When you’re in a band, and somebody mentions going on tour, you get yourselves a Transit van and hit the motorway, right?
Well, at least that’s how it had always worked in the past.
Enter the management and bands of Stiff Records, who were never much for doing anything by the book.
Stiff were the slightly more eccentric side of the punk records family, probably the first truly maverick of the early Independent labels; with a scratch and sniff release, their “ain’t worth a f*ck” slogans, and their “mixed” roster of bands.
In October 1978, five of Stiff’s then current recording artists embarked on the second Stiff Records tour of the UK, not in a transit van or tour-bus, but even more remarkably, on a train.
Head honcho Dave Robinson seemed to have made the tour transport decision purely based on his own love of railways and their aesthetics above any practical reasons, “We knew we had to make it special, and I loved those old trains with the first-class carriages that had the little compartments, so we hired one”.
The tour was billed as ‘Be Stiff’ – which was also the name of Devos’ third and final single for the label – no matter that Devo weren’t even on the tour (Stiff eccentricities see above), although each of the artists did record a cover of the song for future release.
So, at the beginning of October 1978 Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Rachel Sweet and Mickey Jupp made their way to the platform at Kensington Olympia station in West London to begin their month of UK, Rock and Roll inter-railing. Amazingly, film footage from that day still survives, from what we think might be an OGWT or news report (any ideas?), with commentary by the lovely Annie Nightingale, and including the tour anthem “Be Stiff” by Devo.
The tour took the bands from Bristol in the South West to Wick in Scotland on a specially commissioned, logo emblazoned train. All the artists played short sets every night for over a month, in a 2½ hour, revue-style show and all five of them had albums released mid-tour on the same day.
“The train tour was typical Stiff,” admits Robinson, “We liked to have fun and we liked to keep our bands busy. ‘A Tired Band Is A Happy Band’ – that was our motto”.
There are some great photos taken on the train by music photographer Adrian Boot including snaps of Lene and Rachel playing cards on one of the tables, which you can see HERE.
Coming at the story from rather a different angle, train enthusiast website RMWeb, notes the following:
“The train was stabled overnight at Ramsgate and departed there at 12.36 the following day for Guildford via Canterbury West, Ashford, Orpington, Brixton, Clapham Junction(W) and East Putney, hauled by 33056(HG). The train was formed of an unidentified Motorail flat, S38744, S38745, E321E, E13306, E14050, ADM44404.”
The Be Stiff 1978 train tour can be seen as yet further proof, if any were needed, that the Punk movement and the people behind the Independent record labels that came with it, continued to rip up the rule book as far as ye olde tried and tested methods were concerned, and maybe more importantly, not forgetting to add some fun in along the way.