Irvine Welsh lifts lid on plans for ‘Trainspotting the musical’ and a 30th birthday party in Edinburgh for the novel

Author recalls launch of groundbreaking debut

It was the groundbreaking Scottish novel that signalled the arrival of one of the country’s most influential writers of modern times 30 years ago.

The characters Irvine Welsh created for Trainspotting would go on to inspire several follow-up books, two feature films and two long-running stage productions.

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Now the writer, whose first book would be translated into more than 30 languages and sell more than a million copies in the UK alone, has lifted the lid on plans to launch a new musical theatre production featuring the exploits of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.

Speaking at an event in Edinburgh to mark the 30th anniversary of Trainspotting’s publication, Welsh revealed that the show, which is planned to premiere in London’s west end early next year, has been cast and has already been in rehearsals, but is still seeking a launch venue.

He is hopeful that the production – which will feature songs specially written for Trainspotting’s main protagonists - will go out on tour around the UK.

Welsh suggested the Playhouse or the Festival Theatre as a potential home for the show in Edinburgh.

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Appearing at Edinburgh University, where he helped launch a series of events hosted by new writer-in-residence Michael Pedersen, Welsh also revealed plans to throw his own 30th birthday party for Trainspotting in his home city before the end of the year.

Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner starred in Danny Boyle's adaptation of Trainspotting.Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner starred in Danny Boyle's adaptation of Trainspotting.
Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner starred in Danny Boyle's adaptation of Trainspotting.

The six-hour event at the Virgin Hotel in November will see Welsh discuss Trainspotting with Kevin Williamson, the founder of Rebel Inc, the magazine which first published extracts from Trainspotting, before he performs an exclusive DJ set.

Welsh has created 14 new tracks with songwriting partner Steve McGuinness for the musical, which he was persuaded to get off the ground by west end producer Phil McIntyre after years of nagging by the impresario behind shows like We Will Rock You and The Commitments.

Welsh said: “We’ve actually got everything to go. We’re just trying to find the right space for it in the west end.

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“Phil McIntyre has been a friend of mine for quite a few years now. He kept saying to me: ‘We’ve got to do Trainspotting as a musical. I just said to him: ‘F*** off, you couldn’t do it as a musical.

Author Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa FergusonAuthor Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Author Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“But maybe once a year he would send me a little card with ‘Trainspotting the musical’ written on it.

“I just thought: ‘Well, in a few years’ time, I am going to be an urn on some poor b******* mantlepiece and (someone like) Andrew Lloyd Webber is going to come along, so maybe I should be the one that makes the money.’

“Steve is a big techno guy, but I suggested that we write a bunch of songs for all kinds of genres of music – country and western, blues, jazz, disco and northern soul, everything that these characters would listen to – and see how it all comes out. We had such fun doing it.

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“We’ve got 14 new songs and have licensed three from the film. Lust for Life and Born Slippy will book-end it with Perfect Day in the middle so that people will feel they know some of the stuff in it, but hopefully we’re going to have some pop hits.

Author Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa FergusonAuthor Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Author Irvine Welsh, pictured at Leith Theatre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“We have cast the show and have already rehearsed it with a choreographer at the Union Chapel in London. We’re working with the same set designer as Sunshine on Leith.

"We’re really just waiting for the right theatre to come up. We want to run on the west end for anything between three and six months, take it out around the country and then go back to the west end. It will definitely be coming to Edinburgh."

Welsh admitted he pulled the plug on plans to tour the UK with special events to mark 30 years of Trainspotting, although one will be going ahead in his home city on 3 November.

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However he said: “I just thought: ‘I can’t do this. I have so much other stuff on.’ But we are throwing a couple of parties for Trainspotting in London and Edinburgh, with DJs and all kinds of fun, so I can kind of forget about it again for another 30 years.”

Recalling the publication of Trainspotting in 1993, Welsh admitted he feared the book, which was set in 1980s Edinburgh, would be out of date by the time it appeared in bookshops.

He said: “I knew nothing about publishing at the time. I always thought that you handed a book in and the next week it was in the shops.

Irvine Welsh and Gemma Cairney appeared at Edinburgh University's event with new writer-in-residence Michael Pedersen to mark 30 years of Trainspotting.Irvine Welsh and Gemma Cairney appeared at Edinburgh University's event with new writer-in-residence Michael Pedersen to mark 30 years of Trainspotting.
Irvine Welsh and Gemma Cairney appeared at Edinburgh University's event with new writer-in-residence Michael Pedersen to mark 30 years of Trainspotting.

"I finished Trainspotting in 1990 and handed it in in 1991. It wasn’t published until 1993. I was so despondent. I thought: ‘This is really a book about the eighties now, nobody is going to read it now.’ Yet here we are, 30 years later.

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“The biggest revelation to me wasn’t the book being published. It was that I could actually write a book. I really enjoyed it and felt it was what I should be doing, instead of messing around in bands that were going nowhere. I just thought: ‘This is it. I have to carry on doing this.’ I have not really stopped writing since then.”

Welsh admitted he had been taken back by the immediate success of Trainspotting, despite friends in London who were among the first to read the book, telling him he had written “the next big thing.”

He added: “Trainspotting is a book about a bunch of working-class Edinburgh junkies. I don’t really think that it was going to get the kind of traction that it did.

“It had a real word-of-mouth impact when it came out. It was the way things really took off then because there was no internet.

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"I always felt that the literary establishment was playing catch-up with it, because it had gone right into the culture and had its own life.”

Welsh has just launched the second series of Crime, which sees Dougray Scott depict the author’s troubled detective Ray Lennox, while Robert Carlyle is due to revive his portrayal of Trainspotting character Begbie for a separate series, written by author Jenni Fagan.

He said: “You still have a lot of freedom when you write a book - not so much with TV show or film. There are red lines that you have to observe, particularly with TV. That can be a bit of pain. There are a lot of arguments and it seems to be a battle to get some stuff through.

"If you're writing a book, the only audience is yourself. You don’t really perceive any readers existing. You don’t really have a connection with anyone. As soon as you’re writing for film or TV, they ask you which group it is targeted at.

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“But when I started writing, there was just fiction and non-fiction. Now there are all these marketing or genre holes on a bookshelf. Things have become much more market-driven and conservative, in so many ways in my time.”