“I’m talentless. But I make things happen.” That’s record label supremo Alan McGee speaking. It’s not remotely true: his taste is his talent. In the 80s and 90s, McGee put out records by the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub. Now comes a biopic: a lairy, likable film directed by Lock Stock actor Nick Moran.
Creation Stories is co-written by McGee’s mate Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh, who have adapted McGee’s 2013 autobiography. And it’s the cracking script that is the star here, giving McGee just enough working-class gobshite cheekiness (“I’m just a wee ginger tool from Glasgow”) to balance out the myth-making and megalomania. (This is a man who had a sign on his desk that read: “President of Pop”.)
McGee said in a recent interview that he vetoed Ewan McGregor playing him in the film because the actor is too good looking. Instead, the role went to another, less Hollywood Trainspotting alumnus, Ewen Bremner, whose portrayal is spot-on. There’s a brilliant scene where the bailiffs come knocking at the offices of McGee’s label Creation Records. He is on the phone trying to stave off creditors: “I’ve got a new band. They’re gonna be bigger than U2.” It’s total rubbish, but he uses the line again and again – and in the end it comes true.
In 1993, McGee discovers Oasis at King Tut’s in Glasgow. Welsh’s script hilariously downplays this life-changing signing: McGee is only at the venue because he missed a train to London, while Oasis – total unknowns – are not even on the bill, but blag their way on stage. (“It’ll give the DJ 20 minutes for a shite,” says the venue’s manager.) The actors playing bands in the Creation stable look the part – the Gallagher brothers may have been cast for their eyebrows alone – but don’t get much screen time.
In flashbacks, Liam Flanagan does a good job playing McGee as a teenager. Transformed by watching the Sex Pistols on TV he starts a band in his bedroom with a mate from school, Bobby Gillespie (later of Primal Scream). Director Moran doesn’t go too deep, not dwelling on the beatings heaped on McGee by his dad, or the nine months he spent getting clean in 1994. This can leave the characters feeling a bit two-dimensional, but the inspired chaos feels right.
In another terrific scene, McGee bursts into a studio where My Bloody Valentine are recording Loveless – an album that took so long to record it almost bankrupted Creation. After the band has McGee ejected by security, he kicks off and ends up in the back of a police car ranting about frontman Kevin Shields (“that money-spunking mad genius”).
In 1992, McGee sold 49% of Creation to Sony, and later nudged Britpop into bed with Tony Blair, before becoming disillusioned with New Labour in power. Blair is played here as smarmy and insincere; Cherie is sharper, but Alastair Campbell will surely be unhappy with the portrayal of him gormlessly toe-tapping away to the house-lite election anthem Things Can Only Get Better. And can it really be true that McGee left Chequers in horror at Jimmy Savile being a dinner guest all the way back in 1999?