Wearing a long brown coat, pork pie hat and sunglasses, he is dressed more like a pimped-up Mr Magoo than an indie music mogul.
But then his life is less rock‘n’roll and more tea’n’biscuits these days.
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When McGee says things like “I actually don’t care what anybody thinks about anything bar my missus and my kid, so f*** them,” he is still the outspoken, bold-as-brass chancer people remember. Yet he also appears to be a family man. “I left the music business because I can’t stand it,” he insists. “I’m more interested in books and films now than records.”
The closest he gets to his old lifestyle is the occasional DJ gig and an annual holiday in Mallorca with Sir Bob Geldof. Humility has replaced his oversized ego and clean living replaced a life of cocaine, ecstasy and acid. He’s on the soft stuff today -- tea, since you ask -- but chat about harder substances comes up early. “Drugs helped me get to my creative peak,” McGee says with candour. “Without the drugs, I don’t think I would’ve got to the heights I did.”
The success he is referring to is the subject of a documentary, Upside Down: The Creation Records Story, which charts the development of the label he founded in 1983 at the age of 23 with a £1000 bank loan, and which went on to sell millions of records. Frankly, it would be impossible to discuss McGee’s life without talking about drugs. He may fit the predictable stereotype of the reformed rock’n’roller but his story isn’t a my-drug-hell tale; although he admits the nine months he spent coming off the drugs were “horrific”. The “wake-up call” was a near-death episode that saw him being kept alive via oxygen. It’s not McGee’s only brush with death, as he later tells me; but, for now, he unashamedly recalls the drug years -- 1988 to 1994 -- with fondness.
“We were on a roll because we were, like, charged,” he recalls. “We were supernaturally charged via drugs. It was six years of partying, which was good fun.” Without the drugs, he says, acclaimed albums such as Screamadelica by Primal Scream and Loveless by My Bloody Valentine might never have come to fruition. But while McGee was a public success, his private life suffered. His first marriage fell apart and he became, in his own words, a “drug addict”. Because of his addiction, he says he took the decision to remove himself from his baby son Daniel’s life. Daniel would live with his mum and go on to be adopted by her new partner. McGee wouldn’t see him until many years later.
Time passed. McGee cleaned up his act. He saw Oasis play to half a million people at Knebworth in 1996 and, along with other acts favoured by then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, become “the face of Cool Britannia”. But with the drugs gone, his enthusiasm had dissipated.
“It was all a bit detached. I lost interest. I was proud of Oasis for living the dream but, equally, being sober through it was bizarre.” He sounds almost regretful. It seems ironic that McGee thought he couldn’t have done it without the drugs when arguably his biggest success came when he was sober. Today, he talks about the music business like it’s a living person with whom he once had an affair. By 1994, he admits, he had fallen “out of love” with it. With the passion gone, in 1999 he sold up to Sony (he had previously sold a 49% share to Sony in 1992 when Creation faced
Then in 2005, out of the blue, his son Daniel, then 16, who McGee hadn’t seen since he was a baby, made contact and the pair were reunited. McGee, drug-free for over a decade, was a different man. Did the relationship flourish? It’s the only point in our conversation where McGee gets tongue-tied. After a long pause, he says: “We met when he was 16 and, you know, it never really worked out. Obviously, I’m sorry that it didn’t but I wish him all the best.”
Interestingly, Dan Devine, as his son is called, has followed inMcGee’s footsteps. He is the front man of a punk band called Flats. In a recent interview the journalist described him as “an inherently angry man”. Devine, speaking about McGee, said: “That man, he abandoned me as a child. Then he abandoned me again when I finally met him after 16 years. He plays absolutely no role in my life and has never done a thing to help me.”
McGee is aware of his son’s comments but says he has nothing to add in response. Given this, is there any chance of a reconciliation? “Who knows?” says McGee. “I can’t really say, to be honest. I think there’s probably too much water under both bridges. I can’t really see how we would sort it out -- but then again I don’t think either one of us has even tried to.”
