Stiff Records: the sex, the drugs and the rock 'n' roll

Born in 1976, just as punk was beginning to revolutionise rock and pop, Stiff Records - motto: "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a F***" - became the first small independent record label to be truly successful, with a reputation for idiosyncratic credibility.

The heyday of Stiff Records is to be relived in London next week bringing together Dave Robinson, one of the two co-founders of Stiff, and former general manager Paul Conroy.

They will be taking part in an event entitled Chewing The Fat, where they will be talking about the inside story of the label - or, as the promotional material puts it, "the drugs, the groupies, the shady deals, the campaigns, the bomb scares, the arrests, the cock-ups, the people they left behind and, of course, the music."

And innovation was the byword of Stiff. It was founded in 1976 by Robinson, then manager of Ian Dury, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds among others, and Jack Riviera, tour manager of Dr Feelgood. Both believed there was a gap in the market for a label that would provide a home for such individuals. Robinson said: "Major labels, then and now, are not very good at finding new talent and many of our artists were people they hadn't shown the slightest interest in."

Robinson and Riviera's model was Island Records, which gave a wider audience to both reggae and Roxy Music but Stiff's ethos was more left-field and launched what became known as the New Wave - the regeneration of rock music that punk kick-started.

Stiff's initial release in August 1976 was Nick Lowe's single "Heart of the City/So It Goes", the first of a series of singles by artists like Lena Lovich, Graham Parker and Roogalator marketed under slogans like "Today's Sound - Today", "Artistic Breakthrough - Double B side" and "Stiff - The World's Most Flexible Record Label". The covers featured distinctive artwork and reintroduced picture sleeves.

Undoubtedly, their biggest discovery was a geeky Irish bloke from Liverpool called Declan MacManus, playing with a band called Flip City. Recalls Robinson: "The band were rubbish really, but he was really good. We thought we saw something special in him." Rivieria came up with a new name, Robinson with the heavy-rimmed glasses, and MacManus was remade into Elvis Costello. Over the next few years the label would release a series of legendary first singles: Costello's "Less Than Zero", Madness's "One Step Beyond", Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" and Ian Dury's enduring anthem "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll".

It was too good to last. After two years, Riviera departed with Costello to form the short-lived Radar Records. Robinson continued alone and the label enjoyed a long period of success, before petering out in the 1980s under the wing of ZTT Records.

Robinson remains proud of Stiff and its artists. But he also remembers another Stiff slogan which greeted new signings: "Rule Number One: The Sale of a Lot of Discs Does Not Increase Your IQ."

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk