If It Ain't Stiff...


Mr. FAT-W Video has released the legendary, never previously-released in its entirety,  documentary of the 1977 package tour arranged by David Robinson and Andrew Jakeman (“Jake Riviera”) shortly after they founded Stiff Records in London, England for five of their artists, and the bands that they concocted for the tour from studio musicians and others who had backed up their recordings for the new label – Elvis Costello (and "The Attractions"), Ian Dury (and "The Blocheads"), Wreckless Eric (and "The New Rockets"), Nick Lowe (and "Last Chicken in the Shop") and Larry Wallis(and "Psychedelic Rowdies").  It was produced, directed, and written by famed punk rock promoter/chronicler/ITV director Nick Abson.  It was unique in that it was a documentary without an establishing narration; it just starts with the artists and musicians getting on a tour bus (driven by “Trevor”), and follows them as they perform across the U.K.  The motley crew included 32 musicians, as well as the lead artists.  The documentary is analogous to one about a human birth.

Messrs. Robinson and Jakeman/Rivera were and still are legendary promoters; their slogan for the fledging label was "IF IT AIN'T STIFF IT AIN'T WORTH A FUCK" but out of concern for the sensibilities of Mr. FAT-W's distributors and for Amazon.com, we developed an alternative title, "IF IT AIN'T STIFF, IT AIN'T WORTH A F**K!" and registered the movie for copyright under both titles; if you want to buy it, you'll have to do with the less offensive title -- after all, there are several four-letter words which begin with an "F" and end with a "K." There's a video player at the bottom of this page, on which you can see the trailer for the movie which Mr. FAT-W created; the angelic face that seems to be looking at you as you play it, is Nick Abson himself. 

We have submitted it for Copyright Registration with the Copyright Office, Library of Congress; all rights required for the production were obtained by Nick, Stiff of course having the publication rights for the artists.  Until now, the documentary has never been released, although somehow the BBC obtained a copy from which it included numerous clips for its documentary about Stiff Records  Nick assured us that as copyright owner he never authorized such use, and that he has never received a farthing, or whatever minimal payment would have been in order, for it.

This documentary is so unique, and is so ground-breaking, that we felt that it deserved its own page, with as much information about it, and its creator, and Stiff Records, as we thought would be useful.

There's a link to Amazon.com for you to purchase the DVD; remember, because of U.K. and Germany video ratings requirements -- less charitably, "censorship" -- it is only available in the U.S./Canada, in the NTSC format.


Nick is so fascinating that we thought it appropriate to set out his entire Wikepedia entry (less the footnotes):

"“Nicholas Abson (22 December 1946), born Michael Nicholas Drinan in England to parents Pamela Mileece Drinan (née l’Anson) and Michael Patrick Drinan. After emigrating to Canada in 1956, Abson was adopted by his then step-father and re-christened Nicholas Michael Abson.
In 1961, Abson moved to New York City where he attended Brooklyn Technical High School. He then went on to attend college at CUNY Manhattan and Richmond Colleges. In 1978, his daughter Mileece was born, to become a recording artist and leading composer of advanced music followed by his son Miles and then Lancelot.

In 1991, Abson started a series for the BBC centering on a Belgian fuel cell company, Elenco. After becoming engrossed with the technology, he rebuilt Elenco when it entered administration from 2 employees to 200 and re-branded it as ZeTek Plc. ZeTek would go on to become Europe’s largest fuel cell company pioneering London Taxi and a second generation fuel cell designed for automated production, ending the hand production previously required. The first planned expansion began in December 2000 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee with the Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the second plant at Lebanon, Pennsylvania in February 2001, until it lost its investors immediately following the World Trade Center tragedy later that same year.  He resurrected the company as Cenergie Plc and provided shares for all but a few of the 500 ZeTek shareholders. Following a series of cyber and other commercially driven attacks, Abson resigned.

