I’m looking forward to doing another reading with the mighty Malcolm Bennett of BRUTE! fame, and Melissa Mann, on Wednesday 25 May at The Gladstone Arms, off Borough High Street, London SE1. One of the perks of doing a gig with Malcolm — aside from the fact that he’s a great performer — is that I get an updated version of my flyer ‘in the BRUTE! style’ (right).
I remember the original BRUTE! paperbacks well, but only met Malcolm relatively recently, via another great spoken word act of the early-1980s, the late great Steven Wells, a.k.a. Swells, a.k.a. Seething Wells, although sadly not until after Swells’s untimely death in June 2009.
(I’m not completely sure which of them first used this parodic exclamation of verbal authoritativeness. I associate ‘the O word’ with Swells’s pronouncements, but I would guess that it was originally part of Bennett’s brutal, tabloid-inspired lexicon.)
I think it is fair to say, too, that the exclamation mark on the title of my debut novel Road Rage! can probably be traced back to BRUTE!’s hard-boiled pulp appropriations.
For Swells, ‘Road Rage’ became my nickname. I could be walking down the street anywhere in London and hear: ‘Oi, Road Rage!’ It would be Swells — no-one else ever called me that — who would then moan about how many boxes of ATTACK! books he still had under his bed. In return I would probably have told him a line that Michael Moorcock once told me: that he hadn’t felt like a real writer until some of his books were available in remainder shops, ‘where real people could buy them.’
‘Oi, Road Rage!’ — the last time I saw him, down by Strutton Ground market in Westminster he was trying not to beam from ear to there with the news that he was moving to the US and getting married (and asking me if I wanted any more books).
Following the terrible news of Swells’s untimely death in June 2009, I was honoured to give brief presentations and readings at a couple of events that were held to celebrate his life and work. First was an ATTACK! Books tribute night organised by 3:am Magazine, where I read alongside fellow novelist and ATTACK! author Stewart Home (who had first switched Swells on to Road Rage! when it came out). Secondly at a much larger celebratory event put together by David Quantick and NME colleagues, at the Monarch Tavern, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1. Here’s a jpeg of the invite (left).
There were many, moving tributes from Swells’s friends and colleagues at the Monarch that night, including Atilla the Stockbroker and photographer Kevin Cummins, who told (via Quantick) how he’d flown to Miami to do the pictures on an interview with the lead singer of Deicide, but also to hire the car as Swells couldn’t drive. Cummins’ description of the ensuing road trip included, hilariously, the arsenal of imaginary heavy weapons — machine guns, bazookas and grenades — that Swells would fire in the direction of neighbouring cars at every stop light they hit during the 600 mile round trip.
I’ve scanned in the scribbled notes I used for those events below. At the Monarch I didn’t read from Satan! Satan! Satan!, my novel for ATTACK! Books, which Swells once gleefully described as ‘the worst-researched music book ever – OFFICIAL!’, but from a gloriously gratuitous motorway pile-up rant on p.38 of Swells’s own Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty. It’s a typical Swells piece, complete with jibes at everyone from New Labour to Loaded magazine and jingly-jangly indy bands. In that context it felt appropriate to hear Swells’s words spoken aloud — even though I had to apologise for reading his blistering prose at 33 and 1/3 rather than the original 45 RPM. My excuse was that I took breaths.
Actually, this was when I met Malcolm Bennett. At the Monarch. He came and introduced himself after I’d come off stage. It turned out that back when Swells had been raving about BRUTE! to me, he’d sent Mally Road Rage! and his manuscript copy of the opening chapter of my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO. It was remembering Swells’s enthusiasm and the prospect of doing a gig with Mally last year that made me look again at CHARLIEUNCLE… (see posts here, here and here). The novel has been out of print for a decade, so I’d stopped including it in any of my reading gigs.
It is a measure of the very high regard in which Swells was held that when he was setting up ATTACK! he was granted access to the very highest echelons of the UK publishing industry to present his vision for ‘a NEW literature — writing that apes, matches, parodies and supercedes the flickeringly fast 900 MPH ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! velocity of early 21st century popular culture at its most mEnTaL!’
It would have been great to have been a fly on the wall as Swells preached the destruction of what he called the ‘self-perpetuating ponce-mafia oligarchy of effete bourgeois wankers who run the “literary scene”‘, to those self-same chief executives and publishing industry grandees.
He was calling for, ‘rock stars who think they’re writers,’ and promising that ATTACK! would, ‘make supernovas of […] stuttering, wild-eyed, slack-jawed, drooling idiot-geek geniuses,’ but didn’t get very far. Or so it seemed at the time.
But looking now at the ghosted, celebrity garbage by a legion of slack-jawed idiots that has dominated publishing for the past decade, I think maybe some of them were listening after all.
Malcolm Bennett, Melissa Mann and Tony White
The Gladstone Arms, Lant Street, London SE1.
Wednesday 25 May 2011, 19:00 – 22:30 — Admission free.