The life of legendary band manager/Creation Records founder Alan McGee has been brought to the big screen by director Nick Moran and screenwriter Irvine Welsh, in Burning Wheel Productions’ Creation Stories.
Adapted from McGee’s autobiography, Creation Stories- Riots, Raves and Running and Record Label, the film charts McGee’s anarchic rise from small town promoter to industry mogul and the formation his record label Creation, which housed the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream and Oasis.
The Creation Stories’ stellar cast includes Ewen Bremner (as McGee), Jason Isaacs, Suki Waterhouse, Rupert Everett, Stephen Berkoff and Jason Flemyng which, along with Moran’s direction, make it an energetic low glide over one of the last great music movements.
Back in the summer of 2018, HeyUGuys visited the Creation Stories production in Camden, London on a day when Moran and his crew were recreating past gigs in a pub called The Fiddler’s Elbow (doubling up as The Living Room): an atmospheric dive and absolute must for guitar music lovers. Its walls were coated with dusty old vinyl, tattered concert posters, a stage for the bands and the stubborn funk of decades old dead fag smoke which complimented the decor.
The pub was buzzing with a frantic crew and extras donned in 70s/80s attire for an earlier-set segment. Cameras rolled and actors portraying the band Television Personalities belted out “Part Time Punks” while the crowd of extras bopped and moshed before changing outfits for the era/next act: The Jesus and Mary Chain.
The controlled chaos aptly recalled the kind from the time they were trying to capture, as an intensely focused Moran framed shots while overseeing the insanity which perfectly encapsulated the mad, magnificent birth of Cool Britannia.
After watching some filming, I was panic-led by a crew member through the guts of the pub in search of Ewen Bremner. We wormed through worryingly narrow corridors past crew lugging equipment massifs until finding the Scottish actor perched on the roof in an almost meditative state, like a tranquilised monk on a mountain, detached from the bedlam beneath us.
Ewen, donned in a curly red wig required for the role, welcomed me to sit next to him for a chat about the production and what it’s been like playing Alan.
HEYUGUYS: How did the project come about?
EWEN: I can’t quite remember but I think it was about two or three years ago. I know the writer, Irvine (Welsh), so I think him and Nick (Moran) thought I might be worth talking to. But just as we were getting it on its feet, everything fell apart. Every film is like a house of cards to get it to the starting point. This one was touch and go for a long time. Thankfully though we’re most of the way through it now.
Was there anything specific about Alan that connected to you?
I guess a lot of his ethos is appealing, especially if you come from Scotland. There’s an embracing of that socialist punk spirit and pop culture. What bands were doing then was a lot more controversial than nowadays. Alan is very socially conscious so that viewpoint and his identity shone through Irvine’s script. That sense of purpose and righteousness. Coming from Scotland, that’s one of the things that I related to and enjoyed about it. That spirit is really appealing. Irvine Welsh’s other work is infused with that too.
I’ve heard the film will explore the darker side of Alan and the industry, in terms of the drug taking. How did you find portraying that side of the character? Did you discuss it much with Alan?
Alan talked about it publicly in interviews quite a lot so I didn’t really need to grill him. There are also so many books and documentaries to draw from. I always knew he was a legend but through the material I discovered there are also lots of legends about him. I can only approximate as best as I can by what I know, what scene I have to do and what is required. I think drugs and alcohol don’t give you anything what you don’t already have. They just unlock certain things in you, certain inhibitions and stuff you bottle up, but they don’t add anything that isn’t already there.
Some of them. I was really delighted and surprised to learn that he signed Kevin Roland (Dexys Midnight Runners). He also signed Ivor Cutler (Scottish poet/songwriter), but I wasn’t really listening to a lot of what he’s famous and celebrated for. I’m not so into indie rock but I really appreciate its energy, the cultural power and the movement in general.
That kind of energy seems lacking from most modern music. Do you think this film could trigger a Britpop revival?
It’s hard to tell but there does seem to be a cycle. Things that people think are forgotten about and unfashionable can suddenly become all the rage again years later. I grew up in the 80s and was in my 20s in the 90s when everything from the 70s suddenly became massive again. Everyone got bang into it. And recently everyone’s been bang into the 80s so yes it could be the time for the 90s to come back. If there’s truth to that twenty year cycle. I also think the soundtrack could be a big component to this. That could really kick off.
It’s hard to tell what from our present culture will be celebrated in twenty years.
Yes, and the reasons why it will be celebrated. Things could be celebrated for completely different reasons than they were the first time around. It’ll be interesting to see. I certainly think there’s a big following for the music that Alan facilitated through Creation. The people we have talked to about the project are really curious and interested so there is an appetite.
How was Nick Moran to work with as a director?
Great. He’s really surprised me. I’ve never worked with him as an actor but I’ve seen stuff he directed in the West End and really liked that. He’s super intelligent in a way that’s a bit scary but so universally competent in all kinds of ways. There’s no job he can’t do himself. Nick’s been directing hard and getting involved with all the musicians, even the ones that have small parts. The days are long, but he’s got that essential stamina and staying power. Every shot he knows what he wants both technically and visually. You never see him at a loss for an idea and he’s got a strong sense of direction. I’m really impressed with him. Especially as it’s been such an intense shoot. Very ambitious schedule. We’re moving so fast, I’m forgetting the scenes that we do almost as soon as finishing them.
I overheard Alan (McGee) while watching filming downstairs saying how exciting it is how and nostalgic it’s making him feel.
Yeah, it’s funny how these things from our pasts become stories that travel and have legs. People dramatize them, re-tell them to the point where they end up becoming movies.
After chatting with Ewen, I was given a few minutes with Alan, who was watching the filming downstairs with a nostalgic glint in his eye and a wide smile that he rarely lets the public see in photographs.
HEYUGUYS: How did you find seeing yourself portrayed by Ewen?
ALAN: It’s weird because Ewen is so brilliant at being me. He’s got all the mannerisms, it’s fucking great, I don’t know how he’s done it. Well, I know he’s got the hair and make-up and all that and I’m not really used to being on film sets and watching actors bring people to life, but he is me, it’s mad.
Did you always hope to get a film made of your book?
No, it was the producer. No one else was asking me to do it so I let her do it. I knew Irvine so I got him involved and then Shelley (Hammond) suggested Ewen. He’s a great choice.
Did you have any involvement in the script or were you precious about how it was adapted?
My book’s my book but this is Irvine’s version and it’s funny as fuck. I was essentially happy to let him do what he wanted so I just let him get on with it really. That’s what I wanted and what Irvine wanted so I just let it happen.
You don’t really hear this type of indie rock music much anymore. Why do you think that is?
This type of music is still out there and it still has an edge but the media doesn’t want these type of bands to get through so that’s why you would think the bands don’t exist, but they do.
Do you think the mainstream media is afraid of edgier music and its connotations nowadays?
Maybe the 90 bands and their attitudes pissed off the media. Now they seem to mostly want musicians and artists with no opinions. A lot of the bands I worked with were probably hard work for the media to get along with, but not for me though. I haven’t changed, I’m still going to gigs and am still into music. I always have been.
Do you think guitar based indie music could become more widely embraced again soon?
I know there is good bands out there because I’m setting them up. There are a few mainstream bands that a further ahead than the ones I’m developing but we still need someone to break through big for people to remember rock n roll and the attitude that came with it.
Creation Stories available exclusively on Sky Cinema from 20th March, 2021.