Mixmag: Irvine Welsh at the Blue Note Club
From CJ Stone's Mixmag column, 1996-1998
I was in London for the Irvine Welsh gig at the Blue Note Club in Islington. I was the warm-up act. It's a new concept: literary readings at clubs. I'd already done two or three, which were mostly resounding failures. It had begun to seem to me as if readings at clubs were a contradiction in terms. Most people had looked at me with bemused expressions wondering where all the repetitive beats had gone. I was hoping that this one would be different.
I arrived about 8.30 and there were already people queuing. I tried to get in. I was made to stand to one side while some TV crew were debating with the door-man. There were problems with the guest list. I waited and waited while the TV people were trying to get some more names onto the list. Eventually one of the organisers came out. "This is CJ Stone," he said. "He's reading tonight." That's the trouble with fame. No one recognises me.
I was meant to be meeting my editor and my publicist from Faber & Faber, and I tried to leave a message at the door. "Are they on the guest-list?" I was asked. "Dunno," I replied. "Well they can't come in unless they are on the guest-list." This guest-list thing was beginning to get on my nerves. I just wanted to leave them a message to tell them that I was inside. The door-person looked down the list and discovered that their names were, in fact, there. So that was all right then. The guest-list is a little like a Confessional. Once you're in it, all sins are forgiven.
After that I spent about half an hour signing books. Someone was opening the books for me while I reeled off my signature. It was like a production-line. I was Signer-in-Chief at the literary factory. I might have been signing away my life, for all that I knew. Whoops, there goes another million dollars!
My friends from Faber & Faber arrived and we went to a pub. Julian is a shrewd, fey, polite man with a marked intelligence. Helen is apologetic. She says sorry a lot. I'm apologetic too. So conversations with Helen tend to go like this: "I'm sorry." "I'm sorry too." "I'm sorry that you're sorry." "And so am I sorry."
We were supposed to be meeting someone from Radio 1 who was going to interview me. She wanted to ask me if I thought that Literature was the new Rock'n'Roll. Julian listed a few cross-over artists he thought I should mention. Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan. "But Bob Dylan's crap," I said. "I know," said Julian, "but he did used to write poetry."
Back at the club the same old shenanigans were going on at the door. The queue was even longer now. Someone else was trying to get in at the same time. I turned and recognised Irvine Welsh. "It's Irvine Welsh," I said, and everyone else turned to look at him. He had this look on his face, the one that famous people get when they know they are being recognised: vague, distant, far-away. It looked like he was in a bubble.
I went in and did the interview with Radio 1. I answered the first set of questions competently enough. The interviewer said, "when I ask a question, can you refer to the question in your answer? So when I ask 'what audience are you addressing?' you should say, 'the audience I am addressing are...' Like that, OK?" I did as I was told. Then she said, very pointedly, as if this was her secret weapon: "Is Literature the new Rock'n'Roll?" I reeled out the set of names I'd been given in my pep-talk. When I said "Leonard Cohen" she smiled knowingly. Obviously Leonard Cohen isn't cool. But then I thought about it. Is Literature the new Rock'n'Roll? Well no. The process is so different. You need silence to write. It is a lonely occupation. I said, "there's no music in Literature." Afterwards I regretted the statement, because there is music in literature. It's just that it is the music of silence, that's all.
Later I was interviewed by Channel 1 TV. They asked the same question. "Is Literature the new Rock'n'Roll?" It's obviously the new buzz-slogan in media circles. I was fed up with it. "Nope," I said curtly. And that was the end of that interview.
I watched Hanif Kureishi do his bit. He read out a story about a lump of shit. It was full of graphic descriptions of the shape and smell of this monstrous turd that wouldn't flush down the bog. The audience were going "ye-er" and "yeuch" at all of these pointedly precise observations. They loved it.
Later I met Irvine Welsh. I shook his hand and he asked who I was. "I'm CJ Stone," I told him. He gave me a huge hug. "I'm just reading your book," he said. "I love it." On that basis, I love him too. And his Mom. And his dog, if he's got one. Us writers are so vain. We do so love to be loved.
I'd been given some free drinks tickets and I was just debating whether to have another one and risk losing my license when I bumped into an old friend. He's working class and Scottish. We used to call him Ronnie Rumbelow after the chain of electrical shops. That was his stage-name. He had a band, called Breakfast Oilrig. BO for short. I gave him my free drinks tickets and asked how he was enjoying the club. "It's full of pretentious literary wankers," he said. Ronnie's an inverted snob. "Irvine Welsh is here," I said, "he's not a literary wanker." "He's the biggest wanker of the lot," said Ronnie.
These Scots love slagging each other off. But if wanting to write books makes you a wanker, then so be it. I'm a wanker too.