Irvine Welsh doesn’t need too much of an introduction does he? As a long term friend of Pikes, we were over the moon when he came out to be part of the inaugural Pikes Literary Festival last year, organised by fellow Scottish author, Neil Forsyth. The Literary Festival is back again this year and Irvine will be returning for it. So we thought we’d have a catch up on writing, tigers in pubs and Acid House.
Are you a bit of a nomad, Irvine? You’ve lived in loads of places.
Yeah, I move around a bit. I kind of find that after five years getting into a place I get itchy feet. I also think that when you really start to enjoy a place then it’s time to go. It’s like a party – go when you’re enjoying it and when you go to the next one you’ll take the good vibe with you. If outstay your welcome you get a bad vibe and carry that to the next place. I think places where you live are a bit like that too.
You’ve said that all writers have to travel to gain experience – is that how you ended up visiting Ibiza?
Yes and no – it was mainly just hedonism. The first time I was there was probably in 1982. A classic lads package holiday type of thing and to be quite frank, at that time the whole counter-culture side of the island would have been lost on me – I could have been in Benidorm. We were staying in the West End, finding the first bar and staying in it. I went back throughout the 90s quite regularly and it was always interesting to watch people move out to Ibiza. They’d be having the time of their lives one year and then you’d go back the next and their eyes would be glazed over. You’d think, “you’ve gotta come home and recharge.”
How did you end up at Pikes?
I got very friendly with the guys at Manumission when it was kicking off big time and it was really just through being in that network. Ibiza, in quite a lot of ways, is quite a small place. You had Pikes, you had Manumission and Mambo and you’d just go to them all.
When you were growing up in Scotland wasn’t there a pub that had a lion in it?
It was a tiger. It was on the docks in Leith. The pub was called the Kings Wark – it’s now a fancy restaurant. When you grow up in a place that has an almost Victorian port vibe, where there are imported animals and prostitutes on the corner, people openly dealing drugs and drunken sailors and dockers, that kind of thing sticks with you. When I got into my teens all that was beginning to go but there were still the ship builders and the merchant seaman and dock workers. The Spiral discotheque was the one club in Leith and we’d meet our fathers in the pubs first. Me and my friends would go and talk to all the shipyard workers because they were all the guys who’d be tooled up. I came from a docks family and I didn’t want to talk to the dockers, I was fascinated by the merchant seamen because their tales were always exotic. One of my old man’s pals was a real character. He was a merchant seaman and he said, “you’re about to go down to the Spiral to pull some lassies from the same nursery school as you… fuck off man, get out and start pulling some posh fanny, I’m telling you, and you can go all over the place.” He was the kind of guy who had sailed the seven seas and had someone in every port. I think his advice stuck with me and this other guy as we
said we’d be going off up to town…
Are you ever tempted to write about Leith in the 1800s?
Adventures on the high seas and whaling and trawlers and all that? Yeah, I have been, yeah. I’d need to a bit of research and one thing I’m terrible at is sitting there doing research. I don’t mind going out and interviewing and
talking to people but poring through books in the library, I don’t know if I could do that. I keep waiting for this relaxed, old cunt vibe to kick in for me as I’m at that age where it should be. It has for a lot of my mates, there
are a lot of writers that I know that are my age who are happy to sit in a library and are fascinated by tidal maps and stuff but I’m like, “fuck that nonsense, I still want to get out and have it.” I am hoping that the old cunt thing
kicks in quite soon, you know?
You’ve said writing is a means to discovery, a way to dive into subconscious – is that why you’ve done DMT?
Yeah. You’ve got to learn as much about yourself as you can and I don’t really think that rampant, hedonistic drug use is the answer, particularly at my age. You can’t really do that so you have to be very strategic about these things. The DMT thing is not a recreational drug, it’s a purely experimental thing. Also, when take it you can get up the
next day and go about your business as if nothing’s happened. And that’s great, that’s very tempting to me at this time of life.
Do you find people are intimidated by you?
