Be Stiff – A Genuine Tale of Disruption

A review of ‘Be Stiff – The Stiff Records Story’, a genuine tale of disruption

In 2015 the word ‘disruption’ is fast becoming what ‘engagement’ was to 2013, and authenticity and mindfulness were to 2014, much hyped, overused and often misunderstood terms. Disrupt, disruption, disruptive, everything cool seems to warrant the disrupt tag. Here’s how the dictionary positions this currently popular term.

disrupt – verb

interrupt (an event, activity or process) by causing a disturbance of problem, ”flooding disrupted rail services”, throw into confusion/disarray, play havoc with, derange, make a mess of, drastically alter or destroy the structure of, “alcohol can disrupt the chromosomes of an unfertilised egg”, distort, damage, buckle, warp.

Pretty heavy stuff huh? While the overuse of engagement in the world of work felt like the equivalent of sneaking sleeping pills into a board bored meeting, taking the definition above, disruption is more akin to lobbing in a couple of stun grenades under Any Other Business. It’s still only February, and I’ve already had enough of the business word of the year. Or have I?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Be Stiff – The Stiff Records Story’. Written by Richard Balls, Be Stiff is a fantastically well researched and written headlong dash through the chaos, and dare I say it, disruption, that was Stiff Records. Despite being over 300 pages long (not including the all important discography, Stiff Tour Dates, notes and research), this book conveys the pace, urgency and in your face attitude that epitomised the Stiff Records way of life.

Stiff Records emerged on to the music scene in 1976, founded by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson. Right from the start, they championed musical underdogs, and the way Stiff Records marketed their acts using badges, coloured vinyl, promotional stunts and more, left the established music business staggering in their wake. Click the badge montage photo to see all manner of unconventional promotional items that Stiff Records used to announce new signings, releases and tours.

Stiff Badges

It was as if the rest of the industry was completing the final plodding lap of a marathon when Stiff Records shoved them all out of the way in the last 100 metres as they sprinted for the line, before nicking all the medals, sticking two fingers up at everyone and jumping in the back of a beat up transit van to head to the pub and celebrate.

I first became aware of Stiff Records when they signed The Damned, and released New Rose (catalogue number BUY 6) as the first punk single in the UK. The Damned weren’t the first punk band on the scene, but whilst the like of Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols dithered over their rehearsing and recording, Riviera and Robinson shoved The Damned into their own cramped recording studio, and beat everyone else to the punch, even going so far as to include a cover of The Beatles song ‘Help’ on the B side, just to piss off the establishment. The Damned also gave Stiff Records their first album release, Damned Damned Damned (catalogue number SEEZ 1), and among the first ten album releases you will also find artists such as: Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich and Jona Lewie.

Stiff Records put out more than its fair share of duff material too. Does anyone remember Pookiesnackenburger, The Astronauts, or Viva Vagabond? Thought not – but these unknowns were all part of the mix and all contributed to the colour and the chaos and the creativity that made Stiff Records the disruptive influence it was. Alongside the forgotten, you will find acts such as Madness and Tracey Ullman who generated the all important sales needed to keep the good ship Stiff patched up and sailing hurriedly through uncharted, dangerous waters.

The beginning of the end came when Robinson agreed to run the then failing Island Records in addition to running Stiff. It was too much for one person, and in particular, the kind of person like Robinson, who wanted input into everything. After eleven years of excess, fights, hit records and an approach to packaging and marketing that truly shook the industry, Stiff finally stiffed.

Stiff Records was brought back to life in 2006 and has generated some income for its current owners through reissuing elements of the back catalogue, but it’s not the same disruptive Stiff Records I, and many of you will remember. Despite its current popularity, disruption is a rare beast, and even when it works, by its nature it has a limited lifespan. If everything is disruptive, then nothing is, so if disrupt you must, then please use sparingly. If you have any interest in rock, punk and pop music and what real disruption looks and feels like, I recommend you read Richard Balls’ excellent book. And remember:

‘If It Ain’t Stiff… It Ain’t Worth a F@#!’

The LinkedIn Publish Feature – Two Reasons Why It Sucks

I think I got out of the wrong side of my social media bed today – #grumpy

If you’ve been anywhere near LinkedIn in recent weeks you’ll have noticed that pretty much everybody is now ‘taking advantage’ of their new(ish) publishing feature. When once you might have visited LinkedIn to look for a job, or get in touch with someone, now…LinkedIn is all over the place.

