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How Irvine Welsh Went from Enfant Terrible to the Scottish Tourist Board's Favourite Guy

We had a big lunch and a nice chat with the iconic Scottish author.

by Tristan Kennedy; photos by Dan Medhurst
18 December 2019, 10:00am

Irvine Welsh at Beat Hotel Marrakesh.

Irvine Welsh is hungover. Naturally. We've arranged to meet for lunch on day three of the four-day Beat Hotel Festival in Marrakesh, where, later that afternoon, he'll give a reading in the incendiary, performative style that has become his trademark. But like many of the festival-goers at this late stage of the campaign, his current mood is slightly more subdued.

You'd expect nothing less, of course. Welsh is, after all, the bard of big nights out, the unofficial poet laureate of the absolutely leathered; a man who turned tales of drink and drug-fuelled craziness into an art form – as well as book sales mounting into the millions, and one of the most influential British films ever made.

Now in his sixties, Welsh is rich enough to never have to work again, but he wears his wealth lightly: baggy jeans, a T-shirt from an Edinburgh skateboard brand, a snapback pulled low over his shaved head. He mutters a greeting from behind reflective, Wayfarer-style sunglasses. Would he be able to take them off for one or two shots, the photographer asks. "I'd rather not, my eyes are like fuckin' piss-holes in the snow."

Sweary, straight-talking, his Leith accent still firmly in place (despite not having lived there for years), this is the Welsh you can read between the lines of Trainspotting; the Irvine you imagine typing out those Tory-bashing Twitter rants; the person projected publicly by his gloriously-unfiltered Instagram feed. He's a man whose reputation precedes him, and not unintentionally. Whether you ask his friends or his critics, they'll tell you the same thing: that Welsh has always been conscious of the way he comes across.

He's also never been shy about sharing his opinions – as demonstrated by those regular social media salvoes, which take aim at everything from Trump, to today's Scotland, to the state of the sandwiches on British trains. Thankfully, Irvine's reluctance to remove his shades in no way indicates reticence as an interviewee.

This hangover is a few days old, he explains, and compounded by jet lag. He only flew in from Miami, where he now lives, last night. He's spent the past few days at the Winter Music Conference, the annual dance music industry gathering. He had "a few people from London" staying in his apartment, and apparently didn't hold back.

It wasn't just partying, though. Irvine was also promoting his new musical side-project, which he describes as "mostly German, country & western, techno". Seeing the blank look on my face, he attempts to clarify. "Like sort of acid house ballads, you know?"

I don't, and I'm suddenly unsure of where I stand. Welsh is, after all, famous for winding up journalists. When he wasn't writing them into his novels, he spent much of the 90s telling fictionalised versions of own life experiences to various interviewers. Before I can ask what "German, country & western, techno" might sound like, however, we're ushered over to lunch.

Welsh's late arrival at the festival meant he skipped last night's cutting-edge main stage line-up, but he's more gutted about having missed Andrew Weatherall's set. The DJ is a friend, he explains, having risen to fame in the same early-90s era, when he famously remixed Primal Scream (another act who Irvine counts as pals). Weatherall's still going strong nearly 30 years later. His sets have evolved somewhat, but he's not afraid to trot out the acid house classics.

Music is a constant reference point for Welsh, both in his writing and in his conversation. "When I was trying to write originally, because I was raving all the time, I was trying to get a 4/4 beat on the page," he says, as wine is poured and the first dish of our five-course taster menu arrives. "That's why I wrote in the vernacular, because it's a performative thing – it's got a beat to it, you know?" This time, I do. It's easy to see the links between what Welsh was doing in the early-90s and the wave of exciting music emerging from clubs, illegal raves and the studios of producers like Weatherall. But all that was a long time ago.

In many ways, Welsh's life couldn't be more different to the period that inspired Trainspotting. Speaking engagements mean he flies constantly these days, and he's lived all over the world – Miami the latest city in a sequence that includes London, Barcelona, Chicago and San Francisco. Yet in his novels, he keeps returning to the same few square miles at the bottom of Leith Walk, and to the same cast of characters – Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie – that first made him famous.

Is this Irvine keeping it real, or merely playing the part expected of him? Certainly critics haven't been universally kind to his more recent work. More than one has suggested that, like a late-career musician, he's resorted to repeating the same, increasingly tired, old hits.

