Is It Safe To Gnaw Through The Straps Now? (ericcoleman) wrote,
Is It Safe To Gnaw Through The Straps Now?

If it's not Stiff ...

title or description

Fred Mills
January 23, 2007

Legendary punk label Stiff is no longer, er, a stiff: with the upcoming release of five long out-of-print titles from its vaults, the London-based imprint officially disinters itself from the mausoleum of pop history and makes a bid for the U.S. market.

On April 3, Stiff is to reissue the following albums (official descriptions from the label follow at the end):

Wreckless Eric: Big Smash
Rachel Sweet: Fool Around
Dirty Looks: The Complete Stiff Years
Any Trouble: Where Are All The Nice Girls?
Tracey Ullman: You Broke My Heart in Seventeen Places

Each record has been digitally remastered and includes the original album plus bonus tracks comprising rarities, B-sides and live material.

As any self-respecting record collector knows, Stiff was at the forefront of the late ‘70s British punk boom, issuing records by the Damned, Motorhead, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, the Pink Fairies, the Adverts, Lene Lovich, Madness and Ian Dury. Yet even during those heady safety-pinned days, Stiff garnered a maverick—if not outright bloody-mindedness, as evidenced by such eclectic (and decidedly un-punk as Ullman, Sweet, ska godfather Desmond Dekker, pre-freak-folk chanteuse Phranc and a record titled The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, an LP consisting of two empty (literally) sides of vinyl. The label was also responsible for introducing American acts Dirty Looks, Devo and Joe “King” Carrasco to England.

According to a spokesperson, Stiff was “renowned for flamboyant marketing ploys, singles and picture sleeves, and for reviving the package tour concept. Living up to the slogan, “The World Most Flexible Record Label,” Stiff’s roster of artists was the most diverse imaginable. Founders Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera, took chances, took risks, and all music fiends (on both sides of the Pond) benefited from their daring…. Stiff, but not dead! The label’s ongoing importance and influence was reflected in a recent two-part BBC documentary, If It Ain’t Stiff.”

(Old-schoolers will recall that one of the label’s slogans was, point of fact, “If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck.” That, along with its colorful sibling, “Fuck Art, Let’s Dance” adorned many a teeshirt and badge back in the day.

Stiff plans to plunder its deep archives and roll out an entire rosterful of releases this year. For more info on the label go to Stiff Records or to its MySpace page.


Wreckless Eric: Big Smash
Eric Goulden was one of Stiff’s earliest long-term signings. A quirky, intelligent songwriter with a quirky voice to match. Eric was added to the bill on the first ever Stiff package tour, which included Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Larry Wallis, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. Big Smash is a double CD compilation of his first two albums plus rare b-sides and bonus tracks. It also includes his cult classic single “Whole Wide World,” which was featured in the Will Farrell film “Stranger Than Fiction.” All tracks have been digitally remastered and Eric has provided a fairly off the wall commentary in his new sleeve notes. Eric just finished an extensive of the U.S.

Rachel Sweet: Fool Around
Plucked from the thriving music scene in Akron, Ohio (home of Devo and The Waitresses), 16-year-old R&B belter, Rachel Sweet, was already an old hand at performing. Dave Robinson put her in the studio with producer/writer Liam Sternberg and group of session musicians, including members of Graham Parker’s Rumour. The result was Fool Around, a pumping album of good-time new wave/R&B/country/pop-pop-pop. Head and shoulders above today’s Britney/Jessica/Lindsay triumvirate, Rachel had the vocal chops to pull off Top of the Pops charters like “Who Does Lisa Like”, “B.A.B.Y.” and “Cuckoo Clock.” Sweet released one more album for Stiff, “Protect the Innocent”, before signing to CBS in the U.S. She retired from the music scene in the mid-80s and now works as a senior executive for Warner Television.

Dirty Looks: The Complete Stiff Years
Staten Island, New York based power-pop trio Dirty Looks (Patrick Barnes, Peter Parker and Marco Sin) signed to Stiff in 1979 after only 10 gigs and have the unique record of claiming Stiff’s biggest ever selling album in the US. Upon signing, the band immediately relocated to the UK and joined the third and last Stiff package tour, alongside the likes of Any Trouble, Tenpole Tudor, The Equators and Joe ‘King’ Carrasco. Their self-titled debut album was released to positive reviews in August 1980. It included two great singles in ‘Let Go’ and ‘Lie To Me’. It sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S. The second album, Turn It Up, followed a year later, but only after being recorded twice, by Motors main-man Nick Garvey and Roger Bechirian. Label politics meant that the album never secured a US release thus making this is not only the first CD release but also the first North American release for this rare album. The band broke up in 1984 and Patrick Barnes retired from the business; drummer Parker currently plays in Florida covers outfit, The Distractions; bassist Marco Sin passed away in 1995.

Any Trouble: Where Are All The Nice Girls?
Bandleader Clive Gregson's appearance, hardened love songs, and vocal style may have led to comparisons to Elvis Costello, but Any Trouble were no second-rate rip-off. Each of their four albums revealed a songwriter of unique talent. Any Trouble’s Where Are All the Nice Girls is a hidden new wave gem. Long awaited, this remastered re-release of their debut album includes new sleeve notes from the band and the original version of their debut single b-side. Singer/songwriter Clive Gregson later went on to produce a number of highly rated solo albums and collaborations with Christine Collister before relocating to Nashville . He is a member of Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra.

Tracey Ullman: You Broke My Heart In Seventeen Places
Ullman was already an established comedienne and actress in the UK when label head Dave Robinson heard some of her musical parodies and signed her to Stiff in 1983. Robinson matched her up with master producer Peter Collins and selected an album’s worth of judiciously chosen covers, including 1960’s pop classics ‘Breakaway’, ‘Bobby’s Girl’ and ‘Move Over Darling’. In an inspired move Stiff also added Ullman’s vocals to the original backing track of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘They Don’t Know’—finally giving the song the success it so clearly deserved. This re-release has been newly remastered, includes four bonus tracks and new sleeve notes. Over the next twelve months she became one of the best selling Stiff singles acts ever, before relocating to the US where she established herself via an HBO series and various films.

(Pictured above, L-R: Wreckless Eric and Rachel Sweet; W.E. photo credit, Luke Broom-Lynne)

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