Stiff Records - The Basics:
- What: Indie record label Stiff Records
- Where: London, UK
- Founded by: Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera (real name Andrew Jackman)
- Founded: 1976
- Closed: 1986
- Relaunched: 2006
Both Robinson and Riviera had experience of the music industry; Robinson had worked for Hendrix and Riviera had toured the states with pub rockers Dr. Feelgood - where he was inspired by the growing DIY music scene. Back in London, feeling offended by the overindulgent corporate rock of the mid 70s, they got a £400 loan from Feelgood singer Lee Brilleaux and started Stiff Records. Their first release was the 7” So It Goes by Nick Lowe. While none of the label’s first 5 singles set the world alight, they did enough to keep the label ticking over until the explosion of punk a year later.
First Punk Releases?:
Showing a keen eye for a promotion, Stiff was eager to be credited with releasing the first single from the as yet still forming punk scene. Showing that the new independents could move faster than the majors, while punk pioneers The Sex Pistols were still being 'developed' by EMI, Stiff released The Damned's New Rose - a huge favourite of British DJ John Peel. They repeated this trick with the Damned's debut album Damned Damned Damned. These releases are considered by many to be the first punk single and album.
More Than Punk:
While getting the first punk 7” and LP into the shops cemented their reputation, the label were about more than just the growing punk rock scene. Early signings included Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello, who scored the label their first chart hit with Watching the Detective. However it was sometime Wreckless Eric drummer and producer Ian Dury who scored the label first smash hit, the No 1 best selling Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
Stiff revived an idea from the US 60s pop factory Motown – the label tour. The tour bus, or for second tour, the ludicrously over the top and expensive tour train, rolled into university towns across the UK, with an anarchic and chaotic live show featuring a revolving line-up of acts from the labels roster. All the participants were paid a flat fee of £50 a night, and, the personnel were flexible, with Dury drumming for Eric, saxophonist Davey Payne playing for both of them and the whole ensemble getting on stage for a rousing chorus of Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll to end the night.
Stiff Records Splits:
After 14 extreme months of debauchery, Riviera and Robinson parted company apparently after Riviera lobbed a pack of empty cider cans through the office window – an event later referenced in Lowe's hit I Love The Sound of Breaking.
Riviera left to set up Radar Records, taking Costello and Lowe with him. Undeterred Robinson continued, organizing a second Stiff Tour and showing his knack for picking winners by signing ska popsters Madness - signed them on his wedding day after they'd been invited to play the reception.
If It Ain't Stiff - Stiff Records Publicity:
Stiff Records was always aware that signing half decent acts was only part the battle. Their records needed to be sold to the public, and publicity was important. They employed simple, yet striking, images and artwork - more often than not designed by Colin “Barney Bubbles” Fulcher - combined with catchy marketing slogans like “The World's Most Flexible Record Label”, “Born Stiff” and the infamous “If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a F...”. Perhaps the peak of their promotional success was shifting 30 000 copies of The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan - a completely silent LP.
In 1983 Robinson signed a deal with established, but at the time struggling, label Island Records. He loaned the label, home of U2 and Bob Marley, a million pounds of Stiff’s money and took over running both labels. Despite overseeing the re-building of Island's fortunes with the release of Unforgettable Fire and Legend, the deal with Island turned sour. Stiff’s most commercially successful act, Madness, left to sign to Virgin and despite the success of newly signed Irish punks The Pogues, the label folded in 1986 with multi-million pound debts.
The labels back catalogue, and later the name, were brought up by Trevor Horn's ZTT Records and the label existed solely through its back catalogue for the next 20 years. A 2006 BBC documentary, reuniting many of the original artists and management, led a resurrection of the Stiff label, who's first new releases was the debut single by Coventry, UK, based band The Enemy. Their days of the notorious “24 Hours” drinking club may be behind them, but Stiff can still pick a tune and have provided the template for indie labels for the past 30 years.
Stiff Records Demo Policy:
Stiff Records does accept demos, both in CD and MP3 form. They ask you to send three songs. You can send your CDs to:
- Stiff Records
- The Blue Building
- 8 - 10 Basing Street
- W11 1 ET
Be advised that they only respond to demos in which they are interested - if they are interested in working with you, they'll get in touch.