Last year, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Trainspotting, fellow Scottish novelist Duncan McLean was asked to share some memories of his friend: "Irvine Welsh, you say? Could I write a few words about Irvine Welsh? I tell you, I could write a lot of words about a lot of Irvine Welshes. But which is the real Irvine? I don't know."

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Duncan McLean and Irvine Welsh.

Like much about Irvine Welsh, the details of his early life, including his exact date of birth, are shrouded in mystery – a result, perhaps, of his mastery for misleading journalists. "The best wind-up ever," he recounts gleefully, was of one Guardian journalist, who was shocked to find himself interviewing a man talking not in the Trainspotting vernacular, but in RP English. "By jove, how do you write this stuff?" he asked. To which Irvine apparently replied, in his perfect cut-glass accent: "Well, you've just got to have a good ear for these things."

What is certain is that Irvine was born and raised in northern Edinburgh, spending much of his childhood in a maisonette in Muirhouse – the infamous "scheme" that would provide the dismal setting for a lot of his early work. Like Trainspotting's Mark Renton, who's sometimes seen as his fictional alter-ego, he came from a family with one "vaguely Catholic" and one "vaguely Protestant" parent. But neither were really religious, and among his contemporaries the real church was Easter Road, home to Hibernian FC, the Leith-based club he fell for at an early age, with the fervour of a true believer.

Having left school at 16 he worked various jobs, before drifting down to London in the late 1970s, where he played in punk bands. Then, again like Renton, he made a "choice" that would change his life, becoming hooked on the heroin that swept through Scottish schemes in the 1980s, trailing HIV, still a certain death sentence at the time, in its wake.

To hear him tell it, heroin for Irvine was less of a nihilistic rejection of the norms of life (including "mortgage payments, washing machines, spirit-crushing game shows" and all the rest of it), and more a natural next step on the path he was on. "I had a kind of hedonistic adventurous mentality, like, 'I can take any drugs, I'm as hardcore as fuck.'" But having developed a reputation as the last man standing at any given party in his early twenties, he soon found himself trapped by it.

At the time, he says, "I thought there was one year that I was an addict – just out of control. But talk to other people and they would say, 'No fuck, you were out of control long before that.'" Unlike many addicts, however, once he'd got out, at the age of 24, Welsh seems to have had no problems staying out.

"When I was 28 and writing a book I thought, 'I'm gonna go back to this and give it a shot, and see what happens.' But I got no buzz from it at all. I only got the sickness injected right back into me. It was like every single comedown had just come back." And that, for Irvine Welsh, was that. Looking back now, he says, "It's probably the best thing I did in a way, because it made me realise: I am kind of done with this drug. It's not going to give me anything else."

In a physical sense, he may be right. But, I point out, heroin did give him lots more – arguably an entire career. He laughs. "Yeah, it's the best thing I ever did," and then – perhaps realising the way that might look written down – clarifies: "I mean, starting it was the best thing I ever did, but stopping it when I did was too – it was the right time to start and the right time to stop. Don’t overstay your welcome." He chuckles again. "I got enough lived-in despair to make it actually work, but not enough to fuck up the rest of my life."

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Irvine Welsh at Beat Hotel Marrakesh.

After Trainspotting was published, one of the main accusations levelled at it by a scandalised literary establishment was that it glamourised drug use. Did he ever worry, especially after the film's particular brand of 90s cool sent it stratospheric, that he'd made using heroin look kind of sexy?

"Well, it is kind of sexy," he replies. "I mean, if it wasn't fun, people wouldn't do it." To be truthful in fiction, he argues, "You have to show that side of it. But you also you have to show the consequences of it all." And while it was the graphic scenes of drug use that generated a lot of the column inches, there was always far more to Welsh's work than just a series of stories about junkies.

Certainly there was nothing glamorous about the first piece Welsh ever had published. The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival was one of the many short stories that later made it into Trainspotting almost unchanged. It's the one that features Renton fishing about in his own diarrhoea for the opium suppositories he's just shat out – a scene that Danny Boyle took to new, magical realist heights, in the film version.

"It was in an anthology called New Writing Scotland, [which allowed] open submissions," remembers Duncan McLean, down the phone from Orkney, where he now lives. "I'd never heard of Irvine Welsh. Nobody I asked knew anything about him, and yet this story was by far the best in that anthology. It was something completely new, completely fresh."

It wasn't just that it was simultaneously funny, tragic and revolting – it was also, to Duncan, revolutionary. "I could see that he was doing the same thing I was trying to do, except possibly better – which is a kind of working class, everyday voice of the East Coast of Scotland."

