Irvine Welsh and friends at Book Slam, London – review

August 13, 2014, Article by Tom in Books

On a cold and rainy night in East London, spirits were high among the litarture-loving Bethnal Green collective, as Book Slam returned to the capital with an all-star cast for their biggest event yet. Here’s what we made of the evening (don’t worry, we loved it)…

The venue:

We might look tough and all that, but, believe it or not, we know nothing about boxing. So when we were told that this was to be held in the ‘iconic’ East London boxing venue, York Hall, we didn’t really care. However, this was a truly spectacular place to stage a literary event. Packed to the rafters and with a boxing ring for the stage, it was an inspired choice by the Book Slam team and worked incredibly well. Bravo guys.

doc brownCompere for the evening, Doc Brown

The line-up:

To call this line-up star-studded would be a bit of an understatement. After introductions from the evening’s compere, Doc Brown, relatively new kid on the block (and one-time street brawler/drug dealer/general badass who has now turned lovely) Bill Hillmann kicked the evening off with a reading from his debut novel The Old Neighbourhood. From the snippet we heard, it definitely sounds like one that deserves further investigation.

Next up was something slightly surreal, as Junior ‘The Hitter’ Witter, a World Champion boxer, sparred with some other boxing guy, whilst the Hype Dance Company performed an excerpt from a new piece of theatre, ‘Savage Beauty’. Strange, but surprisingly engaging.

After a brief interval, we were then treated to the genius that is Viv Albertine. The legendary guitarist from The Slits read excerpts from her memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Hilarious, bold and totally honest, she spoke about her battle with cancer, getting back on stage, and having sex with someone else for the first time since leaving her husband. Holding the whole venue in the palm of her hand with ease, she fully deserved the huge ovation she received when she left the ring. An absolute hero.

Viv Albertine© Faber & Faber

The task of following Viv wasn’t an easy one, but if there’s anyone who could handle that then it’s Kate Tempest. And handle it she did. Her fierce brand of spoken word, including a performance of a piece from her album, Everybody Down, went down an absolute storm, and the way she dealt with a ‘heckler’ (a man who was actually saying her album should win the Mercury Prize, but couldn’t quite be heard properly) was bloody hilarious. Her apology to him was very sweet too. A unique talent who everyone should go and see if they get the chance.

Kate Tempest - Everybody DownKate Tempest’s album, Everybody Down (© Big Dada)

After another beer break, it was time for the main event: Irvine Welsh. Reading from a forthcoming book of his, A Decent Ride, Welsh absolutely stormed it. Brutal, coarse, horrible in parts but bloody funny, it was classic Welsh. Everyone loved it, and it was the perfect way to round off an incredible evening.


All the performers brought something great to the table, but for us it was Viv Albertine who was the unexpected star of the evening. She’s just amazing.

Low points:

Queues at the bar were long, and the food stall quickly ran out of what smelt like some delicious jerk chicken. But we can forgive Book Slam; this was by far the biggest event they’ve held, and it feels mean to complain about little things when they got so much right.

In summary:

Any event that brings this many readers and incredible performers together gets a big thumbs up from us. A top night was had by all.

irvine welshIrvine Welsh headlines with style

For more info on Book Slam, follow them on Twitter (@bookslam) and visit their website.