From the Sex Pistols to watching The Pretenders fight, via Joe Strummer and the Police’s first ever gig, Newport punk legend Johnny Perkins talks to SAM FERGUSON about some of the city’s lost glory years, and looks back on the legacy of the burned down Stowaway club

"I WAS the DJ at the Stowaway in the early 1980s on a Wednesday night, which was a punk night. Ii was probably one of the only dedicated punk nights in South Wales at the time.

In the late 70s I saw the Sex Pistols play a gig at the Stowaway. It was only half full, and Sid Vicious had broke a string on his bass. Johnny Rotten was kicking him and shouting and telling him to ‘sort it out’. To be honest he needn’t have bothered because he couldn’t play the thing with four strings any better than with three.

I knew the promoter there who booked the bands. He asked me to DJ there on Wednesday nights, so that’s how it got started.

Before then I brought a lot of different punk bands to Newport as a promoter.


I brought bands to a few different places in Newport, mainly at the Alexandria Club and the Roundabout.

It’s not common knowledge, but I booked the Police for their first ever gig. It was at the old Alexandria Club, opposite the Odeon near the Cenotaph.

The Police had just released their first single, called ‘Fallout’. But they couldn’t get a gig at the time, so they were playing in support of Cherry Vanilla – an American punk singer.

She couldn’t afford her own band, so she used British musicians looking for gigs. It was the Police’s first show together, and there were about 30 people there.

I paid Cherry £100, and the Police only got £15 for the night. I called the South Wales Argus to get them to put an advert in promoting the gig, but they told me that if they advertised that the Police were going to be at a nightclub then the chief constable would be down their ear in no time.

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So they only advertised them as ‘her band’. The poster doesn’t even have their name on it, but a German fan club bought an original off me for £500 recently. I still have a few somewhere.

One of the wildest nights was when US punks Wayne County and the Electric Chairs came to town.

Wayne was a transvestite going through the process of hormone treatment at the time.

Wayne was halfway through one of his songs, with his trousers down around his ankles and toilet roll in his hand, when one of the audience walked past after visiting the loo.

This was back in the old days when the clubs were full of ‘ladies of the night’, and the audience member was one of them. She took offence at what Wayne was doing and had a go at him.

So he threw the used toilet paper in her face. She took umbrage for some reason and tried to hit him with her handbag. It was hilarious.

Wayne is called Jane County now.


I had Generation X at the Roundabout I remember, that was when Billy Idol was in the band – and he went on to do great things obviously.

I promoted Secret Affair, and they gave me a special recording of Time for Action, which is worth a lot now and means a hell of a lot to me. Secret Affair - Time for actions

When I was at the Stowaway I was mainly DJ-ing, so didn’t do much promoting.

In fact, the only band I ever brought to the Stowaway was Nine Below Zero. They are easily the best R&B band you will every hear. They are just so hard working.

There used to be a thriving music scene in Newport. This was the only proper punk scene in Wales for a time.

It’s all gone now, and I’m not sure why. It’s definitely had a massive impact on the city.

Newport used to mean something, but now people just don’t care.

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I remember all of the artists who came through the arts college in Caerleon.

Joe Strummer couldn’t get in I remember, which was probably a good thing as things panned out. I became great friends with him anyway, before the Clash’s first album when he was a grave digger in Newport. I often wonder how things would have turned out there, but we had some great times.

We used to hang out at each other’s flats, and he dedicated a song to me in his last Newport gig before he died.


Once I saw an arts college band, who were decent enough, so we got chatting. The next time I saw them was a year later. They were on Top of the Pops and had gotten themselves a female lead singer.

That was Chrissie Hynde and they were The Pretenders.

I remember they played the Stowaway once when I was DJ-ing there on a Wednesday. Back then there was a lot of spitting going on. It was a punk night, and that was the scene. You used to get people leapfrogging over each other to get into the mosh pit.

Anyway, the band’s guitarist, who was Chrissie’s husband at the time, didn’t like everyone spitting. So he got down into the mosh pit. Let’s just say he definitely knew he had been in a Newport mosh pit.

I was paid to DJ at the Stowaway in lager and taxi money, so my memory isn’t the best. But I was there for a good 18 months before it closed.

There were three sections to the place then. It was the Stowaway in a big ball room. Out the back there was the Speakeasy, which was a gay bar. Then the Inn Place was in the basement.

I remember the bouncers being pretty mean. They used to throw boys out all the time and give them a good kicking, but I’d just let them back in through the back door -which caused some trouble at the time.


Newport is missing places like that. I was gutted when it burned down.

That place has been known under so many different names.

It was the Stowaway when I was there, but it’s been called Brooklyn Heights, Zanzibar, Lazers and it was originally a church and community hall - St Mary’s.

When places that have that much history go, it’s always sad to see. IT would have meant so much to so many different people., and I certainly have some amazing memories from my time there.

The last bands I brought to the city were The Lambrettas, who are a legendary mod band. They played a few years ago at the Riverfront. Only 30 people came, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I also brought Pieces of Mind back to the Penn and Wigg on Stow Hill. They were a Newport eight-piece blues band.

I recently compered for the Luke Doherty Band. He’s a Newport lad from Melfort Road, and I did it at the Neon a few months ago. He’s a great performer and I’m going to watch him in London in a few months. He’s got a future ahead of him I think.

I wrote my book ‘In it 4 the crack’ which is more of a scrap book really. I still keep my fingers in by writing an online fanzine of the same name.

When I look back and ask why I did it all, it was for the crack. It was something to do. I’m a failed musician. I own three guitars and can play three chords, so that’s one per guitar at least. I wouldn’t change anything."

  • Johnny Perkins’ In it 4 the Crack’ is available to buy on Amazon.