The Bizzare Adventures of Stevo

Bank managers chase after him, record company chiefs live in fear of him trashing their offices, but STEVO somehow manages to survive, along with one of the most influential record labels of the ’80s, Some Bizzare. So what else can the devilish little man who first brought us Depeche Mode, Marc Almond and The The pull off in the ’90s?

SOME BIZZARE is one of the lastdecade’s most singular record labels, and Stevo is perhaps the most individualistic manager of them all. The man who was tipped by his school for the trashcan, illiterate into his mid-teens, can behave like a naughty schoolboy and still scare Warner Bros/Sire into a megabuck deal with Marc Almond.

In the nearest pub to his office that’ll have him (“Have to walk miles just to find somewhere to go”), Stevo gleefully recounts his latest scam.

“The deal with WEA,” he says, taking you into his confidence like an end-of-the-pier comedian, “right on the verge of signature. I said, There’s a deal-breaking point. I need a trouser press, you know, on the wall and eight Bugs Bunnys, of which five must be no smaller than four feet in height. And I got it.

“The Irony — which means it’s not contrived — is that I forget people’s names, so in the last two years with EMI (Almond’s outgoing label) I’ve been calling people ‘rabbit-ears’ and doing this (he wiggles his ears). Or if I know them, they’re ‘ears’. You OK, ears? So I’m going to send all these four-foot Bugs Bunnys to all the heads of department of EMI. I got him out of that deal and within three weeks struck the deal with WEA/Sire.

“They’re going to be thinking, All this time he’s been saying rabbit ears he knew he was going to be moving to Warner Brothers.”

TALES OF Stevo’s unpredictability during Some Bizzare’s ten years are industry legend.

He demanded a weekly supply of sweets as part of Soft Cell’s initial deal with Phonogram; inked Matt Johnson’s contract with CBS supremo Maurice Oberstein while sat on one of the lions in Trafalgar Square; asked for a bubble car when Cabaret Voltaire signed to Virgin; and, showing the dark side of his disregard for the record company establishment, trashed the Phonogram offices with Almond during a difference of opinion about a Soft Cell release.

“Me, if you put me in a comer, I’m going to fight. Whoever’s closest is going to get hurt. It’s a conscious decision to be one step ahead of people’s expectations, for freedom’s sake.

“I was a very difficult child. I had a speech impediment until I was 14. I couldn’t pronounce s, f, ph, c, ch, so I couldn’t read and write. So they put me in the dunces’ class.

“I did work experience schemes, I was on probation, never went to school. It was funny, I saw an advert on television: Truancy, they’ll end up criminals, it said. I said, Hold on, I never went to school. I didn’t know what the word ‘patronising’ meant but you can feel it.

“My last school report said, Your son will never get further than the dole queue. I came into this business with nothing and if I leave it with nothing I’ve lost nothing.”

The Dagenham wastrel blundered into the music business as a teenage DJ, playing electronic dance music in London pubs and clubs and earholing Record Mirror and then Sounds into letting him compile dance charts.

The flood of demo tapes led him to compile an album of futurist debutants like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and The The. A Some Bizzare Album — a label and a misspelling were coined.

Ten years on, despite a distinguished decade of Some Bizzare releases, both mainstream (Soft Cell, Marc Almond, The The) and spectacularly esoteric (Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel and Foetus offshoots like Stinkfist), Stevo admits to thinking of his operation as predominantly an “unusual” management company, and to possessing the managerial instinct of “looking after my boys” that stretches back to Colonel Tom Parker, Larry Parnes and beyond.

“Most of my artists are older than me. It’s a responsibility to see that they don’t get clawed. With new artists you have to gain respect. You have to be prepared to cut your nose off and shoot yourself in the foot, then, after a bit they suddenly look up to the artist and show him respect. If you just play the game they’re going to tear them apart and throw you on the garbage heap.

“My art is people’s expectations and being one step ahead and helping people’s careers. I’m not a frustrated musician, I’ve never picked up an instrument in my life. But I played a shopping trolley once. Just picked it up and banged it on the floor. It sounded fantastic. I think I’ve got rhythm…”

What do the major moguls he’s kicked against through the ’80s think of him?

“Please. It doesn’t really bother me. They’re answerable. I’m unreasonable. You can’t talk reason to someone who’s unreasonable. It’s a waste of breath. They end up going, Oh, it’s Stevo, forget it. I worked with EMI — not for EMI, with EMI — for two years and I didn’t raise my voice once. I didn’t need to, which totally shocked them. They know beneath this there’s a maniac, so they don’t push their luck. And they respect.

