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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE part 2/4 – with actor & musician Brian Rapkin

In the first part of the interview Rapkin talked about his stage and TV career, in this second part he remembers his early days in music looking for a record deal with Newcastle post punk band, Punishment of Luxury.


A song can have an unbelievable power – either the power to make you step inside yourself and think, or the power to galvanize you with energy and joy. I saw this when turning 19, hitch-hiking through France alone. I stopped off in a juke-box café for a while. The Beatles’ Lady Madonna started playing and the cafe came alive – all these French guys got up and started dancing, laughing, and singing along to ‘See how zey Run’.

I was beaming with delight, so proud of The Beatles, the piano, Paul’s voice, the guitar, the sax, the harmonies, the inventiveness and the euphoric drive of that music. It was magic. Two minutes and fifteen seconds of a song could take people to a different dimension. And it did.


There was an old radiogram in our house, with speakers going into another room. Being much younger than my jazz-mad brother and my pop-crazy sister, a world of music drew me in. My parents didn’t get on well, so in a strained atmosphere music was an escape into other worlds.

Mr Sandman was haunting like a nightmare, Green Door by Frankie Vaughan told us of a secret world where people partied but the singer was lonely. Coconut Woman and Island in the Sun by Harry Belafonte were rays of warmth amidst the shadowy music. Every song went deep.

I first heard Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel at 7. It stopped us all in our tracks – the vocal reverb, his passion, the electric guitar, the theme of loneliness, the sad double bass, the quirky piano. My sister worshipped Elvis. She took me to her friend’s house to hear Hound Dog. I was mesmerised.

Elvis’ Hard-Headed Woman had a compelling manic energy as did Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jenny Jenny by Little Richard, the first single I bought. He ran out of breath and broke down mid-track but they still released it. He made a mistake and they kept it in! Who needs perfection?

Brian in 1967 at Warwick University.


I had piano lessons for a while but hated practising and struggled with sight-reading. At 14 I learnt to play a cheap old Spanish guitar and re-taught myself piano, writing songs that copied The Animals and Them, Dylan and even Eleanor Rigby. The Beatles, Stones and Dylan were gods, with The Kinks and The Who.

Music was an escape from difficult schooldays – my headmaster was an ex-Japanese POW and was a bizarre sadist.


At 17 I left school, worked as a brickie and saved enough to cut a disc in a studio in Surrey. I wrote and recorded it using 12-string guitar, wooden flute, Hammond organ and the engineer on bass. It was teenage atheism Heaven’s There for Those Who Need It, but it was a first stab at recording.

At university me and my best mate wrote and performed songs. We recorded at a studio in Coventry in 1969, and made about 100 copies of an LP, Dreams of the Blue Beast, selling them at Uni for 32 shillings each in 1969. Germaine Greer (Australian broadcaster & writer) was my Shakespeare tutor – even she bought one. 


I also rearranged Lord of the Dance, sang it and played organ in Coventry Cathedral while Annie Stainer mime danced down the aisles as a female clown Christ. Lindsay Kemp (Bowies dance collaborator) heard my voice on her rehearsal tape and hired me as a singer in a production.

I worked again for Kemp in Flowers years later. His marriage of theatre and Mozart, 1920s songs and Pink Floyd, was so powerful. Flowers started with Mozart’s Requiem all of us dressed as nuns in high heels, stockings and suspenders, rubbing ourselves against a pillar.

Angie Bowie came to it, recruiting dancers for Bowie’s London Rainbow gig. Not being a dancer, I didn’t get picked by her but got a peck on the cheek and a freebie to the Rainbow– it was a mind-blowing gig, making me more determined to pursue music with visuals. Kemp and Bowie showed the magic of music combined with images.

Music weekly ‘Sounds’ squashed between The Police and Def Leppard.


In the mid-70s I met Nev and Steve in Newcastle. They joined our theatre group Mad Bongo for projects like the musical of Orwell’s 1984. Punishment of Luxury began and song-writing with Nev became a new experience. I discovered the inspiration of sharing ideas with him. He was a talented guitarist, composer and lyricist, who could change my ideas and de-normalise them, making them crazier. I could help him shape his ideas too.

