Tag Archives: Stiff Records

Baggy Trousers

26 Sep

‘Baggy Trousers’ sold more than 600,000 copies, making it the 12th best selling single in the UK in 1980. The massive popularity of the song, and the video – filmed largely at Islip Street School in Kentish Town, north London – sent it to number three and it stayed in the chart for four months.

Guitarist Chrissy Boy Foreman on the unforgettable video: “The one that really cemented us as ‘Baggy Trousers’. Dave [Robinson] did that and we just went down there and Lee wanted to fly through the air. He wanted to have these dummies that were us and he would kick our heads off. We thought that was a bit strong and so the dummies ended up in the pub. That video was like, ’This is it’. When we got the film back and Dave and us all sat down and looked at it, you couldn’t see the wires, and that made us video legends.”

Mystery of Costello’s Cornish studio solved

19 Sep
Roche's Studio1

Roche’s Studio in 1976 (www.kernowbeat.co.uk)

It was a small, converted farmhouse in the Cornish countryside near St Austell, used mainly by local bands. But in the summer of 1977, its recording desk was busy capturing the oncoming new wave – and now the mystery location can be revealed.

Stiff Records had sent Elvis Costello, its red-hot property, on a mission: to rehearse and bond with his newly-assembled group and perform some low-key gigs. A friend of co-label-owner Jake Riviera’s offered to put them up in Camelford and permission was acquired for them to practice at the parish hall in nearby Davidstow [see previous blog]. The foursome would also perform two shows. On Thursday 14 July they supported US trash punk band Wayne County & The Electric Chairs at The Gardens in Penzance, and the following night they played at Woods Leisure Centre in Plymouth, described by one journalist who was there as a “bizarre meat market of a club”.

Costello’s sojourn to Cornwall only weeks after giving up his job as a computer operator at the Elizabeth Arden “vanity factory” has been well documented. One or two journalists witnessed the shows and their reviews provide a fascinating insight into these nascent appearances by the band. Original adverts for the shows have also survived. However, little or nothing is known about the recording session that also took place that week – including the location of the studio. Until now.

The studio in question was Roche’s at Bawdens Far, Tremodrett, near St Austell. Gerry Gill, a DJ, MC and songwriter who had been a face on the underground scene in London in the late Sixties, established it in early 1975 and, very quickly, bands from Devon and Cornwall flocked to it.

Roche's Studio, Cornwall

Inside Roche’s Studio (www.kernowbeat.co.uk)

By 1977, Gill had expanded the facilities and through his connections with Hawkwind, whose lightshow he had run, he brought in band member Martin Griffin to help run things. As Griffin own contacts in London included Jake Riviera, it was for that reason that Stiff’s great white hope was booked in to record at this most rustic of studios.

“Jake had sent us down a copy of the first EP with Alison on it,” says Griffin. “My mate Simon Fraser was very impressed by the songs and knew this guy could write good songs.”

Costello’s official website states that on 16 July – the day after the gig in Plymouth – they went into a small studio to “re-record My Aim Is True”. Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera’s plan was to substitute the Attractions’ fresh recording of the album once copies of the original Costello had made with American bar band Clover had sold out. The record was never officially released, although at the time a British paper reported it was due to be issued in America.

Griffin doesn’t recall what songs were recorded, but he well remembers that summer session taking place. An advance party which was sent to the studio had a “strong Graham Parker factor” and it transpired that the band had “had some aggro with the locals, so they were slightly less keen on Cornwall than when they came down first.”

As for the session, he was not only impressed with Costello’s songs, but the technical abilities of his group. “Pete Thomas was an engineer’s dream,” says Griffin. “His drums are so perfectly in tune with each other. Bruce [Thomas] had been in Quiver.”

Many of the recording sessions made at Roche’s were later buried in the ground after they became water-damaged. However, he says the tapes containing the Costello session were never kept by the studio and instead “went back to Jake”.

Bassist Bruce Thomas cannot remember precisely what tracks were recorded that day, although he believes Crawling To The USA might have been one of them. Entertainingly, he did recall something of the the local trouble the band had during their stay.

Thomas says: “I think there was a bit of a run-in with a guy who worked at a chicken farm. The guy had spent so long slitting the throats of chickens he compensated by walking around with a peculiar pecking movement of the head. It was hard not to take the piss.”
So the question remains, has this historic studio recording of Elvis Costello & The Attractions survived and will it ever be released? Costello fans around the world would surely love to hear it.
You can read more about Roche’s Studio at www.kernowbeat.co.uk/roche.html
My thanks to Martin Griffin and Bruce Thomas for their assistance.

