Socialist Worker

Steven Wells 1960 -2009

by Norman Strike
Issue No. 2158

Steven Wells in 1982

Steven Wells in 1982

A great man died in the US last week. The things he said and wrote entertained, amused and angered a lot of people.

This man was a real revolutionary socialist, poet, wit, class warrior and a great writer, and his death has left a huge gap in countless peoples’ lives.

Steven Wells (aka Seething Wells aka Susan Williams aka Swells) was born in Swindon in 1960 – and I wish I’d known that so I could have called him a “soft southern shite” like I’d heard him call so many others born south of Yorkshire!

Swells first came to my attention as a so-called “ranting poet”, alongside others such as Attila the Stockbroker, Joolz and Porky the Poet. I saw him supporting some of my favourite bands – the Fall and the Mekons.

I really liked his poem, Tetley Bittermen, which I think I’d heard on John Peel’s radio show, so I was pleased when I got to know him during, and especially after, the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.

We even shared a house for a brief period and attended Socialist Workers Party meetings in Willesden, though we both struggled with party discipline.

He was also a stalwart of the Anti Nazi League and had the arrowed logo tattooed on his arm.

An old friend of his from those days, Paul Sillett, recalls a Redskins gig in Brixton where they were collecting for the miners and Swells viciously verbally attacked a famous Radio One DJ for giving nothing and almost had him in tears.

He added, “Funnier still that at the same gig, try as he might, Swells collected hardly a penny for the miners as everyone gave generously to every bucket that was proffered apart from Swells own one.

‘Fer Chrissakes,’ he yelled, ‘Why am I the only bugger that can’t get money for the miners?!’”

Swells took no prisoners in either his poetry or his journalism and wrote many memorable articles in the music paper NME during the 1980s.

As his long time friend and ex-Redskins bassist, Martin Bottomley, said, “He was one of the most intolerant people you could ever meet – he hated racists, sexists, homophobes and Tories, and as a journalist he continued to persecute these people with all his wit!”

Swells, in recent years, wrote a brilliant sports column for the Guardian. Here he is urging a boycott of the Olympics:

“The fact is that we have irrevocably lost the Olympics to the dumb piggish maelstrom of corruption, blind self interest, amorality, blandness, hypocrisy and lowest common-denominator aesthetics that is corporate capitalism.

“And no amount of hand-wringing faux-nostalgic bleating about Corinthian values is ever going to bring it back.”

Ah Swells, your pen was mightier than any sword. A last sporting bit, on 16 year old Wayne Rooney:

“Look at his eyes! Have you ever seen deader eyes? Even on a dead person? Even on, like, a dead person with no eyes?

“They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul – but looking into Wayne Rooney’s reptilian pits is like staring into Nietzsche’s abyss.”

I loved Swells’ writing but reading the three articles about his battle with cancer finally made me realise just what a great writer he was.

His death made me cry hot salty tears, and reading those articles just added to the flow.

“And suddenly it hits me. I’m poleaxed, sobbing uncontrollably. I feel very vulnerable and very, very scared.

“This is followed by 24 tedious hours of horribly gothic adolescent introspection during which almost every line of thought concludes with, ‘But what’s the point if you’re going to die anyway?’”

Who’d have thought that post traumatic shock would have so much in common with being a Radiohead fan?

Ah Swells, so bloody talented, vitriolic, scathing. I am really going to miss you but console myself with the fact that your writing will live forever.

And how bloody apt that your very last written words were: “Me? I blame it on sunshine. I blame it on the moonlight. I blame it on the boogie.”

Michael Jackson grabs all the headlines but Steven Wells grabs your soul! RIP Swells.

Article information

Tue 30 Jun 2009, 18:25 BST
Issue No. 2158
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