SWells bovvers the opinion column of lefty listings magazine City Limits, 21 – 28 August, 1986.
Steven ‘Seething’ Wells in the Guardian 8 January 2008
Get in the Ring: Axl Rose challenged specific journalists to a fight.
I look up. There on the tube station platform is a fat bloke. I smile and wave. He points to the U2 album he’s holding.
“Wanker!” he shouts, shaking his pudgy fist.
Writing anything even vaguely critical about certain bands is like firing a rocket launcher into a rainforest canopy packed with psychotic howler monkeys. Today’s snarky album review might be tomorrow’s hamster cage lining for most readers, but for a deranged minority of artists and fans, every bad review is cut out with blunt scissors, underlined in green ink and pasted into a chicken feather-festooned voodoo curse shrine.
I have been threatened both in print and in person by Henry Rollins and was savagely pushed in the back at a gig by a furious Sci-Fi Steve out of Bis. Or it might have been Disco John – he ran too fast for me to tell. Whatever, I thought my street fighting days were over. I was wrong.
Just before Christmas I received an email from a distraught Morrissey fan called Morrissey the 23rd. He challenged me to a fight over articles I’d written. I asked him to send me a picture. He called me a pervert and then said he didn’t really want a fight because he was dead weedy and rubbish at fighting.
Thus reassured I made plans to book a gym in 23rd’s native Scotland where, a year hence (to give us both time to train and get fit) we can have a go at each other in three rounds of tediously inept but properly refereed celeb/non-entity boxing – in the manner pioneered by Ricky Gervais and Grant Bovey.
In the 18th century, gentlemen regularly shot and stabbed one another in formal duels. In modern times artists and fans have tended to resort to the somewhat less honourable method of sneaking up on journalists and hitting them.
Kudos must be given, therefore, to the man described as “the world’s worst film director”, Uwe Boll, who in 2006 invited a bunch of his most savage online critics to a public boxing match where, much to their horrified surprise, he proceeded to thrash the living daylights out of them.
More typical, however, is the somewhat less classy direct approach – like that adopted by Kevin Rowland who waited outside the offices of Melody Maker to thump writer Barry McIlheney in the face.
The most beaten-up hack ever must surely be the “great palsied mantis” of rock journalism, Nick Kent – a man who looks so much like Keith Richards that he makes Keith Richards look like the Queen Mum.
In 1977 Kent was chain-whipped by then Sex Pistols fan Sid Vicious and had a knife waved in his face by Jah Wobble. And that was just for starters.
“After the aforementioned knife-chain Sid incident,” writes Kent in his book The Dark Stuff, “I became an ongoing victim of mindless punk brutality. I was stabbed repeatedly in an open field close to King’s Cross by four youths clearly overwhelmed by the liberating force of punk rock and their ardent desire to ape anything Sid did. Another time I was attacked in the toilets of the fabled Roxy by a guy with a knife. I can distinctly remember staggering out of that privy with a great gash in my coat sleeve wondering to myself: Did Greil Marcus find himself in such life-or-death situations when out reviewing Randy Newman?”
Punk was also the heyday of artiste-on-critic aggro. Paul Weller regularly asked journalists for satisfaction (but allegedly failed to turn up to a boxing match against Stuart Baillie in Belfast). The NME’s Gavin Martin was challenged twice by Siouxie Sioux – once in print – “when my boot meets Gavin Martin’s face” – and once in person. “Being a gentleman I was unable to accept,” says Martin, who was also threatened by JJ Burnell of the Stranglers, “because my brain stunk”.
The Stranglers are probably the most hack-bashing band in rock history. They threatened and attacked several young journalists in the late 1970s (acts of pure cowardice given Burnell’s black belt in karate) and gaffa-taped the trouserless French journalist Philippe Manoeuvre to the Eiffel Tower.