Abson continues work on fuel-cell development by publishing papers and working pro-bono for a number of organisations and universities. Citing his experiences with Cenergie, he now writes and campaigns for greater scrutiny of UK money-laundering activities and industrial espionage. His first political philosophy, titled “Factions and Pyramids” is set to be released in 2012.

Fuel Cell Firsts:

    "Millennium" London Taxi
    Hydra Passenger Boat
    Public Housing (UK)

Interviews and Clips on Fuel Cells

CNN Interviews Nick Abson on the Hydrogen Fuel Cells As The Future Of Energy Production
BBC - Tomorrows World Fuel Cell Taxi Feature
Channel 5 News Reports On The Hydrogen Car
The first hydrogen fuel cell powered London taxi
Nick Abson on his collaboration with The University of Wolverhampton


In 1970, Abson returned to Britain and launched Freerange Sound Studios using funds earned from documentaries “The Stonemen” and “The Earthmovers”, which document St. Paul Cathedral’s masons and the reclamation of Britain’s largest coal tip (respectively).

Abson went on to make many music concert films during the 1970s, starting with Dr. Feelgood's’s “Going Back Home” and ending with the Ramones' “New Year’s Concert”. He pioneered music videos with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush, The Damned, Queen and Lena Lovitch while Covent Garden’s Freerange recorded Gary Numan, The Sex Pistols, Patti Smith and The Slits, supporting musicians by subsidizing them with film profits.

In 1979, he closed Freerange to pursue careers outside of the music industry after his longtime business partner, Neville Wills (age 36) died.

Music Videos

    The Alan Parsons Project “I Robot”
    Diana Ross “My Old Piano”
    Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday”, “Masterblaster”
    Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights”
    Queen “We Will Rock You”
    Silicon Teens “Memphis”
    Lena Lovitch “Lucky Number”
    Eddie and the Hot Rods “Out of the City”
    Baccarat “Loredo”
    The Damned "New Rose"
    Graham Parker & The Rumour "New York Shuffle"

Concert Films

    James Galway
    The Ramones
    Dr. Feelgood
    Graham Parker

Television career

Abson’s strong political and social interests lead him to television with current affairs programs such as ”Left, Right and Centre”, “Public Eye” and “The World This Week”. He later went on to direct light entertainment programs like “Krypton Factor”, “Countdown,[8] “Catchphrase” and “Fraggle Rock”. His interest in science led to series such as “Where’s There’s Life”,“Discovery”, “Fun and Games”, “The Haley Comet Show” and “Real World”. Between 1980 and 1990, he directed more than 2,000 network shows.

Television Programs

    News and Current Affairs
        Public Eye
        Left Right and Centre
        Jimmy Young Show
        The World This Week
        The Story of Fun and Games

    Light Entertainment
        Krypton Factor
        Fraggle Rock

        Where There’s Life
        Discovery (British TV programme)
        Fun and Games[disambiguation needed]
        Real World


    Stonemen of Saint Paul’s
    The Earthmovers[
    If it Ain’t Stiff…
    Lean Burn Engine
    Going Back Home


The Wikepedia entry for Stiff Records, minus the footnotes and artist list and their logos, is:

"Stiff Records is a British independent record label formed in London, England, by Dave Robinson and Andrew Jakeman (aka Jake Riviera). Originally active from 1976 to 1985, the label was reactivated in 2007.

Established at the outset of the punk rock boom, Stiff Records signed various punk and New Wave acts such as Nick Lowe, The Damned, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric, Plummet Airlines, Elvis Costello, and Ian Dury. The label's marketing and advertising was often provocative and witty billing itself as "The World's Most Flexible Record Label". Other slogans were "We came. We saw. We left", "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck", and "When You Kill Time, You Murder Success" (printed on promotional wall clocks). On the label of Stiff's sampler compilation Heroes & Cowards was printed: "In '78 everyone born in '45 will be 33-1/3". A very early Stiff sampler album, A Bunch of Stiff Records, introduced the slogan, "If they're dead, we'll sign them" and "Undertakers to the Industry".

