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

Part four of an interview with Brian Rapkin (Brian Bond), he recalls when Punishment of Luxury decided to call it a day and brings the story up to date with what they are doing now.

With Punilux, after the first tour of Europe we had second album syndrome – songs we were demoing in early 1980 were very different, which was fine, but also they were not as strong as those on Laughing Academy. Song lyrics in general weren’t so clear and effective – I was writing a few good bits here and there but also some obscure, self-indulgent stuff. Creatively it was like a cul-de-sac.

COMPANY COLLAPSE

Before our second European tour in August 1980 UA ceased as a record company. EMI took over and then dropped us, so we were in a bad place. Our A&R man Tim had left EMI so we had no-one to fight our corner.

To EMI we were a band with no hit singles. No album bands any more, no nurturing of talent over a three year period. Thatcher was in. Monetary mindset – instant success or the sack.

Did EMI spurn the new material because some of the songs were anti-war? Who knows?   At an EMI farewell party, Cliff the head man shook hands and wished us luck. I said “Good luck to you too.” He said “Why?”

LEAVIN’ AIN’T EASY

When we got back from Europe in August, spirits were low. Self-belief had taken a battering. We were at an impasse and it seemed time to part ways, so I left. It was a difficult divorce, but it was also interesting to write different keyboard-based ideas, in a piano room in Newcastle Polytechnic every day, demoing songs at Spectro Arts Workshop, who gave me a grant for recording. These songs, like Spots on the Sun, were the basis for forming a new project in Punching Holes, this was late ’80 and ‘81.

STAGE RETURN

Memorable gigs for Punching Holes was the first and best gig, at the Cooperage, Newcastle on Chinese New Year, 5th February 1981. With Norman out of the Big G on sticks, Tim Jones from Neon on guitar, Sid Smith the performance artist on bass and Steve Cowgill the jazzman on keys. it was pure adrenalin, very exciting.

We started to collaborate again as Punilux in 1983, recording in Waterloo, but despite some great songs like Doubting Thomas and a Brixton gig, my involvement was too peripheral and didn’t work that well.

EARNING A CRUST

I had to do theatre work for survival, so a 24-year gap followed when we lost contact and got on with our lives. In 2019 I was a freebie actor for half a day with Northumbria Police in Northumberland Street, being secretly filmed improvising as a man in his 60’s with early onset dementia, asking passers-by for help – it found its way onto Facebook (5.7k likes) and YouTube with the tag-line ‘The heart-breaking video that has police officers in tears. Grab your hankies, it’s emotional’.

The 1980s were a testing time but the old line-up got back and still lives on. In 2007 we reunited in The Green Mandolin, Gateshead to play for Jimmy’s birthday.

Then in 2008 we started gigging again. We got a great write-up in The Guardian by Dave Simpson, which Nev mentioned in his excellent blog. The team spirit was in good shape. We recorded ‘5’ at Blast Studios, Byker.

At our Punilux gigs since 2008 we haven’t done any songs from the 1980 writing period. The high-impact material comprises songs from 1977-79, and some from the ‘5’ EP (2011).

RECORDS & TAPES

In autumn 2019 with Punishment of Luxury I did gigs in Middlesbrough, Leeds and Trillians, Newcastle to promote Puppet Life, a 5 CD box set of all live and recorded material on the Cherry Red label.

Last year, it was the turn of Punching Holes, with a vinyl album out on ZX records – The Ghosts of Pilgrim Street, from the lost tapes of their 1980/81 songs engineered at Spectro Arts workshop in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, by the electronic maestro Ian Boddy.

It’s a historic album, as there’s no band as such any more, but we’re still all in touch. The gorgeous gatefold cover was by Richard Sharpe, who was in Holes during ‘82 and now runs ZX records in Essex.   

Last year also saw the recording of Here We Are, a song for lockdown, in Mark ‘Biz’ Taylor’s back yard in North Shields with him on bass and effects, as seagulls screeched overhead. Tim Jones, ex-Neon and ex-Holes, mixed and mastered the music files in Penrith.

It was entered for the King Lear Prizes, for 70+ writers and it was a nice surprise to be ‘highly commended’ by a music panel led by Julian Lloyd Weber. A written piece The Diviner, based on my dad as a soldier in wartime Sicily, was also lucky enough to get highly commended in the short story category of the same competition.

In 2018 my partner Kathi and I performed Angels Wings by request at our son’s wedding in Bangkok. Kathi was lead singer and co-writer in Punching Holes during 1988-89 with debonair drummer Richie Donnison and quirky keyboardist Jeff Horsman adding their own potent brand of virtuosic creativity.

Angels Wings was a revamp of a Holes song, Gone Loco, from ‘81 and was featured in a Tyne Tees TV video just after the band had finally split for good. She sang it beautifully on the video and at the wedding, and folks seemed to like it.

Live at Trillians, Newcastle 2019.

IN THE NOW

There’s now a Punilux website and a Punching Holes website, and Punishment of Luxury continues on the roller-coaster of life. Sadly in early 2020 we tragically lost our close friend and colleague, the inspired artistic visionary Simon Underhill, who with Neil Defty did brilliant visuals and projections at our gigs all over the UK. His images, like a mass of yellow rubber gloves twitching in unison, were always a feast for the eyes and a delight for audiences.

Jimmy and I get together when possible, Steve is still going strong and Nev now lives and writes in Hampshire – we’re all still in close contact, writing and sending each other songs, or playing each other songs on zoom, so we’re raring to go again with some brand-new material.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

Links to previous interviews:

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures. | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

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