About Time, indeed. But it had to be the right time.
Owen paul mcgee has waited a long time to make this record. Thirteen years ago he turned his back on fame and stardom and a career that had already given him a top three hit single - because he couldn’t make the music that he wanted to make.
Now, with ‘About Time’ he has finally recorded the album he’s always wanted - romantic, heartfelt, meaningful, passionate and honest. The album is full of soaring melodies, intelligent lyrics and emotional vocals, it’s a recording that makes no concessions to the vagaries of fad or fashion. It wasn’t made to fit any format or formula. There was no marketing plan or grand design. Just a belief that the only way to make music is to be true to yourself.
“I always said, I would never make a record again, unless I had the freedom to make the record I wanted. Now I have found that freedom, and I made the album simply because I have a desire to hear more of the kind of music I like. It really is as simple as that, and if it touches someone else out there, then I cant ask for any more.”
If the name sounds familiar, so it should. Owen paul mcgee grew up in a working class community in Glasgow at a time when the two main escapes from a life of grind in the shipyards or the steel foundaries were football and music. Owen probably could have done either. He played football for scottish school boys and was taken on as teen age apprentice at Celtic. Then he heard the sex pistols!
“I was fifteen and it was around the time of the punk boom,” he recalls. “I was still on the books at celtic, but everybody was forming bands, and I got roped in. I couldn’t play an instrument but I could make a good noise and to everybody’s surprise, including my own. Immediately I heard punk I knew I had to stop playing football.”
His brother, brian, formed a group which went on to become simple minds. Owen too was soon singing in various punk and later new romantic bands. At the age of seventeen he moved to london and played legendary clubs such as the marquee, the 100 club, and the rock garden. But he also had the overwhelming desire to write his own songs and by the mid 80’s had opted for a solo career. A demo recorded on a home four track secured him an appearance on bbc2’s the oxford road show, which had an unsigned act slot and within twenty four hours sony were knocking at his door with a contract.
His first single, ‘Please To Meet You’, was released in early 1986 and made little impact. But the follow up, ‘My Favourite Waste Of Time’, became a huge hit reaching number three in the UK charts, scoring similar success all over Europe and eventually selling two million copies. And that was the start of his troubles.
”I was on ‘top of the pops’ and flying around the place and for a lot of people it would have been a dream come true,” he recalls. “But it was going in a direction I didn’t want. It felt to me as if it was killing what I had to offer.”
His first album was released in the autumn of 1986 and he delivered a couple of tracks to sony as potential follow up singles. But they didn’t fit the commercial format the label was seeking.
“they wanted me to make records I didn’t like. I didn’t care how much money it would have made me - I couln’t go on tv and have people say,’ you must be really proud of this record’, when I knew I wasn’t.”
One day during a particularly fractious meeting with the record company, Owen walked out and never went back. “Everybody thought I was insane, but to me it was obvious. I couldn’t express myself in that environment . If I had been attracted by fame it would have been different. But I wasn’t. If I couln’t make the music I wanted and be happy within myself, I wasn’t going to do it.”
For all practical purposes Owen had left the music business far behind him. It was time for a new start, and that’s when he cemented his partnership with close confidante and long term friend, Charles B. Lewis. Charles was aware of all the in’s and out’s of Owen’s relationship with Sony and was embarking on an amazing ride of his own. From that day on it would take the two of them on a course of creating, developing, buying and selling entertainment businesses throughout the world. Those interests included building the hard rock and Planet Hollywood franchises throughout the carribean and south america, creating a partnership with Warner Bros. And opening a fifty thousand square foot entertainment centre in the heart of Las Vegas as well as producing video and films, just to name a few of their ventures.
However, throughout it all the songs kept coming for Owen. From day one, it was their unique partnership commitment, that when the time was right, they would record the album that they knew was a true reflection of Owen’s musical pursuit.
We may have heard from Owen as early as 1990, but by a twist of fate, it never materialised. Charles, while in the Bahamas, and with no introduction, knocked on the door of Chris Blackwell’s home. Amazingly enough, the Island Record’s guru, invited him in and after listening to his story and Owen’s demos, offered at no financial commitment, the acclaimed compass point studios along with a New York producer, for a threee month session. It was toward the end of this session, that Island Records was sold to Polygram and with new priorities abound for Island plus the lengthy transition period, Owen & Charles realised the time was still not right and decided to move on.
A year ago, they finally felt the time had come to make the record that Owen had always wanted to make. The partnerships’ business ventures had given them a certain financial security and so the commercial pressures which Owen had so loathed in his pop star days no longer applied.
Charles set out to find the right people to assist on the making of the record and in an amazing stroke of coincidence, was approached by David Ravden ( see note 1. Below for brief bio on David Ravden) & Peter Van Hooke (see note 2 below for brief bio on Peter Van Hooke. ) They were both seeking to use their infinite experience to create a new record label, that would devote it’s development to the real singer songwriter and after a few meetings it was clear that they all had a similar vision & it was time. The right people were all on board and Owen was studio bound.
The songs were turning up whether he invited them or not. For Owen has an unusual relationship with his muse. “ I don’t sit around with a guitar and play a few chords and say, that’s nice, I can get a song out of that,” he explains. “The songs arrive complete in my head. Then I have to figure out how to play them.”
“When we started making the album I didn’t want any restriction on time because I had done the pop thing with market forces breathing down my neck. We wanted to make the record first, then figure out what to do with it afterwards.”
Initially, he had planned to use the songs he had stockpiled over the years, but the new songs came in such a rush, that most of the record was written last year. Ultimately, “About Time” is all about the songs.
“Although I play many of the instruments on the album, I don’t think of myself as a great musician,” he says modestly. “The instruments are a tool for conveying the song that I have heard in my head.”
Ask a hundred song writers what makes a great song, and you will probably get a hundred different answers. But in his years away from the music business, Owen has clearly thought about the subject deeply.
“You can have clever lyrics and a nice melody and that still doesn’t make it a great song,” he says. “ Music can do so much more than that. It can touch you and that’s all I’m trying to do, if I don’t capture that on this record then I feel I have failed.” He hasn’t of course.
Owen Paul Mcgee has finally made the record of his life. But then again, it was about bloody time, wasn’t it?
Note 1 David Ravden :
David is one of Britain’s leading music business managers and industry experts. His firm, Martin Greene Ravden, has been at the top of the music business tree, for the last 20 years and has acted for a huge range of UK & International artists. Duran Duran, Madonna, George Michael, The Beatles, Gabrielle to name just a few.
Note 2 Peter Van Hooke :
Peter’s productions have sold in excess of 11 million albums in the last 5 years. He has also been one of Britains leading session musicians and the drummer for Van Morrison & Mike And The Mechanics.