Irvine Welsh returned to Leith last night for a special charity event to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the release of Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s film version of his 1993 novel about young drug addicts growing up in Edinburgh during the ‘80s. The film became an era-defining pop cultural success upon its release in 1996 and inspired a film sequel, also directed by Boyle, earlier this year. He described the huge gig in the historic Leith Theatre as “the wildest night I’ve had in Leith since Hibs v Partick Thistle last week.”
This event was organised by Leith-based underground music, spoken word and film night Neu! Reekie!, which was founded by Welsh’s old Rebel Inc publisher Kevin Williamson, and featured a raucous screening of the film for an audience in excess of a thousand, live readings by Welsh and actor Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in both films, and a reunion gig by seminal Edinburgh post-punk group the Fire Engines. Familiar speeches and lines were greeted with huge cheers, as though a rock band were playing their greatest hits onstage.
Particularly well-received were Mark Renton’s “choose life” speech, as delivered by Ewan McGregor in the film, and every “likesay” uttered by Bremner, the smartly-suited actor – who was introduced onstage as the man who played “the lovable rogue, the champion of the people” Spud – reading an excerpt where an older, down on his luck Spud accepts a job from Mikey Forrester (Welsh’s character in the film) to smuggle a package from Istanbul to Berlin “just like in the film The Transporter.”
Welsh read an excerpt of his next book DMT to a mostly-silent crowd, which reintroduced Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson and included, among other crowd-pleasing highlights, a description of a father and son having an awkward chat about sex. The Fire Engines, who split in 1981 and briefly reunited in 2004, played fan favourites including Candyskin and Get Up & Use Me, and were followed by a DJ set from former New Order producer Arthur Baker. “That’s the way you want it,” said Williamson. “Proper Leith style, a thousand of your mates and a bevvy.”
Neu! Reekie! is run by Williamson and poet Michael Pedersen, and counts the former Scots makar Liz Lochhead, Charlotte Church, the Glasgow indie-rock group Primal Scream and Bill Drummond among its former guests. It was a fundraiser for Leith Theatre itself, the derelict 1500-capacity Edwardian venue which opened in 1932 as a gift to Leith from the people of Edinburgh following the merger of the port district with the city itself in 1920.
Known briefly as the Citadel Theatre in the 1970s, it played host to concerts by Kraftwerk, AC/DC and Thin Lizzy, and theatre events by the Edinburgh International Festival, until its closure in 1988. Derelict and used for council storage since then, the Leith Theatre Trust was established in 2004 in an attempt to bring the building back into use as a theatre.