Steven Wells RIP

This morning I received several emails about the death from cancer of Steven Wells. Swells was best known as a music hack and was the dominant figure at the New Musical Express for much of the eighties and nineties. While he was at the NME, Swells was always prepared to go out on a limb with an opinion to support off-beat bands and writers. It was Swells who penned the infamous quote about Will Self and me that both AK and Do-Not Press used as a blurb on my books:

“Stewart Home’s sperm’n’blood-sodden scribblings make Will Self’s writings read like the self-indulgent dribblings of a sad Oxford junkie trying to sound hard.”

This quote really rattled and angered Self. Swells knew exactly what he was doing; he wanted to help me find a larger audience and this soundbite created a big stir. And I wasn’t the only person Swells pushed in this way, he did it for a legion of people. He was very loyal and if he though what you did was worthwhile, extremely vocal in his attempts to create space for you in an overcrowded cultural arena. Swells wanted to make things happen, he wasn’t interested in passively reporting cultural and other news.

Swells was a laugh to be around and you could always count on him for a good argument too! His essentially Trotskyist stance rubbed up against my left-communist positions with at times explosive results. Nonetheless, the biggest blow-up we ever had occurred when I said I didn’t like the film Apocalypse Now, and Swells insisted it was impossible for me not to like Apocalypse Now. What followed was a good humoured and thoroughly enjoyable ding-dong; we were sitting in a cafe on Beak Street and some of the other customers seemed worried our disagreement would end in fisticuffs, they didn’t understand we were friends with passionate but opposed opinions. Such differences never stopped us working together. Swells brought me in as an extra on some of his GobTV/Pig Productions pop videos, and also put out ‘my’ novel Whips & Furs: My life as a bon-vivant, gambler and love rat ‘by’ Jesus H. Christ on his short lived Attack Books (co-run with Tommy Udo).

Although Swells initially made his name as a poet, his real strength was as a stream-of-consciousness prose writer. His book Tits-Out Teenage Terror Totty is a sustained assault on the idea of what the novel should be, and it is stuffed with his crazy word play – brilliant turns of phrase like ‘a pol potpurri’. After his move from London to the USA, Swells was writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, and you can find his final piece of writing for them and links to other pieces by him HERE.

I’ll miss Swells, although recently my contact with him was mainly via the links he’d email me to his articles as they appeared. My thoughts are, of course, with his wife and family.

Steven Wells born Swindon (England) 1960, spent much of his childhood in Bradford (England) and moved to London (England) as an adult, died from cancer Philadelphia (USA) 23 June 2009.

And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!

About mistertrippy

Stewart Home was born in south London in 1962. His mother Julia Callan-Thompson was a showgirl and club hostess. He has never held down a regular job for more than a few months at a time. On those rare occasions when he's been forced to work, Home has taken employment as a factory labourer, agricultural labourer, shop assistant, office clerk and art class model. Deciding he didn't like working in factories as a teenager, Home pursued cultural and political interests, writing many books and participating in even more gallery exhibitions.
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31 thoughts on “Steven Wells RIP

  1. Andy Roberts says:

    Very sad. I used to enjoy his stuff in the NME, it was always a bit edgy and din’t buy into the whole rock journalist as rock star trip.

  2. John Eden says:

    A great shame. Just found this whilst writing a bit over at mine:
    http://www.uncarved.org/blog/2009/06/steven-wells-rip/

    You’re absolutely right – he always gave the impression of being really enthusiastic about things and waging his own small war with the media to include stuff he liked…

  3. Pingback: Steven Wells tributes « Music That I Like

  4. Harold Pinter says:

    I’ve never heard of him

  5. Sean Diamond says:

    Great shame. NME was never quite the same after he left. RIP Swells.

  6. Harold Pinter says:

    Nor have I heard of Sean Diamond

  7. David Smith says:

    Only problem I have is impression given that Mr Wells was some kind of working class hero. Actually he was public school and his dad was Oxford educated and a company director. Swells like to keep that bit quiet.