At the time Duncan was living just outside Edinburgh with his friend James Meek, a fellow writer who went on to be The Guardian's Moscow correspondent in the 90s, as well as publishing award-winning novels of his own.

Inspired in part by fanzine culture, the pair had co-founded their own literary imprint, Clocktower Press, which James describes as "a pre-internet effort to get past the gatekeepers of publishing". He remembers Duncan coming home and telling him excitedly about this new talent he'd discovered. "And I thought, 'Well, that sounds... interesting.'"

They weren't the only people whose interest had been piqued.

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Two front covers of 'Rebel Inc.'

Kevin Williamson – poet, publisher and Irvine's long-term partner in provocation – is describing the foundation of his early-90s literary magazine, Rebel Inc.: "I boiled our manifesto down to two slogans: 'Fuck the mainstream' and, 'Fuck London'."

At Williamson's suggestion, we've met in The Tourmalet, a cycling-themed pub off Leith Walk. Not because Kevin is a particular bike lover (he barely seems to notice that the Tour de France is climbing the Col du Tourmalet in the background), but because it's close to Easter Road. It's raining, but he'll be watching Hibs play later that afternoon regardless.

Softly-spoken with a pronounced widow's peak, Williamson, now in his fifties, has a careful, considered manner that seems better-suited to academia than shouting from the terraces. But when he talks poetry and politics, he does so with the passion of a fired-up young protester on a picket line.

"The cultural wave that had already begun in the 80s under Thatcher – I'm talking literature and music – I could feel it rising," he says. "I didn't know where it was going, but I just felt something was changing here in Scotland. You could actually feel the tectonic plates shifting at the time."

Like Duncan and James' Clocktower Press, Kevin's inspiration came from the DIY culture that had grown up around punk ("going right back to Sniffin' Glue fanzine in 1976"), as well as the emergence of new Scottish novelists like Janice Galloway and James Kelman. Kelman's 1984 debut The Busconductor Hines had "landed on the literati like a mortar bomb at Heathrow", according to Scotland on Sunday, but it was rejected by the Booker prize judges, who objected to its use of everyday Scots language and prolific swearing.

For the aspiring authors coming up in his wake, the ludicrousness of this London-centric attitude was obvious. "This was our language – it wasn't a slang, it wasn't some mutant bastardisation of English," Kevin says. Yet even ten years later, "when Jim Kelman [eventually] won the Booker Prize, they were counting the number of 'fucks' and 'cunts'. He's just written this work of high art, and they're counting the swearwords?"

Rebel Inc., in this context, was launched as a weapon in what Williamson calls "the language wars": an Exocet packed with (as issue #1 put it) "sharp new writing from Embra and other bits of Scotland like Falkirk", laser-targeted to shake the London literary establishment out of its complacency. "I wanted stories written in Scots – urban Scots, not historic Scots or Burns Scots or anything like that," says Kevin. "I wanted the voice of the football terraces, the voice of the parties, the clubs, the pubs and the housing estates."

Writing in Scots wasn't just about bypassing prudish publishers, or giving themselves a license to swear at will. It was about "giving a voice to people in literature and in culture who had been ignored". The magazine was a means of expressing "a developing sense of identity" – one that was proudly working class, proudly Scottish and profoundly different from what was happening south of the border. Because it wasn't just Scottish language and literature that was being marginalised, they were being ignored politically as well.

In 1992, to the surprise of many pundits, John Major won the general election. But while the UK as a whole narrowly voted Conservative, in Scotland, Labour won by a landslide. "The voice of Scotland was very different in 1992 to the voice of England," Kevin says. Yet in that pre-devolution era, the Scottish people's choice made no difference to who governed them. For people like Kevin, the result was further confirmation that things needed to change.

Like Duncan McLean, when Williamson had first read Welsh he'd recognised the sound of a writer hitting the nail on the head: linguistically, artistically and politically. With the pair of them acting as editors, encouragers and publishers, Irvine produced the succession of brilliant short stories that would form the basis of Trainspotting (and much of his later collection The Acid House) in the space of a few short years.

They were hilarious, scurrilous and often disgusting, but they also dealt with serious themes: addiction, AIDS and endemic violence; the exercise of free will, how choice is circumscribed by socio-economic conditions; and, of course, the collapse of society under a Conservative government that continued to promulgate the Thatcherite mantra that there was "no such thing".

