Tributes to Steven Wells

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Jun. 30, 2009

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We are, of course, digesting the death of our friend Steven Wells. And we've been touched to see tributes pouring into the comments section of his final column. Before he was an abrasive and controversial PW writer, Steven was an abrasive and controversial music writer for a variety of English press, perhaps most famously for NME in the 1980s. His UK and music colleagues this morning are offering up their tributes.

From The Quietus:

Our good friend and Quietus writer Swells died on Tuesday after finally losing his fight against cancer. (To extend the metaphor — it was 30 rounds of bloody boxing and the Grim Reaper just edged it on points. We think a bung from a betting syndicate was involved.)

I won't be the first or last to say this, but Steven Wells was one of my main inspirations to become a journalist. And it was a pleasure to work with him when I finally became one.

I guess because he was still writing for us even a few weeks ago, I hoped his sheer force of personality would somehow carry him through. We'll miss you Swells.

From Metal Hammer:

Wells was the ultimate punk-rock journalist. A man who perfected the art of intelligently swearing like no one else, Swells also had a penchant for writing some of the most brutally frank features around. Asking System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian if he actually knew the medical repercussions of pulling a tape worm out of one’s ass, attempting to bait Deicide into cursing him and eating prawns in front of fiercely vegetarian activists Consolidated were just three of the many bands Swells took to the cleaners in his own inimitable style.

Beyond the full-on, hard man exterior, he was also a damn fine guy who would always take the time to stand and have a chat, while also throwing in some good-natured abuse for good measure. He was definitely one of the good guys.

He will be sorely missed.

From Everett True:

He gave my band our first major review in the NME.

Didn’t understand a word of it (I always suspected he hadn’t actually seen us), but fuck I was excited. Collaborated on several articles – mostly on comics and fanzines – with me for the same paper during the 80s, at a time when most his peers were making un-subtle digs at how crap I was. Had a knack for being simultaneously infuriating and hilarious: recall one genuis punch-up that occured in the offices after he’d been flicking paper clips at everyone all day, and one hit Neil Taylor in the eye.

Fuck it. He was so one of the good guys I knew I didn’t even need to be in contact with him: it made me happy that he was still somewhere out there, pricking away at the pompous, belligerent, challenging, argumentative, passionate and above all funny as all hell. And now he’s not.

From Beard:

Saddened to hear of the death of music press legend Steven Wells. My earnest teenage self was infuriated by his demolitions of whiney indie bands, but I eventually saw the funny side and realised that he was often right. As he says in his final column, why do society's most privileged feel their story is one worth telling? This rant for the Quietus may pick on an easy target (the egregious Los Campesinos) but the wider point about twee's political and cultural conservatism is bang on the money.

While Britpop/Cool Britiannia was in its ghastly back-slapping, self-deluding pomp, he was one of the few NME writers calling bullshit on the whole enterprise. He understood the importance of politics to culture, and his punk rock socialism and impassioned championing of multi-culturalism has had a big impact on me. Only last year, he wrote this funny, but angry, defence of immigration. In the light on BNP election gains, his piece is sadly all the more relevant and necessary.

While it's probably true he ran out of new things to say about music, it was still entertaining when one of his rants would wind up morons on the Guardian blog. I recall an amusing anti-guitar piece he wrote recently that suggested that the world's greatest guitarist was Richey Manic, 'cos his guitar wasn't plugged in. Cue "that doesn't even make sense" comments from humour-bypass idiots.

His accounts of his cancer treatment stand as his finest achievement: brutally honest, funny and touching. RIP Swells. Hope you're enjoying a ginger ale in heaven with Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer.

From Stewart Home:

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.

From Ben Myers:

If he exists, God has his work cut out dealing with this mad fucker.

From Sex, Lies and Audio Tape:

Swells was one of those journalists who divided people. Either you fully appreciated and liked his raw black sense of humour, and his love of ripping the piss out of anyone who openly wore their hearts and flowers on their sleeve, or you loathed him and everything he stood for. Me? Well, I was always in the former camp. But then again, I always have been a misanthropic curmudgeon. He was one of those writers who I looked up to, and indeed made me want to get into music journalism so I too could get good money for ramming my opinions on the music I loved down people's throats.