  8. mistertrippy says:

    The only time I ever saw Swells reduced to silence was one time I was with him and Tommy Udo. Me and Tommy were talking about how shit our schools were and how much we hated the teachers for treating us and those we went to school with as ‘thick oiks’, and Swells was more quiet than usual – so we pushed him about it and accused him of going to public school. Which he admited – we didn’t manage to get out of him where it was, and unless it was one of the absolute top ones the name probably wouldn’t have meant anything to us anyway. So yes he liked to keep that quiet but I was aware of it; if you confronted him head on about it then he owned up to that. Swells wasn’t working class but he was pro-working class, I can’t see anything in what I’ve written that suggests he was a working class hero. Maybe this comes from reading across a few of the pieces that have gone up on various sites today. And I do and did appreciate the support Swells gave me – and whole raft of other people – whose cultural activities I admire.

  9. Time says:

    “Stewart Home’s sperm’n’blood-sodden scribblings make Will Self’s writings read like the self-indulgent dribblings of a sad Oxford junkie trying to sound hard.”

    I like him! RIP

  10. Super Hack says:

    Actually it was me who ghost-wrote most of the Swells UK copy, he was too busy sitting around in London cafes and pubs with his chums to churn it out himself. Then I heard he got a woman wot does when he moved to the States. But I think my wot done was better than her wot does.

  11. Michael K says:

    ?*%$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Justin says:

    That’s really bad news about Swells/Seething Wells/erm-Susan Williams. Certainly one of the most original and humourous writers regularly active during the NME’s 1980’s heyday. Very good at deconstructing many of the myths, hype and overt egotism so beloved of rock’s glitterati. A particularly savage but sage encounter with Mark E Smith comes to mind. Mind you, Swells once described Zodiac Mindwarp as a ‘psychopathic genius’!? RIP Steven

  13. Tony Parsons says:

    Oh another one bites the dust…

  14. Joe Orton says:

    We needed another decent writer down here, in fact we need several more… we got too many shits and not enough good ‘uns.

  15. Pingback: In Memory of Steven Wells « Old Rope

  16. laura says:

    as usual stewart has nothing to say except how this individual impacted on HIM and what he said to HIM and whether or not this person agreed with HIM. no one is better than you than you stewart is that what you want to hear? answer is yes. except will self is the one with the following, the novels, the tv presence, the column and the fame.

  17. Old Rope says:

    Sorry Stewart – the above Old Rope comment is an automatically generated (wordpress) pingback I think, because I put a link to your blog at the end of my Swells post. Didn’t mean to derail the flow.

    Swells will be greatly missed.

    Laura, how can Stewart extricate the ‘personal’ from his own relationship with another man? And why would he?

  18. The Devil says:

    I sent Michael Jackson to make Swells company.

  19. One of the few decent writers the NME ever had. And ‘Tits-Out Teenage Terror Totty’ is a classic, I love that book.

  20. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    This of course touches me more than Michael Jackson…Steve Wells was a great fellow. i met him a couple of times at gigs and there was nearly always a row but always in the best of spirits: a comradely debate, you might say. i don’t remember what the arguments were about. One might well have been about APOCALYPSE NOW, that great over-rated shaggy elephant. Anyway, for Steve I will drink wine through a straw…

  21. howling wizard, shrieking toad says:

    I used to like APOCALYPSE NOW as a teenager — but now I realise how swaggering, self indulgent, melancholically, grandiosely feeling sory for itself, and “orientalist” it is in its approach, and how generalising, stereotyping and vague it is in its totally western ( Yank) take on the horror of Vietnam.

    Again, another way for Americans to come to terms with the havoc they have wreaked in others lands ( A bit like the bloody yanks that pretend to be part native Indian I spose — a way of selfishly arrogantly, self centredly coming to terms with a very, very f***ed up past, but still via a western mickey mouse prism).

    Cmon — the film is supposed to represent something deep about the Americans and ( presumably ) Vietnamese psyche — yet it’s set in a Walt Disney version of Vietnam — which was actually filmed in ……the Phillipines, as were the central shamanic sacrificial scenes…..

    Blimey, that’s a bit like presenting a story about a crucial part of British history in the last 100 years…..but filming it in bloody Norway, with actors all got up in Norwegian togs and paid to perfom an old pagan rite.

    It’s an insultingly Yank-ocentric view of the world and especially in its dismissive take on “foreign dudes and mysterious, wicked, cruel and inscrutable slant eyed asian dudes.”

  22. howling wizard, shrieking toad says:

    I think JAR HEAD is the same ignorant perspective ,but not about Vietnam anymore, but Iraq — It’s still very much “hey dude Iraq was a bad war man, but hey, it wuz still a ROCK N ROLL war dude! Hey where’s my headband and AC/DC cassette dude! Thur’s lotsa towel heads out thur ta smoke maaann….hey, ya got a mary jane to toke on man?”

