Declan Welsh of the Decadent West is a poet, an author, a songwriter and a social and political activist. At just 23 he’s one of those insatiably active people that makes you contemplate exactly what you’ve done with your life, in other words he’s a force of nature. An inspiration, a man who not only has the courage of his convictions - has them tattooed on his arm - who criticises Israel and backs it up by playing a show in Palestine.
It would be a horrible cross to bare to christen anyone the heir apparent to Billy Bragg, but Declan Welsh is on the shortlist, because he is as they say in polite society “the real fucking deal”. Welsh takes aim at the rise of the right-wing foot soldier at home and abroad, and the tsunami of toxic masculinity and racism, casual and otherwise at its core.
He’s not blinkered, mind; his ire is also aimed at the ill performing left, who have not stepped up to the plate. This clarity of vision makes him the most dangerous kind of activist, one that’s immune to the sway of either side.
This vision has gotten him into hot water on occasion. YouTube took umbrage to his video for Nazi Boys - as if they’ve nothing better to be getting on with.
Musically, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West take their cues from the likes of Pulp, Bragg and Arctic Monkeys, with a focus on frantic angular guitar chords and snarling vocals. The Glasgow outfit make their Irish live debut Upstairs in Whelan’s on October 10th. But whatever you do don't call him Walsh.
<<GP>> Why did you decide to record under Declan Welsh and The Decadent West rather than just the Decadent West? Surely this would’ve solved your Walsh problem before it started?
Haha, aye yer right enough there. To be honest if the band was started today, it would be called The Decadent West. But it evolved slowly from me and an acoustic guitar, to me and a different line-up playing those songs as a band, to new songs, and then a different line-up and even newer songs. We did consider it but as a group we thought DW DW had a nice ring to it. But if you think people are beyond fucking up the Decadent West you would be sorely mistaken. We’ve had the Decadent Few and The Decadent Welsh in recent months. The second one made it sound like I was fronting a family band, like the Jacksons or something.
<<GP>> Your lyrics tackle a wide array of social and political issues from sex workers to fascists to Brexit to the Spanish Civil War to toxic masculinity. Did acts such as the Manic Street Preachers and Billy Bragg provide you with the blueprints for where you wanted to take your songwriting?
I have Billy Bragg lyrics tattoo’d on my arm, so aye, the guy’s a hero to me. But in terms of the political stuff, it comes from all sorts. I love Rage Against The Machine. Kate Tempest is killing it. Phil Ochs is another person I love. Gil Scott Heron. All these folk were huge inspirations. Manics are class too, though. I don’t really think I deliberately tried to write political stuff, it just sort of happened. I write what I know and feel so if I’m reading a book or watching the news it comes through.
<<GP>> Nazi Boys is a very astute putdown of the rise of the Right in Britain and beyond. Why do you believe the British public fell for Brexit and do you believe it will lead to the break-up of the UK?
Thank you. I’m glad you like the tune. I think that there’s a million reasons for Brexit. In terms of the far right’s influence, I’d say that the line between the tories, UKIP, Tommy Robinson and Britain First is getting more and more blurred by the hour (and it was never really that pronounced to begin with). So far right discourse has become much less controversial now. You can have people calling women in burkas letterboxes, like a bad Jim Davidson joke, who are the fucking foreign secretary. And he isn’t doing it as a joke, by the way. He’s doing it as a wink and a nudge to all the people who think “fuck the muslims”. He’s saying “I’m saying it. I’m on your team.”
But why did Britain buy it? Because the other side was awful, because Britain has a massive hit for itself and still thinks it’s a world power, because people’s latent racist attitudes have been weaponised in order to divide us, because the EU is complicated and “take our country back” is an easy and effective snake oil to sell. I also think the EU is a really hard thing to passionately defend, as a socialist. It wants every country to go with low taxes, neoliberalisation of public services etc. The EU represents the Blair/Cameron bureaucratic neoliberal model that fucked people over. I voted remain, but it was with a heavy heart because the EU has a lot of blood on its hands too. It’s no friend to workers or refugees. It just happens to be better than a Tory government given carte blanche.
Will it break up the UK? I don’t know. I used to be very passionately pro-independence, but I’m less and less convinced that Scotland is uniquely left wing. We are a country, filled with contradictions and differences of opinion. I just want socialism. If it’s in the UK, great. If it’s an indie Scotland, great.
<<GP>> Did you find it ironic that platforms like YouTube who allow hate speech found the time to get upset about the Nazi Boys video rather than spending their time shutting down actual Nazis?
It’s baffling. It’s a pretty tame video. I’m not sure where I stand on big social media companies and the far right. It’s like the two worst things, multinationals and bigots, and your asking one to protect you from the other. Facebook has been shown to be implicit in fostering these bigoted views, so I don’t expect any less from these platforms. It’s a shame we have to use them for this stuff, really.
<<GP>> With politics having lost its humanity would you ever consider standing for election?
