On a hot north London afternoon, three incarnations of Alan McGee are sitting a few feet from each other.
One is him around 17 years old, dressed in a large collared shirt and gray flares, and about to have the Sex Pistols transform his world. Another version, played by Scottish actor Ewen Bremner, better known as Spud from Trainspotting, today represents his 20 years and suggests a long-lost member of Velvet Underground, wearing a Breton shirt, leather jacket, sunglasses and the appearance of someone who could do with a little sleep.
The third is real. The 60-year-old is making one of his occasional visits to the set of Creation Stories, the film (very) loosely based on his 2013 autobiography of the same name, which tells the story of both his life and that of the independent label. He co-founded in 1983 and then drove through a roller coaster for 16 years working with Oasis, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and more.
The coronavirus and the lockdown, which will mean Creation Stories will be released via television instead of theaters, is still nine months away. Sitting in a folding chair amid cables and cameras, McGee talks about watching the film’s progress unfold with an air of wry amusement. In the house we’re sitting outside, the bedrooms have become three of the key places in his life: his family’s Glasgow living room, his teenage bedroom, and a small-scale model of the final offices of Creation Records in Primrose Hill. , North London. “Everything is psychedelic,” he tells me. “I only come here once in a while, for an hour or two. But when I was depressed last Tuesday, seeing what Ewen was doing, I was seeing this guy being me. become I.”
Bremner, whose channeling into McGee’s character is truly amazing, says he knew “next to nothing” about McGee and Creation before taking on the role. “We have spent quite a bit of time together since then. And he has been very open, I know he can choose his enemies, but he has been very good to me. Some of the producers joined our first meeting and were a little nervous about whether or not he would accept me. So I was a bit cautious. And he was sensitive about probing for anything that might be too deep or painful. “He pauses.” But it’s not a documentary. He has a kind of license to enjoy the absurdity of it all. “
It took about four years for the Creation Stories to get to this point. The first person to sign up for the project, McGee explains, was Irvine Welsh, who agreed to co-write the script. In another Trainspotting link, the director of that film, Danny Boyle, became executive producer. But the person tasked with finally bringing Creation Stories to life was its director, Nick Moran, who first caught the public eye when he played the title role in Guy Ritchie’s Britpop-era film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He was recruited thanks to his superlative directing of Telstar, the 2008 film he made about the visionary and tragic record producer Joe Meek.
Between them, Welsh and Moran take the basics of the rise of McGee and Creation and use them to also trace two decades of pop culture history. His story begins in the 1970s in Glasgow, where McGee dreams the same essential dreams as his close friend Bobby Gillespie, later from Primal Scream. He then follows McGee to London in the early 1980s, where he works as a British Rail clerk while setting the stage for creation with a club night called The Living Room.
After the label takes off, McGee finally embraces the hedonistic wonders of acid house, before selling half of Creation to Sony on pain of insolvency. Everything then comes to a climax with the success of Oasis, McGee’s brief stint as a prominent supporter of Tony Blair’s Labor Party, and his decision to leave Creation in 1999. Along the way comes the event that the film revolves around: the chemically triggered rift that began a trip to Los Angeles in early 1994, and meant that McGee saw a part of his label’s most successful phase from the distant perspective of rehab and recovery.
