The President's Cigar

If you returned home and found a chewed cigar would you conclude:

a) Your cat has too friendly a relationship with the nearest tobacconist?
b) An episode of Columbo has been filmed in your living room?
c) Bill Clinton has been to stay in your absence?

Those of us with a firm grasp on reality or a run of the mill existence would probably not opt for any of these explanations. But earlier this week at Hay-on-Wye I met a warmly entertaining Scotsman named Alan who had just heard Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg interviewed in a giant tent. He wore a black hat and his nearby home had been the former president’s crash-pad during his visit to the town’s literary festival.

This Glaswegian raconteur was full of self-deprecation and modesty. He didn’t get to meet the erstwhile world leader but was happy to think of him playing poker in his house with a posse of secret service agents.

The ex-president’s host has had an impact on world culture that most politicians and religious leaders can only gaze at in bewilderment and envy. When I learned his surname was McGee a geyser gush of memories from the 1990s soaked me in nostalgia.

X-factor's Simon Cowell has a bundle of admirable qualities and his commercial achievements are extraordinary, but go to Alan McGee’s Wikipedia page for a record of the life (so far!) of a true impresario.

As the founder of Creation Records he unleashed a cosmic storm of creativity. He is part of the story of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub.

Here was music conceived in Scotland and Ireland which stirred a new sense of sonic adventure in listeners worldwide. To labour a metaphor, it was as if the grit of urban Britain was turned into pearls within Creation’s oyster.

Then he signed Oasis. Imagine every man, woman and child in Wales holding 18 albums; that’s what sales of upwards of 54 million records looks like.

Life at the centre of such a cultural earthquake might make even the most sensible soul lose their sense of balance.

But on a sunny morning at Hay he seemed better grounded than most lighting rigs. He was famously feted by Tony Blair at Downing St with Oasis’s Noel Gallagher yet he was not in the slightest disappointed at the absence of a post-gig party with Mr Clegg.

“I like going to these things and then just going home,” he said. “I hate after-shows and meets and greets.”

This is a chap for whom it is the game on the pitch, the play on the stage, the track on the album and the actual record in Government which matter – not the hype. And if the road of rock and roll success leads to a house in Wales where a president can kip, what a happy ending.

A Thursday column