What distinguishes Irvine Welsh as a legendary writer beyond his ability to poignantly depict the ‘oh-so-close’ tails of the alienated and often intoxicated working-class, is his kinship to music.
Having Iggy Pop feature heavily on the soundtrack to Trainspotting, for example, did as many favours for Iggy’s career as it did for the reception of Welsh’s story. He finds himself on the fold of the cultural cool, with a secondary career as a DJ, where he leads crowds at festivals and notably at the Music Winter Conference into his raggedy time machine, which leads back to the disjoint and euphoria of ’90s EDM.
However, music for Welsh is more than a pastime or a portal to rumination. Welsh tackles music as a deep, analytical thinker, as he has since his childhood. He values the role of music so highly because of the visceral connection it invokes between people, a feat that may be lost with words in a more conventional form. Whilst his parents were typically into “The Beatles and Elvis,” Welsh also embraced the progressive and laced his writing with the same philosophy. In the days of punk, unlike many of his evangelical friends, he also dedicated time to disco. “I hated that you had to be either punk or disco,” he explains.
“I loved dancing and going out and getting off with girls.” This quite humble summary of his own journey with music would find itself politicised in his future novels, particularly in Filth. Whilst the film and its lead James McAvoy certainly deserved critical recognition for his performance, Bafta ignored it. Welsh believes this to be because: “The arts establishment, in general, finds it really hard to deal with working class anger represented in movies and books. Especially when it’s a character who is very misogynistic and very racist. That reality is brushed aside. If it’s way in the past – something like 12 Years A Slave – they can get into it then and indulge all their liberal guilt about that. But to actually face up to stuff that’s going on now – they seem to find that really distasteful to deal with.” Welsh’s desire to push forward rather than indulge in the past has both shocked and captivated his audiences and further served to strengthen his relationship with writing and music.
Welsh seems, in mainstream culture, to be out on his own with this viewpoint. And we thank him for that. But in order to understand his own motivations to merge the two worlds, we must look at the albums which brought about the man. Luckily, it’s an invitation he’s been more than happy to extend to us in an interview with The Quietus.
Irvine Welsh’s 13 favourite albums:
T Rex – Electric Warrior
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
When detailing some of his selections, Welsh decided to kick things off with a record that started his affiliation with music; T Rex’s 1971 album Electric Warrior. “It was the first LP I bought,” the writer said in the interview. “It was a big thing. You’d save up all your money and buy an album every weekend. I’d graduated from buying singles – mainly Beatles and the Stones – to albums and the first was Electric Warrior. I was about 13 or something like that. I’d seen Marc [Bolan] on Top Of The Pops. In those days, it was anything that disgusted your parents.”
Elsewhere, Welsh described Bowie’s work on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars as “another life-changing album” and, interestingly, stated that the “dark cabaret Lou Reed used to do has been very influential on my own writing style. “
When detailing his decision to pick Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life, Wels said: “It’s difficult to pick out one of these albums and say it’s the best. There’s just something amazing about that fusion between Bowie-orientated, Kraftwerk-influenced music and Iggy’s own voice and his energy and pop sensibility.”
With more complimentary words for the likes of Joy Division, Simple Minds, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Primal Scream withing Welsh’s list, much like his writing, is incredibly skilled and varied.
Follow this link to The Quietus to see the rest of his comments and stream the playlist, below.