We were alchemists, turning base metal into gold. Then with a superb bassist like Jimmy we had a super-strong combination. Later we got Steve, the dynamic drummer we always wanted.

As well as the inspiration of Bowie, we wanted to write powerful songs after seeing the Sex Pistols on Top of the Pops, doing Pretty Vacant. It was 1977 and I was visiting Nev in his flat on the 26th floor of The Rocket, a high-rise in Dunston, Gateshead. Johnny Rotten seemed to leap from the screen into the room – visually and musically he was phenomenal, it was a seminal moment. We knew what we had to do.


The Newcastle music scene in 1977 had The Big G as the leading punk outfit and the Young Bucks with a devoted student following at the Cooperage every week. Their drummer later joined Dexies (Midnight Runners). One band, the 45s, had their own student following at the New Darnell, Fenham. The macho keyboardist used to down a full pint with one hand while playing a solo with the other.

The Big G were much better than us for a while, then we pulled our fingers out and got their guitarist Red Helmet to join us.


Our songs reflected our lives. Nev wrote most of Puppet Life, about fascism and people controlling our lives in relationships or in politics. He also wrote the music for, and I did the lyrics for, a song called Pouf, which we later dropped, as people misinterpreted the song if the sound system was poor and lyrics were unclear.

As the singer I was in role as a gay-bashing bigot, whereas Nev and Jimmy were singing defiant words as oppressed gays. It trod a fine line between ironic humour and provocation. At the Blue Bell pub in Gateshead, pointing at men in the audience and chanting ‘pouf’ was a way to get them involved but it would be wrong to do it now.

The word was maybe used more casually in the ‘70s but is now acknowledged to be grossly homophobic and that kind of role-playing, often misunderstood then, would feel clumsy and awkward now.

It was partly inspired by my teaching days when teenage lads passed me in the corridor whispering ‘pouf’ at me.  Real life was always a basis for song writing, but songs like that wouldn’t work in 2021.


Once we discovered we could all work well together and our songs were going down well with local audiences, we wanted to take it further, play in other places and record the songs – we couldn’t afford to fund it all ourselves so we needed some money behind us to do justice to the songs and make a living out of what had become a passion.

We got our first London gig at the Elephant and Castle. With the aid of our manager Frank we played to a small bunch of people and an agent called Richard Hermitage liked us. He booked us gigs, and we started touring more and more, getting good reviews and a better fee each time.

We had recorded Puppet Life, Blood of Love and The Demon at Impulse Studio, Wallsend at our own expense. We took the tape to London but it was the week before Christmas 1977. No-one saw us – they were all at Christmas parties – except Arnold Frollows at Virgin, who was interested. He heard Puppet Life, then dove into a cupboard and came out with Devo’s Jocko Homo, an import single, saying Puppet Life was quite similar. 


We did a gig at Spectro Arts workshop in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle. Arnold Frollows came up to the gig and it got a glowing review in Sounds. It was a start. We were offered a standard Virgin eight album deal but the line-up wasn’t quite stable enough, even though many bands would have leapt at the chance.

So we went to an indie, Small Wonder in Walthamstow, East London. Pete Stennett, an open, visionary guy with long hair and a woolly hat, immediately liked the songs and said yes. We had control over the artwork and production. It was so right. We stayed at Patrik Fitzgerald’s (the Punk Poet) big house, which he kindly lent us for a couple of days.

One of the biggest highs was sitting in the Cooperage with a drink and a transistor radio, listening to John Peel play Puppet Life for the first time. A dream come true.

Read part three when Brian is recording in London studios and remembers some memorable gigs.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures.

Avery, Thwaite, Red Helmet, Liquid Les and Malacabala all signed up to an adventure with Newcastle based post punk band, Punishment of Luxury and from 1979-83 the line-up settled into a very creative recording and live unit signed to United Artists.  (Brian Bond, keyboard/vocals, Jimi Giro, bass, Steve Sekrit, drums and Nev, guitar/vocals).

