some toss bag rock star selling me an Olympics ticket, or a Toyota car, or some other crap I don’t need.

 

So, do you think that rock and roll is dead? There aren’t many decent, new rock and roll bands coming through, are there? Everything’s too safe at the moment, isn’t it?

 

Rock and roll ain’t dead – it’s like a zombie that just won’t go away. I think there is a great scene out there; it’s just that it’s not mainstream, and that’s because there are generations out there that think being dangerous is bursting into tears midway through a performance on The X Factor. There are some great bands in London, like The Urban Voodoo Machine.

 

You’re from Oxford. What’s your local music scene like? Do you guys stick out like a sore thumb?

 

Well, to be fair, there is quite a scene in Oxford. Bands and promoters are mostly supportive of each other, but I suppose we do stick out like a sore thumb. There’s a lot of folky-dokey stuff going on – earnest guys in woolly jumpers, strumming acoustic guitars. Radiohead, who come from Oxford, have had a big influence on a lot of bands around here, and to be very honest, it bores the crap out of me. I never got into music to be a miserablist. Life is tough enough. I don’t mean to run Oxford down; it’s just that we have very little in common with most of the local scene. Saying that, there certainly seems to be a demand for bands like ours, as our gigs in Oxford are pretty amazing. People really dig it. At last year’s Truck Festival, they let us curate our own night in one of the tents. We booked our favourite rock and roll bands from London, along with some burlesque dancing and ourselves. You couldn’t get in the place! By the time we came on, it was six people
deep outside, so there is a demand for a band like ours, in Oxford.

Who are your favourite rock and roll artists and why? I sense The Cramps and Link Wray could be big influences on you…

The Cramps are certainly an influence. Me and my brother Simon [who plays bass in The Long Insiders] got to see them a couple of times, including their last gig in the UK. It`s so sad what happened to Lux Interior [the lead singer of garage-punk legends The Cramps, who died in 2009]. I’d love it if we could get Poison Ivy [from The Cramps] to produce our next album. Dick Dale [surf-rock guitarist] is another killer guy who means a lot to us. He’s a living miracle. We went to see him play a couple of years back, and I went home and thought about giving up playing guitar for a while!

What other sounds could we find on your record player?

We listen to a lot of old rockabilly and there are some very cool surf compilations around now. The Birth Of Surf Volumes One and Two are fantastic albums. I still listen to Sun-era Elvis a lot, too. Another influence on us is the band Suicide. They were basically electro-rockabilly – really cool stuff. We have started covering their song Ghost Rider, but in a very Long Insiders style. My brother has loads of old psychobilly stuff too, from when he first got into music. Man, there is so much music out there waiting to be heard. It’s a great journey to be on. The good thing about some of the old rockabilly stuff is how great the playing is on those records. They really knew how to do so much with very little. That’s the key to primal rock and roll.

Can you tell me how you went about making your debut album? How did you capture that primal rock and roll sound?

We recorded everything at Space Eko Studios in Fulham, London, with a really fantastic guy called Alex McGowan. It’s his studio and he totally knows his rock and roll. Space Eko is the perfect place for a band like ours, as it’s set up to record a band playing live together, which is what we did. The recording was done in a couple of days. Alex knows how to capture the good stuff  – he’s all about performance – and Space Eko has a certain sound.

 

So, what’s the secret to making a great rock and roll record?

 

Rock and roll music shouldn’t have to take too long to record. It’s music from the hip, not the head.Many bands get stuck in the studio trying to recreate their “live energy”, but we just set up and play it like it is. I think the only overdubs on the album are me on bongos, and my brother on coconuts and shaker. Honestly, there isn’t anything else.

 

How do you write the songs?

 

I like watching cool films very late at night – this usually awakens my creative brain. Or when I’m driving at night, although the cost of fuel is putting an end to that. I write most of the songs on my own, but I think my favourite ones are the ones where Sarah [Sarah Dodd – vocals and vintage dresses] has come up with some lyrics, too. I really like writing things that I feel she can convey brilliantly. Writing songs for this band is so easy and fun. Things usually start off with me and my Gretsch and a tank full of reverb.  By the time the band gets their filthy hands on it, it’s become The Long Insiders.

 

What can we expect from your live shows?

 

 Well, it`s us in all our glory. We love playing live – watching us perform helps bring out the stories in the songs. There is a lot of sweat, grease, and lipstick.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

 More gigging, hopefully some festivals, and trying to find places to sell our album. We are doing it all on our own right now, and that takes up a lot of our energy. Saying that, I’d quite like to record another album before the year is out.

What’s the most rock and roll thing you’ve ever done?

 Got up, plugged in the old Gretsch, turned up the reverb and played a dirty E chord. In the right hands, it’s devastating.

 

The Long Insiders will be headlining Quiff Paradise at Trinity Bar, Harrow, Middlesex, on June 28.

 Also on the bill are singer/songwriter Quiet Loner (playing a ’50s covers set) and Chesca Dolecka, from The Murder Barn. DJs will be spinning rock and roll, garage and surf sounds. Tickets are £5 on the door. 8pm start.

For primal, rockin’ power, visit http://www.thelonginsiders.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

Top 10 albums of 2012 so far….

This year is shaping up to be a great one for new music. It’s only May, yet I’ve already managed to come up with a list of 10 albums from 2012 that I’ve fallen in love with.

We’ve had some great psyche-rock records from veterans Richard Hawley and Paul Weller, swooning country from James Levy and The Blood Red Rose, dark, anthemic tales from Last Harbour, melancholy ballads from Crybaby, brooding electro-blues-rock from Mark Lanegan, sweet gospel-soul from Spiritualized, greasy garage from ’50s throwbacks The Long Insiders, sunshine pop from The Explorers Club and haunting, introspective sounds from Ian Webber. 

It’s been one hell of a ride. Here’s to the rest of the year. Who knows what it will have in store?

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1) Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

 

2) James Levy and The Blood Red Rose – Pray To Be Free

 

3) Crybaby – Crybaby

 

4)  Paul Weller – Sonik Kicks

 

 

 

5)  Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

 

6) Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

7) The Long Insiders – The Sound of Cat Gut & Engine Oil

 8) The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel

9) Last Harbour – Your Heart, It Carries The Sound

10) Ian Webber – Blanket Covered Morning