“This business is made up about 80 per cent of people who admire anyone with artistic flair cos they have none. It’s full of people waiting to borrow, and then they all go shuffling off together. Well, fine, I’m shuffling off in the other direction.”

SHUFFLING OFF to the solace of a welcoming bar, maybe? Stevo admits to feeling caged by the business.

“Anxiety can kill a man. When you’re just pacing up and down waiting for something to happen which is out of your control, it can destroy a man. I end up pacing up and down like a panther that needs to walk miles, but there’s nowhere to walk, you keep facing a wall. So I have to get out of that situation and I find that London is very unhealthy.

“I don’t particularly like hanging around the office so I have to get out, but where do you go? I don’t go out to nightclubs and stuff. I’m in bed probably by eight…”

With that, a shine comes into his eyes. Stevo laughs that dirty Sid James laugh of his and you reach for another pinch of salt.

“I live above the office, which is terrible. I’d rather have three Winnebagos, those big silver American cars, and make Some Bizzare mobile — instead of bands going on tour. It’s like Some Bizzare’s on tour. If there’s a problem with someone In Hamburg, just put your foot down and sort it out. Bricks and mortar only restrict your freedom. There’s nothing more frustrating than not seeing a tree.”

Stevo runs into problems with more than just the record business. Financial institutions aren’t exactly his cup of tea either.

“They won’t give me credit cards. Every year for the last ten years I go away for the whole of December. Zaire, Mozambique, Haiti, 59 countries I’ve been to.

“I just go away and no one knows where I am, so they won’t give me a credit card.

“I go away on my own. I don’t drink. I swim, or I walk. I walked over 100 miles in Grenada — in four weeks, so I didn’t kill myself. Sit-ups, aerobics, running up hills and no drink. So in January when I come back, everyone’s screwed up because they’ve had too much Christmas pudding and got some threepences stuck in their throat, and I come back shining, ready to take on another year.

“Someone said to me. You’re drinking now, and you’re going away in two weeks, why don’t you stop drinking now and have a drink while you’re there? I said, No, you don’t understand, when I go away I have to be totally and utterly wrecked, so every day I can feel myself getting better. It’s a psychological thing.”

So what about Some Bizzare 1990 to 2000? One minute Stevo says he’s been trying to close the company for years, the next he’s there at the bar telling anyone who’ll listen about his fantastic new band, Stex.

“I know what I’ve got up my sleeve. Others judge me on what they don’t know. I’ve always got a little smile because I know what I’ve got coming, it’s totally artistic and that’s what I work on. I’ve never been so prolific in my life.

“Rough Trade wanted me to do a retrospective Some Bizzare album, ten years of, and I said no, I want to do a compilation of new Some Bizzare artists, which excites me. Some Bizzare has become almost its own pigeonhole, which is ironic, that’s exactly what it was fighting against so I’ve called the new compilation Some Bizzare-ish, with this Andy Johnson illustration of this person having a nervous breakdown. It’s of all new artists and it’s absolutely brilliant.

“Then I’m going to do a compilation album called Hachecal, who was a loyal dog that went to a train station in Japan for three years after its master died, stood outside the station for three hours or so and then went back with its head down. Good name for a ten-year retrospective.

“Some Bizzare will always be going, but I have people trying to put pressure on me. And the more pressure you put on me, the more adamant I am. The bank are threatening to pull the carpet on me. If they pull the carpet on me, I’ll land on my chin. Land on my chin, I’d probably shake my head, but I’ll stand up again, and Some Bizzare will still be spelt wrong.” 

BIZZARE BUT TRUE…

“The first time I met him I probably still lived at home. I was 18 or 19 and he was 17. He phoned up out of the blue and my dad said, There’s this guy on the phone called Stephen something. I said, Who? He wanted me to do this show with Cabaret Voltaire — he said, You’ll get a crate of beer out of it. Eventually I agreed. I don’t think I ever got the beer…

“I’ve never met anybody like him before or since. We used to go on promotional trips together to Egypt and places like that — he loves travelling. As long as he’s got enough money for a pint of beer and a packet of chips, he’s happy.

“He had a very interesting label for a while. We’ve stopped working together now, but we’re still good mates. He won’t be intimidated by people and he’s taken so many chances. He’s one of those people that genuinely would cut off his nose to spite his face.”
— MATT JOHNSON, THE THE

“Steve? He’s the bastard who started the rumour that I’d become a farmer when Soft Cell split up…”
— DAVE BALL, THE GRID

“Stevo lives his life in complete chaos, but always pulls off triumphs. The archetypal crazy, crafty genius. A mixture of WC Fields, Groucho Marx, The Joker and Mike Baldwin.”
— MARC ALMOND

© Paul SextonSelect, February 1991

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