When Welsh took it upon himself to gather various of these vignettes together, penning the linking chapters that would turn them into a novel, his friends immediately knew they had something special on their hands. "It was everything I'd been wanting to read in a novel form," remembers Kevin Williamson. "I loved Kelman, and Alasdair Gray and James Meek and Duncan's writing, but this…" He remembers going up to Orkney to visit Duncan, where he read the proofs overnight. "And then I went back down to Edinburgh and I said, 'Irvine, I want the first interview, because this book's going to change everything for all of us.'"

The interview in question, published in Issue 4 of Rebel Inc. in 1993, has now gone down in legend. Williamson and Welsh took a pill each, stuck a dictaphone on the table and recorded nearly three hours of ecstasy-fuelled conversation. The extract that made the magazine, apparently unedited, is impressively coherent. But the cover, a close-up of their outstretched tongues, each holding a fridge magnet of the letter "e", left no one in any doubt as to what they were up to.

For a literary magazine, it was an outrageous move. But it was also entirely in keeping with the new spirit animating the Scottish scene of the time. Duncan remembers Rebel Inc. readings where the audience was invited to play LSD roulette. "Kevin gave out tabs of blotting paper, except one in every hundred actually had acid on it. But nobody knew which one." Kevin talks about giving away drugs as raffle prizes ("I was quite inspired by the idea of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones, where the law of all the rest of the world doesn't exist," he explains).

Irvine's book launches, meanwhile, were like nothing the publishing world had ever seen. "They were selling out big 1,000-seater venues for the launch of Acid House and Ecstasy," remembers Kevin, and not to the normal chin-stroking literary crowd either. "They were a real bunch of reprobates – basically the people from the books."

Welsh had long since given up heroin (in fact, by the time Trainspotting was published he was married and working a relatively well-paid day job for Edinburgh City Council), but he was more than happy to play up to his growing reputation as the enfant terrible as the 90s rolled on. "He seemed to be good at getting arrested at the right moment," remembers Duncan. "He'd have a book out, and a week later he'd be arrested at a Hibs game, and it would be in the paper." There were other headline-grabbing pranks, too – Irvine would write outraged letters to The Scotsman under a variety of pseudonyms, and at one stage he even applied to become manager of Hearts FC, Hibs' bitter rivals.

What really rocketed Irvine and the Edinburgh scene to worldwide fame, however, was the release of the Trainspotting film in February of 1996. Directed by Danny Boyle and soundtracked by a who's who of the coolest bands in the world at the time – including Blur, Pulp and Underworld – the uncompromising adaptation was an instant sensation. It launched the careers of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Johnny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner, and sent Irvine's star into the stratosphere.

"By the end of the 90s," Duncan remembers, "it became clear that Irvine had transcended being a literary writer," and had arrived at a new level of recognition and fame. "He created characters and situations that have gone around the world, and will linger for generations. There are so few writers who do that. Going back through Scotland's history you're talking about Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, maybe JM Barrie and Peter Pan." Perhaps, he chuckles "there's a direct line from Peter Pan to Begbie".

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Ewan McGregor and Ewan Bremner on Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh in 'T2'. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

The morning after meeting Kevin Williamson, I find myself standing in an unprepossessing carpark beneath Edinburgh Castle, staring up at an unremarkable set of concrete stairs. This, Sean Fogharty, a tour guide from Perth, Australia, is telling our group, is where Begbie chased Renton after bumping into him in a nightclub in T2.

Trainspotting is now an industry. It was perhaps inevitable that the success of the film would eventually spawn a sequel, and tourists now flock to Leith each summer to see where the book and the movies were set.

Tim Bell, who's been guiding groups since "about 2003 or 2004", believes you can almost pinpoint the moment when Irvine went from being (as the author himself put it) "a pariah in Edinburgh, with the Council and the tourist board", and started to be seen as an asset.

In 2004, Alexander McCall Smith, a hugely successful – if extraordinarily twee – Scottish author labelled Welsh's work "a travesty" for the country. "Most people in Scotland," he sniffed, "aren't like that." Just two years later, however, the two writers appeared side-by-side in a collection that also included a short story by J.K. Rowling. In the forward, none other than the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the equivalent to a Mayor, hailed Welsh as "an iconic chronicler of our city".

