Tag Archives: Seething Wells

In Sickness And In Health

Seething Wells reviews the return of Alf Garnett in the NME, 14 September, 1985.

Wishy-washy liberal STEVEN WELLS considers the return of mild-mannered, shy, retiring Alf and Else.

Sitcoms which actually cause you to laugh rather than cringe, yawn or reach for the ‘off’ switch are rare and getting rarer.
Most of the current dross is dull, laboured and nice to the point of nausea. Writers seem unable to stretch their imaginations past the most basic double-entendres and the feeblest of plots. The typical ’80s sitcom character is a divorced professional in his late 30s living in a semi-detached cocktail cabinet with a pebble-dashed hatchback parked in the driveway.
This it is that American imports like Taxi, Barney Miller and Cheers have received so much undue praise. They may not be great comedy but at least you know that no-one’s going to crack a string of alleged jokes about the mortgage.
When I recently interviewed Mary Whitehouse she claimed that the present trough in TV comedy was the result of a purge of ‘permissive’ writers. I asked her what she would consider an example of good contemporary comedy. After a long pause she suggested The Good Life – a twee nicey-nice show that contains little roughage and has had all the nasty crusts removed. Such programmes convey a cloyingly safe middle-class world view – nothing is challenged, nothing threatened. It is the comedy of conformity.
One show that did attempt to confront rather than cuddle was Till Death Us Do Part. Johnny Speight’s scripting of working class Tory bigot Alf Garnett’s manic rantings were works of classic parody.
Though exaggerated in detail, Garnett was never a stereotype, neither could he be considered a hate figure. The frustration and contradictions of his character were all too real, his racism and fawning affection for the people who kept him in chains far too close to home for most people. He could have been my grandad.
Alf is back, as pathetic as ever, in the sequel In Sickness And In Heath. Gone is the Welfare State pampered Scouse Git who acted as a superb foil for Alf’s vitriolic assaults on sanity. Else is restricted to a wheelchair, increasing the pathos and giving Alf the excuse to launch into a series of cripple-bashing speeches. Indeed, the first episode made much of his resentment at Else’s disablement.
“That’s typical of your National Health Service innit? They gives you a wheelchair but they don;t give you anyone to push it.”
Racism was remarkably underplayed, given that it is for this particular vice that Garnett is most remembered. He uttered one “Sambo” and a couple of lines about the inability of Jewish bodies to accept transplanted organs from blacks. Tame stuff compared to some of the lines from earlier series.
Since the last Till Death. . . we have seen the rise of organised racism in the shape of the various neo-nazi parties who came close to becoming a real political force before the election of the Conservative government in 1979. Thatcher won the election with a campaign that included the “swamped by an alien culture” speech, which could have come straight from the mouth of Garnett – except that it wasn’t funny any more. The attitudes that Speight parodies have become enshrined in legislation.
It is going to be interesting to see how Alf has adapted to living in a post-Lewisham, post-Falklands UK. It will be interesting to see whether, after six years of Thatcher, we can still swallow raving reactionary bigots as figures of fun.
Only if the boot goes in a lot harder.

The Rising Son Of Ranting Verse

The Seething Wells/Little Brother split EP reviewed in Sounds, 11 December, 1983.

Seething Wells and Little Brother: ‘The Rising Son Of Ranting Verse’
(Radical Wallpaper)

Swells is very funny and very frustrating. Here his biting attack on ‘machismo’ is doubtless the only way he can avoid getting thrown out of SWP cheese and wine evenings for his own ‘macho’ skinhead image.
The Left have got some peculiar double standards. It’s okay to be ‘macho’ if you’re a Yorkshire miner or a Viet Cong guerrilla, but Joe Bloggs next door is a closet rapist and a potential stormtrooper ‘cos he likes a pint and the odd football match.
Yet Swells seems to at least partially appreciate the contradiction, and in ‘He/She’ he launches an equally scathing attack on trendy lefties ‘He’s ashamed of being male/She’s sorry she’s not black… He/she thinks Benny Hill’s a right wing plot/ Thinks baby boys should be shot’.
Little Brother is less caustic, just as funny, and ultimately more satisfying. Indeed, the whole EP would be worth buying simply for his ‘Letter to K – nave’ and his rib-tickling revelations about the new Cadbury’s chocolate phallic bar which, we’re reliably informed, ‘Comes off in your mouth and not in your hand’ and ‘actually does taste like chocolate never tasted before.’