I got in touch with Nev to find out exactly who were Punishment of Luxury and where did the name come from ? A friend, Rob Meek visited Liverpool and sent me a postcard from the Walker gallery. It was a picture of Giovanni Segantini’s ‘Punishment of Luxury’. I thought this was a perfect title for a wonderful adventure.

How did the band first get together ? It all began in Walker Terrace, Gateshead. I’d just returned from studying music in India and Afghanistan and was sharing a house with Rob Meek. Rob created the first independent Gateshead street press, and the radical theatre company ‘Hour Glass’, which we performed with in local pubs.

This was 1975 when I met Brian Rapkin, an actor, singer and songwriter who was working with the Mad Bongo Theatre group. I had previously formed a band called Kitch 22 who experimented in a combination of theatre and music and Brian said he saw me play at the Newcastle Guildhall and liked the rendition of Wild Thing and Little Red Rooster delivered up from my tuned Hofner Galaxie and kitchen quilted Vox AC30.

One night Rob and I had a party and invited the Mad Bongo Theatre group where we offered them Garibaldi biscuits, Old Jamaica chocolate curious wine and Alien cake. We played and shared songs with electric exhilaration, the seed was planted for future ventures. We were visionary collisionaries occurring in the same space.

We rehearsed in a basement in Gateshead at Rawling Road, where our songs Jellyfish and Blood of Love were created. Eventually we rehearsed in a church hall in Tynemouth which I believe was also used by Lindisfarne.

What was the process for writing songs ? The writing was both a collision and collaboration of different musical styles and approaches which were amalgamated with some visual and dramatic opinions.

For example I would offer a song such as Puppet Life, All White Jack, and Brian would embellish keyboard and add lyrics. Alternatively Brian would write the main body of a song such as Obsession and we would combine musical structures and lyrics.

But commonly we would come together from two very different views and styles. This is evident in writing Brain Bomb which developed from a ballad Brian had written where I proposed the musical opposite and the idea worked, so some strange and interesting combinations were successfully created.

Jellyfish was another example of the unity of opposites whereas I would suggest a structure and some lyric or theme and Brian would apply some great lyrics, musical variations and ideas to make them unique. I think humour somehow connected us along with our range of various theatrical and visual ideas.

The Message and Laughing Academy are other examples of creative unions. I think we had a very open approach which worked so well.

I remember in Tynemouth, writing the riff for Radar Bug and Jimi applied a great rhythmic phrase which lifted the idea into what it is. His bass playing offers excellent precision and very creative phrasing with invention. Stephen created some brilliant percussive pieces to compliment songs such as Secrets, he also offered massive drive and energy. While I offered many structures and concepts.

Brian also created words, images and imaginings, Jimi laid ululating foundations then Stephen wove it together. It was of course more than this and everyone was essential in creating the sound and spirit of that time.

It is worth mentioning that a great friend called Vicki who was a wonderful support to us from the Laughing Academy period, always offered us space to rehearse and develop ideas when writing new songs.  

Punishment of Luxury played their first gig at the Blue Bell in Gateshead in 1978, not long afterwards the band went to Impulse recording studio, Wallsend. How did you fund your early recordings ?

We funded initial demos from our own back pockets. We recorded, Blood of Love, Let’s Get Married and Puppet Life. Rob Meek also enabled us to record and rehearse at Spectro Arts centre in Newcastle.

Signing a record deal – how did that come about, and was it successful ? After a long and tiring tour of record companies who displayed a range of disinterest, curiosity and admiration we decided in the end that we had to find a label who had some idea of what we were trying to do.

We therefore embarked on our excursion to Walthamstow in London and a meeting with the owner of Small Wonder Records, Pete Stennett. Immediately after he played the tape of our first demo recording of Puppet Life, he offered us a deal.