Maybe at first but I’m pretty laid back and approachable so that kind of goes once they get to know me. And then when it goes it can be a bit like, “Fuck me, I wish they were intimidated by me again because they’re a fucking pain in the arse right now.”
Do you feel like you’ve defined a generation?
It’s a funny concept, one that I don’t really identify or accept. As a writer you’re writing about the popular culture that’s already there, so by definition the generation has already defined itself. I was really just looking at it and writing about it. I don’t think anybody can define a generation.
How do you feel when your name is grouped in with the YBAs?
You know, when you look at what people did, particularly in the art world with conceptual art at the time, it’s really changed everything about art and the way we look at it. I think that’s a massive achievement, so in some ways I’m very, very flattered but in other ways you’ve got hold your hands up and say it’s not really got a lot to do with me. I appreciate art but my mind doesn’t work in the way that I can create it and produce an installation or complete something in that way. I wish it did. I think with every artist, musician, writer you see it more and more as everything becomes more digitised and technology advances. The skill, the musicianship or whatever isn’t the important thing – creativity becomes separated from the actual skill. So you see there’s a common creative thread and common process for people whatever their creative or artistic endeavour.
Do you find the train is a great place to write?
It’s brilliant – when I get the Edinburgh to London train I’m kind of pissed off to get off. I want to go back again. There’s a romance to writing on a train as well when you look out of the window and see the world just sliding by.
Would you say, outside of writing, you express your creativity through music?
Yeah, it’s become easier for me after not being involved in music at all for years and then coming back into it and the technology having changed. Especially to get to the level that I want to in both production and DJing. I had a low level of musicianship and skill but I always had a high level of creativity, but I couldn’t express that through my limited musicianship. Now musicianship is less important but that’s because you have all this technology that is very accessible. So I felt like I could come in at a creative level where I could do music. I can work on a harmony or a melodic structure that’s going on in my head and then just sit in the studio with my buddy Steve and just work it all out, select the right sounds and just build a track. And that’s brilliant to be able to do that. You don’t need to be in a band or to have those relationships: the drummer might be a cunt, the bassist might be a drug addict – if it’s me then he probably is – or they might not be very good (again, if it’s me he probably isn’t) or the singer might be a total diva. You don’t need all that, you just need to get on with it. Me and Steve are here to graft, we’ll have a lot of fun and have a laugh but the next day we’ll be back in the studio working. When there’s only two of you, the egos go out the room. It’s just all about the work and getting on with it.
Has a sample or song ever sparked ideas for books you’re working on or the other way round?
Yeah they do. I’ve got standing desks so I’ve got two computers, one for writing and one that’s hooked up to all the software packages and the keyboards. I can be messing around on that and get a little riff and I’ll think, “this is that character that I’ve just been writing about.” Particularly if you’re at the very initial stages of writing something, when you realise that something you’ve been working on is actually becoming a story and you need to work out where to go with it. I try and do a playlist for each character, that’s something I’ve always done. I try and think of what they’d be listening to and how they’d find that music, what records do they have. So you start listening to those records and sometimes it’s music that you don’t necessarily like. For instance, when I wrote Filth, I made the main character, Bruce Robertson into Country & Western and Heavy Metal and into cheesy power ballads. But as a result of that, I then got into all that stuff!
So did you get into Acid House by going to Shoom like everyone else?