Garry Bushell

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Handbags in the NME letters page, 14 September, 1985.

Poor old Susan/Seething/Stupid/Steven Wells/Williams/Wanker. The ugliest man since George Orwell/Phil Collins. Obviously something is gnawing at him which he can’t contain, so he’s decided to use dingy, space-filling corners of the review pages to issue snide attacks on The Smiths. Ooh, and such viciousness: we learn that The Smiths are mediocre!?
A Killing Joke Fan, Liverpool.
Dear Killing Joke Fan. Bog off. PS The Smiths are crap. – SW

Clarkey In New Youth

John Cooper Clarke in Hulls New Youth zine, number 4, 1984.

Were you definitely a Punk, or did you just find it coming along at the right time for you?
“Yeah, I was already doing this sort of thing in the period immediately before Punk, but to an extent. Yeah, I suppose I was, plus I definitely altered my style to suit.”

You broke the ground for Poets, it must have taken a lot of guts?
“Yeah, it was a bit dangerous at times.”

But you made poets more acceptable for audiences at rock gigs ’cause there’s a new wave now; Attila, Swells, Swift Nick, Ginger John, etc. It’s easier now…
“Well that may be true, but I wouldn’t say it was easy!”

Has your book been selling well?
“Yeah, great. It’s sold out of the original print run and we’re well into the second set now.”

Is that suit you wear now the one you started with originally?
“(Laughs) No, not exactly. At first it was separate pairs of pants and trousers.”
Tim Dalton, (Spring St.) “First thing he asked me when he arrived tonight was, ‘What suit did I have on the last time I was in Hull’…!
John, “Well I’ve only got one with me you see and I wanted to know if it was the same one as last time. (Laughs) I mean if I don’t set a fuckin’ example, who will!!”

We noticed you hired a flashy car to get here tonight, are you making loads of money these days?
“I owe it all out! I owe my record company £36,000 and the travel agents, who’ve arranged the lat three tours, a few thousand as well!”

Are you bothered?
“Well you can’t take it seriously – I worry more about owing him (a friend) a fiver than I do the record comps… and travel agents.” His friend: “Fuckin’ right, yo should worry!”

Are they your bodyguards? (meaning his two friends)
“Sort of!”
The next few minutes are impossible ’cause his two bodyguard/managers keep singing “One step at a time, sweet Jesus…’!!!

I liked what you said on that programme recently, about you being a socialist in a capitalist world..?
“What you mean ‘I can’t be an Island of Socialism in a sea of Capitalism'”
That was it…
“Yeah, it’s right, y’see I am a Socialist but you can’t decide to live your socialist ideal on your own. It’s impossible. We have to keep going along with capitalism at the moment until we can change it. At the moment I make what I can… I have to, same as everyone. If you do live out your own little socialist ideal… you’ll be left with nothing and you’ll have changed nothing… you’ll just be a martyr, and I mean, a fuckin’ martyr’s no good to anyone (laughs). They’ll just say ‘Oh yeah, he was a nice bloke, but anyway he’s fuckin’ dead now!'”

Bronski Beat

Seething Wells reviews in the NME, 14 September, 1985.