So – in a half arsed attempt to put myself in a better mood and get this off my chest, here are my two reasons why LinkedIn’s publish feature sucks.

1 – It’s relentless, the online equivalent of being repeatedly hit over the head with a sock full of marbles #grumpystreetfight. The torrent – and that is how LinkedIn feels to me currently, a torrent, it’s overwhelming. I’m not waving, I’m drowning.

2 – It makes LinkedIn feel like a badly laid out supermarket. I hate it when I go shopping and those damn marketing types have moved the apples, or switched the beer and the nappies around. I can’t find anything anymore #grumpyshopper. Currently – the same goes for LinkedIn, it’s all over the place, confused. Has someone given the marketing department the keys to the restricted meds cupboard again?

Fear not – it’s not all doom and gloom. My friend Gautam Ghosh sent me this link on how to mute the endless stream of notifications. Warning – this helpful hint has been posted on the LinkedIn publish platform!

Looking on the bright side – after a start like this, today can only get better, right?

Routine – And The Importance of Choice

This is a weekend ‘not really anything to do with work’ follow up to yesterday’s post about the importance of routine, and not being a slave to it.

An Illusion of Choice

Just down the road from where I live, there’s a Sainsbury’s supermarket in the final throes of construction. How convenient, I’ll now be able to get my shopping from somewhere a mere 400 metres or so from my house. As this map shows, this will be the fourth Sainsbury’s to open in our neck of the woods, the distance between point A and point D is around 800 metres.

Sainsbury Locations near Wallington

I may be wrong, I often am, and I’m worried that shortly after this new shop opens its doors in just a couple of weeks, several independent local businesses nearby will forever close theirs. I’m not anti Sainsbury’s, we shop there, but I am pro choice. A quick look at the map shows me a big company doing its level best to make sure the main choice you have is simply which branch of their shop you visit. It’s all too easy – all too…routine.

I’m a little surprised it’s that simple to just walk into a town and try to monopolise it like this. Although we signed a petition in one of the local shops objecting to the store being granted planning permission, I could have done more by objecting directly to the council too, so I have a share in the responsibility for this outcome.

I found myself exchanging notes about this situation on Twitter with my friend Anthony Allinson, and he suggests that whilst changes in planning approaches may stem the tide, the root of the problem lies in the way the supply chain is locked down. This scenario is called a monopsony, from Ancient Greek ????? (mónos) “single” + ?????? (ops?nía) “purchase”, a market form in which only one buyer interfaces with many sellers. There’s your word of the week folks – monopsony. Why not pop over to read this excellent blog post of Anthony’s by way of a thank you for the introduction to the wonderful word, monopsony?

When I spoke about this situation with Carole, she recalled stories of Marks and Spencer contracting with suppliers in such a way that they could not produce for anyone else. Then, when that contract expires and is not renewed, the supplier, with no other source of business, fails. I doubt very much that M&S are the only big company pulling this trick, and it’s got an unpleasant anti-competitive tone to it.

A Choice

Just off the area covered by the map, is an independent greengrocer called Carshalton Patch. I discovered this shop a few months ago and I love it. They work hard to source close to home, several of their suppliers are just a few miles away. They compete on price, not across the board but several staple items are just as good value as in Sainsbury’s (I’ve just done a price check and a large cucumber at the Patch is £1.20, it’s £1.30 in you know where). They source interesting varieties of produce, stuff you don’t always find in you know where, and here’s the kicker. Their food tastes great. I buy my tomatoes from Carshalton Patch and I often eat a couple on the way home.

Stop and think for a minute, when did you last buy produce from a supermarket that was so tasty you couldn’t wait to get home to try it?

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People often dismiss this kind of choice because they’re too busy to fit it in. The Carshalton Patch is close by to one of the stations I use to travel into and out of London from (see yesterday’s post for nerdy train map), so I can easily divert to it. The shop is about a mile from home, so I can and do fit my visits to it into my local walks. Yes – I have to make a little effort to use Carshalton Patch, and when they are clearly making a lot of effort to bring me choice, I’m more than happy to reciprocate.

Have you got any great local businesses near you?