The Trainspotting author has agreed to become patron of Leith Theatre, which played host to AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Slade and Kraftwerk in its heyday, and help launch a Â£250,000 drive to get it up and running once again.
The building was nearly sold off by the city council in 2004 to help pay for the refurbishment of the King’s Theatre before an outcry from locals forced a rethink. Welsh, who was born in Leith in 1961, believes it could help Edinburgh’s music scene recover from the loss of a number of city centre venues.
Leith Theatre is about to come back to life temporarily in May when it will be used as the latest pop-up venue for the Hidden Door Festival, which specialises in transforming run-down spaces.
A major clean-up for that event and a subsequent overhaul, which the Â£250,000 appeal is expected to pay for, will allow it to be used for other events like the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe.
The Leith Theatre Trust, which took over the control of the building from the city council last year, has ambitions for a full-scale overhaul of the building, which would see the full restoration of the 1500-capacity auditorium to its former glory, the creation of a number of permanent performance spaces and modern backstage facilities.
A longer-term vision for the Art Deco building is expected to cost up to Â£13 million.
The origins of the theatre go back to 1920 when Leith was officially amalgamated into the city of Edinburgh. Built in 1932 as a gift for Leithers, it was forced to close in 1941 after bomb damage during the war.
It did not re-open until 1961 but went on to host festival shows and attract some of the biggest names in the music business. But it gradually fell into disrepair in the late 1980s and eventually had to be closed down by the council.
Welsh said: “I used to play outside the Leith Theatre as a kid and always remember it as an impressive but dormant force. I recall seeing Mott the Hoople play there and thought that it was the start of good times for the impressive space. It wasn’t to be and it lay empty for several decades.
“Now Leith Theatre is about to come of age again. The loss of city centre venues and the gentrification of Leith, making it no longer a no-go area for tourists, ensure its development as a city-wide resource is essential. And it is, and will remain, a hub for the local community.”
Trust board member Mike Griffith, a former administrative director of the Traverse Theatre, said: “It actually took about four years to reach agreement with the city council for us to take on a lease. Even after we got into the building there were a whole load of things that we didn’t know about.
“The main thing that has happened since then is that repairs have been carried out to the roof by the council to make sure the building is wind and water-tight. It will need a bit of a tidy up for the Hidden Door Festival. In terms of further work, it’s going to be community spirit that gets things going. There’s not a huge amount of funding around for something like this.”