Rum Sodomy And The Lash

5 Aug

Rum_sodomy_and_the_lash

On this day in 1985, The Pogues’ Rum Sodomy And The Lash was released by Stiff. The group’s second album was produced by Elvis Costello, by now dating bass player and his future wife Cait O’Riordan. To promote it, A Pair Of Brown Eyes, Sally McLennane and Dirty Old Town were issued as singles, although they failed to darken the Top 40. But the album was a different matter. It reached no 13 and remained in the UK album chart for 14 weeks – a welcome boost for Stiff’s ailing accounts.

Be Stiff Route 78

2 Aug

Here’s some great footage taken on 10 October 1978 at Olympia station in London as the Be Stiff train tour headed to Bristol for the opening night. Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet, Jona Lewie and Mickey Jupp were on the bill for what proved an ambitious and costly venture and which took in such outposts as Wick in Scotland. The 33-date itinerary came to a close at London’s Lyceum Ballroom on 19 November and the artists – minus Mickey Jupp – flew to New York for four shows at The Bottom Line. Anne Nightingale was presenting Old Grey Whistle Test at the time and is doing the voiceover.

Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs

31 Jul

Stiff tour scheduleStiff rehearsals

Dumping Music On The People…In Your Town!

Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs was unleashed on the great British public on Monday 3 October at High Wycombe Town Hall and winding up on Saturday 5 November at the University Of Lancaster. The line-up was Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis and Wreckless Eric. Interestingly, it was Costello who was handed the final slot at the two run-throughs, which took place at Manticore Studios in Fulham’s North End Road over the previous weekend. A surviving schedule for the tour shows Wreckless going first and Dury and Lowe alternating. Larry Wallis played on stage with Lowe and performed a few of his own songs, including his single Police Car, during his set.

[Excerpt from Be Stiff]

The concept of a rotating bill was novel, but it almost instantly became the cause of resentment. At the centre of it was a power struggle between the artists with the biggest egos – Costello and Dury. Both saw themselves as the most important act on the bill and openly coveted the headline slot. Practical considerations also played a part in the nightly schedule being reviewed just a few dates into the expedition. Dury argued that he needed a rest between drumming for Wreckless and his own set. Likewise, Pete Thomas wanted a decent break between playing with Lowe and Costello.

Lowe was more interested in finishing his set and getting to the nearest pub than topping the bill, as was Edmunds. Wreckless was too drink-addled to be competitive. It also became clear early on that of the five acts, Costello and Dury were best equipped to bring the shows to a climax and send the punters away buzzing. So with the help of Dave Robinson, a compromise had to be hammered out involving two running orders. The first was Lowe/Wallis, Wreckless, Costello and Dury; the second Wreckless, Lowe/Wallis, Dury and Costello.

“That tour caused a lot of friction,” says Paul Conroy, “because as soon as you put artists on stage, it’s all very well with this, ‘You’re on next’, but it didn’t work that way and you could see that Jake was floating more off to the Elvis side. Then, of course, you had Ian Dury with Peter Jenner and Andrew King coming in and Kosmo [Vinyl], and it all started to fracture. And, of course, Eric didn’t really have a manager as such. It goes on in the film and people have said, it became serious. It wasn’t just, ‘We’re all having a laugh and we’ll have a few beers with the late-night, 24-Hour Club.’ Elvis was certainly taking it very seriously and so was Ian. Those two were extremely competitive with each other and Nick was along for the ride…”

Landmark gig for Elvis

15 Jul

extras pics

Elvis Costello and his newly-assembled group decamped from London to Cornwall in the summer of 1977 to rehearse and play a few low-key gigs. Their first public appearance came at The Garden in Penzance on Thursday 14 July, supporting US trash punk outfit Wayne County & The Electric Chairs. Admission for what would prove a landmark occasion was £1. The following night they played at Woods Leisure Centre in Plymouth, a gig which was reviewed by Record Mirror, and they also played a set at Davidstow Village Hall, a former Nissen hut.  During their week-long sojourn to the west country, they also spent a day in a small studio and re-recorded My Aim Is True. Stiff’s plan was to release this version after the initial pressing recorded with Clover had sold out, although this idea was eventually abandoned.

