Steven Wells - known universally as Swells - was an unapologetic polemicist whose frank, vitriolic and often profane music journalism won him as many admirers as it did detractors.
Music critic mixing polemic with vitriol
Steven Wells - known universally as Swells - was an unapologetic polemicist whose frank, vitriolic and often profane music journalism won him as many admirers as it did detractors. In the pages of the UK-based New Musical Express magazine, The Guardian and latterly the Philadelphia Weekly, he opined on many subjects, from the bland rock groups manufactured by the marketing departments of music conglomerates to the stark reality of the lymphatic cancer that ultimately claimed his life.
Documenting his cancer in two cover stories for the Philadelphia Weekly, his final column was posted on June 14. "All this," he said, "is written by an idiot who has polished his image as an existentialist, atheist hard-man and anti-mope." Wells's passion for music was raw, and he was unafraid to call it as he saw it. As most rock bands were dismissed in no uncertain terms, to win his commendation was no small achievement.
A member of the Socialist Workers Party, he revelled in taking the side of the underdog, reserving his particular ire for Conservative, and conservative, types: the white, male, urban middle class inflated with self-importance and eager to communicate their utterly unremarkable experiences through the medium of music. Born in Swindon, Wiltshire, Wells moved north to Bradford with his family in 1968. He worked in a factory and as a bus conductor before discovering his niche. He joined NME in 1983 - where he worked for more than 25 years as a freelance journalist - initially writing under the pseudonym Susan Williams. He also penned scripts for BBC Radio Four's On the Hour (1991-92), and The Day Today (1994), starring Steve Coogan.
In 1992, Wells formed GobTV with Nick Small. The company made snappily edited, obscure and gritty rock videos for several musicians, including Manic Street Preachers and Skunk Anansie. In 2004 the company he had founded in 1999, Attack! Books, published his illustrated history of punk. He also wrote on sport, politics and culture. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006, Wells had sufficient energy the following year to make a series of bombastic YouTube videos on topics close to his impassioned heart: America, the War on Terror and politics. Moving to the US had opened up a whole new channel for abuse. Characteristically, Wells did not hold back.
Steven Wells was born on May 10, 1960. He died on June 23. He is survived by his wife, Katharine. * The National