  23. They told him don’t you ever come around here
    Don’t wanna see your face, you better disappear
    The fire’s in their eyes and their words are really clear
    So beat it, just beat it

    You better run, you better do what you can
    Don’t wanna see no blood, don’t be a macho man
    You wanna be tough, better do what you can
    So beat it, but you wanna be bad

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right
    Just beat it, beat it
    Just beat it, beat it
    Just beat it, beat it
    Just beat it, beat it

    They’re out to get you, better leave while you can
    Don’t wanna be a boy, you wanna be a man
    You wanna stay alive, better do what you can
    So beat it, just beat it

    You have to show them that you’re really not scared
    You’re playin’ with your life, this ain’t no truth or dare
    They’ll kick you, then they beat you,
    Then they’ll tell you it’s fair
    So beat it, but you wanna be bad

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right
    Just beat it, beat it
    Beat it, beat it, beat it

    Beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right
    Just beat it, beat it
    Beat it, beat it, beat it

    Beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
    It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
    No one wants to be defeated
    Just beat it, beat it
    Beat it, beat it, beat it

  24. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    Western cinema gazes into the Heart of Darkness, aestheticising the horror, the horror wrought by imperialism while refusing to deal with the fact that it’s really gazing at its own navel. But there’s an umbilical link; it’s the highest form of capitalism, imperialism, which produced this Heart of Darkness. It’s then glossed with much hand-wringing in novel and film as some ineffable tragedy, Apocalypse even, which has nothing to do with Britain, Belgium, France, the US…

  25. Sonia says:

    “Stewart Home’s sperm’n’blood-sodden scribblings make Will Self’s writings read like the self-indulgent dribblings of a sad Oxford junkie trying to sound hard.”

    That just made me laugh so hard I think I did wee a little! So true as well, we both shared an vicious dislike for Will Smells.

    One of my lasting memories of him is going to one of your readings in a dingy pub and demanding that you do that one about the buddhists, still one of my favourites.

    Big love to you xxx

  26. sally says:

    David smith i am afraid you know nothing Steven went to a comprehensive school in Bradford,,,,very working class i can assure you and yes his dad did go to oxford on a scholarship a major achievement from a working class family don’t you think…no plums in Stevens family sorry to disappoint you mate..

    goodbye Steven love you and miss you forever x

  27. Pingback: Swells – The Sonofabitch That Refuses To Die « Old Rope

  28. colin says:

    i knew swells when he first came to london in 81/82 and he stayed at our house rather too many times -considering his boundless energy, motormouth and personal habits. people have written some true, honest and touching things – especially people who knew him in before he became “famous journo”.

    The only thing that really rankles is people banging on about his family background. it was blatantly obvious on meeting him that he was a middle class grammar school “sixth former” (which he seems to have remained most of his life) but he neither particularly played it down or lived it up. He said his dad being an MD … There’s so many other things that were OTT about him that that didn’t scratch the surface. but he stuckk to his GUN and kept on keeping on…

    i haven’t seen him for over 15 years but still his early death has had quite an impact this week

  29. mistertrippy says:

    I agree with you Colin, Swells’ background was never an issue. I never took him to be working class, and I didn’t meet him until after he got to be a ‘famous journo’… I didn’t always agree with his positions, his politics were too Trotskyist for me and less problematically his cultural stances were on occasion too populist for me, but he was sincere and I respected and still respect that. People can’t help where they’re from, it’s where they’re got too and are going on to that counts. Swells attacked privilege – he didn’t defend it. Sally might be right in saying he went to a comprehensive school in Bradford, but if he did that isn’t the whole story of his education as I got it from him on the one occasion Tommy Udo and me gave him the third degree about it. And like you say he never stopped banging his drum, which was one of the many things I liked about him.

  30. Jack Shamash says:

    If it’s of any interest, Steven told me that he went to Bradford Grammar School, which was an independent school – a bit like Manchester Grammar. Nice bloke. If you booked him for a gig, he always turned up, even if there wasn’t any money involved.

    He did an ill-fated gig with myself and Stewart Home at the Moonlight club in West Hampstead. Nothing worked and no-one turned up. but it was fun.

  31. mark says:

    once described a vocalist who i cant recall, as haveing a voice like a gorilla with arse cancer.