The Mauled Avenger
“Here we go again, not another ranter with cult appeal and barmy banter telling you things you’ve heard before.”
Richard Rouska aka ‘The Mauled Avenger’.
Spurred on by my compering I thought I might have a go as a ranting poet. My material at best was thrown together and basic. At worst it was shit but most of the time I got away with it. I wasn’t funny either. Humour helps cover up a lot. Mine was your average sixth form poetry stuff yet try and stop me. I had a real burning desire (I think it was a water infection) to just get out there and do something! My position as a respected fanzine editor and knowing most people on the local scene helped open up loads of opportunities. I started to take advantage of the kindness of others and at every fuckin’ turn there I was, up on stage having a rant. I was everywhere. I was like a virus.
Sometimes I departed from the script and almost forgot to recite my poetry. Those were the best ones! Sometimes I’d be really pissed off and just get up and tell people how I felt from the gut suggesting, in no uncertain terms what was wrong, how it could be changed and why they should get off their backsides and do something about it. I was always preaching bless. The stage was like a pulpit. Most of the time people would listen and a few were inspired or so they and told me. As a ranting poet I would only play about fifty gigs but to 25,000+ punters! That’s still some influence.
York Music Festival
My first ever gig was in front of 15,000 rain sodden indie fans at the first, last and always York Music Festival held (22nd September) at York racecourse.
I bounced on as the stage crew readied the stage for the Sisters. I delivered a couple of rants about apathy and fanzines. Scary is not the word. My knees were black and blue through nerves and self-inflicted knee knocking. I was pelted with assorted fruit but none found their mark. I held onto the microphone stand, my only protection, for dear life. I endured ten minutes of glory before being unceremoniously ousted by the Sisters crew. The Sisters wouldn’t let me watch from the side of the stage even – as if they’d any secrets to hide from me!
In the car park after the gig (we were first in, parked the wrong way and therefore stuck) everyman and their dog recognised me and I received numerous plaudits from complete strangers. Some were amazed I’d had the nerve to get up in front of so many people and when I told them it was my first gig some were completely gobsmacked. I got a special mention on Ceefax thanks to Klare from Kvatch fanzine.
Someone recently posted on the net: “… and then I think John Cooper-Clarke came on, he was same old, same old but still quite funny.” No lad, he was a million miles away and nothing like the same old, same old. It was me in full flight delivering the usual ranting polemic but funny, me? If only.
Seething Wells (aka)
‘Seething’ Swells was a living, breathing contradiction in terms. He was also one of the most dynamic self conscious people I’d ever met, riddled with doubt yet pumping with adjectives. According to Mick Mercer: “In many ways Steven/Seething/Susan Williams Wells was the perfect NME writer, through having no understanding, or love, of music whatsoever! For him the message was the message, the music an abstraction. Nobody can ever be forgiven for being a Ranting Poet.”
Swells put the ‘rage’ into ranting poetry. As editor of Molotov Comix (which was handwritten and illustrated by Jon Langford and Kevin Lycett of the Mekons) he was a beacon of hope to anyone with left wing leanings. He was fervently anti-Nazi, pro ‘red’ skin, pro SWP, anti-American imperialism, capitalism and generally we shared the same values. I had no issue with Swells. I admired him. He was one of those who inspired me to do what I did in the first place. I championed his actions as well as his cause. He was one of us and well earned his nickname “seething”.
It all began on the buses. Whilst I was doing my monthly visit to relatives in Greengates the chances were favourable that one day I’d get either Little Brother or Swells taking my fare. The two shared more than a career that was heading for the terminus. They both shared the same outlook on life – a realisation that the world was pretty much screwed up and there was a need for change. They formed the band The Screaming Luddites. This was a step in the right direction and for a time the pair shared a house, split into flats. In one flat was Mr. Swells, another David Stockell aka Little Brother, another Slade the Leveller (Justin from New Model Army) and yet another Ian Astbury, lead singer with the Cult.
Swells and David drew on each other for inspiration and became the rising sons of ranting verse sharing a 7” EP ‘The Rising Son of Ranting Verse’ (Radical Wallpaper), with all music supplied by Jon Langford. Swells contributions included ‘Tough Tonka Toys for Boys’ and ‘Tetley Bittermen’. They wrote, they gigged, ranted and parted.
Swells moved in and shared Flat 3, Belle Vue House, Belle Vue Road, Leeds with assorted members of The Mekons and Three Johns. When they’d all moved on members of Son Of Sam and the owner of Final Image
Records inhabited the flat. Razor Robbie of Son Of Sam looked behind the sofa and found a nude sketch of Swells which caught him in a classic 1940’s Soviet-esque pose. Swells had been a life model at Leeds Poly. My mate Martin said that it must have been drawn by a female artist – something to do with the exaggerated size of his knob.
Swells was like the rest of us, often full of his own self-importance and one at the same time struggling to make ends meet whilst doing what he believed to be of value and making the world a better place.
Old Grey Thistle Vest
Swells was drafted in to do the odd spot of rhetoric on The Old Grey Whistle Test. It didn’t last long. He was fired for an over-the-top joke at the expense of the late John Lennon and NOT for saying my band was the worst in the universe. He was right of course but the BBC only received one complaint for that comment. I never did get my SAE back.
The last time I met Swells was on a National Express coach leaving London for the north. He was last on and all seats were taken, mmmm except for the one next to me. Swells looked up and down the aisle hoping in vain that a vacant seat would open up before him. He eventually put on a brave “oh I didn’t see you there kind of face” and sat beside me. A brief conversation about the Q’s he was going to put to Richard Branson in a forthcoming interview ensued, well, more like “look at these, look at these for Q’s, I’ll have Branson on the ropes, I’ll nail him”. He didn’t have to prove anything to me! Once another seat became vacant he couldn’t wait to move on and not even with a bye as you leave!
People tend to loathe me, love me or fear me – perhaps that’s true of most people who stick their neck out. Rouska would offer Little Brother (aka Dave Stockell) a recording contract but not Swells. That really didn’t help our relationship move onto any kind of firm, reciprocal basis.
Just before the mad Christmas run in the Three Johns invited me to perform with them and Marc Riley and The Creepers at the Boardwalk, Manchester. The venue was rammed and chain-smoking wasn’t settling my nerves. The Creepers went on – this was home turf for them. They’ll be alright I thought! I was so wrong. They stiffed in such a huge way it was painful to watch. I seem to remember Marc calling it a day and cutting the set short.
As per usual I would go on whilst the roadies switched gear. Ranting poets were not only cheap but very useful in maintaining momentum and keeping the audience amused in between acts. I didn’t fancy my chances one bit. How wrong can anyone be? I gritted my teeth, shouted “fuck it” in my head countless times before jumping on stage and launching into my set. I was focused, snarling, aggressive – there was no doubt that whatever shite I was spouting I meant. I left no gaps between rants for banter or the audience to heckle.
It was ten minutes of pure venom directed against the establishment and they fucking loved it. It would be the best performance and reception I’d ever get. But it gets better. As I strode off stage, ten feet tall, I noticed someone to my left clapping furiously. I knew that face! It was only Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks for Christ’s sake. That made my year.
Excerpts from ‘The Black Book’ by Richard Rouska 2014. Available now from 1977cc.