BUY 76 – The Plasmatics: Butcher Baby

5 Jul

Plasmatics2Plasmatics

The Plasmatics’ Butcher Baby (BUY 76) was released in 1980 on blood-splattered marble vinyl. The B-side Tight Black Pants was a live recording of another track from their album New Hope For The Wretched (SEEZ 24).

As well as the lurid coloured vinyl for fans to salivate over, the back cover carried information about a promotional offer. ‘For your Plasmatics T shirt and patch send £3.00 inclusive to: Plasmatics Offer c/o Stiff Mail Order, 9-11 Woodfield Road, London W9’.

Disappointingly, the single reached number 55 in the UK chart, the same position achieved by the album. And after health and safety officers at the Greater London Council put paid to the band’s widely promoted show at Hammersmith Odeon 8 August 1980, fans in the UK were denied the chance to see the band’s explosive and outrageous live show, which involved blowing up cars and singer Wendy O Williams taking a chainsaw to a guitar.

The Be Stiff interviews: Jona Lewie

11 Jun
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Photo by Nigel Dick

Jona Lewie on playing New York’s Bottom Line as part of the Be Stiff Tour in 1978.

“I was glad of all that live experience. It is like a tennis match where you don’t win. You come out thinking, ‘Right. I’ve learned a lot from that match’ and that was more my attitude. I went forward and even more from having played at The Bottom Line and by then my act was really quite brazen. You had tables and chairs at The Bottom Line where people sat down to drink and have a little bit of food perhaps, that went right to the stage and right out to the little venue. And I just ran out and ran along the tables where all their coffees and drinks and food was, jumped down on to the floor, went around and back on the stage again and carried on singing. And on one of the nights, I just threw myself into the audience. I’ve seen that happen with other people since, so I was quite brazen by then; I’d developed my act. It wasn’t even an act, it was just impulse and desperation to try and make it and try and crack the States. In the sixties, the culture was, ‘If you can make it in the States…’ And indeed, my album was getting airplay all over America, apparently. But frankly Stiff blew it. They didn’t manage to get a label deal with Arista, who they were in negotiation with and there was a reason why Arista was put off them.”

Can’t Start Dancin’

14 Apr

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Stiff Sounds – Can’t Start Dancin’

‘This exciting LP is not available on cassette 8 track or anywhere else’. So triumphed the sleeve of Can’t Start Dancin’, a compilation album produced by the music paper Sounds as part of Stiff’s lavish promotion of the train tour in 1978.

Even by its own standards, Stiff really went to town when it came to the publicity in the run-up to what was an ambitious venture and a risky financial gamble by Dave Robinson. Sponsorship money had been prised out of Polygram, the Bron Agency, Ensign Records and the NME by the label in order to keep costs to a minimum. Sounds meanwhile had invested £35,000 on a 10-week promotional campaign that included national press advertising, commercial radio spots, specialist press ads, fly- posting and promotion at festivals and college campuses.

Sounds also produced an album of tracks by the five artists on the tour – Mickey Jupp, Jona Lewie, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet and Wreckless Eric. There were two songs by each of them, as well as from label-mates Ian Dury and The Rumour, making it a 14-track affair. The record was advertised heavily in the press and on radio.

The rear of the sleeve showcased the five covers of the albums Stiff was releasing on the same day to coincide with the start of the tour. Each was on a different coloured vinyl and picture disc. ‘If you require any information regarding Stiff Records and its heinous activities,’ it advised, ‘write to The Stiff Secret Service, 32 Alexander Street, London W2’.

BUY 22 – Larry Wallis: Police Car

12 Apr

Larry Wallis - Police Car

Larry Wallis: Police Car/On Parole (released October 1977)

[Excerpt from Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story]

Wallis casts his mind back to the hallucinogenic evening that inspired the song. “I was living in a church with a bunch of architects,” he recalls. “But my girlfriend Rose and I lived in the church hall at the back of the place, like a couple of vampires. We lived on Jim Beam, amphetamine sulphate, hash and fish fingers. Someone had built a very high platform, where we basically lived. It had all we needed: a bed, a Sony Trinitron, two shot glasses, a mirror, blade, and drinking straws.

“One Friday evening, as usual, we were as stoned as two boogie owls, and watching Angie Dickinson in Police Woman, when suddenly there was a close-up of a police car roaring towards the camera. Its radiator grille, to my stoned eyes, was a big grin, and its siren was screaming, ‘I’m a Police Car’. I immediately stopped watching the show, and 15 minutes later, tops, ‘I’m a Police Car’ was completely written.”