If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A…

The TV documentary didn’t have footage of Jake Riviera losing his temper and hurling a cider bottle through the window, but that along with the subsequent visit from the glaziers are among Paul Conroy’s abiding memories of his seven years at Stiff Records.

Conroy, who now runs his own Adventures In Music management company with wife Katie, was commenting on BBC 4’s two-part coverage detailing the iconic label’s history. Had it survived, it would be celebrating its 30th birthday.

“We had a shop-front entrance and people would just drop in and hang around. I suppose it meant we had good contacts with our acts but it was hard to get on with your work when you had The Damned sitting on your desk,” Conroy recalled.

“It was a creative label when the majors were no more than banks, much as they are now.”

Conroy spent time as an agent and as manager of The Kursaal Flyers before Stiff co-founder David Robinson called him in to run the show.

He later moved on to Warners because he wanted “a regular pay packet,” before becoming president of Chrysalis Records and then managing director of Virgin Records, where he spent 10 years.

Robinson, a pub-rock manager turned entrepreneur, and Riviera – Elvis Costello‘s manager – started the label in ’67 with the help of a £400 loan from Dr. Feelgood singer Lee Brilleaux.

Eleven years later, it went bust with debts of either £1.4 million or £3.5 million, depending on which set of figures you believe.

“It made a lot of money to lose a lot of money,” Conroy explained.

Apart from Costello and The Damned, it also introduced the public to Ian Dury, Madness, The Pogues, and The Belle Stars – all plucked from a London pub circuit that centered on Islington’s Hope & Anchor.

Dury gave the label its first No.1 single with “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,” which sold 900,000 copies by the end of January ’79, while Madness was its best-selling act with 18 Top 20 singles and six Top 10 albums between ’79 and ’84.

“I thought I got treated pretty good. It’s always a pain in the arse when somebody’s doing a documentary about work you did,” Robinson, who always kept a baseball bat by his desk, told The Independent a few days before the BBC 4 screenings.

The public’s love affair with the label was enhanced by the legendary T-shirts bearing the slogan “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck,” and such off-the-wall releases as The Wit And Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, a blank record that sold more than 40,000 copies in the U.S.

– John Gammon