From Trainspotting’s Renton watching Iggy Pop singing “Scotland takes drugs in psychic defence” to Filth’s Detective Bruce Robertson meditating on the definitive Deep Purple lineup, you can always count on an Irvine Welsh novel to have a generous overdose of rock’n’roll. With a film version of Filth out now, starring James McAvoy as the racist, sexist and psychopathic Robertson, Welsh tells us how music shaped the man.
When you wrote Filth, what were you trying to tell us about Robertson by making him a big metal fan?
In Scotland, anybody of Robbo’s generation who doesn’t live in Edinburgh or Glasgow tends to be into metal. It’s almost a version of country and western for white people from small towns in Britain. It’s the default setting for a certain generation so he has that sort of encyclopaedic knowledge of that kind of music. Not just that, but cheesy power ballads as well, like Michael Bolton and Billy Joel. Those are his musical influences. The secret is that he’s a closet Marvin Gaye fan but his racism would never allow him to admit that.
Do you share his taste?
No, not at all. What I do is when I create a character is to make a playlist for them. I’ve got a system that’s called: ‘What they play, where they stay and who they lay.’ It’s about their musical tastes, where they grew up, their family background and then their romantic and sex life. You kind of build up a CV of the characters. One of the ways of getting into a character is through music, because you start to experience the same sort of emotional mindset as the characters. You always kinda pride yourself on having a good music taste and you like to think that’s about aesthetics, but what’s quite depressing is that I think it’s more about what you’re immersed in. You’re really lucky if you meet people who help you get immersed in the good stuff. It’s so easy to meet people who get you immersed in crap. So Robbo [Bruce Robertson] is from a small town just outside Edinburgh, so he was immersed in the kind of stuff that at first is very difficult to listen to. I had to listen to it day in, day out to get into his character.
Do you listen to the playlist while you write?
Yeah, I’d be blasting it while I was doing some writing and getting into character. Sometimes you need to make it really quiet while you put the story and the book together, but then when you do another draft and you go back to having the music blasting out again.
The film’s soundtrack uses a lot of great old soul tunes by people like The Shirelles and Billy Ocean. Are you a fan of that stuff?
Yeah. That’s Robbo’s inner self, his soul coming out. Obviously we got Clint Mansell to do the soundtrack as well. I’d worked with Clint on a short movie before, and we’d become pals. I put him in touch with Jon to see if he wanted to get involved in this and they hit it off. His work is brilliant, he’s amazing.
The film has a particularly trippy scene involving David Soul appearing to sing ‘Silver Lady’. How did that come about?
I met David a while back. ‘Silver Lady’ and ‘Don’t Give Up On Us Baby’ are two of my karaoke classics. I put Jon in touch with David and they got on like a house on fire. They went off on the piss together. David was keen to get involved and he did it with such panache.
How are you at karaoke?
Terrible. Which means its brilliant. You either have to be a fantastic singer or a terrible singer for karaoke to work. If you’re just mediocre it doesn’t work at all. I’m a terrible singer. I’m completely tone deaf. So it works brilliantly.
Originally published in NME, 5 October 2013.