More to come, we're sure.

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1. Carl Loben said... on Jun 25, 2009 at 07:50AM

“Steven Wells RIP
Swells’ bludgeoning purple prose was what inspired me to take up music journalism myself. When I was trying to get in on the inkies in the early 90s I sent him some stuff I’d written, having met him at a gig. He sent back a three-page critique pointing out where I was going wrong, and soon after I got in on the rival to NME at the time – Melody Maker.
Whenever I ran into him after that – in the lifts at IPC (MM was a floor above NME), at gigs, on the football pitch (NME used to play MM at six-a-side once a week for a while) – he provided some inspiration in some form or other. Whether spouting some blurb about an attitude to adopt, quipping about a social more or just having an unsolicited rant, it was impossible not to be affected by the man.
His foaming-at-the-mouth punk style – using plenty of hyphens in a can’t be-arsed-to-think-of-the-academic-word-so-I’m-just-gonna-rant stylee – was inspirational, as well as the way he contextualised bands in the politicosphere, made up words, championed the margins, lampooned the mediocre, railed against perceived wisdom…
I didn’t always agree with him – at times he appeared too much like a paid-up member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) – but generally he was spot on, and I loved the way he wound people up and polarised opinion. Constantly kicking against the pricks.
I’ll never forget him exposing the sexism and homophobia of the Happy Mondays when all the other middle class NME writers were fawning over their laddism in a cultural tourism kinda way. He championed the riot grrrl stuff, extreme metal, queercore, bands like Cornershop and Skunk Anansie and loads more, and generally wound up a load of indie bands by slagging off students, liberals, Travis and other such pet hates.
The last time I saw him was at a film preview in Soho near the beginning of the decade. He had a hilarious rant about ecstasy and rave music (by now I’d moved onto DJ magazine) and I looked forward to running into him somewhere else in the future.
It’s strangely fitting that he’s passed away just before Glastonbury festival. I ran into him there one time when he was doing a piece for the NME on all the alternative stuff up in the green/healing fields. He was taking the piss – obviously – but really he had a great heart and was on the side of the underground against the establishment.
He got into writing (provocatively) about sport, moved to Philly, yet still blogged for the Guardian and I’d be pleased to catch him provoking and entertaining on the GNL pages.
Swells, you were an inspiration and you will be sorely missed.

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2. Mark Dunfee said... on Jun 25, 2009 at 08:46AM

“While many people have helped us fly the Sons of Ben kite higher and higher these last few years, he was the person that threw it up in the air.
Steven was the person that started rolling the ball from getting us from being a few dozen soccer nuts on a message board to 4,500 by writing about us in PW, FourFourTwo and The Guardian.
He saw what we were really doing and what we were capable of doing before any of us did, I think. He gave us relevance.
Apart from what he did for us he was an amazing writer as well...he had the most unique voice in his pieces, and possessed an incredible ability to weave a story. He championed American soccer to his English countrymen, because he's seen what's been going on here (especially in the stands) and loved it.
He was the person I was looking most forward to seeing at the first game next year; I envisioned handing him another can of Phoenix Pale Ale at our second "first tailgate" in 2010, like I did at our first. The Sons of Ben thank you, Steven.”

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3. Paul Wellings (ex NME) said... on Jul 8, 2009 at 11:30AM

“Swells was unfairly seen as a complete nutjob. But underneath all that bravado was a sweet pussycat. I first met him when my humble band the Anti Social Workers toured with him, Attila ,and the Redksins during the Miners strike benefits. He was always getting in arguments with his liberal-baiting and outspoken personality. When I joined the NME as a humble hack I reviewed him live and had preconceptions of him being an MD's son playing at being a revolutionary socialist. But I gave him a rave review - his poetry was jaw-droppingly good. He returned the favour by interviewing my band and producer the Mad Professor in an NME feature which is one of the best examples of gonzoid journalism I've read (viva substance abuse). I paid tribute to his scorching writing in my modest little book 'I'm a Journalist...get me out here' about life on the NME in the 80's. I last saw him on the London tube in the late 90s but regrettably didn't speak.Hasta la victoria siempre compadre. RIP.”

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