He was certainly a visionary person who signed other bands and performers from that post punk period and gave them that all important first break to express their music. The label was small but created wonders for us in as much as our first single Puppet Life/Demon (1978) was recorded in London’s Berry Street Studio and our recording journey began.

We were pursued by a few larger record companies who after they had heard our first single, came to our gigs. Charisma and Virgin were certainly of interest to us but we thought United Artists were the best company as they offered much more artistic freedom.

We all warmed to their very sincere and talented A&R scout, Tim Chacksfield. In the end we signed to them and went on to record the Laughing Academy album (1979) and several singles.

Tim could see what we were trying to do and helped us be free in our musical expression and eventually introduced us to Mike Howlett. Mike was former bassist and writer with Gong and Strontium 90 (a forerunner to The Police).

Mike helped us capture all the energy of our live set with his approach of recording many straight live takes, which embellished with the required overdubs, helped create a wonderful recording experience.

Did the band have a manager ? In the beginning a friend from Newcastle called Frank helped get us gigs and open the door to various management companies such as Quarry management and well known management such as John Arnison. Frank eventually connected us to the Asgard Agency in London who enabled us to put together UK tours. This is where we met Richard Hermitage who eventually became our manager.

Richard was a very positive, honest and fair person who managed to get us considered by several record companies and was instrumental in getting us introduced to United Artists.

Richard decided to stop managing the band and return to Agency work. We were introduced to Tony Fraser who tried to help develop the band’s vision and came on tour for some of the gigs, especially in Germany and Holland.

Did the band record any TV or radio sessions ? Soon after the release of Puppet Life (1978) we discovered that John Peel was interested in our music and we were invited to perform our first live session at the BBC in Maida Vale where we played Funk Me, Let’s Get Married, You’re So Beautiful and Babalon.

We played on Tyne Tees show Alright Now, hosted by Darts singer Den Hegerty. Also on were Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Goldie and Geordie with Brian Johnson who joined AC/DC. We also played a live version of Puppett Life for a Belgian/German TV show. Laughing Academy I believe, was doing really well in their charts.

Were there any stand out gigs ? We played several Rock Against Racism gigs at Newcastle Guildhall and other local gigs in the area. We also enjoyed gigs at Newcastle City Hall with the Skids, then with Penetration. The Marquee in Wardour Street, London was another gig we played several times, it was such a great venue.

In the early period of our gigging we played the London Hope and Anchor, and on one occasion we remember a huge back line, approx. 15+ AC 30’s courtesy of Status Quo (we reckon), provided by their management company who were pursuing our scribbles at that time. It was a very full house so the crowd absorbed all the delivered frequencies. This is where we played early versions of ‘Funk Me’ and ‘Babalon’.

The following day we were driving through London and noticed these colourful headpieces being sold by a man on a corner with a cardboard box in Oxford Street. We grabbed several of these Peruvian ski masks and ended up subverting their use with fun, menace and madness in our live performances.

I recall the London Nashville gigs being excellent sharing the tiniest of dressing rooms with bands such as the Adverts, 999, Toyah and Siouxie and the Banshees.

On one occasion the National Front turned up and the lyrics at the end of ‘Puppet Life’ rang out, they started to climb onto the stage and attempt to destroy the show and muffle the message, but the band along with our tour manager, Sista Suzie and the Nashville staff, kicked them off stage which must have reinforced the song’s affirming lyric, ‘The Fascist always ends up on the floor’.

We toured the UK extensively then eventually travelled to Europe. Our first journey involved sharing a plane journey with Wishbone Ash and a brilliant band called Home, famous for their album The Alchemist, and apparently a favourite of the late John Lennon. It followed that we played our first gig together in Belgium with these bands which was quite a mysterious and unusual musical mix.

Do you have any road stories or magic moments when touring ? When our Laughing Academy album was being released endless gigging ensued and part of our excursion took us to The Milky Way and Paradiso venues in Amsterdam, and eventually via Cologne and Dusseldorf to the great city of Berlin.

The Wall was still stood and divided East and West Germany, so great things could happen here! Although our Berlin Wall encounter at Checkpoint Charlie was a bit scary.

Steve Sekrit now had long hair and a strange beard, which didn’t balance with his passport photo and only after a long exchange with an authoritarian, now in possession of a copy of our album Laughing Academy, were we able to pass across the border. Thankfully he looked at the images on the outer sleeve cover as the inner gate fold sleeve would have offered no means of verification.

Our gig in Berlin that evening was at the Kant Kino and access to the famous venue was a long walk across a suspended structure overlooking parts of the bustling street below. It was a brilliant, receptive, bouncing crowd, full of anticipation – it was a very memorable gig.

We played the 19th Reading Festival on 24th August 1979 and John Peel introduced the band to what was a raucous gig. We were one of the first wave of bands to play an alternative style of music and many in the rock crowd were bemused at our musical approach, but they soon mutated and amalgamated to engage with this new expression.

Did the band run out of steam or money ? The lack of record company support to develop our musical vision punctuated by them dropping the band from their label, led us speedily to impecunity. We were rejected and bemused. United Artists had died and EMI were the new victors.

This was the period when we were recording Gigantic Days and for a moment, that awful feeling of rejection descended, but our spirits were alive, and we fought on for what we believed in. Perhaps it was because of the proposition of ‘making rockets miss’ in our songs as EMI were linked to Thorn at that time, or it could have been down to the satire ‘Money talks, money lies’. Or maybe simply that we didn’t fit into a commercial pop template.

A breakthrough came with Red Rhino, a record company based in York who liked the band. (Rob Aitch (guitar/vocals) was added to the line up during their deal with Red Rhino and for live performances, they brought in Tim Jones (guitar/vocals).

In 1983 we recorded the album 7 at Alaska and Greenhouse studios. This period marked a time when we had emerged tattered from legal lashings and management muddles with miraculously diminished funds.

What happened then ? After the album 7, Brian and I began exploring other directions this was perhaps compounded by lack of record company support and different musical and creative visions. Brian continued his brilliance and developed his theatrical roots with the application of excellent songs in a band called Punching Holes.

While I continued the music with the integration of visual approaches, retaining the Punishment of Luxury theme while experimenting with different players, new collaborations and experimenting with musical inventions (Alien Contact) while living in London.

What are you up to now ? Brian will be releasing his Punching Holes album on April 17th 2020 which will be an historic record to what he was creating then along with the excellent Richard Sharpe and Tim Jones.

I am currently busy writing, and both Brian and I are exploring and assessing the possibility of creating a new album as we exchange our ideas and songs, along with Jim and Steve.

Have you any final memories from the early years of Punishment of Luxury ? We played at an event created by the adventurous pioneer  promotor John Keenan. It was called The Worlds First Science Fiction Music Festival (aka Futurama, Leeds Queens Hall, Saturday September 8th 1979). This was where we played with Joy Division and Public Image.

Our lighting system was in London and Hawkwind, who were playing the next night, kindly let our lighting maestro Rob Meek use their laser light rig. What great people, and an excellent show followed.

After watching our first official gig for many years at the Three Tuns, Gateshead in 2008, music critic Dave Simpson wrote in The Guardian about his experience at Leeds in 1979 and said it ‘changed his life’.

I went to Futurama liking Sham 69. I came out rejecting everything I knew, having realised that music could be about power, passion, psychology, even the genuinely futuristic, and be far more than “entertainment”.

That principle colours my thoughts on music to this day. If I hadn’t gone, it’s almost certain that I wouldn’t now be writing about music for a living, never mind still experiencing the unique thrill of watching bands’.

Certainly a lasting impression on Mr Simpson, and no doubt on many others in the audience. If you were at Futurama that day get in touch and let me know your memories.  

If you haven’t heard the band check out the recordings from the gigs at Nashville, Kant Kino, Hope and Anchor and Reading Festival which are on the Punishment of Luxury box set released by Cherry Red in 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.