Bronski Beat
Hundreds And Thousands

(Forbidden Fruit)

In which London Records take six Bronski tracks, stretch ’em, slap in a few gimmicks and try and flog the resulting noises as a genuine long-playing record. Fishy? I should co-co.
The music. I have always lumped B.B. in with Yazoo as examples of how great singing voices can be wasted by placing them against an irritating background of twee, knob-twiddlesome bonk-bonk-bonk whine muzak.
The politics. The Bronskis are one of the few bands that have been able to take lyrics of worthy content into the upper reaches of the charts. I would regard their success in polemicising the issue of gay-rights as being minimal. The very medium they chose to express their opinions has the effect of rendering most political content impotent. Even within the terms of that medium it is doubtful that any of their singles had as much impact as ‘Y.M.C.A.’ and Somerville’s high and expressionless voice seems unable to convey the emotions of anger and commitment with any overt conviction. That said, it is hard to comprehend the opposition they have encountered from critics. If we must have this soulless music then surely it is preferable that at least the lyrics should have some bite.
However, it is neither politics nor aesthetics that we are reviewing here but marketing technique. If you are a committed consumer of Bronski product then more fool you if you let yourself be conned into parting with a fiver this glorified 12″ re-mix single. Those of you who still feel tempted should send the money to: The Miners Solidarity Fund, NUM Headquarters, St. James House, Vicar Lane, Sheffield S1 2EX. Such a gesture would be far more in keeping with the Bronski spirit than adding another slab of worthless plastic to the pile you keep in your bedroom.

Steven Wells

Bastard Huddersfield

Another of Ian McMillan’s Seething Wells ranting poetry spoofs in the NME, 8 September, 1984.

A Day In The Life Of Darren Shakespeare
The return of Barnsley’s most explosive poet. IAN McMILLAN presents another revolutionary episode.

Bloke rings up and say “Do you want to do a bastard world tour?” and I says Well anything’s better than reading the bastard Beano and he says “Does that mean you want to do a bastard world tour or not?” Yes I says of course I bastard do but I’m a bastard ranter and we always say things in a bastard clever and allusive way.
“Do you?” he says. Course I bastard do you silly bastard I says. He says “I’ll get one of my lads to drop you a Date Sheet off later on.” I says I know what bastard day it is, bastard. He says “Look, a date sheet is a list of the bastard places you’ll be doing on the bastard tour.” I says I know that, bastard, I was just bastard testing you.
So I goes out and applies for a passport. Then I sit in a bastard booth in bastard Woolworth’s having my picture taken. I kept looking away every time the bastard flash went off. I stood outside waiting for the bastards to slide out of the bastard machine and a bloke with a Mohican stuck up like a bastard Baobab tree says to me “Are you Darren bastard Shakespeare?”
I says no I’m bastard Robert Redford, bastard. He hits me and says “I hated that bastard Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Bastard, and as for that Bastard Way We Bastard Were, the bastard camera angles were as daft as my Uncle bastard Dennis!” Trust my bastard luck to get the world’s only bastard film buff punk.
So I grabs the bastard snaps and runs off. Then I goes to the shop and gets a bastard overcoat and a pair of Bermuda shorts. The bastard assistant stares at me and I shout The World’s a big place, bastard!
At home I’m lying on the bastard settee when a bloke comes in with a crash helmet on. The roof’s not that bastard bad, I say, for a funny joke. “Very bastard funny” he says. “You must be Darren Shakespeare.” No, I say, I’m bastard Barbra Streisand. He hits me. “That bastard Yentl was a load of bastard chairlegs” he says, and throws the date sheet at me. Trust me to get a bastard film buff despatch rider!
The date sheet is very small. Bastard! Four bastard dates: Huddersfield, Wakefield, Sheffield and Wrexham! I rings the bastard tour organiser up. Now then bastard, I says, what happened to the bastard World Tour? “They’re all in the bastard world” he says.
Very bastard funny. And I’m not so sure about bastard Huddersfield.

Pit Dragon

Picket line gig in support of the striking miners written up by Seething Wells in the NME, 23 February, 1985.

Front-Line Follies:
Dragons On Picket Line!

