Stiff Records

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Stiff Records
Parent company Universal Music Group (label)
BMG Rights Management (back catalogue)
Concord Music (American back catalogue)
FoundedAugust 1976 [1]
FounderDave Robinson, Jake Riviera
Distributor(s)Universal Music Group
Union Square Music
Razor & Tie
Genre Pub rock, punk rock, new wave
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Official website

Stiff Records is a British independent record label formed in London, England, by Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera (real name Andrew Jakeman). Originally active from 1976 to 1986, the label was reactivated in 2007.


Established at the outset of the punk rock boom, Stiff signed various punk and new wave acts such as Nick Lowe, the Damned, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, and Devo. In the 1980s, with most of their early signings having moved on, the label found commercial success with Madness, The Pogues, Tracey Ullman, The Belle Stars, Kirsty MacColl and others.

In December 2017, Universal Music Group acquired Stiff Records and ZTT Records. [2] Razor & Tie, a division of the Concord Music Group, holds the American rights to the Stiff catalogue. [3] Meanwhile, the British rights to the Stiff catalogue are held by BMG Rights Management under Union Square Music.


Stiff Records logos
Stiff Logo.JPG
The original Stiff Records logo
Stiff Records.jpg
A 2nd version of the Stiff Records logo

Robinson and Riviera were well-known London music business characters. Robinson had briefly worked for Jimi Hendrix in the late 1960s and also managed minor pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz in the early 1970s, in which Nick Lowe was the bassist, vocalist and main songwriter; while Jakeman had been an early manager for another pub rock band, Dr. Feelgood, from Essex. The label was started with a loan of £400 from Lee Brilleaux of Dr. Feelgood. [4]

Originally Stiff had been called Demon, but the phrase "It’s a stiff!" was more appropriate for the artists on the record label. [5] Stiff found quick success. Its first release, on 14 August 1976, was a single (in the normal 7" vinyl 45 rpm format) by Nick Lowe, "So It Goes", B-side "Heart Of The City", with the striking catalogue number BUY 1. [1] [6] That record sold 10,000 copies, but Stiff's next release, "Between The Lines" by Pink Fairies, sold only around half of that. [7] Robinson and Riviera used money from their Advancedale management company to finance the release of what is generally accepted as the United Kingdom's first punk single, "New Rose" by The Damned, on 22 October 1976.

Early in 1977, Stiff Records picked up speed, signing Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, and Elvis Costello, who had once been a part-time roadie for Brinsley Schwarz. Bigger sales followed, and a distribution deal with Island Records through EMI was set up. After arranging for Costello and Lowe to be signed directly to CBS Records' Columbia label, a similar deal was made with Arista who released Ian Dury's first album and the Live Stiffs Live album. The deal was short-lived and Stiff then made a deal with CBS Records for Stiff releases in the United States, at both the Columbia and Epic subsidiaries on the Stiff/Columbia and Stiff/Epic labels.

Robinson and Riviera were a fiery management combination, and after a series of disagreements, Riviera left Stiff in early 1978 to form the short-lived Radar Records, taking Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Yachts with him as a settlement package. Riviera's departure coincided with the end of the "5 Live Stiffs Tour", which showcased emerging star Ian Dury. Dury's album New Boots & Panties!! had raced up the charts and its sales kept the label in business over the following months. In 1979, Robinson signed Madness, and Madness released albums from 1979 to 1984. [8]

The next few years were the halcyon period, with many Top 20 single chart placings, including the label's first No. 1 single, "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury, and a number of other big-selling albums. Stiff expanded rapidly and moved its premises twice. It also continued to release dozens of obscure and uncommercial releases. For example, Stiff Records released parody album The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan. That LP was completely silent on both sides, on Magic Records, with Reagan's own slogan, "If it's a success it must be Magic!". [9]

At the end of 1983, Island Records bought 50% of Stiff, and Robinson ran both labels. Island was very short of money at the time and Robinson had to lend it £1,000,000 to fund the share purchase and pay the payroll. In 1984 Island Records released hit single "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. [10] Stiff signed The Pogues, but then Madness left under a cloud. The Island deal failed and Dave Robinson regained control of the newly independent label in 1985. Hits by The Pogues and Furniture helped Stiff to survive another twenty months, but the underlying causes for the failure of the Island deal finally became too burdensome for Stiff and it was sold to ZTT in 1987. [11]

In 2007, ZTT and its parent company SPZ Group reactivated the label. [12] Stiff quickly broke one of the UK's hottest new indie acts, The Enemy. It then released a string of well-received albums of new work from legacy Stiff artists, including as Wreckless Eric, Henry Priestman, Any Trouble, and Chris Difford. Brand new acts signed to the label included The Tranzmitors and Eskimo Disco. Swedish designer Tobbe Stuhre [13] was appointed official Stiff Records designer.