The first time I went to Shoom I was the only person not on ecstasy. I was like Michael Douglas in that nightclub scene in Basic Instinct. A couple of years later I was at a Christmas party back in Edinburgh and my friend Susan forced me to take a pill. I’d been a smackhead and I didn’t want to get into drugs again. I took it and we were listening to those Christmas songs by Slade and Wizzard and I was thinking, “this is fucking horrible.” I was feeling really nice but I really wanted to be somewhere else. Susan said we should go to UFO and they were playing Acid House there and it all started to make sense. From then on, like everybody else, I acted like I’d invented Acid House. I was DJing, promoting, travelling around all the clubs and having parties all over the UK and further afield. I just became lost in it. It’s almost in a way that it was really lucky for me that my writing took off when it did or I would have been fucked. I’d been energised to write this book because I was influenced by the 4:4 beats and was trying to get that into my writing. It gave me those tools and I had the success with the books. And then you realise that writers and ravers operate at very different hours. I thought I can’t fucking spend the time, as much as I love doing it, hanging around record shops, talking about white labels and imports and secret gigs. And to stop the whole lifestyle of being a DJ and house aficionado shit pipe. So I did. I was compelled to take the writing seriously because it was now my job. Which is probably why I’m still here to be honest with you. Acid House saved me from my horribly boring, straight, middle class professional life by giving me writing and writing saved me from Acid House. Now I’m
getting back into making music and techno, it’s like Acid House is saving me again.
At what point did you meet the legendary Klaus Blatter?
I’d heard from Steve Mac, who I produce music with, that he was working with this guy called Klaus Blatter who claimed to be one of the originators of Acid House. He had met a guy called Novak Spormento who was a producer from Croatia and who was Klaus’ partner back in the day. They said that Klaus had all these white labels, which I was very cynical about. But Chad Jackson from the Hacienda verified this and I heard some of the tracks, which I have to say are good. But I’m still very dubious about his claims to be one of the lead guys of Acid House. It’s been 30 years since the Second Summer of Love and people are starting to say that the youth now are in a similar situation.
Do you think that time will ever be replicated?
Yeah, I think it’s difficult now because it’s such a media culture. We’re all media people and everything’s online – we have all these personas and social media. The word of mouth element that made things back then so subversive, when one person with a brick mobile phone would find out where the party was in some barn or warehouse, was
just unbeatable. That vibe – the idea that you really do have to fight for the right to party and we really appreciated it. You’d go along to these raves and when the sound system kicked in for the first time you’d see all these people that you’ve never met before and you’d be treating them like long lost brothers and sisters. That was because there was so much to fight against. That kind of vibe must be what the kids are feeling with the Extinction Rebellion. They must be thinking, “this is fucking great! We’re saving the world and having a party!” What’s better than that?
As a long term visitor of Pikes Hotel, this will be the first one youv’e been to where there’ll be no appearances by Tony. Will that be strange for you?
I’d usually see him at breakfast sitting there with his eggs. It’s going to be weird being around the pool and Tony not being there.
How did the Pikes Literary Festival that you do come about?
Neil Forsyth started it. He’s got a long association with Ibiza and he’d been wanting to start one for a long time. He got me and John Niven involved in some kind of Jockarati kind of thing. We did it last year and it was great fun – Niven did a reading, I did a reading and also Matt Trollope who wrote the Tony Pike autobiography did a reading and we showed Trainspotting and Kill Your Friends and there was a load of music obviously. Because we run it towards the end of the season we also get some local people coming up there. And we’re doing it again this year.
Do you teach people how to actually write a book at the Literary Festival?
We do run workshops there as well. I’m rubbish at that kind of thing. I taught at the University of Chicago for six months to get my Green Card. I said to all the students that it was just a scam, the university’s just after your parents money. Fuck off and leave. If you want to become a writer, get an 8-ball, impregnate your brother’s girlfriend and
have him chase you with a shotgun down to Mexico. Catch some STDs and a verruca. The Dean pulled me into his office and told me I couldn’t say that – they needed the students to get money. So I’d say to them, “everybody above 28 fine, stay here and learn something, but if you’re just out of High School get a bit of a life.” If a story starts, “When I was back in High School…” I mean, who gives a fuck?
Do you think it’s true that everyone’s got a book in them?
Well it’s like what Christopher Hitchens said, “everybody’s got a book in them, and in most cases it should stay in them.” Everybody’s got a story in them, but does it need to be a book?
Listen to a selection of the finest Acid House tracks, chosen by the one & only Klaus Blatter.
Words from the 2019 edition of the Pikes magazine by Josh Jones