The joys, the thrills, the romance of the picket line! Look! Look! There goes one of those Flying Pickets – the one with the side-burns – being hotly pursued by a posse of paper-selling Redskins. What fun!
This is Neasden Power Station, 6.45am, Monday the 11th of February and it is very, very cold.
As part of the TUC Day of Action, over a thousand pinkos, Commies and other enemies of ‘responsible and caring Government’ stood around in sub-zero temperatures under the bleary eyes of young constables and the odd camera-crew. Like most pickets (believe-it-or-not) very little happened in the way of televisual skull-busting. The odd camera crew packed up its camera and shuffled off for a bacon buttie. They should have hung around.
A stage had been erected in the Power Station entrance, upon which pranced a seemingly endless stream of comics, comedians, non-poets and bands.
Of course, benefits and rallies are regularly spiced by the antics of ‘alternative’ performers – but on a picket line? Did Vera Lynn don battle-dress and help crew an ack-ack gun? She did not. The proper place for entertainers is in the rear, raising morale and cash for the front line hard-men – or so convention would have it.
Pit Dragon – a London amalgamation of various artists, agents, management and organisers on the cultural front – think rather differently. In conjunction with the local Miner’s Support Group they were determined that this picket line was going to be a little bit different.
The comics – Skint Video, Screaming Ab-dabs, Dusty & Dick and Time Out tip-for-the-top The Vicious Boys – did or said things that were funny, as comics sometimes do. There were jugglers, there was music. The bands, including the raucous Gutter Brothers, were a motley bunch of buskers and cabaret acts – but what the heck – we’re talking fun. And the poets, God preserve us from this plague.
At 9am, after a couple of hours in the absobloodylutely freezing morning air, most of the picket lined itself up and trotted off to demonstrate its support of the miners to the good burghers of Neasden. As they snaked around the corner, what should appear, laden with coal, but a convoy of scab lorries. The whole point of the picket having been, ultimately, to stop this coal entering the power station, it looked as if the exercise would end in bitter farce, or worse, with the odds now severely in favour of the brave boys in blue trousers and funny hats, in violence. The lorries slowed to a halt at the entrance to the gates, 300 or so pickets remained in front of the stage. What would happen next? Would the cream of our rising young comedians be coshed into submission by baton wielding cossacks? No, fortunately. Thanks to the Met’s low-key approach (i.e. they weren’t hitting anybody today), the lorries turned around and the show went on.
That night in Islington Town Hall the entertainment reverted to its proper place – the stage. Despite raising over £3,500 from people willing to fork out a fiver to see, amongst others, Rik Mayall, it is debatable as to which of the actions, the morning’s or the evenings, was the most successful. Scab lorries turned back by a variety show? Surely a first in the annals of industrial struggle?
Pit Dragon has managed to harness the talents of almost every worthwhile artist on the seamier side of the London cabaret circuit and the potential exists to develop it into the most dynamic political/cultural organisation since Rock Against Racism.
(Pit Dragon can be contacted through CAST, PO Box 294, London, NW7 5BH)

– S Williams

Fiery Jack

Seething Wells lambasted by a Fall fan, NME, 9 November, 1985.

Narked Nark

Tut, tut, Steven Wells doesn’t much care for the new Fall single, what a surprise! To start with, it’s killingly obvious that the company director’s skinhead yobbo son reviewed the B-side of the aforementioned disc. This is excusable. The only time S. Wells listens to records is when the NME pays him to do so.
Secondly, The Fall are one of the GEN-U-INE working class northern groups (ie containing no art students, SWP members, company director’s sons) yet because they have consistently rejected the Left bourgeois polytechnic posturings of S. Wells and his crummy ilk they are despised by said cretins. Fact, is, chums, that Smith is more in touch with working class life, and has written about it more perceptively, than any number of ‘wot about the workers’ rich kid oafs like S. Wells.
Being a professional northerner is bad enough, but a professional skinhead? Dick Emery did it so much more convincingly.
The Red Clydesider, Glasgow.
When I was at school one was taught to play the ball rather than the man. Of course I reviewed the B-side of the Fall single, that is what one does with Fall singles. Moreover…er…Red, I’ll trade political arguments with you anytime or maybe we could relive old Monty Python sketches over a few pints of foaming whippet. – S. Wells.
Dick Emery, Monty Python, The Fall, Seething Wells and the SWP True comedy never dies . –