Wednesday, April 3, 2013

the Stiff story

One day, back in 1976 in the city of London, in England,
a musical friend lent Dave Robinson £400 so he and
his mate Andrew Jakeman could start their own
independent record label.

They called it "Stiff".

It was a name well suited to the times, when a new kind
of music called Punk was getting ready for its close-up.

Long before the invasion of the MBAs and the rise of
The World's Most Flexible Record Label
would become famous for
marketing and advertising
was often provocative, witty and lovely to behold.

There would be many more slogans, including:

"We came. We saw. We left",
"When You Kill Time, You Murder Success"
"In '78 everyone born in '45 will be 33-1/3"
"If they're dead, we'll sign them"
"Undertakers to the Industry"

and to this day, people are still buying t-shirts
that say "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck".

Each release would be given individual attention,
with inventive artwork, picture sleeves and a range
of snappy slogans, often coupled with inventive
marketing campaigns that achieved the label a great
deal of publicity, if not always huge profit margins.

Some of the great marketing ideas and designs for Stiff
were created by
Colin Fulcher aka Barney Bubbles*.
His resume ranged from
redesigning Motor Racing
magazine and weekly music bible NME, to bands like
Hawkwind and Brinsley Schwarz and a recipe book
for the English Egg Marketing Board.

Stiff released their first single on 14 August 1976 -
a 7" vinyl 45 rpm by Nick Lowe called"So It Goes".
It sold 10,000 copies.

When Elvis Costello's first two singles quite literally
'stiffed', their marketing plan for his first album My
Aim Is True included advertisements in the major
UK music papers from which a poster of Costello
could be assembled.

The first 1,000 pressings of the album contained
an insert asking the purchaser to Help Us Hype Elvis.
If completed and returned to Stiff, the label sent their
friend a free copy.

Stiff had many Top 20 singles, including a song that
went all the way to the top when
Ian Dury's "Hit Me
with Your Rhythm Stick" was
No. 1. 

They also released many big-selling albums. Dury's debut album New Boots & Panties raced
up the charts in '78 and stayed there for two years.

The sales kept the label going for months while
they developed new artists.

In 1979, Madness joined the roster and would
soon enjoy considerable commercial success
in Britain and overseas:
18 Top 20 singles and six Top 10 albums.

One of their most unusual hits was an LP released
on a sub-label they called Magic Records (the slogan?
"If it sells, it must be Magic").

"The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan"was completely
silent on both sides. It sold well over 30,000 copies.

Their first tour hit the road on October 3, 1978.

Known as the Live Stiffs Tour or 5 Live Stiffs,
Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Ian Dury and
the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric and The New Rockets,
Nick Lowe's Last Chicken in the Shop and Larry
Wallis's Psychedelic Rowdies did 24 gigs together
and made musical history.

"We always told other people who wanted to start
  their own labels how to do it. We were always
  there as an encouragement.
  If we could do it, you could do it!
     Dave Robinson

By 1985, they were somewhere between £1.4 million
and £3.5 million in debt and it was all over.
Founding partner Dave Robinson was the biggest creditor.

Stiffs'assets were bought by the ZTT label for £300,000.

* Bubbles was also bipolar and in November 1983,
   took his own life.

a fond look back at a remarkable roster of artists, and a label

Stiff Records discography


1 comment:

  1. hey I have the original stiff shirt
    Stiff REcrods sez.
    try andything once except incest and folk dancing