The risk that his once-shocking narratives might be co-opted and commodified is something Irvine has long been aware of. "It was only about 18 months after the movie came out that every health and education board advert was suddenly like an outtake of Trainspotting," he says. His friend and fellow Edinburgh author Jenni Fagan, meanwhile, reckons that "Irvine's probably the most ripped off Scottish writer there is – by the government and by the tourist board. I saw something the other day about the bins, and they'd used 'flyspotting' rather than Trainspotting."

As we continue our tour of Leith, I see posters for an "immersive" version of Trainspotting playing at this year's Fringe. Outside the Central Bar (whose cellar, we're told, features in T2) we meet a regular, enjoying his first pint of the day in a T-shirt that reads "Toryspotting". It was produced by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, he says, the legacy of some bygone industrial action. While Welsh would doubtless have supported the cause, it's hard to escape the idea that Trainspotting has now become a meme: overused to the point of meaninglessness.

All of which begs the question of whether there can still be anything truly radical about Irvine’s work. His latest novel, 2018's Dead Men's Trousers, sees Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie reuniting for yet another adventure. But while the outrageous antics, drug taking and gross-out graphic violence are all present and correct, the gang, like Irvine himself, is now middle-aged. Sick Boy lives in London, and when he watches Hibs he books a box for the occasion. Begbie has settled in California and Renton is now the manager of a superstar EDM DJ who spends his life on airplanes and, tellingly, complains about it constantly.

There's another detail that suggests Welsh is less plugged-in to what's happening on the ground than he once was. As Begbie passes through Edinburgh airport on the eve of the Brexit vote, the 22nd of June, 2016, he buys a newspaper – "that Independent" – and reads all about it. But in real life, The Independent produced its final print edition on the 26th of March, three months earlier.

Of course Irvine has aged, and of course he’s become wealthier than he could ever have imagined in the early 90s. It would be churlish to refuse him the right to write about his life as it is now. But you can understand why some critics have decided his more recent work is less vital. Duncan McLean might have been joking when he suggested that Welsh's most gratuitously violent character had something in common with Peter Pan, but they're undoubtedly now both part of the literary canon, beloved by similarly-vast swathes of society. Can one really still be considered much more challenging of its norms than the other?

Or as Alan Taylor, founder of The Scottish Review of Books (and, by his own admission, not an Irvine Welsh fan) put it more brutally: "You ask me what's Irvine Welsh's long-term impact on Scottish literature? It’s like asking what impact J.K. Rowling has had on Scottish literature. She's sold a lot of books."

It's been raining most of the afternoon, there's a cold breeze wind blowing off the Firth of Forth and enormous puddles have formed on the edges of Ferry Road. Inside Leith Theatre, however, the seats are packed, the tables are full of fast-emptying wine glasses and the welcome is warm, as Ewen Bremner – AKA Spud from Trainspotting – takes to the stage with his band.

It's no exaggeration to say that without Irvine and the Edinburgh literary scene of the early-90s, none of this would exist. It's not just that Bremner is fronting the headline act. The show itself, Neu Reekie, a regular poetry and performance art night, is the brainchild of Kevin Williamson, and Leith Theatre might not even be standing were it not for Welsh. The opulent art-deco building had been closed since 1988, but reopened in 2017, thanks in no small measure to his patronage of the theatre trust.

As well as keeping these physical doors open for the next generation of Scottish writers, Irvine and his contemporaries have opened metaphorical ones too. Neu Reekie regularly gives a stage to people like Courtney Stodart, a young poet who makes her show-stealing debut tonight. Midway through the evening, Kayus Bankole, one third of the Mercury Prize-winning hip-hop act Young Fathers, walks in. Neu Reekie and Kevin were early supporters of their work too, he says, while "Irvine is the man".

Jenni Fagan, who recently adapted her 2012 debut The Panopticon into a critically-acclaimed play, agrees. "On a personal level, he encourages me a lot," she says, and compares reading Trainspotting as a teenager to watching Nirvana's era-defining performance on The Word. "To be able to see a world that I recognised, and a language that I recognised, written in a way that I recognised – that was very powerful. Irvine managed to do something that a lot of writers never do. He did something that bands do. He represented a generation."

The charge levelled by his recent critics is, of course, that the generation Welsh represented has had its time. But if the expectation was that he'd slip quietly into retirement, no one told Irvine.

He's particularly fired up about Brexit, which he describes as "basically a civil war of the very rich – two halves of the ruling class having a fight over how best to fuck everybody else". The way he sees it, "there's no way out of it, because any outcome is going to divide now".