In 2008, Union Square Music released The Big Stiff Box Set.

The Stiffs Tours

Robinson and Riviera had arranged package tours ‒ such as the 1975 Naughty Rhythms tour ‒ for acts they managed before forming Stiff. The first tour, known as the Live Stiffs Tour or 5 Live Stiffs (3 October – 5 November 1977), comprised five bands: 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. Having signed all the named artists as individuals, bands had to be formed in order to tour: these were largely based on the session musicians used for the artists' solo records. There were 18 musicians on the tour, several doubling up, e.g. Dury playing drums for Wreckless Eric while the last two "bands" had the same line up (Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis, Dave Edmunds, Terry Williams, Pete Thomas and Penny Tobin).

The original idea was that the running order would rotate each night, but Dury and Costello were clearly the strongest acts. Costello played mostly new material and cover versions, rather than numbers from his recently released album My Aim is True , so the gigs usually ended with most of the artists on stage performing Dury's "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll". A live album entitled Live Stiffs Live and a video of the tour were produced, but the tour only covered the UK. [14]

After the departure of Riviera, Robinson arranged a second tour, the Be Stiff or the Be Stiff Route 78 tour, from October to November 1978 (UK), again comprising five acts; Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Mickey Jupp, and Rachel Sweet. The mainland section of the UK tour was undertaken by train and the Irish section by coach, and then continued on to the USA without Jupp, who was afraid of flying. The artists contributed to an EP with cover versions of the Devo song, and early Stiff single, "Be Stiff". [15]

The final tour, the Son of Stiff Tour 1980, comprised Ten Pole Tudor, Any Trouble, Dirty Looks, Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, and The Equators. Undertaken by bus, this European tour was not successful. [16] The tour led to a 12" EP Son of Stiff Tour 1980 (SON 1) [17] and a short movie directed by Jeff Baynes. The movie has not been released for sale, but was shown on BBC4 in September 2006. [18]

Marketing and design

The label's marketing and advertising was often provocative and witty, billing itself as "The World's Most Flexible Record Label". Other slogans were "We came. We saw. We left", "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck", and "When You Kill Time, You Murder Success" [4] (printed on promotional wall clocks). On the label of Stiff's sampler compilation Heroes & Cowards was printed: "In '78 everyone born in '45 will be 33-1/3". A very early Stiff sampler album, A Bunch of Stiff Records , introduced the slogan, "If they're dead, we'll sign them" and "Undertakers to the Industry". [19]

Stiff also produced eccentric but highly effective promotional campaigns, such as the three package tours in 1977 (Live Stiffs), 1978 (Be Stiff) and 1980 (Son Of Stiff), Elvis Costello's "street performance outside CBS Records. [20]

Barney Bubbles was responsible for much of the graphic art associated with the early Stiff releases.

Label artists

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Barney Bubbles

Barney Bubbles was an English graphic artist whose work encompassed graphic design and music video direction. Bubbles, who also sketched and painted privately, is best known for his distinctive contribution to the design practices associated with the British independent music scene of the 1970s and 1980s. His record sleeves, laden with symbols and riddles, were his most recognisable output.

Nick Lowe British singer

Nicholas Drain Lowe is a British singer-songwriter, musician and producer. A noted figure in power pop and new wave, Lowe has recorded a string of well-reviewed solo albums. Along with vocals, Lowe plays guitar, bass guitar, piano and harmonica.

Wreckless Eric Musical artist

Eric Goulden, known as Wreckless Eric, is an English rock/new wave singer-songwriter, best known for his 1977 single "Whole Wide World" on Stiff Records. More than two decades after its release, the song was included in Mojo magazine's list of the best punk rock singles of all time. It was also acclaimed as one of the "top 40 singles of the alternative era 1975–2000".

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll 1977 single by Ian Dury

"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" is a song and single by Ian Dury. It was originally released as a Stiff Records single, with "Razzle in My Pocket" as the B-side, on 26 August 1977. The song was released under the single name "Ian Dury", but three members of the Blockheads appear on the record – the song's co-writer and guitarist Chaz Jankel, Norman Watt-Roy on bass and drummer Charlie Charles.