The latter might suggest some kind of moral story about excess, but Welsh’s script and Moran’s direction are not like that at all. Although the film has many moments that feel poignant and intimate, it also emphasizes what is surreal, absurd, and completely fictional, so much so that the reality of McGee’s Los Angeles episode is replaced by a completely made-up set of events built around a ” “aristocratic-movie producer” faux named Ralph, and a reality-twisting stay in a crackhouse. “That’s just Irvine,” McGee shrugs. “But I haven’t asked him to change anything. I just let him carry on. “
For McGee, the key real-life theme running through the film is how far he traveled from his upbringing to where he later went. “I guess it’s a celebration of the common working-class person breaking through and, against all odds, he really makes it,” he says. “I don’t think that will happen now, unless you win the lottery or something. The doors were closed. And do you know what opened those doors? Punk rock. It meant that people could come and go where they wanted. “
When I have lunch with Moran at a café near the set, he echoes the same point. “We have been raising royal cattle and rich people in this country for century after century to keep them from going to the bathroom. But with Alan, he builds this empire, and all the belligerence, drive, and tenacity that help him do it turn into the things that push him over the edge. “Like most good musical stories, it’s basically Faustian. no? “Absolutely. It’s a real-life Faustian story and it’s a movie about recovery. It’s certainly not an Oasis movie. A bit like Telstar, it’s a movie about how music is a power and how Alan is an alchemist: he takes funny noises and turns them into gold. “
There are four cornerstones in the film’s music. One is that of Television Personalities, the anarchist cult band that formed in the late 1970s, and whose arrival in McGee’s world with its’ 60s landmarks and punk energy established the basic template for Creation. They give way to Jesus and Mary Chain, whose debut single Upside Down, released on Creation, and their first wild gigs gave McGee his first real taste of how music could merge with uproar and controversy. Shortly after came the Anglo-Irish band My Bloody Valentine (now considered to pioneer the so-called “shoegaze,” but much more than that), which wowed McGee, only to almost ruin him. And then Oasis, whose blatant ambition to succeed made them vastly different from most of Creation’s signings, and whose success soon made the term “independent” almost meaningless.
Whatever the relationship of the rest of the film to the present, the music, Moran insists, is brought to the screen as authentically as possible. “In this movie, some people have come out thinking, ‘Oh, you don’t need to be able to play the guitar to play this role,’” he tells me. “And I say, ‘Oh, great – now I have to sit someone down and show them how to do it and try to make sure it looks good. ‘ But luckily I’ve been able to pick a few people who can really do it. “
One of Moran’s favorite sequences is based on My Bloody Valentine’s You Made Me Realize, the 1988 song whose live versions were soon distinguished by a long section of mind-blowing noise that is known to make people swoon. “We work very, very hard on it. And that was a fantastic surprise for the audience, for everyone. The actors played live and they were brilliant. It made everyone in the room fall in love with My Bloody Valentine – the cast, the extras, the crew. I let the cameras work and it became a fantastic mosh. “
Around the music and McGee himself, an often surreal supporting cast swirls. There are depictions of the Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, a toothy and oily Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. There is also a brief and very disturbing appearance by Jimmy Savile, who, some 12 years before his final posthumous exhibition, was among the dinner guests when Blair invited McGee and his wife Kate to Checkers, the first’s country retreat. Minister. But as an illustration of how the film rearranges aspects of McGee’s biography to bring things to the fantastic, perhaps the most surprising cameo is the one given to Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist, writer, artist, and source of fascination from musicians and their artists for a long time. associates.
Crowley is the basis for Moran and Bremner’s belief that the film is in part about something akin to magic and alchemy. Portrayed by Steven Berkoff, he appears as an apparition and advises McGee to “put your past behind you, [and] stay on the path you have chosen ”to“ finally achieve greatness ”. And in the film’s final moments, McGee is glimpsed in what looks like a wizard costume, seemingly casting spells.
This material is based on his post-Creation interest in an occult practice known as ‘chaos magic’, which flourished when he lived, for a time, in rural central Wales. “I was at this for about 10 years,” McGee tells me. “He had a big house that was on a ley line. That is why I moved there. I was a family man and I was doing a lot of magic. “Did it work?” You could say it did. I don’t really get involved in it now. But when I was taking a lot of prescription drugs, it made perfect sense.
At this, he laughs like a drain. What did you take from him? “Well, I think anything is possible.” Anything? “Yeah. I got into Crowley first, but chaos magic was what I really liked. It’s kind of post-punk magic.”
This, it seems, is all that McGee is going to reveal. Then he grabs his phone and talks to me through a series of photos of the cast of the film. “That’s me with Mary Chain, they’re good,” he says. A hit. Here is Valentine’s Day. Pretty good. “Another hit.” That’s Yvonne, my first wife … “
Is it ever difficult to re-immerse yourself in your own life? “Well, I don’t really regret any of that, if I’m honest. I know I should, but it was great. Coming from the environment I come from, it was expected that, at best, I would become a taxi driver. And that didn’t happen, and now they are making a movie about me. So you have to hug it. You know what I mean?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism