FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE part 3/4 with actor & musician Brian Rapkin

Part three of Brian Rapkin’s (Brian Bond) memories of being a member of Newcastle post punk band Punishment of Luxury and recording in London studio’s.

We never lived in London but we stayed when recording or touring there. When we recorded Laughing Academy we stayed at a house in Fulham. Recording in London was brilliant.

The first single on Small Wonder we produced ourselves at Berry Street studio with an engineer but when the line-up was almost stabilised, we signed to UA and then the singles were produced by Mike Howlett, a lovely man and brilliant producer, prematurely grey with a calm outlook and a great sense of humour.

DEBUT SINGLE

The first single after we signed up was supposed to be Jellyfish, but the board at UA didn’t like it as an A-side. Tim, the A & R man, said “Look guys, I’m up against a brick wall here!”  We reluctantly agreed to Engine of Excess as the A-side.

Then we signed to Screen Gems-EMI Publishing who gave UA a bollocking about the choice of A-side. So UA re-released the single with Jellyfish as the A-side but by then it was too late to get airplay. The momentum was lost. So that side of it was frustrating. But recording the songs was still magic.

At Eden Studios in Chiswick, Lene Lovich was packing away her sax as we came in. At Wessex Studios, Public Image Ltd were silently sat on a bench facing us as we came in, giggling at our long-haired roadies as they struggled with the equipment. Joe Jackson was playing pool in the rest room. 

LONDON MARQUEE

When UA were about to sign us, Tim the A&R man saw us there and loved the gig, especially All White Jack. He was on cloud nine as we were. That was a highly charged night and a great venue full of atmosphere. It had such a history with the Rolling Stones and so many other great bands. It was an honour to be there, the crowd were superb.

STAGE DEBUT

Our first trial gig was as the Luxury Bastards at Gatsby’s, Whitley Bay ‘77. We were terrible. Our bassist, Badger, didn’t turn up but he hadn’t rehearsed with us, so it’s no surprise. It was before Jimmy, so Nev and Mal kept swapping guitar and bass for different songs, Les pounded the drums and I gurned for England, pulling faces as we died a death in dim lighting.

When the Big G started, whoosh, on came the bright lights and each with one foot on a low brass rail (except drummer Norman) they looked professional and slick. That taught us a lesson. Get sorted.

The first gig at the Blue Bell, Gateshead in 1977. We had to change into our stage gear in the toilets, avoiding puddles. We were so nervous, we hid behind amps while the first band The Carpettes played, and then raced through our songs at double the normal speed.

SOMEONE CALL THE COPS

The Guildhall 1978 with Neon and the Angelic Upstarts. We were bottom of the bill and missed the riot. During our set someone lobbed a can at the stage. We were doing a new song called World War 4 and I was wearing a dressing gown. I caught the can and put it in my pocket.

Later the Upstarts charged the stage with their fans when the headliners Neon were playing. There was carnage, blokes and girls beaten up, blood everywhere, the police came and made the rioters walk home to South Shields without their shoes.

SPITTING GAMES

Newcastle University 1978, where we were dripping from head to foot with spit, everyone gobbing at us like maniacs. Nev’s guitar, strings dripping, almost unplayable. Luckily I didn’t swallow anyone’s spit. After that gig the gobbing started to end, thankfully.

I remember headlining at the Music Machine, Camden 1978, with our name up there on the domed roof in big red letters, post-gig standing next to Lemmy from Motorhead at the bar. Members of Wire and Annie Lennox enthusing in the dressing room. Robert from Wire kept saying “You’ll make a fortune!” 

On the Friday night with The Police headlining and special guests were Motorhead.

HAZY DAY IN THE ‘DAM

We played The Milky Way (Melkweg), Amsterdam 1980. As we walked towards the entrance, we could see folk milling around, openly smoking joints. Jimmy muttered “Ah, look, they’re aal smuurr…” and his voice trailed away as the Dutch promoter welcomed us in. During the gig half the audience were lying on mattresses spread out over the vast floor. The haze of dope smoke was all around.

Then there was the heady atmosphere of Reading Festival in 1979, with John Peel introducing us after we’d been on his radio show twice. The build-up was nervy but up onstage it felt surreal and tremendous to be facing 25,000 people.

SPY IN THE CROWD

We played the Leeds Sci Fi Festival in 1979 with Public Image and other great acts like Joy Division. It took place in what was like a huge aircraft hangar but it worked so well. It was overwhelming and exciting. John Lydon had his back to the audience much of the time.

The Leeds Sci-Fi Festival in 1982 had the legendary Nico headlining and we – post Punilux band Punching Holes – were a 7-piece by then, with Richard Sharpe on synth and Jonah Sharp on percussion and sax.

I remember Berlin 1980. It was magical. Like a dream. Checkpoint Charlie then the gig. And an interview on the radio. We stayed in the legendary Hotel Steiner, but on the way out we got hopelessly lost in Potsdam, on the edge of East Berlin. It was like a scene from the Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

The dark grey cobbled streets were wet with rain. Burly Russian soldiers on motorbikes bristled with machine guns, revving up behind our minibus. We couldn’t find the route back to West Germany. We stopped to ask directions from a friendly middle-aged East German with a bushy moustache. After we got back into the van, we assumed he’d be dragged off and shot by the Stasi, or the KGB, or both. Somehow we made it back to the West.

Next up on the blog read part four of the interview with Brian when Punishment of Luxury call it a day and find out what they are up to now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

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