Stiff also produced eccentric but highly effective promotional campaigns, such as the three package tours in 1977 (Live Stiffs), 1978 (Be Stiff) and 1980 (Son Of Stiff), Elvis Costello's "busking outside CBS Records" arrest and the at least 29 different wallpaper sleeves printed for Ian Dury's second album, Do It Yourself, with associated unscheduled makeovers of unsuspecting record shops.

Barney Bubbles was responsible for much of the graphic art associated with the early Stiff releases.

Stiff found quick success. Its first release, on 14 August 1976, was a single (in the normal 7" vinyl 45 rpm format) by Nick Lowe, "So It Goes", B-side "Heart Of The City", with the striking catalogue number BUY 1. That record sold 10,000 copies, but Stiff's next release, "Between The Lines" by the Pink Fairies, sold only around half that. Robinson and Riviera used money from their Advancedale management company to finance the release of what is generally accepted as the United Kingdom's first punk single, "New Rose" by The Damned, in November 1976, which was a veritable hit.

November 1976 also saw the release of a single by Nottingham-based band Plummet Airlines 'Silver Shirt'/ 'This is the World'. Plummet Airlines then went on to be featured on the John Peel show in May and August 1977, as well as releasing the album 'On Stony Ground' on Armageddon Records in 1981. Early in 1977 Stiff Records picked up speed, signing Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, and Elvis Costello. Bigger sales followed, and a distribution deal with Island Records and EMI was set up. Each release was given individual attention, with inventive artwork, picture sleeves and a range of snappy slogans, often coupled with inventive marketing campaigns that achieved the label a great deal of publicity, if not always huge profit margins.

Robinson and Riviera were a fiery management combination, and after a series of disagreements, Riviera left Stiff in early 1978 to form the short-lived Radar Records, taking Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Yachts with him as a settlement package. Riviera's departure coincided with the end of the "5 Live Stiffs Tour", which showcased emerging star Ian Dury. Dury's album New Boots & Panties had raced up the charts and its sales kept the label in business over the following months. In 1979, Robinson signed Madness, whose considerable commercial success, both in Britain and abroad, would keep Stiff afloat for several years.

The next few years were the halcyon period, with many Top 20 single chart placings, including the label's first No. 1 single, "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury, and a number of other big-selling albums. Stiff expanded rapidly and moved its premises twice. It also continued to release dozens of obscure and uncommercial releases. For example The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, was an LP that was completely silent on both sides, which sold over 30,000 copies, on Magic Records, with its own slogan, "If it sells, it must be Magic".

At the end of 1983, Island Records bought 50% of Stiff, and Robinson ran both labels. Island was very short of money at the time and Robinson had to lend it £1,000,000 to fund the share purchase and pay the payroll. Nonetheless, Robinson led Island through their best year ever[cla, with, among others releases by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Legend by Bob Marley, and U2's The Unforgettable Fire. Stiff signed The Pogues, but then Madness left under a cloud. The Island deal failed and Dave Robinson regained control of the newly independent label in 1985. Hits by the Pogues and Furniture helped Stiff to survive another twenty months, but the underlying causes for the failure of the Island deal finally became too burdensome for Stiff and it was sold to ZTT. Warner Music Group holds the rights currently to Stiffs masters and most are reissued through Rhino Entertainment .

In 2007, ZTT and its parent company SPZ Group reactivated the label. Stiff quickly broke one of the UK's hottest new indie acts, The Enemy. It then released a string of well-received albums of new work from legacy Stiff artists, including as Wreckless Eric, Henry Priestman, Any Trouble and Chris Difford. Brand new acts signed to the label included the Tranzmitors and Eskimo Disco. Swedish designer Tobbe Stuhre was appointed official Stiff Records designer.

In 2008, Union Square Music released The Big Stiff Box Set. This detailed catalog release contained 98-tracks across four CDs and the 100-page The Big Stiff Book by music journalist and Stiff expert, Ian Peel.