Rap has also seen its share of journalist beatings. Journalist Cheo H Coker was punched in the face by a member of Wu Tang Clan who objected to a cartoon that ran near one of Coker’s articles. A fortnight later Masta Killa phoned up to apologise, having presumably worked out in the meantime that they’d chinned the wrong man.
Perhaps the most threatened music journalist of all time is former NME writer Johnny Cigarettes. Lily Alan’s dad threatened to “break his legs” for calling him “a Rada yob”. A member of the band Fretblanket had to be physically restrained when Cigarettes walked in the room. And at the Man Utd vs Bayern Munich European Cup final of 1999, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft responded with similarly uncontrolled vituperation.
“I’d written a review of a Verve gig along the lines of: ‘If Richard Ashcroft walked into your local pub, you’d feel duty-bound to take a bottle to his peachy features’ ” remembers Cigarettes. “Seven years later, at the final, I spotted his then press officer, who is a friend of mine, and I said hello. He was standing next to Ashcroft who clearly had no idea who I was. A little later I heard – ‘Cigarettes!’ and I turned round to see Ashcroft attempting to scale the outer fence shouting, “I’ll fucking bottle you, you bastard!”
The very tall Cigarettes has also been threatened by Liam Gallagher – “I’ll stand on a chair and bottle him, right in his kipper!” and the band Bush who, after Cigs reviewed their album Razorblade Suitcase with the line “shit suitcase”, planned to send him a spring-loaded suitcase full of the aforementioned faecal matter.
Perhaps the strangest artist vs hack attack came at a gig in Newport when “the one who looked like Thelma off the Liver Birds” from Huggy Bear gave a black eye to Carlton B Morgan, writer of the NME cartoon strip Great Pop Things.
Morgan and cartoonist Jon Langford had been unsettling the Hugs by shouting “Less structure in the music” and “You’re better than Sting”.
“Then they started ranting about men in the audience wanking on to female audience members’ backs,” says Langford, “and tried to get all the women to stand down the front while all the blokes had to go to the back. Carlton shouted “I am a transvestite, where do I stand?” then his bass player Miss Sass shouted “Show us your tits” and it all went bonkers. I think the surreal heckling really got to them.”
Some artists have restricted their hack bashing to their lyrics. Boy George wrote “You’re so Wilde” about our own Jon Wilde. The Stereophonics bitched about the press in Mr Writer (“I’d like to shoot you all”; and Nick Cave wrote the graphic and somewhat nauseating track Scum about NME writers Mat Snow and Antonella Black. (Cave also physically assaulted NME’s Jack Barron when asked one too many questions about drug abuse.)
And in the album track Get In the Ring, Guns N’ Roses achieved a unique treble with a lyric that a) moaned about the press, b) named specific writers and publications and c) challenged them to a fight. “And that goes for all you punks in the press / That want to start shit by printin’ lies instead of the things we said / That means you, Andy Secher at Hit Parader / Circus Magazine / Mick Wall at Kerrang! / Bob Guccione Jr at Spin / What you pissed off cuz your dad gets more pussy than you? / … / Get in the ring motherfucker / And I’ll kick your bitchy little ass / Punk”.
Alas when karate expert Bob Guccione Jr agreed to actually meet Axl Rose in the ring, the rocker was not forthcoming and no fisticuffs actually occurred.
I have no such reservations. I will fight any musician or fan, so long as they are more cowardly, smaller and less physically competent than I am. And I can get an article out of it.
For I am music journalism – hear me roar.
Michelene Wandor’s article on the Poet Laureateship sets of a pre-facebook flame war, though obviously a much slower paced one. Firstly from Marxism Today, August, 1984.
THE THING ITSELF
Michelene Wandor expresses the attitude of MT when she writes (MT July 84): “In left-wing journalism poetry is feared or dismissed as bourgeois individualism and discounted by radical publishers as ‘not selling’.” Her articles are the closest thing to poetry it prints. With few outlets for ‘political’ poetry in the UK, radical journals frequently declare their commitment to it as a resource for the Left, yet only publish prose. This country’s tradition of political verse stretches back past Milton, yet left-wing journalists direct our attention to those writers who achived success through and after Punk. That many of these have revived some of the most banal poetic forms recieves no comment.