I don’t know if I would go that far. Like, we’ve always been lied to. The Tories have always been racist. The republican party has always been a stone’s throw away from the KKK. The centre left has always put more effort into fighting socialists than it does fighting fascists. No one’s speech is any more of less free than it was 10 years ago. What we have now, though, is ugly, ugly rhetoric and a small fringe of the far right being welcomed into discourse.
We have a chance of a socialist in Corbyn, but he isn’t built for this and centrist Labour MPs have proven themselves to be willing to ruin their chances of election in order to prove that he is unelectable. We basically have to look at this system, and understand that this isn’t an external problem, the far right, but a product of it. Fascism and Capitalism are not mutually opposing ideologies. They can very easily go hand in hand.
<<GP>> Is the title of your recent poetry collection “If You Like That Sort Of Thing” a fuck you to the people who looked down on you for being into literature when you were younger?
Eh, it’s maybe more of a self deprecating thing of me still not being hugely comfortable owning being a poet. So it’s like, if this is what yer into, wire in.
<<GP>> What’s your favourite verse from the collection?
I really like “let us tear down the statues which litter our towns/of men who fought and died for king and country/Let us live in peace for our mothers and friends.”
<<GP>> Do you utilise a different thought process when writing a poem or a lyric or do they cross pollinate?
Usually a poem will be more deliberate. Like I’ll go, "okay I wanna write a poem about this thing". Whereas lyrics will come from the feel of the music. It can work vice versa. I can get a phrase in my head and it becomes a poem, or I can write lyrics first.
<<GP>> Were Pulp an influence on the song Lull, even though they don’t sound alike the phrasing and delivery is reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker?
Pulp is an influence on everything I do, really. I love Jarvis. I think the character he plays is amazing. The outsider, his fascination with the kitchen sink drama type stuff. The lurid details of humdrum existence. I kinda get it as well. I’m from a very normal suburban working class place, but from a young age was fairly soft and into books and music. You have this loyalty to your roots, but you’re a wee bit of an outsider when yer at home. And then equally, you’re painfully aware of how different a life you’ve led to people at art school parties or whatever. I’ve never thought of lull like that but it’s a really cool comparison. It’s very nice you’ve proper listened to the tunes, thanks.
<<GP>> You played at the Scottish Album of The Year Awards recently. What was that experience like and can we expect to see you on the shortlist yourself next year?
It was really nice, aye. Cool to see Young Fathers win. Everyone got all dressed up, I looked a bit like David Byrne for a night so that was class.
Here’s hoping. We’d love the twenty grand. It’s very hard finding ways to earn good money with principles such as ours. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t made all this fuss about art and resistance and could just do an advert and watch the dough come in. Seriously, though, we’d be buzzing if we got anywhere near it.
<<GP>> What was it about the charity Children in Scotland that made you want to get involved?
Well, they approached me after I had written an article post the Indy Ref, I spoke at their AGM and then they asked me to be a board member. They’re a great organisation, who do really important work at both policy level and directly. Sadly time constraints have meant that I’ve had to relinquish my board position but I hope to remain involved with them as much as I can.
<<GP>> There’s so much controversy about acts playing Israel these days what’s your take on the situation and why did you decide to go to Palestine to perform at Bethlehem Live festival?
I fully support the non-violent BDS movement and the cultural boycott of Israel. I’ve written about it extensively, so I won’t bore you here, but it’s very similar to South Africa and artists response to apartheid there.
And we were invited over as a cultural exchange, I jumped at the chance to go. It’s a place you have to experience. A beautiful, resilient people who despite suffering so much instil you with genuine hope. I’m so glad I got to see Palestine, and I really hope to go out again soon.
<<GP>> You’re a massive Celtic fan, are you worried about how much Rangers have improved since Gerrard took over?
You’ll have to forgive the laughter but ahahahahaha. They couldn’t have been much worse, so aye, in that sense they have improved. But they played us recently and did you see that? They have basically got a good goalkeeper now. That’s it. Gerrard’s tactics were: sit back and kick them. Guardiola he ain’t. Getting “the boys right up for it” can only get you so far. I look forward to every game we will play against them this season, but they really are an irrelevance to us at this point. I want Celtic to get better, Rangers can do what they like.
<<GP>> You’re playing Whelan’s in Dublin next month. What have you got in store for Irish fans?
Well, I plan on doing a really terrible nowhere in particular Irish accent the whole way through the set, just to really endear myself to the Irish audience. That works doesn’t it?
In all seriousness I am very excited. I’ve never been to Ireland! All my great grandparents were Irish, so I guess I’m a bit like one of those arsehole Americans with an Irish second name who comes over and claims to be Irish.
In terms of our set, it’s a proper performance. We don’t just stand there and play. It’s also quite a diverse set. It spans a couple genres, there’s antifascist punk tunes, heartbreak ballads, a disco tune about provincial nightclubs and a big massive indie banger about loving each other at the end. What more could ye want?
Declan Welsh and The Decadent West - Upstairs at Whelan's October 10th. Tickets €13.00.