It takes a lot for me to write about mu­sic or sports.

Q (UK) - - Cover Story - Irvine Welsh, Mi­ami, May, 2018.

I’m ob­sessed with both and not great at ei­ther, so there­fore dis­in­clined to taint them and com­pro­mise my own dig­nity with fawn­ing fan­dom, or worse, crit­i­cal snidey­ness. For Iggy Pop, I would make an ex­cep­tion. I would also do so for Un­der­world. So the two to­gether, launch­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive four-track EP Teatime Dub En­coun­ters is an ut­ter no-brainer. Lust For Life and Born Slippy are the iconic tracks from the first Trainspot­ting movie, and for over 20 years peo­ple have been putting them on the juke­box when­ever I walk into a bar, just to see my re­ac­tion. Fire away, I never get tired of them. How­ever, I con­fess that this col­lab­o­ra­tion con­cerned me. I found it dif­fi­cult to pic­ture how those very dif­fer­ent styles might dove­tail. I’m de­lighted that my fears were mis­placed, this four-track EP is not only a bel­ter: it fea­tures both at their very best. We’re at din­ner in an agree­able Mi­ami restau­rant (there is a rag­ing trop­i­cal storm out­side and I’ve lit­er­ally pad­dled here from down the street) when I first ask how this union came about. Iggy is typ­i­cally gen­er­ous: “be­cause of you, man. Trainspot­ting.” Ac­tu­ally, that puts the cart be­fore the horse. Trainspot­ting wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out Iggy Pop, the sur­ro­gate big cousin of ev­ery clued-up coun­cil house rebel of my gen­er­a­tion. I couldn’t have writ­ten a word of that book bereft of Iggy’s sen­si­bil­ity fused into my DNA through Stooges, Fun­house, Raw Power, and Kill City. Those days of let­ting off steam by leap­ing de­ment­edly around your bed­room at the crim­i­nal in­jus­tice of spotty, pubescent male vir­gin­ity, now seem pos­i­tively in­no­cent com­pared to to­day’s prac­tice of as­sum­ing an anony­mous Nazi per­sona and ha­rass­ing women on­line for this state of af­fairs. My Iggy fan­dom was re­alised in the fic­tional uni­verse through Ren­ton, Sick Boy and the doomed Tommy, the nice guy trail­ing in the wake of their sneer­ing bad-boy hip­ness. It had to be this way. Had those chaps been bug-eyed, drool­ing, slack-jawed acolytes of any­body else, would that book have worked? I first met Iggy (in per­son) back in the ’ 90s. Since then I’ve be­come friends with Jim [ Oster­berg, aka Iggy Pop], the un­fail­ingly po­lite, kind, wise and witty Mid-Western gent. He looks like the col­lege pro­fes­sor fresh­men loathe, be­cause ev­ery cool girl on cam­pus wants to sleep with him. Oc­ca­sion­ally, an ir­rev­er­ent, de­monic, laugh bub­bles from his chest and a glo­ri­ously in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ment re­minds you that Iggy Pop is still in there, wait­ing to get out. Just show him a stage. I hadn’t ac­tu­ally met Rick Smith from Un­der­world, but have known his col­league Karl Hyde since his Soho days. He had the very tough shift of hav­ing a flat there in the ’ 90s. At clos­ing time in bars and clubs he was the one eyes would fall on when the in­evitable “where to next” ques­tion reared its head. De­spite (or be­cause of ) meet­ing that bur­den with com­mend­able en­thu­si­asm, he’s now strictly tee­to­tal. So I’m guess­ing that he doesn’t miss those times? “No, I’m glad that they’re over, but I’m de­lighted that they hap­pened.” It seemed that Un­der­world were head­ing the same way. Though never off the radar, they were work­ing qui­etly in the back­ground, but with great credit, on pas­sion projects. Karl re­leased the solo Edge­land al­bum, and worked with the leg­endary Brian Eno on two col­lab­o­ra­tive projects. Rick was help­ing Danny Boyle out with the small mat­ter of the Olympics, and act­ing as mu­si­cal di­rec­tor on Trainspot­ting 2. Then they de­cided to re­unite, in or­der to tour the first al­bum. Karl saw it as the kiss of death. Rick was not so con­vinced it was a bad move. (I’ve come to re­alise, hang­ing out with them for a cou­ple of days, that much of Un­der­world’s power is gen­er­ated from the way they are com­pletely at ease in in­hab­it­ing those con­tra­dic­tions.) The suc­cess of the tour got them ex­cited and writ­ing again and they ex­ploded back with [ 2016 al­bum] the Grammy-nom­i­nated Bar­bara Bar­bara, We Face A Shin­ing Fu­ture. Now, you sense, their big­gest chal­lenge is to keep things low-key, small-scale, quirky and fun. They have ab­so­lutely no de­sire to dance to the tune of the in­dus­try and Karl, punk sen­si­bil­i­ties in­tact, out­lines plans to play in clubs rather than at big fes­ti­vals. This men­tally is some­thing Iggy wrote the play­book for. He’s be­come so adroit at snatch­ing de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory that

