A few months ago, the two Roberts (Lilley and Tinkler) brought the newly signed Weather Prophets to a poorly attended Guildhall. A couple of weeks later they promoted a gig at the Sea Cadet Hall featuring The Wishing Stones and Biff Bang Pow! Alan McGhee is another link between these two events, he is a member of Biff Bang Pow! and manages the Weather Prophets as well as running Creation and Elevation Records.
Talking to Alan by the Cam prompted me to ask him about that wet skeleton in his cupboard, H2O. "I'm glad someone's finally brought this up as I keep on seeing it in the gossip columns. I was in the group from Feb to May 1978, it's now 1987 and people still say to me 'you were in H2O' and unbeknown to anybody else the guitarist out of Lloyd Cole And The Commotions was in H2O. Lots of famous people were in H2O, but I was in it for 3 months, 9 years ago and yet it haunts me. At that particular point they were into the New York Dolls, they were not trying to be Young Americans, David Bowie... The band started wearing make-up and things and I just thought 'this isn't for me' so I left."
Shortly after leaving H2O Alan formed a band, The Laughing Apple, and moved to London. "We were fed up because the Glasgow scene was so cliquey and at that point there was no Primal Scream, there was no Jesus And Mary Chain, it was just like shit. The best you could get were the Cuban Heels and they were dire. I came down to London in 1979 because I was interested in punk and I wanted to come to England to do music. I played in The Laughing Apple for 2 years and we released 3 singles that did absolutely nothing, on our own label." One of the other members of The Laughing Apple is Andrew who plays in Biff Bang Pow!, The Revolving Paint Dream and Primal Scream. Strangely enough all these bands are signed to Alan's Creation label. "We were running a club called The Living Room, and that was getting quite successful but it started properly when I took a £1000 bank loan. Creation really got going at the beginning of 1984, we put out one single before then and it died (The Legend!, `'73 in '83`). It took me about a year to recover all the money. Jerry Thackeray (The Legend!) went into a sulk for about a year because he didnae become a pop star through it." To date Creation has released 41 singles and 15 LP's. "We lost money in the first two years, not huge amounts, maybe about 20 grand or something. You've got to remember that I managed the JAMC, I got more than £20000 out of that. The money I made as a manager funded the indulgences of all the groups I liked, but finally Creation, in its third year of business, is starting to make money."
All the Creation acts have an image of being leather clad tough guys. "Everybody thinks its me telling people what to wear, I don't tell people what to wear or anything. My favourite groups are the Doors and Iggy and stuff like that, and you tend to wear what your heroes wear. It's pretty shallow I know but there you go. I think the leather thing is really made too much of. Every so often it comes up in interviews and I keep on thinking maybe we should stop wearing leather, but why should we? because we all like it.
A strong smell of hype pervaded the release of 'Chernobyl Baby' by Baby Amphetamine on Creation. "What it was, I went into the Virgin Megastore and I'd seen these girls and I just thought it'd be a funny idea to get them to sing on a heavy metal hip hop record. It was just a sense of humour sort of thing. I don't know what they're doing now, maybe they are making more records. It was never a serious group, they were just dumbo's basically. They were really thick and it was just a good laugh to do it."
"Elevation came about because Creation wasn't getting into the charts and we had to try to sort it out because I'm limited in the funding that I've got. At that time I'd just put 'Some Candy Talking' in the chart through Warners and they basically decided to give me my own record company." So why set up a new label? "I'd like to think Elevation would last a long time and be really good but I wouldn't ever risk Creation to Warners because Creation's too precious. Major record companies are so fickle that in three years time I could be out of favour. In 20 years time I still intend to be doing Creation. Elevation will last as long as Warners are willing to fund it. I wanted to spend 30 grand making the Weather Prophets album, I dinnae have 30 grand but Warners did and they gave me the money."