Steve Nieve English musician and composer

Steve Nieve is an English musician and composer. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Nieve has been a member of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, the Imposters and Madness. He has also experienced success as a prolific session musician, featured on a wide array of other artists' recordings.

Jake Riviera is a British music business entrepreneur, best known for his management of such performers as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and as co-founder of the pioneering British indie label, Stiff Records.

Rockpile was a British rock and roll band of the late 1970s and early 1980s, noted for their strong pub rock, rockabilly and power pop influences, and as a foundational influence on new wave. The band consisted of Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams (drums).

Mick Gallagher Musical artist

Michael William Gallagher is an English Hammond organ player best known as a member of Ian Dury and the Blockheads and for his contributions to albums by the Clash. He has also written music for films such as Extremes (1971) and After Midnight (1990), and the Broadway play Serious Money (1987).

<i>Wreckless Eric</i> (album) 1978 studio album by Wreckless Eric

Wreckless Eric is the debut album by English musician Wreckless Eric, released on 1 June 1978. It reached number 46 on the UK Albums Chart.

Whole Wide World (song) 1977 single by Wreckless Eric

"Whole Wide World" is a song written by English rock singer-songwriter Wreckless Eric, who wrote the song in May 1974, and recorded it in 1977, whilst an original member of the Stiff Records label. Additional musicians on the record were Nick Lowe on guitar and bass, and Steve Goulding on drums.

Roger Béchirian is an English engineer and record producer. Béchirian was a key player in the British new wave scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, best known for his work with Nick Lowe, Paul Carrack, Elvis Costello, The Undertones, Dave Edmunds, The Monkees, the Flamin' Groovies, and Squeeze. He was also a member of the pseudonymous new wave group Blanket of Secrecy, which issued one album in 1982. More recently, Béchirian has worked with the Trashcan Sinatras and Bell X1.

Norman Watt-Roy Musical artist

Norman Joseph Watt-Roy is an English musician, arranger and composer.

<i>Live Stiffs Live</i> 1978 live album by various artists

Live Stiffs Live is a live album released in 1978 by Stiff Records. It compiles concert performances by several of the record label's artists recorded during the "Live Stiffs Tour", which ran from 3 October to 5 November 1977.

Be Stiff 1977 single by Devo

"Be Stiff" is the third single by American new wave band Devo, released in 1978 by Stiff Records. The song was taken from the sessions for Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978), produced by Brian Eno. Guitarist Bob Lewis wrote the music and came up with the title concept, while bassist and singer Gerald Casale penned the verses.

Andrew Lauder is a record company executive and former A&R manager. Initially noted for his adventurous signings of bands as diverse as Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Can, Hawkwind and Brinsley Schwarz to Liberty Records and United Artists Records in the 1960s and 70s, he went on to form numerous independent labels including Radar Records, F-Beat Records and Demon Music Group.

So It Goes (song) 1976 single by Nick Lowe

"So It Goes" is a song written and recorded by Nick Lowe in 1976. The single was Nick Lowe’s solo debut following his departure from Brinsley Schwarz, and was the first single released on Stiff Records.

I Knew the Bride 1985 single by Nick Lowe

"I Knew the Bride " is a song written by Nick Lowe and first popularized by Dave Edmunds. It was released on Edmunds's 1977 album Get It and a year later in a live version by Nick Lowe's Last Chicken in the Shop on Live Stiffs Live.

Nick Lowe discography

Nick Lowe is an English singer-songwriter, musician, and producer. His discography consists of 14 studio albums, 1 live album, 3 EPs, 23 singles, and 6 compilations. In addition, he has been a performer and producer on numerous albums by other artists.

Stiff Records discography

This is the discography of Stiff Records' general and promotional release singles in the United Kingdom with a prefix catalogue number of BUY. Just under a quarter of all BUY singles releases charted in the UK Singles Chart and 22 of these have gone on to receive either a silver or gold disc from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). A promotional single is generally distributed without charge to DJs and music journalists in advance of its general release, which is distributed commercially to the general public. A plug copy is another name for a promotional recording. This discography excludes non-BUY singles catalogue numbers such as DAMNED 1, DEV 1 and NY 7

Dave Robinson (music executive) Irish music executive and video director

David Robinson, nicknamed Robbo, is an Irish music executive, music video director, record producer, music manager, and photographer. He is best known as the co-founder with Jake Riviera of Stiff Records where he signed up The Damned, Tracey Ullman, Kirsty MacColl, The Pogues, and Madness. He had also managed Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Ian Dury before signing them up to Stiff.


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