Irvine Welsh: Interview

On a memory lane pub crawl through Soho, a stoically sober Irvine Welsh tells Time Out about his eventful past-life as a Londoner

  • Irvine Welsh is sitting in the Dog and Duck pub in Soho, not drinking. When he’d suggested a tour of some of his favourite pubs and bars in London, I’d wondered whether this was going to turn into a boozy afternoon, but Welsh is saving himself for his book launch this evening, and can only be persuaded to imbibe a glass of fizzy water with blackcurrant. Rob, our photographer, suggests that he could just hold a pint of beer for the sake of the picture; but Welsh refuses even this. ‘I don’t want to drink,’ he says. ‘And I don’t want to hold anything I’m not drinking.’There’s a lot of drinking in his latest novel, ‘The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs’. His protagonist, Skinner, is only in his twenties but is already well on the way to full-blown, beer-for-breakfast alcoholism, and when he puts a curse on his clean-living colleague Brian Kibby, and finds that Kibby has to suffer his hangovers for him, he starts drinking even more.

    ‘That’s a long-standing fantasy of mine,’ says Welsh. ‘The older you get, the less inclined you are to go on benders like Skinner does. You get fed up with the hangovers.’ Back in 1976, when he spent his first summer in London as a young punk, hangovers were not a problem. ‘I got into the habit of coming to London every summer,’ he remembers, ‘and then I just moved down here. I was in Hackney for years and then I moved to Stoke Newington and from there I moved to Islington. I used to drink in all the pubs round here.

    ‘I’ll drink anywhere as long as it’s got alcohol – I’m not snobbish. I can sit with the office workers in All Bar One and watch them drink their Chardonnay or I can sit in the Oyster Bar at Harrods drinking champagne. I remember this pub here was where Pat Fish – you know, the Jazz Butcher – had his send-off when he moved to Perth, Australia. I remember him sliding off that bar, and then falling on his arse, and we had to get him in the cab and get him back home so he could get to the airport the next day.’

    Moving on to the next pub, The Ship on Wardour Street, Welsh looks round approvingly. ‘This place has hardly changed in 30 years. There always used to be loads of music people in here drinking. I could tell you some stories…’ He pauses. ‘I’m trying not to incriminate anybody,’ he says carefully. ‘I could tell you a story involving – let’s just say – a couple of my mates who are in a band. They got into a fight with each other in a bar near here and they both went through this glass table. There was broken glass and blood everywhere and they were both so drunk they refused to get treated in the hospital. They were just trailing blood all over Soho for the rest of the pub crawl…’

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