In the wake of Punk the Independent labels flourished. This was a break from corporate control. It was as if the music was unleashed. There was a flurry of creativity and energy. The Stiff Label led the way.
When Jake Riviera told me that he was setting up business with Dave Robinson and did I want to come in on it I was interested. I knew Dave Robinson had previously worked with Jimmy Hendrix. In my book anybody who worked with Jimi had to be OK. Not only that but Jake had been manager of Dr Feelgood and instrumental in the whole of that seventies Pub Rock scene and Wilko Johnson was one of my favourite characters. He was an original. I’d seen Chuck Berry do his machine gun stance but Wilco had taken that a stage further and his robotic, head jerking, staccato movements, complete with bulging eyes and open mouth belied an amazing guitar ability.
I soon found out I’d be working with Nick Lowe as a producer. Things just got better and better.
I asked Jake just what he was intending to do. He told me that he was the garbage collector. They were looking to get all the rejects that nobody else wanted and give them the production they required and turn them into stars. They were going to call the label STIFF because they were dealing with the dead, they were the undertakers to the business.
On the face of it this did not appear to be much of a business plan. Most of the rejects were that way because they had no commercial potential or expertise. But then I had faith in Jake. If anyone could pick out talent it was him. Besides the rules had changed. This was a different ballgame. Punk had blown the old game out of the water and whenever there’s a sea-change the big corporations were slow to adapt. I had a feeling that this was Decca letting the Beatles slip through their fingers all over again.
Perhaps Stiff was just the place to be. I was in.
That is how I got to meet Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric and a host of others.
I connived to go out on the Live Stiffs tour with Ian, Elvis and Wreckless. It was a package tour in the nature of the old Rock ‘n’ Roll packages. It might have lost money, I don’t know, but the publicity and mayhem more than made up for that. When you’ve got a busload of characters you’re going to get a riot. Every night they rotated the headlining act but all came together for a finale of Ian’s Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. That about summed it up.
I’d stand at the side and watch the mixture of genius, hilarity and pandemonium take shape. It made me feel proud to be associated with an independent label. If the corporations had got their mits on Elvis and Ian they would have sanitised them into oblivion. Fortunately they’d kicked them out. Talent like that deserved the best and they got it. I’ve always rated those guys as among the greatest. The music they unleashed had all the power and fury of Punk coupled with intelligence and originality – just how music should be.
Working for Stiff was always different. They did things that no big label ever would like the release of the 12” entitled ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan’ which was blank on both sides.
I’ve still got my ‘If it ain’t Stiff it ain’t worth a Fuck’ badge.
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