Di Stevens on Life with Mod DJ and Music Mogul Guy Stevens

From the DJ History archives: A glimpse into the meteoric rise of the mod DJ, soul label boss, in-demand record producer and band manager


Di Stevens saw the stratospheric rise and later self-destruction of husband Guy Stevens at close quarters. When they first met as daily commuters on a London-bound train, Di was a slightly rebellious and bohemian teenager who worked in a solicitor’s office and liked nothing more than going out dancing to rock & roll and jazz. In Guy, she found a similarly unconventional soul who was desperate to leave his safe, middle-class job in the insurance industry.

Fast-forward a decade, and Guy Stevens was one of the most influential men in the British music industry: an in-demand resident producer for Island Records who had previously spent years building up the UK division of Sue Records, a label famous for helping to popularise obscure American soul and rhythm & blues singles in Britain. Later, he would go on to manage and produce bands including Mott the Hoople and the Clash, who recruited him to work on London Calling in tribute to his previous involvement in London’s mod scene.

It was in 1963, the year that Di gave birth to their son, James, that Guy first became famous on London’s emerging club circuit. Irish entrepreneur Ronan O’Rahilly recruited him to put on a weekly “R&B disc night” at the Scene Club, a popular hangout for musicians including members of the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Beatles and the Small Faces. Every Monday, he showcased heavyweight R&B and soul records from the United States, often to an audience that wanted to keep the party going following a weekend spent drinking, dancing and taking amphetamines.

DJ History

As he began his rise through the music industry ranks, Guy Stevens’ alcohol and drug consumption intensified. This led to several months in prison in 1968 for drug offences and, on release, a breakdown following the discovery that his precious record collection had been stolen. As his life progressed and he devoted more time to managing and producing bands, his alcoholism worsened. By 1979, when he was working with the Clash, he had separated from Di. Tragically, he died in 1981, aged just 38, following an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. In 1982, the Clash wrote and recorded a song in his honour, “Midnight At Stevens,” later releasing it on 1991’s Clash On Broadway compilation.

In this archival interview from 2003, Di Stevens opens up to Bill Brewster about life with Guy during the early years of his music career, touching on her own experiences of London’s jazz and mod clubs, Guy’s weekly residency at the Scene Club and how he got into collecting records.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I came to South London when I was about seven. I grew up here [in Brockley]. My sister lives round the corner, moved back here about 20 years ago. My parents grew up in the Isle of Dogs and New Cross. I was born in 1943.

Did you go out to clubs as well?

Yeah, I did. First of all, I used to go out to a jazz club in Soho when I was still at school.

Cy Laurie’s club?

Cy Laurie’s I used to go to.

Did you go to the Flamingo?

The Flamingo was on Wardour Street, next to that shoe shop. There was a funny shoe shop, the one’s that’s now on Holloway Road. I used to go and my father was always waiting for me [when I got back]. I went on a Sunday when it was jazz. I liked jazz then, but I also liked rock & roll.

I went to see some rock & roll with this guy in Woolwich. He turned up wearing this funny hat, like a trilby, and I can remember thinking, “I’m going to have to walk in the street with this guy!” I always liked music and I liked jiving. I went to the 100 Club. I still do go to the 100 Club! And we go to the Rivoli Ballroom up the road. If you ever see a ballroom on telly it’s always the Rivoli they use.

Did you ever go to the Lyceum?

Yes. I went with a guy who was a mod. I borrowed some shoes from a friend of mine. This guy was a great dancer.

The whole thing then was you worked all week, then bought some pills, stayed out, went to the Flamingo and if you were still going on a Monday you went to the Scene.

Were you a mod?

I did a degree in history and textiles and one of the questions was, “What was I?” I don’t really know. ’50s white socks, big skirt, hair in a ponytail when I was really young.

How did you meet Guy?

Through somebody he knew and somebody I knew. Guy said he used to see me on the train every morning and he wanted to talk to me. He was living in Forest Hill and I lived in Brockley.

How old were you?

I would’ve been 16 or 17, but we didn’t get together until a while after that. Well, I had James at 19, so it always feels a long time in my head, because he went away and came back. He was working in a bank. He wasn’t into vinyl at all.

He must’ve been interested in music?

He was. I can’t remember how he got really interested in music, though, and [songs] like Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” I can’t remember how he became one of those that had to hunt for records, the classic vinyl hound, you know.

Barrett Strong – Money (That’s What I Want)

Do you remember when he got that mania for records?

We were both at Forest Hills. I’d decided to live with him, much against the wishes of my father, poor thing. I got a lot of pressure from my mum and dad not to go out with someone like Guy.

What was “someone like Guy”?

Not respecting my parents’ wishes, not being conventional, wearing different clothes, although they weren’t at all outrageous. I went through a bohemian phase and I would wear green stockings and my mother wouldn’t walk down the road with me. I’d wear black suede shoes, green felt skirt and a long jumper and I’d go to Cy Laurie’s and jive. I worked at a solicitor’s, but I wanted to get out, really. When I left school, my mother said, “You’ve got to find a job,” so I went out and found one. Then I got another one, in an advertising agency, when I didn’t like that one.

So Guy was working in a bank?

Yeah. The thing with Guy was he would not be told. There was a big fight or something and he walked out. His brother worked in the city. Then he went to Europe, with his friend Roland, then he came back, but it’s all a bit of a blur.

What year did you met him?

It was 1960.

Did he ever talk to you about what he wanted to do?

It was very unfocused, but he did become much more focused when the vinyl thing started. There weren’t any independent labels then. Island [Records] was started by Chris Blackwell and David Betteridge, and later Guy ran the Sue Records offshoot. So Guy was working at Island Records and playing the Scene Club. We got married and had a very conventional [life]. We had a place in Camden, Guy went to work and I had a baby.

When did Island start and when did you get married?

I can’t remember when Island started [it was 1959]. James was born when I was 19 and Guy was working at Island before that, because he was playing at the Scene Club. I don’t know how the transition happened. By the time we got to Gloucester Avenue he had this amazing record collection. He imported lots of albums himself.

There was a guy that used to have a stall in Soho where he’d sell imports every Friday.

Well, Guy used to import records and he sold them, too, so perhaps it was him? Do you know Kosmo Vinyl?

I know who he is, but I’ve never met him.

He knows all this because he’s supposed to be writing a book. I was married to him [Guy], but we didn’t necessarily share these things.

Did you go to the Scene Club?

Oh, yeah. We used hang out outside. I’ve gone and stood there on many an occasion [subsequently]. I’m a dresser in the theatre and I had a job in the Windmill… But it was quite a renowned club. It got raided for [people] smoking reefers [before it was the Scene].

It was a basement club. It was a square room, if you imagine a box quite high up with a DJ playing in it, well, it wouldn’t be open and everybody would be dancing. You sort of walked in where the turntable would be. Guy would play. Eric Clapton and loads of other people would come down.

How many did it hold?

200 or 300.

Could you tell me more about the Scene and who went there?

Well, Eric Clapton used to go down, and Georgie Fame. I think it was mainly a mod thing. It was a hangover from the weekend, because it was on a Monday night. I don’t know whether they were still “speeding” [high on amphetamines] but the whole thing then was you worked all week, then bought some pills, stayed out, went to the Flamingo Club and if you were still going on a Monday you went to the Scene.

What was the DJ booth like?

From what I remember, the turntable was enclosed. It was quite high up, with glass or Perspex round it, so you could see Guy.

The Clash – Midnight To Stevens

Was it one or two turntables?

I think it must’ve been two, mustn’t it?

I don’t know. Did he talk between the records?

No, he just played. It was all singles he played too.

How long did he play there for?

I think it was maybe [between] 18 months and two years.

Why did he finish, did the club close?

I’m not sure. It was run by Ronan O’Rahilly.There’s a big connection between Ronan and Guy. I think that Ronan wanted to Guy to do his pirate radio [station], but Guy was poached by Chris Blackwell.

Is Ronan still around?

Yes, he is. There was a lot of acrimony between him and Guy, because he never paid him and I think that’s why he went with Chris.

He seems a bit of an operator.

That’s a good word to describe him. I saw him a few years ago on the Kings Road, but I didn’t talk to him.

Was he [Guy] doing pills himself at the Scene?

No. Never. That didn’t start until quite a long time [later]. He never did then, which was surprising, really. He was very conventional then, really, going to football matches on a Saturday. He was a complete football fanatic – an Arsenal supporter. Him and his brother.

Did he continue to collect records throughout his life?

Yes, he did. But I think he sold some when he wasn’t well. It’s so sad that.

This interview was conducted in September 2003. © DJ History

By Bill Brewster on January 3, 2019

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