He's interested in how a modern world that promises infinite choice rarely lets us exercise it. He's still thinking about addiction, which he believes is intrinsically linked with consumer capitalism. "The idea that if something makes you feel good, keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it," lies at the heart of both, he says.

His politics have hardly mellowed with age either. At one stage he proposes that we abolish elections altogether, instead having a parliament selected like a jury. "You have 630 people coming out of a hat, and out of that you pick your Prime Minister." This would, he believes, "take out the whole lobby system, the idea that people can be bought", and put society "in a position where you have to give people an education in politics, civics, economics, science [and] climate change", because anyone could end up governing.

To those who know Welsh well, none of this is surprising. Fagan sees him as "a working class man who's never compromised on anything", and points out that his contributions on the subjects of class, the state and society have always been overlooked. "His political clarity often gets missed amongst the drugs and violence," she says, "but he's a scathing social commentator." Williamson, meanwhile, makes a case for the radical real-world impact of that social commentary over the past 30 years.

"In the 90s, Scotland became flavour of the month because of Irvine," says Kevin Williamson. "Scottish writers were signed up, people wanted to see Scottish stuff, and it created this momentum which led us politically to our own parliament – and then led us to a referendum on independence." That might sound like a bold claim, but as far as Kevin's concerned, Irvine and co. weren’t just providing the background noise to the movement. "I would go even further – it was those writers and it was those artists who set that train on its tracks to where we're going now."

For much of the 2000s, it might have felt easy to dismiss the work of Welsh and his contemporaries as something that was of its time, a force that had been adopted, co-opted and neutered – at least from a social and political point of view. But in 2019, with Scotland seemingly poised to hold a second independence referendum, a right-wing Tory Prime Minister back in Downing Street (who gets booed when he sets foot north of the border) and drug deaths in Scotland at a record high, Irvine Welsh's concerns suddenly feel more pressing than ever.

In March of 1996, ahead of Trainspotting's release in American cinemas, The New York Times published a story across four pages of its magazine which hailed Welsh, Williamson, Meek, McLean and the others as "The Beats of Edinburgh".

"As far as I know, they were the only people to ever use that phrase," says James Meek, modestly. Kevin Williamson is also keen to downplay its significance. It was "a bit of a pisstake", he says, remembering how he, Welsh and others deliberately talked up their drug-fuelled antics in yet another bid to wind up a journalist.

Re-reading it today, however, it feels like there's a grain of truth in that label. There was undoubtedly something new, vital and important happening in Edinburgh in the early-90s – a literary movement whose effects are still being felt to this day. They might scoff at the idea, but perhaps comparing Irvine and his friends to that illustrious generation wasn't as outrageous as they now think.

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Irvine Welsh at Beat Hotel Marrakesh.

Almost exactly 23 years on from that New York Times story, Irvine is letting me know what he really thinks of the Beat Generation as he tucks into his Moroccan lamb. The festival we're at is inspired by the American authors and their trips to Morocco: the main stage is called the Interzone, after the setting of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, quotes from Ginsberg appear on posters around the site, and lines from Kerouac litter their Instagram. But while he acknowledges the debt owed to these antecedents, Irvine is far from an uncritical fanboy.

"Yes, they did have a massive cultural influence, but the caveat I have – and the festival's not going to like this, and I probably won't get invited back – is that they were also just a bunch of trust-fund nonces." We both burst out laughing. But as always, there's a serious point buried beneath the profanities.

"I mean, what is the difference between old homosexual guys shagging underage boys in [Morocco in] the 1950s, and truck drivers from Hull going to Thailand and shagging underage girls now? In this era, why are we celebrating that? Should we be celebrating Gary Glitter or Michael Jackson?"

The talk turns to music again, and whether you can separate artists from their art. "It's very hard," Irvine says. "Two of my favourite albums of all time are Thriller and Off The Wall, but they're not the same to me now."

What of his own music? I'm still struggling to believe that "German, country & western, techno" isn't just a colossal wind-up, and eventually feel emboldened enough to tell him. In response, he pulls out his phone and loads up a video of himself in a broad-brimmed hat, Devo-style yellow suit and outsized sunglasses, apparently talking over a German-style techno beat.

"It's sort of me telling stories from the acid house generation – both my own and other people's stories – over the music." The country bit, though – surely that's not real? And then, right on cue, the camera zooms in for a close-up of a Shania Twain album, as a pedal-steel guitar lick kicks in.

@Tris_Kennedy

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