“Iggy Pop looks like the col­lege pro­fes­sor fresh­men loathe, be­cause ev­ery cool girl on cam­pus wants to sleep with him.” Irvine Welsh

he’s turned this into an art­form, and para­dox­i­cally, a roar­ing suc­cess. Where bad liv­ing once dis­guised those choices as self­de­struc­tive petu­lance, peo­ple now see the un­der­ly­ing in­tegrity in them. He’s never re­ally been away: his wilder­ness years were loud and os­ten­ta­tious, and now, speak­ing softly but car­ry­ing a big stick, whether with Jim Jar­musch’s ex­cel­lent Gimme Dan­ger doc­u­men­tary, the amaz­ing Post Pop De­pres­sion col­lab­o­ra­tion with Josh Homme, or his cultish Ra­dio 6 sab­bat­i­cal, he seems more vivid and vi­tal than ever. The fol­low­ing day we do high tea at the Bilt­more, Mi­ami’s swanky golf ho­tel for old money trans­plants. The re­cep­tion area reeks with en­ti­tled cologne and per­fumes. It’s a to­tal blast to be catch­ing up, but our chat is get­ting a lit­tle raunchy and loud for the rar­i­fied sur­rounds, so we de­cant to Iggy’s swamp pad, by the river in El Por­tal. (Jim lives in the ’burbs.) This ul­tra-cool spot was on the fringe of a ghetto when he bought it, but it’s now be­com­ing gen­tri­fied white boy cen­tral. That he him­self ac­tu­ally led this process is enough to elicit ironic gig­gles. He’s spent a few bucks on the place since I was last here, and a smart deck and Tiki bar make the spot a highly sat­is­fy­ing hang. The res­i­dent man­a­tee isn’t around to­day, (“I don’t per­son­ally own him…”) but sev­eral large, fat ducks flock tamely around Iggy, who ha­bit­u­ally feeds them short­bread from Har­rods. I’m jeal­ous, but our food soon ar­rives, and we’re as con­tented as our feath­ered com­rades. Yes, there are worse ways to spend an evening than hang­ing out with Iggy, Karl and Rick, chew­ing the shit as the sun goes down. Back in the car, head­ing for “the beach” and my pad, Rick does round­table Spo­tify re­quests: “Any song you like.” I choose Repub­lic Of Loose’s Come­back Girl. He takes great de­light in the song: “This is fan­tas­tic! Why have I not heard this be­fore?” It’s that undy­ing and in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm that ex­plains the dura­bil­ity of both Un­der­world and Iggy Pop, and what makes this col­lab­o­ra­tion so com­pelling. It also re­minds me why I’ve dropped a novel and an ur­gent TV script to write this.

“Nice shirts, guys!” Un­der­world and Iggy Pop, Iggy’s back gar­den, El Por­tal, Mi­ami, 2018; (above left) au­thor Irvine Welsh.

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