In February 2016, modern-day Britain, a 33-year-old homeless man known to most people only as Simon, who’d been living on the streets of Liverpool, died in hospital of hypothermia. In a city of rampant and unfettered development, falling over itself to build ever-increasing amounts of accommodation in a city full of empty buildings, it’s staggering to know that a young man can literally freeze to death. Homelessness can be a silent killer: victims are unlikely to be graced with many column inches or obituaries. Society just moves on, and all too often people like Simon are forgotten, a mere statistic on a spreadsheet somewhere – or, worse still, nowhere.
ALAN MCGEE – the founder of Creation Records, who propelled The Jesus And Mary Chain, Oasis, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine to massive success – sees it everywhere, as we all do, and wonders how close we all may have come at some point or other. “It seems to be affecting the youth worse this time, somehow,” he says, speaking to us on the phone from his home in Wales. “My parents fuckin’ hated me. I got kicked out when I was 16 – can you imagine that now? What would you do if you suddenly found yourself on the streets at 16? In the 80s and 90s, when we moved to London we lived in squats; we were homeless, but the difference is we were too fuckin’ daft to know it at the time.”
“They don’t give a fuck, man,” he continues, getting fired up as he fixes his gaze on the pernicious Tory government. “I was in Glasgow the other week, DJing for Noel [Gallagher], and the city is on its fuckin’ knees. They always come for cities, proud cities full of proud people. They’ve got it in for places like Glasgow and Liverpool, man; they always have.”
The man behind a legendary era of British music wonders at the seeming hand-in-hand nature of homelessness and the relentless march towards the gentrification of our city centres, leading to the removal of important cultural spaces. Together they’re symptomatic of these cruel and unforgiving times, where the pursuit of a hard-line, profit-driven, corporate agenda rules the roost. McGee agrees that Cameron seems to be enjoying himself, almost revelling in all this destruction and the despair he seems so keen to wreak. “Yeah, I think it’s something to do with being a total fuckin’ psychopath,” he laughs, “or sociopath, if we’re being polite.”
Alan McGee can’t just stand by, however. He never could. He’s presented with an opportunity, and refusing opportunity simply isn’t in his nature. Musicians Against Homelessness is his new initiative, aimed at raising funds for the homelessness charity Crisis while simultaneously providing opportunities for bands to play. Support for MAH (@MAH_gigs) is spreading nationwide, and his hope is to build it into a yearly event, spread over two weeks every September. The project, to be launched with a gig in Leeds headlined by Cast, who he now manages, and his good friends The Farm, has already brought support from Courtney Love as well as The Libertines, Buzzcocks, Black Grape, Irvine Welsh and The Jesus And Mary Chain, with many more surely to follow.
McGee feels giving young bands the chance to play is as important as the cause. “We’re losing music venues all over the country. Without these venues, what chance will new bands – especially working-class bands – ever have of gaining the oxygen of experience and learning to refine their craft? Hopefully, this project will give a lot of new bands a chance to play and to exist in a place where they all can shine.”
“A lot of musicians are passionate about homelessness,” McGee continues. “I think we all realise just how close we are to it, as musicians; a lot of us have come close. In 1992, it could’ve gone either way for me, you know; it could’ve been a different story.”
McGee is keen for bands to get on board with Musicians Against Homelessness too, keeping as few barriers between new people joining up as possible. “It’s dead simple: you can be a small band and pull a hundred people, whatever, charge a fiver in. All we ask is that you contact Ian McHale, she’ll tick your box – and if she ticks your box you’re part of the gang – then we just ask you to send the money direct to Crisis. Every penny goes to the charity.”
Our conversation comes at the end of a momentous and historic week for Liverpool, for the families and survivors of the Hillsborough tragedy, and most importantly for justice and truth. Vindication, exoneration and relief that the families can finally begin the grieving process for their lost loved ones, after years of establishment deceit and media lies. McGee’s links to the city go back years, and he has many friends here, and in these moments, in this week of all weeks, he shares our pride in the battle fought by the families, shares our hopes for a future where they may find peace at last.
“I fuckin’ love Liverpool, man. It’s always been my spiritual home, because of The Beatles. What you’ve done, you people… I think it’s a real tipping point for the way the Tories, or the establishment, have taken the fuckin’ piss… you people proved they couldn’t actually get away with it. The Scousers put them back in their box. For years they took the piss, and the people never stood aside, never, ever gave up, never let them win. And you know what? You fuckin’ beat them.”
Alan McGee, a man whose intuition has proved itself on too many occasions, whose insight and grasp of the vibe has never disappointed, is full of admiration for this fight shown by the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster. “The families, the football fans, the musicians, the city, the counter-culture: everyone has fought back, and you’ve beaten the government, the establishment. That’s amazing, man. You know what, I actually think it might put The Sun out of business… you might actually close that fuckin’ paper down.”
The cultural history books will speak well of people like Alan McGee. With a judiciously placed finger on the very pulse of music in this country for so long, coupled with his tenacious blind faith in what he believes, he has soundtracked so many of our lives. We can only hope with his latest prediction that his eyes are as sharp as his ears.
Alan McGee delivers a TED talk as part of Sound City+ at The Titanic Hotel on Friday 27th May / from 14:00 in The Dream Factory.