Robinson and Riviera had arranged package tours ‒ such as the 1975 Naughty Rhythms tour ‒ for acts they managed before forming Stiff. The first tour, known as the Live Stiffs Tour or 5 Live Stiffs (3 October – 5 November 1977), comprised five bands: Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric and The New Rockets, Nick Lowe's Last Chicken in the Shop and Larry Wallis's Psychedelic Rowdies. Having signed all the named artists as individuals, bands had to be formed in order to tour: these were largely based on the session musicians used for the artists' solo records. There were 18 musicians on the tour, several doubling up, e.g. Dury playing drums for Wreckless, while the last two "bands" had the same line up (Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis, Dave Edmunds, Terry Williams, Pete Thomas and Penny Tobin). A documentary of the tour, titled "if It Ain't Stiff..." (directed by Nick Abson, produced by Angela Saunders, photographed by Mike Miles with sound by Neville Wills) was made by Rockflicks and has been used extensively by the BBC and others.

The original idea was that the running order would rotate each night, but Dury and Costello were clearly the strongest acts. Costello played mostly new material and covers, rather than numbers from his recently released album My Aim is True, so the gigs usually ended with most of the artists on stage performing Dury's "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll". A live album entitled Live Stiffs Live and a video of the tour were produced, but the tour only covered the UK.[6]

After the departure of Riviera, Robinson arranged a second tour, the Be Stiff or the Be Stiff Route 78 tour, from October to November 1978 (UK), again comprising five acts: Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Mickey Jupp and Rachel Sweet. The mainland section of the UK tour was undertaken by train and the Irish section by coach, and then continued on to the USA, without Jupp, who was afraid of flying. The artists contributed to an EP with covers of the Devo song, and early Stiff single, "Be Stiff".

The final tour, the Son of Stiff Tour 1980, comprised Ten Pole Tudor, Any Trouble, Dirty Looks, Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, and The Equators. Undertaken by bus, this European tour was not successful.The tour led to a 12" EP Son of Stiff Tour 1980 (SON 1) and a short movie directed by Jeff Baynes. The movie has not been released for sale, but was shown on BBC4 in September 2006."


1977; 55 mins.; Documentary; color; stereo sound track

Director:            Nick Abson
Writer:               Nick Abson
Producers:        Nick Abson (producer), Angela Saunders (line producer)
Camera:            Andy Probyn, Michael Miles
Asst. Camera:  Chris Evans, Brian Rose
Editor:               Dennis McTaggart
Sound:               Neville Wills
Assist.Editor:   Marsha L’Anson
Promoters:       Dave Robinson, Jake Riviera
Bus Driver:      Trevor
Fea. Artists:      Elvis Costello    (Song: “Watching the Detectives”)
                                     (Group: The Attractions)
                             Ian Drury     (Song: “Wake Up and Make Love With Me”)
                                     (Group: The Blockheads)
                             Wreckless Eric (Song: “Semaphore Signals)
                                     (Group: The New Rockets)
                             Nick Lowe    (Song: “I KnewThe Bride”)
                                     (Group: Last Chicken In The Shop)
                             Larry Wallis    (Song: “Police Car”)
                                     (Group: Psychedelic Rowdies)

Musicians (in order of Credits)
        Alex Hawkins
        Roy Simmons
        Denise Roudette
        Steve Mason
        Dave Edmunds
        Farrah FM
        Bruce Thomas
        Terry Williams
        Kosmo Vinyl
        Trevor Wiffen
        Martin Saxon
        Penny Tobin
        Charlie Charles
        Pete Thomas
        Dez Brown
        Mick Gallagher
        Bob Hellyer
        Frances Newman
        Mike Sinclair
        Norman Watt Roy
        Lawrence Dundas
        Chas Hetherington
        John Turnbull
        Therese Newaprer
        Davey Payne
        Chas Jankel
        Alec Hawkins
        Spider Rose
Copyright:  © 1977 Nicholas Abson
                                 All rights reserved

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