A mere 12 months after its inception, the future of Stiff Records, the pioneer New Wave label, looks far from rosy.
Stiff co-founder Jake Riviera has quit the company, apparently taking with him its two leading lights, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, while another of the label's major acts, The Damned, is in disarray following the departure of drummer Rat Scabies.
Riviera, generally regarded as both the creative and the hustling force within the company, has dissolved the partnership he held with Dave Robinson in both Stiff and Advancedale Artistes Representatives, the management company that handled many of the acts on the label.
The one-time manager of Chilli Will and the Red Hot Peppers, Riviera (real name Andrew Jakeman) declined to comment when Thrills spoke to him on Monday.
"Under the terms of my parting with Stiff, I'm not allowed to say anything about the details of the split for two weeks."
It is understood, however, that Riviera had become increasingly disillusioned with the day-to-day administrative hassles of running a record company. "It was doing his head in," commented Stiff general manager Paul Conroy.
Stiff themselves seem uncertain as to whether or not Lowe and Costello are remaining on the label. Conroy said he thought it was likely. On being informed that Riviera was known to have been having discussions with CBS Records, he suggested that a U.S. deal was obviously being arranged for Stiff's hot properties; Riviera, however, guardedly hinted that he was seeking both U.S. and British deals for his clients.
Dave Domleo, a director of Island Records, the company which distributes Stiff products, commented: "Who Stiff have on their label is up to them. We don't have any authority over who they sign. Logically though, it would seem a better working situation if they retained the contracts of Lowe and Costello."
Additionally, he described Riviera as "an explosive character."
Riviera's erstwhile partner, Dave Robinson, is in America with Graham Parker and the Rumour (one of the acts signed to Advancedale for management) and couldn't be reached for comment; Riviera claimed that, although his actions had been like a bolt from the blue, the pair were still on amicable terms.
However Robinson will return to an abundance of problems. Under the terms of the contracts drawn up between Advancedale and their artists, the acts were signed to Robinson and Riviera on the understanding that if either partner quit, the deals would have to be re-negotiated. The acts thus affected are Parker, The Rumour and Clover (all of whom are signed to Phonogram), Costello, Lowe and The Damned.
It's an open secret that all has not been hunky dory with The Damned for some time; there has been friction between the Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible axis and Brian James; the former were known to be unhappy about the recruitment of a new guitarist, Lu, at James' insistence.
Other problems stem from the band's U.S. trip at the beginning of the year. Not only did they become physically and mentally exhausted, but they also failed to secure a U.S. recording deal.
This was followed by a lengthy British tour, which attracted only minimal interest in the press and succeeded in further exhausting the band.
(However while there had been a growing body of opinion that The Damned were virtually finished, only last week those who had heard the tapes of their new Nick Mason-produced album were saying that the new material was exceptionally strong.)
Last week the band left Britain for the start of a European tour. The first French dates were riddled with problems (see News, page 3) and another in Switzerland was cancelled; at this point Scabies is reported to have returned to his hotel room allegedly to indulge in every rock 'n' roll star's anti-depression activity — smashing up the hotel room. The hapless drummer, however, was apprehended by hotel flunkies who, instead of merely making out a bill for the damage, proceeded to beat him up.
Scabies is then said to have downed half a bottle of brandy and sunk into an even heavier mood of depression. He then announced that he had left the band, and flew back to London.