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It’s the Hay team

It’s that time of the year again. That time when authors beat a path to Wales. Dan Carrier talks to a couple from our patch

08 June, 2018

James Mayhew and Zeb Soanes

HAVING a job with BBC Radio Four as a newsreader and shipping forecast presenter, Islington-based children’s writer Zeb Soanes is used to leaving or coming home in the early hours – and it was because of these nocturnal shifts that the idea of his new book, Gaspard the Fox, came about.

Speaking at Hay with illustrator James Mayhew on the origins of the book, which tells the story of a bushy-tailed youngster who lives beside the Regent’s Canal in the Angel, he explained how his loveable creature was based on a real urban fox.

“I first met Gaspard when I was coming home from work. I often leave the house at 4am or return at 1.30am – good fox times,” he said.

“I gave him a piece of ham to eat. From then on he would come back and slink in and find me.”

The illustrations in the book are clearly the streets around Angel, and were an inspiration for Zeb.

“The particular part of Islington in which I live is so rich in architecture and with the canal running through, it is the perfect setting for Gaspard’s adventure aside from being the natural home of the real Gaspard,” he added. “It has been wonderful to celebrate it in the book and in particular the Angel Canal Festival – a terrific community event.”

• Gaspard The Fox. By Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew, Graffeg, £12.99

‘Noel says it’s all about vowels and sounds’

Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records

IT is the ultimate act of rock and roll anarchy: head back to a hotel after your knock-out gig, find the nearest telly, and hoik it out of the window.

So when Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, the label based in Primrose Hill that gave us bands such as Oasis, Primal Scream and The Libertines, went up to the fifth floor suite of the Britannia Hotel in Manchester with The Libertines, he half-expected such shenanigans.

Speaking at the Hay Festival – he has written a book called Creation Stories, about his life as a seminal figure in contemporary British music – he revealed that Pete Doherty was determined to do the telly-and-hotel-window trick, as it was what rock stars did.

“It was about 2004 and The Libertines were flying,” he recalled.

“He picked up this TV and staggered over towards the window. He hurled it at it, but it bounced off a frame in the middle, hit him smack in the face and knocked him out cold.

“I sat over him, slapping his face and I thought he’d died. He didn’t come round for about five minutes.”

While The Libertines won a huge fan base, Alan feels a sense of unfinished business when it comes to the band who stalked the pubs and clubs of Camden Town at the height of their fame.

“My failure to get the best out of Pete Doherty is one of the things I truly regret,” he writes in his book.

“It still feels to me like I have unfinished business with them. Pete sober would be the biggest rock and roll star in the world. He’s got everything: songs, lyrics, attitude. He’s so sharp, so quick and he is still young. But he’s also the most nihilistic man I’ve ever met and in the end I didn’t know how to reach him.”

Alan was born in Glasgow, the son of a shop worker and a car panel beater. He moved to London in his late teens, hoping to earn a living as a bassist in a punk band – but ended up getting into management and setting up Creation, all while earning £80 a week as a stores clerk for British Rail.

“I wasn’t very good at the bass, but I was good at getting people into things they didn’t know they were into,” he said.

“I realised I should really get into management. I ran a club called The Living Room and it was very successful. I made £800 in my first week. I thought I’d start my own label, with The Jesus and Mary Chian and Primal Scream. Creation ran for 17 years but I remember thinking if we get a year out of this, it will be a miracle. We lost money on our first 11 releases. At that point the charts were Wham, Kajagoogoo, Duran Duran – but then we sold 50,000 off one record with The Jesus and Mary Chain.”

In 1993, he went to a gig in Glasgow to see 18 Wheeler, a Creation band, but had got to the venue early – and it was here he first set eyes on Oasis.

“There was all this drama going on with bouncers and a Manchester band who had come down for an away day and demanding to play even though they weren’t on the bill,” he reveals.

“Liam looked amazing. A proper Adidassed-up mod. He had hair like a young Paul Weller and I thought he must be a drug dealer because nobody in a band looks that good.

“I said to the promoter, why don’t you let them go on and play four songs? It was going to turn into a fight otherwise.”

He was blown away by their brief performance and he decided he was going to sign them there and then.

As for Oasis, Alan saw them go from a band he had stumbled across at a gig they weren’t even meant to be playing at to becoming such global stars that the media invented a whole new movement to describe what they were doing.

“Oasis were a rock and roll band,” he says. “They were not ‘Brit Pop’. It was a label they were given but it wasn’t them. It was a term the media used. Brit Pop was a weird one – I have lived through many different movements and I think punk was possibly the most important culturally, but it didn’t actually sell that many acts.

“Acid House was also huge – it changed the whole country. When Brit Pop happened, it wasn’t actually socially or culturally important, but it sold a shit load of records.”

And so for someone who has overseen seminal soundtrack moments of the past three decades, Alan has an idea of what makes a hit record.

“All the rest of the lyrics can be rubbish, but the first line has to be absolutely genius, and you need to get to the chorus as quickly as possible,” he said.

“Noel says the words are unimportant, it is all about the vowels and the sounds. Music is a universal language – and a melody is universal.”

Creation Stories: Riots, Records and Running a Label. By Alan McGee. Pan MacMillan, £13.99

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