Many poets show ‘streetwise verbal richness’ (Adrian Mitchell, Roy Fisher, Tom Pickard, Geraldine Monk, Barry MacSweeny, Duncan Bush) but are interested in more than streetsense. These and other writers are attempting to deconstruct the realities of capitalism with language, and to construct new modes of thought and relationship which will hasten the material advance of Socialism. Yet, Mitchell excepted, no interest is shown in their work by those ostensibly devoted to all forms of radicalism.
What of the radicalisation of language?
If poetry is a valid tool for the Left, why do those who could facilitate its publication reject it ‘because it takes up too much space’? Space is given to those poets popular among London’s radical chic: is success therefore the definitive measure of value? Success in a publishing system obsessed with profitability, despite ‘radical’ publishing. That poetry should be subject to constraints applied to no other form of language: that it be as selfexplanatory as a cartoon and as lucrative as a pop-song; shows an immaturity in the perception of poetry that magazines like MT should attempt to change by publishing not articles about poetry but the thing itself.
The following month in Marxism Today, September, 1984, Ranter Dino the Frog champions the Doc Martened poets.
Comrade Jafrate’s alleged taste in poetry certainly contradicts his desire to hear ‘streetwise’ oriented poetry (MT Aug 84). I assume by streetwise he means ‘by the working class, for the working class’, yet how many of these people does he see at poetry events?
The truth is that these events are poorly attended, the reason being that, as Adrian Mitchell said: ‘Most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores people’.
I am one of the punk/post-punk poets (though I’d rather be called a Ranter) he dismisses as being a revivalist of banalism. If I, and others such as Swift Nick, Attila The Stockbroker, Little Brother,
Seething Wells and Peter Campbell, are reviving banalism, then so be it, but we’re getting across to a big audience and attracting many people who never imagined they’d ever like poetry. We exist because of our fellow human beings, not in spite of them. We’re not in the business of dumping the listener in a verbal maze in mid-performance (and we are essentially live performers) and aurally torturing them as is the usual practice of the ME generation poets, but kicking poetry off its hallowed pedestal and taking it back to the people, spreading the word of unity and having a good laugh at the same time.
MT readers can learn more by sending 40p and a sae to Tirane Thrash, 161 Spencers Croft, Harlow, Essex.
Dino the Frog,
Seething Wells has no sense of humour!
This conclusion has been reached after an all day gig also attended by the aforementioned.
After several, no doubt well-intentioned, but ultimately boring and repetitive England bands, an American band whose name I missed (Nig Heist – Bag Ed.) plunged into a set of unbelievable sexism and audience wind-ups.
It was the first spark of humour all day, and I, and my girlfriend and plenty of others appreciated the joke. No so SWells. As they left, he entered the stage to inform us that, “there are better dog on the street than the American bastard that just went off.”
Talking to one of the band later it transpired that four large skinheads had earlier cornered Black Flag’s female bass player and treated her to a similar, annt-American tirade along the lines of “Your lot brought the fucking missiles over.”
The scene was set for a minority to try and spoil Black Flag’s performance (comparable to the Birthday Party at their most manic), which was fortunately an impossible task.
I wonder if the persons mentioned above realise that labelling all Americans as pro-nuclear, commie-hating, fascist rednecks, is as much racism as the NF/BM labelling all blacks as dope-pushing, white-hating pimps and muggers.
As someone who has read Molotov Comics from its inception, SWells’s lack of humour and blinkered attitude astounded me.
It did? You can’t have read it ery carefully. -DW
From the NME‘s letters page, 11 August, 1984
T. Lacy must hae been dweadfully miffed, he’d also been whining in Sounds.