Classic Interviews #1 – Baby Amphetamine
Baby Amphetamine were put together by Alan McGee and Joe Foster in April 1987. The band consisted of three shop assistants from the Virgin Megastore and was Creation’s reaction to manufactured pop. Although the band only released one single, Chernobyl Baby (who needs the Government?), they made the cover of the NME in 1987 and this article makes for some interesting reading
Interview by Danny Kelly.
Right now, the whole of pop, Creation included, needs a good kick up the arse! And that’s what Baby Amphetamine is, a good kick up the arse for Creation buyers, for Radio One producers, for everyone. In a taproom near his Clerkenwell command bunker, Alan McGee’s face is threatening to match the natural blood-orange tint of his hair. Lager is partly responsible for this evening’s fetching facial hue, but mostly it’s the stir caused by the 41st single released by his brainchild and passion, Creation Records.
Being poppy hip-hop (as opposed to being angst Jangle) and credited to a group flagrantly and artificially cobbled together by McGee himself, the record has left the self-appointed guardians of indie pop grasping for the sixpack of smelling salts. Like the man said ‘Chemobyl Baby (Who Needs The Government)’, by Baby Amphetamine, is a good kick up the arse!)
Controversy. a nose for a good scam, and a thirst for new ways out of the Indie poverty trap have been Alan McGee’s edges four years ago. It was those qualities that caused him to demonstrate, with his early Creation releases, that vivid independent life was possible outside the increasingly institutionalised walls of Rough Trade, Factory and Mute; It was those instincts that persuaded him to nurture the confrontatory sulk-rock of four zitty Glasgow youths ‘till it was ready to be unleashed on the world as the awesome sonic barrage of The Jesus And Mary Chain; and it’s those impulses that enable him to once again be setting the pace. Not just with the Baby Amphetamine hoopla, but with the WEA-funded setting up of Elevation Records.
Elevation is about money. In 1986, Creation turned over some quarter of a million pounds which, while no mean feat for an operation run from one room. is not enough to put records in the national charts, nor enough for Alan McGee to do things the way he wants.
“Last year Creation gave the Weather Prophets £3000 to live on; this year WEA, through Elevation, is giving them £100,000. Equally, if ‘Mayflower’, their new LP, had come out on Creation it would’ve sold about 40,000 copies. On Elevation, I reckon it’ll do somewhere between 100 and 150 thousand. And, whereas ‘Almost Prayed’ sold 14,000 over a period of nine months, the new single has done 10.000 copIes in nine days.”
“Something like Baby Amphetamine will get front covers and something as genius as Momus won’t even get covered. That completely sums up 1987, and it’s sick…” – Alan McGee
The hope is that the new label’s bands – for now, the Prophets and Primal Scream — will sell enough records to allow McGee substantial re-investment in his Creation acts. It’s an idea, he admits, based on another WEA offshoot, Elektra, which used the greenery generated by The Doors to subsidise a roster that was a critical wet dream, and a commercial nightmare.
And beyond the mere provision of readies, what Elevation has also done is to restore in its top man something that was drained from him last year when his relationship with the Mary Chain — or, more accurately, with Reid – turned painfully bitter – a mixture of dream and devilment..
I don’t care if this sounds like the most pretentiously wanky statement of all time. Alright, so Alan McGee’s a wanker, but I really do believe that right now it’s Creation, induding Elevation, against the whole business. Creation’s intent is to destroy the current standards of the music biz. ” We want to see the Weather Prophets in the chart, Primal Scream in the chart. Blow Up. Felt, House Of Love, Jill Bryson and Edwyn Collins In the chart. They’re all making song-based music, and the chart is 99 per cent rhythm-based, but we’ll take it on… And of course Elevation allows me to be a thorn in the side of the business. You don’t have to be that outspoken, either; if you’ve got one original thing to say, or step one inch away from the company line, they think you’re a bloody anarchist!”
The idealsim which courses through Creation and Elevation is rather harder to detect in the Baby Amphetamine project, yet its creator — Frankenstein in leather trousers, there’s a novelty ! — denies that it’s just a wind-up. ‘It’s a lot of things really, but what I really wanted to do was shock all the people who have very fixed ideas about what Creation is. Creation, he announces with drama that’d do Laurence Olivier proud, is whatever the hell l want it to be.”
How had he discovered that he wanted it to be the home of ‘Chemobyl Baby’?
‘I saw the words Baby Amphetamine on the sleeve of the GoBetweens’ ‘Lee Remick’ – apparently Robert and Grant used to be Australia’s leading speed-freaks – and I knew it was a brilliant name. At first me and Adam of the Jasmine Minks were going to make a record called ‘Baby Amphetamine’, but then the idea of the girls came to me…’
And the fact that the record’s hip-hop is. presumably, another attack on peoples’ expectations?
‘Not really. In a scam like this the music just had to be hip-hop. If you’re going to go for something, you’ve got to go all the way, and hip-hop’s the happening music of now. .. And Alan McGee’s a convert to its percussive charms? I know precisely nothing about hip-hop, not one thing. I once heard a Steinski record on John Peel and I like the Beastie Boys.” Are the Beastie Boys hip-hop?…
Ironically, the would-be Svengali’s doubts about hip-hop are now matched by others about the trio of sales assistants who he lured into Baby Amphetamine, and about the whole circus he’s set in motion. “Christ almighty, those girls are murder. They’re like those models who make a record and think they’re pop stars. They did nothing. All they did was waltz into a studio, take some words I’d already written and sing them, badly. Now they talk about their piece of art like it’s something wonderful…. it’s embarrassing to talk to them… Something like Baby Amphetamine will get front covers and something as genius as Momus won’t even get covered. That completely sums up 1987, and it’s sick…”
What’s Alan McGee’s reward for all his vision, bravery, determination and honesty, all his scheming, plotting, lying and double-talk? Hatred, that’s what!
“Jealousy! All of it. simple as that. I get unbelievable grief for my various involvements with major record labels, all of it from people who love groups far too useless to get signed! In the last three years we’ve taken something like £400,000 from the majors for our groups, a vast amount of money. All the fanzines think it’s still 1980 or ‘81, but music has changed totally… And so much of the indie scene, especially the fanzines, are so snobbish. You can’t even say what you believe anymore. Like, right now I’m hugely into The Rolling Stones. They’re still a good group. No, I’m not drunk I still buy all their albums. How long Is it since ‘Undercover’? That was a great song and to pretend otherwise is pure snobbery. I’d rather have the Rolling Stones than the Soup Dragons any day! I think most NME readers would rather have the Soup Dragons. That’s totally insane…”
1987 is growing up very strange: Creation Records – previously pure as porcelain he cynically constructs a bogus ‘group’ while The Cult openly espouse (or, let’s be honest, copy) that once most reviled of rock’s dinosaurs, Led Zeppelin. What the hell’s goin on?
Something very like this: The lasting residue of Ye Olde Punke was not the music (which selfdestructed ‘round the turn of the decade into the matching absurdities of Oi. Goth and New Romance), but a set of attitudes anti-Rawk, anti-Star, anti-Glam and anti-Sex – that became the bedrock tablets of stone for successive waves of janglers. fuzzers and feedbackers.
But now, through a combination of old age and general neglect. those attitudes have died. What Ian Astbury and Alan McGee are doing (though the former is almost certainly blissfully unaware of the fact) is dancing on the grave.