"Every major, Go! Discs and Mute and all the others are all just basically channels for records to come out whereas Creation is quite idealistic. No matter how much people laugh at me, I am trying to change peoples perception of pop music. I want to get away from production standards. I agree that there should be producers and that records should be produced to a certain extent, but not to the extent that they are in the 80's,that's just disgusting. That's why I think American music is in a lot of ways healthier than English music. Groups like REM and the Replacements come away from produced sounds and that's what hopefully Creation is about. It's produced cleanly and clearly but its not overproduced, it's no clinical. It's hard to pinpoint our ideals, but it's basically honesty, that goes through the music to the people involved with the label." The reason Creation has such a high media profile compared with other similarly successful labels is that it has two publicity officers and spends £1000 a month on record pluggers. Some people would regard pluggers as a rather unethical extravagance. "I'd defend it to the death. It's a completely ludicrous idea that you've got to pay someone to take your records up to a DJ to play them, but that's the reality. Whether Creation employs one or doesn't it would still happen. It would just mean that we wouldn't get our records played. That's one of the things I've set out to stop and destroy. The thing is I can only stop things like that when I've got more power. When I was managing the JAMC, support groups always got full use of the PA. I'm not going to name the group because I like them, but their manager, if you're supporting them, gives you 50% use of the PA. That to me is fucking horrible, a cliched early 70's attitude. The reason I can say that people were getting 100% when I managed the JAMC was because I was in charge of that situation. If my record company does get big enough, if it gets so much money that they cannae stop, I'll try to change it. At the moment I don't mean anything, because my turnover is not even a million pounds a year."
"I'm a thorn, the music business does not love me..."
Top of the bill band, The Wishing Stones, are fronted by Bill Prince a one time music journalist (under the name Bill Black) and ex-member of The Loft. Whilst Pete Astor, similarly ex-The Loft, is enjoying the limelight as the leader of The Weather Prophets with major label backing, Bill is still releasing records on his own indie label, Head Records.
"The Wishing Stones have been going since last September. We did a single called 'Beat Girl' and we've just released another one called 'News Ways'. We did a few dates last year on the back of the first single culminating with a support for Felt at the Boston Arms. Then in the new year we got the nationwide Microdisney support. We laid low for a bit, recorded the single and we've just come out to start promoting it now. It's quite a short time and we've done a fair amount. The drummer, John Rills, I met in connection with another band which quite fortuitously split up just as mine was forming although I take no blame for that. They were called The Servants." Karen O'Keefe, on bass was found by Jeff Baron (Wishing Stones manager and co-owner of Head Records) "who suggested she would be good and she was. We had a guitarist, Seft, who was on the single we've just recorded and did all the dates up until these. He is now departed and a chap called John Niven, from Scotland and a band Celebrate Texas, is standing in as permanently as we can make it but obviously he's got commitments to his own band. He's doing these dates with us and we'll play it by ear and see how realistic it is to have him. I'd be happy for him to work on an almost part-time basis. I write all the stuff and we can rehearse and record as three but we obviously need a 4th member for live gigs."