Does this cause him pain? “If I was being honest, no, not at all; no, not really,” he says. “It just is the way it is. I’ve only got good will towards him but, ultimately, I can’t change the past. We met, we didn’t get on ...” He trails off before starting up again. “But I wish him every success. I can’t really say anymore than that.”
But what of the past? Given the fallout from his time on drugs, it would be understandable if he had regrets. But that’s not McGee’s style. “I don’t think you can go about regretting anything,” he says. “In the 1990s, we were taking drugs to get completely off our f*****g heads. They were a nihilistic time. I don’t see any of it as a mistake. Things happen. It’s not what you do, it’s how you react to what you do.”
But McGee is so insistent about not having regrets, he could seem to protest too much. Perhaps in compensation, he appears to work extra hard at his other relationships. Regarding his wife, he says the strength of their “fascinating” long-term relationship lies in the fact they that “let each other be each other”. His face lights up when talking about his daughter Charlie, as he calls her. “My daughter thinks Oasis are rubbish -- which is great, I like that,” he says with a hearty laugh. She loves painting and has her own YouTube channel, he tells me. Being a good dad to her is now his top priority. “I’m there to look after Charlie. That’s my little girl and my life,” he says.
Given his liberal position on drugs, what will he tell Charlie of his past? “I’m not going to tell her to take drugs, but young people make their own decisions. I think she’s too sensible and bright,” he says. “But she’s got my DNA so it’s possible she is f*****g wild.”
McGee’s mother died from bowel cancer at the age of 54, when he was 29, missing out on his future success. “It’s a shame my mum never saw the whole thing. She would’ve loved it and enjoyed it more than anyone,” he says, sadly. To cope with the loss, he says: “I drugged my way through it. I never really felt it for about another four years. I grieved it publicly, but then when I sobered up, I was like, ‘F***, I’ve lost my mum. F***, my mum’s gone.’ It knocked me for six.”
Due to the hereditary nature of the disease, McGee has had precancerous polyps removed from his bowel. And an unrelated golf ball-sized tumour was cut out of his arm a few years ago. Thankfully, it was benign; and a colonoscopy 18 months ago gave him the all-clear. “It looks like I’m fine,” he says. “All I really care about is being around for my daughter and getting her to an age where she can look after herself. I’ve probably got another 15 years left and then hopefully I’ll croak it. I don’t want to be 80 and walking about with a zimmer.”
He’s “still tight” with his father who, at 78, lives comfortably in Glasgow, on the back of McGee’s success. “Like all relationships, there are ups and downs,” he says. “But my father and I have got to a good place. It’s just the way life is -- even with me and Gillespie.” He is, of course, talking about Bobby Gillespie, lead singer of Primal Scream. “We seem to be in an OK place now. We’re not that close any more but, equally, he’s my oldest friend. We went through a patch when we never really spoke, but now we text each other.”
McGee says half the credit for Creation goes to Bobby, who he calls “the star” of the new film. “Gillespie was fundamental to the success of the label -- but he’s fundamental to my life as a friend also. Maybe we were fundamental to each other. Without Gillespie, I would never have had The Jesus And Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub or Primal Scream.”
Gillespie had the musical ability, but what was McGee’s talent? “Everybody wants me to say it was just luck,” he says. “I think it was intuition. It was understanding what people wanted.” He admits spotting talents like Oasis gave him a big ego. “Now, I look back and think it’s all kind of ridiculous,” he says. “But I find rock’n’roll ridiculous. But maybe we needed those big egos to achieve what we wanted to.”
McGee’s disillusionment with music continues today, although he’s still a huge Beatles fan. If he had to give up one thing -- either money or music -- it would be the latter, he says. Two more films on the McGee-Creation Records story are in the pipeline and “I suppose I should write a book at some point,” he says. “Money’s not really a problem to me any more in life. It buys me the opportunity to be whoever I want to be.”
The Celtic Media Festival took place in the Western Isles from April 13-15, www.celticmediafestival.co.uk. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story is released on DVD and Blu Ray on May 9.