Legendary Alan McGee plays himself in upcoming film Svengali. He tells Tim Hughes about his highlights and his love of Oxford

Outspoken and larger than life, Alan McGee has never been a man to mince his words. The record label boss, producer and impresario has been the power behind some of our best-loved bands — signing Oasis, The Libertines and Oxford’s own Ride. But while he has spent most of his career behind the scenes, for his latest role he is centre stage — literally.

The hard-living Creation Records legend has been cast as himself in a comedy rock and roll movie about the cut and thrust of the music industry. The film is called Svengali, and Alan doesn’t mind admitting it is rather good: “It is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done since Oasis,” he says in a jagged Scottish accent, his speech turbo-charged and liberally sprinkled with colourful expletives (here deleted or substituted). “It’s a classic feelgood British rock and roll film.”

Svengali, first released in March, will be screened at Oxford’s Ultimate Picture Palace tomorrow, followed by a question and answer session by Alan.

Alan’s own life bears resemblance to that of the main character in the film — a music-mad postman called Dixie, who dreams of discovering a great band. Having propelled that group to stardom, Dixie draws the attention of cutthroat music labels and iconic industry figures, including McGee.

So how does he like his new career acting — featuring alongside Shameless stars Jonny Owen, Maxine Peake, Morwenna Banks, Katy Brand, Martin Freeman and Libertine Carl Barat? “I didn’t have any interest in acting, and didn’t give a damn,” he laughs. “I had no idea whether I’d get into the movie, but it snowballed into a hit.”

It’s certainly a departure from running the independent Creation and Poptones labels (which scored hits with, respectively, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, The Hives and The Others) and music management (looking after Scottish alternative rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Mogwai, The Kills, The Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things, Mew and The Beta Band).

The Oxford Times:
Shoegaze heroes: Ride

Having announced his retirement from band management in 2008, Alan has recently dived back in with a vengeance. He is speaking to me while on tour, once again, with The Jesus and Mary Chain — who he signed, promoted and managed after receiving a demo from original drummer Bobby Gillespie, in the mid-1980s.

“I got ill a year and a half ago, lost 35lbs, and changed my life,” he says, turning serious. “I spent a while in bed and got better. My immune system was completely destroyed, but they got me on a test drug and I got my bite back.

“Never underestimate the power of a new drug. I’ve got my health back, feel brilliant and am doing more stuff again, including managing.”

“It’s genuinely mental,” he says of touring with the band, still fronted by brothers Jim and William Reid. “They are playing their first album Psychocandy which is special. When you play these songs there’s only one way to do it — and that’s balls out. They are smashing it.

“The Mary Chain are the best band I have found. I probably would say that anyway, but it’s the truth.”

And how is life on tour? “I’ve been sober 10 years and off drugs for 20 but with them there’s no temptation. I look at them and say ‘thank heavens I don’t take them any more!’”

How do they compare with his biggest discovery, Oasis, who have sold more than 70 million records world-wide? “They were very similar in that they were also brothers,” he says. “Musically, though, they are polar opposites; the Mary Chain are introverted, Oasis were extroverted.”

He insists one of his best discoveries though, was Oxford band Ride. Alan signed band members Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Laurence ‘Loz’ Colbert and Steve Queralt in 1989 after being tipped off by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid who had heard a demo.

The Oxford Times:
Creation: A scene from the film Svengali

They went on to huge worldwide success but tore apart and split in 1996 — guitarist Andy Bell forming Hurricane #1 before joining Oasis as bassist — a move which saw him not only having to learn the instrument but also the band’s back catalogue before his first show. Following Oasis’s split, he now plays guitar with Liam Gallagher’s band Beady Eye.

Gardener, who like Bell is a former Cheney School student, and Loz Colbert joined the band Animalhouse with Supergrass producer Sam Williams. He then toured and collab-orated and with Oxford musicians Robin and Joe Bennett and their band Goldrush. He has since worked with My Bloody Underground, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and its frontman Anton Alfred Newcombe. He has also had success as a solo artist and producer. Colbert, meanwhile, has played with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Supergrass and Oxford vintage jazz group The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band.

Alan says it’s high time they reformed. “If there was ever reunion, it should be now,” he says. “It looks like there is a hiatus with Beady Eye, so now is the time.

“Shoegaze is big now and they could easily play Brixton Academy and other big venues. If Swervedriver can do it, Ride can. Compared to them, Ride are like Jimi Hendrix — and they are still absolutely loved.

They’ve all still got it and, if they are available, they should reform. Just do one tour and clean up! You only get a few chances in life to cash in your chips, and for them it’s now.”

And how does he feel about returning to Oxford with his film. “It’s a great place for music and Oxford has always been kind to me. I’m looking forward to coming.

“You might think ‘he would say that’ — but it’s true!”

Svengali and Alan McGee Q&A
Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford
Tomorrow (Friday) 6.30pm
Tickets from uppcinema.com or 01865 245288