So how did Head Records come about? "This band the Servants was the first release. Literally the label was formed to put a record out by them. They were seen and were seen to be good and it was ridiculous that they weren't signed. They weren't on vinyl and so many other bands were for no apparent reason. So we did that and it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Since then we've had a record out by a Glasgow band, The Submarines, two Wishing Stones singles and there are a couple of things in the pipeline." Since the interview Head have released a single by Loop. Bill is a member of Head almost "by default, in the sense that Jeff and I saw the Servants and he was keen to set up a label. At that stage I wasn't keen to record, I was basically having a years sabbatical writing songs. I can see how it would look like: get Jeff to set up a label and I'd be made when its time to record. I can honestly say that that wasn't a great motivator, The Servants were the greatest motivator. Now I really am a sleeping partner and Jeff does all the legwork." Does it make money? "Does anything make money, no. We are just juggling money the whole time. There is no direct financial input now, certain things get paid for by the distributors but that's not enough to keep the ball rolling. It's just ticking over, but that's nice because we're not in it for the money, but it'd be nice to have some. With a lot of independent labels it's 'let's get a roster, then we can put out a compilation LP and get a licensing deal' we never had that sort of gang mentality. It was like, 'is that a good song, yeah, let's put it out' and if we don't put out another record by them, so what? And so far, and I'm keen to keep this up for as long as we possibly can because I don't see it being done a great deal anywhere else in London and that is debut releases by bands. It makes your job a million times harder because you have to sell each band from scratch." Who are you selling to? "To people who are not satisfied with something that's been recorded cheaply for the sake of it and packaged cheaply for the sake of it. There's a lot of inverted snobbery about it, that it's somehow more valid because it's crude. The bottom line is the song, we don't have any high faluting ideas about what the bands should be saying or anything like that, that's up to them, but it has to be said with a certain panache I think."
Is there any reason why all the bands so far featured on Head have been 'guitar bands'? "The sort of bands that play gigs tend to be guitar bands because its simpler and they're the sort of records I listen to. We'd love to find the new Suicide or anybody who works in any sort of unorthodox way but as most of the bands we like and see are guitar bands that's the way its gone."
The break up of The Loft:"It was a funny period as 'Up The Hill And Down The Slope' had done the 'business' as they say and there was a lot of serious interest. I must admit that the chronology of events around that time are a bit blurred but there was one major talking seriously. They wanted to play a typically cunning major label gambit which was for us to release a third independent single. They said 'don't worry we'll pick it up after three weeks and if you don't believe us we'll give you the money for it now'. So they get the kudos of picking up on a hot independent band without the risk if it stiffed a big one after one week. We were too busy splitting up."
"We get called Sixties revivalists, told rock is dead and asked why we are doing this when we could be making rap records and using drum machines. Actually I think its quite a revolutionary approach these days to actually write a song and not rely on a cracking drum beat. People point records to me, Wiseblood and Foetus and things like that, and say that's really different music and I say no it's not because if you just peel it all back it's 5 Star underneath. The safety net of that modern dance sound is there that will always catch them no matter what they do over the top of it. When you don't take the prevailing safety net you open yourself up to all sorts of, usually revivalist, criticism. It's not some sort of bowing down to the god of Sixties guitar music. It's the actual sound I like, it's the approach I like."
"What I enjoy most is writing songs that stand up on their own. I can play them at home and satisfy myself with them in their barest, crudest form, record them in a painstaking manner and go out and completely trash them. it worries me when people start talking in depth about the sacrosanct nature of the song. If they're any good they're strong enough to take a bit of a battering, so why not road test them a few nights a week and really put them through it. I think its a good test of a song if you can, not completely re-invent it so that it sounds like a completely cerebral action, but just to have a song that can exist in several forms. If people wanted it, it would be quite nice to record them that way, do 3 different versions. I do enjoy playing live but it's everything that goes with it that's a pain, like driving everywhere. We haven't played enough to know what it is really like. Three weeks with the Microdisney's was quite hard work, we were sleeping on floors and two of us were doing the driving. There was a flat agency fee but that doesn't really cover your expenses. Hotels are out of the question, you can just about survive." If it's so bad why be in a band? "Sentimental reasons, it's quite a sentimental thing to be in a band. Otherwise, as a songwriter, you could work in any number of ways. You could write songs, like Matt Johnson (The The) does, where he just employs the people he needs to play on each song, and that's why each song sounds completely different. There's no reason, especially with the technology there is today, not that I have access to it or am particularly interested in using it, why you can't as a songwriter , basically orchestrate all your own songs, where you don't really need anyone else. When a band stops being the sum of it's parts, it's an excellent feeling which you can only get through having a solid line up that think in the same way as you."
More power to the independents!
Steve Hartwell, Scene And Heard, September/October 1987