Photo: Alberto Gamazo
Irvine Welsh is Scotland’s leading chronicler of all manners of junkies, miscreants, schemies, hooligans, psychos and misfits. His first novel Trainspotting was published in 1993. Three years later, Danny Boyle’s film adaptation introduced Welsh’s creations Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie to the wider world. Just shy of twenty-one years after its release, the hottest ticket for the cineplex this weekend is T2 Trainspotting.
1996 became a hedonistic whirlwind of parties and premieres for Welsh. “I had a ball when Trainspotting came out, but I was so fucked all the time,” Irvine told me over a pot of green tea in the Gresham Hotel before the release of Filth in 2013.“I was always out and off my tits, so the success of Trainspotting kind of passed by in a haze of drugs and alcohol. I want to savour it properly this time around. I want to walk up the red carpet alone instead of having to be helped by half a dozen people.”
Noel Gallagher (who turned down an invitation to contribute to the original Trainspotting soundtrack as he actually thought it was about rail enthusiasts!) recalls a memorable encounter in the south of France. “I’ll tell you a good story about that fucker,” Gallagher told me chuckling in 2011. “We (Oasis) went to the Trainspotting premiere at the Cannes film festival all those years ago and we stayed in this mad hotel. In the rooms, there was a glass wall that led out into the balcony.
“He (Welsh) didn’t see the glass. So we all ordered Jack Daniels and whatever else, and he goes, “C’mon let’s go to the sea.’ So off he goes – BANG! – straight into the wall and knocks himself out. The producer Nellee Hooper and I were standing over him, completely shitting ourselves going, ‘Oh God, I think he’s dead!’ Then, he comes round, starts hugging us and roaring, ‘I LOVE YOU GUYS!’
“We had such a great laugh back then,” Welsh recalls. “We just tore up Cannes and had a mad time. Oasis and Trainspotting were both getting huge. It was our time, so we were just swanning around getting up to all sorts of mischief, living it large, conspicuously enjoying conspicuous success. “
The eventful years prior to this success are documented in a hilarious book entitled Carspotting – The Real Adventures of Irvine Welsh by his friend and fellow Hibs fan Sandy McNair, who I met at the Edinburgh New Year’s derby against Hearts in 2012. Amongst a litany of high jinks, arrests and numerous other scrapes, a court appearance for a drunk and disorderly charge is brilliantly retold, where Welsh, quite literally, gets out of jail with his “foolish whiz kid with one too many gin and tonics routine.”
There are echoes of this episode in the Courting Disaster chapter of Trainspotting, where Renton has to spectacularly think on his feet. “It’s skill I don’t need so much now, but most definitely back then,” Welsh adds. “Now, it’s not so much thinking on my feet as standing on my feet.”
It has been a long and winding road since Trainspotting lit up the screen and gave British cinema an almighty root up the arse in 1996. “Filth has been twelve years in the making,” Welsh reveals. “Initially, we tried to get different directors attached to it, but they all wanted to do their own scripts but they were all fucking terrible. We ran out of money and Trudie Styler (Sting’s wife) basically saved the day.
“Obviously, she’s smart enough to know that this could be a huge movie. The book is my biggest seller after Trainspotting, so that certainly makes it more palatable for investors. It puts it in a very strong position as there’s about a million people in the UK who have read it. You have the Trainspotting generation, but now it is their kids that are now picking up on it. I’m really lucky and thrilled to have that following and they come along to the readings and all that.”
Welsh was eagerly anticpating the making of T2 Trainspotting. “It’ll be very exciting to get all those characters back together, but unless we get a really cutting edge script, it’ll be nostalgic like the Rolling Stones 50th anniversary comeback,” he maintains. “I’d rather if it is a bit more like David Bowie’s – something that feels really fresh and not just run through the characters, but give them something interesting to do.”
Of course, Trainspotting was much more than a movie, as it spawned arguably the best soundtracks of the 90s. “I’ve got a lot of musician friends, and because we didn’t have a lot of money to license stuff, we were calling in a lot of favours when it came to the soundtrack,” Welsh explains. “Danny already knew Leftfield, and I’d gotten to know a lot of musicians from the Britpop era, like Primal Scream, Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, as well as Iggy Pop and Underworld. For T2, I’d gotten to know Young Fathers through mutual friends in Edinburgh and really liked their stuff, so I hooked them up with Danny and he thought it was exactly the right sound for the film. ”
Young Fathers contribute three tracks to T2, which quite simply is an absolutely wonderful film that spectacularly bucks the trend of sequels being disappointing. “I think it’s better than the first film – it’s more emotional, more layered, there’s more subtext there,” Welsh said this week.
“It’s like watching a deconstruction of 35 years of neoliberalism, from beginning to end, what that’s done to Britain and where we stand now. In the UK, we don’t really make ‘big’ films – our schtick is interesting, quirky wee films. But this film is massive, and when you put the two together, it’s almost like The Godfather trilogy – a huge emotional landscape that gives you a sense of what’s happened during our times.”
T2 Trainspotting is out at cinemas nationwide this weekend, Australia on February 23, and the US on March 17.