Contrary to my loyalty and allegiance to Rough Trade Records my favourite record label has to be Stiff Records. From their formation in 1976 via an often disputed loan from Lee Brilleaux (Dr Feelgood), Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera started an independent record label that followed the structure of the U.S. independent labels whilst Riviera was on tour management duties over there. With the help of an in-house production team (Nick Lowe), art department (Barney Bubbles, Jules Balme) and PR (Kosmo Vinyl) the label release their debut 7″ single on 14th August 1976.
My first Stiff Records purchase was Ian Dury’s ‘What A Waste’ (BUY27) which is another song that changed my life. My Mum was so shocked by Ian’s vocal delivery when I bought the single that she threatened to send me to elocution lessons in case I turned into a cockney. Luckily we managed to preserve my original Pompey accent which magically reappears whenever I return to the city that I love!
Stiff had so many milestones including the release of the first UK punk single and album (both by The Damned), number one singles (Ian Dury and Madness) and they got heavily involved in multi formats to push record sales and chart positions. They also took their repertoire of artists to the masses via their package tours by coach and train. Their marketing slogans were legendary and are now part of rock culture.
Three of their bands made a massive impact on my life: The Damned, Ian Dury and Madness. All three of them broke the barriers within their individual music genres blended with the spirit of independence and a big two-fingers up at the major record labels. I can remember coming home from school to discover that Madness had made Number 1 with ‘House of Fun’ and I celebrated for both weeks while it stayed there. The Damned were always my punk band and I still listen to their music on a regular basis. Ian Dury was just the guvnor who introduced us to an incredible array of musicians and a regular output of classic pop songs.
The Damned’s debut album ‘Damned Damned Damned’ was released on the 18th February 1977 and made the Top 40. One of the many marketing campaigns they created started with this album where they ‘accidentally’ misprinted the first run of the album sleeve with a picture of Eddie + the Hot Rods on the back (currently worth £1000 with the shrinkwrapping in place)
Before they ran out of steam towards the end of the 80’s they were truly an inspiring and innovative label that made the rules and then broke them without realising it. I am a Stiff Records nerd so if anybody has any old rarities then please just contact me.
- Check out the portfolios of both Barney Bubbles (Pink Floyd) and Jules Balme (The Clash, Julian Cope) to see the influence their work had on the industry and culture as a whole.
- Dave Robinson also directed all the Madness videos
- Stiff Records tour t-shirt ‘We Came – We Saw – We Left’!
- Read the books ‘Be Stiff – The Stiff Records Story’ by Richard Balls and ‘No Sleep Till Canvey Island’ by Will Birch for more information