WORDS: Thomas Mitchell
PICTURES: Luke Stephenson
The literati packed Oxford Arts to get a glimpse of cult hero Irvine Welsh. The man who gave us Trainspotting, gave Ewan McGregor a career and gave heroin celebrity status had finally graced us with his presence.
To kick it off local band The Disbelievers did their thing but they’re a tough crowd these book types. The band certainly looked the part; it was Wayfarers all round and hair that suggested the band belonged to a previous era – an era where they called each other Greasers and drank malt shakes at the local milk bar. Despite the band being tight the crowd seemed distracted; it was clear people were here to see Irvine and anything else was surplus.
After the Disbelievers wrapped, there was a short break before MC Dom Knight took to the stage to introduce Welsh. Knight, part of the Chaser team and himself an author, was clearly nervous, which is a reflection of the esteem Welsh is held in.
Knight did a good job though, giving people a rundown of Welsh’s past, but it was clear from the nodding heads and mile wide smiles that the audience knew every detail, these were real deal fans. A couple of Sydney-specific jokes later (Welsh’s books feature more c**** then an Ivy Pool Bar) and Knight had worked the crowd into a rapture, and we were ready to see the man.
For those of you who haven’t see Welsh before, he’s a bald middle aged man. He’s the man next to you at the football, he’s waiting for his coffee in the morning, he is your accountant. But fuck he can write.
Welsh ran through the formalities, thanking us for being there, making special mention of his Australian friends, then launched into a reading. His newest work, Reheated Cabbage, is a series of short stories. He read the first one, a hilarious anecdote about a typical Scottish husband, for whom football is a religion and his family a hindrance.
The crowd hung on his every word. Literally because you had to, to keep up, but also because hearing that Glaswegian slang read aloud was mesmerising. It was like getting an insight into the real thing. After years of reading it in your head, trying to replicate the sound, here was the creator giving it to us first hand.
By the end of the reading Welsh had us in the palm of his hand. A reference to his wife in the anecdote as “a fat cow like say” was enough to have people laughing into their Coopers Greens.
The reading was followed by a quick Q and A. The crowd had submitted questions into a bucket and Dom Knight drew them at random. Here we learnt more about Welsh the person, then Welsh the cult figure. In response to “what drug should be legal” Welsh quipped, ‘heroin, because then everything else would fall into line.’
He spoke about regrets, “Being a millionaire at 35 instead of 25” and he admitted that it was unlikely a sequel to Trainspotting would ever get made. The question session only helped make Welsh more accessible. He’s as sharp in person as he is in print.
After the questions finished and Welsh sunk the remainder of his beer, the crowd moved en masse to the desk where Welsh would be signing copies of Reheated Cabbage. The biggest loser of this part of the night was the talented Jack Ladder who had to play to people’s backs as they lined up to get a signature. The biggest winner was the publisher of Reheated Cabbage as the crowd snapped up the books.
Oxford Arts proved a good venue for the Irvine Welsh author talk. It was dark and grungy but never felt pretentious. The event proved that the Author Talk isn’t dead, despite becoming a rarity. Sydney people still love their literature, and it was clear from the reception Irvine got that some authors are like rock stars.