The Rum Runner Club, is etched into Birmingham’s musical heritage, not only because Duran Duran, one of the most successful bands in the world started their amazing journey there. But because it was a magnificent escape for a lost generation suddenly finding something spectacular and other worldly on their door-step. A cultural zeitgeist for teenagers in a drab, dreary, 1980’s broken Britain, finding excitement, intrigue, rebellion and extravagance.

The Rum Runner nurtured the New Romantic movement and it reigned supreme for over nine-years bringing the glamour the glitz, decadence and of the most famous night club in the world, Studio 54 in New York.

The Rum Runner, owned and managed by the Berrow Brothers, Paul and Michael had the vision to bring something new and intriguing to Birmingham. The likes of what no one had ever seen before – or since and 1978 saw the birth of the Rum Runner Club as we all remember it.

Before the new Romantic movement, Punk ruled the current youth rebellion. But once the New Romantic scene was established it quickly attracted, not just punks, but a wide demographic of young people hungry for something very different, a subculture with its roots in disco where positivity, celebration, acceptance, togetherness, fashion and fun were the only things that mattered.

It soon became known as the cult with no name, and as the word spread, people travelled from all over the country to indulge in a hedonistic Saturday night full of fun, frills and spills.

Musical legends such as Black Sabbath, Boy George, Roy Wood, UB40 and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Steve Strange, Midgure, Marc Almond and the Beat frequented one of the coolest scene’s in the country as Duran Duran became the Rum Runner’s house band and the rest – as we all know is history.

So, it is only right that after 40-years on the 16th of December 2022 Birmingham Civic Society honoured the site of the Rum Runner club with an iconic blue plaque. Celebrating its musical and cultural heritage and its iconic status in a city that has produced some of the biggest bands on the planet, such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and ELO.

Duran Duran, the Rum Runners most famous band started their amazing journey there in 1978 after bringing in a demo tape to the club and were offered a rehearsal space by the Berrow brothers and as the Rum Runner’s house band as well as working in the Rum Runner. Nick Rhodes, as DJ, John Taylor, as doorman, Roger Taylor as a glass collector and Andy Taylor as a chef.  Within two years Duran Duran released the single Planet Earth, their breakthrough record, seeing them play Madison Square Gardens in New York to 20,000 fans just four-years later.

Sadly, in 1987 the Rum Runner club was demolished, but the site of the Rum Runner is where the momentous occasion of unveiling the blue plaque happened in a room full of dedicated Duran fans, regular Rum Runner clubbers, Paul Berrow, his family, friends, DJ’s musicians, Rum Runner staff and a generation of Rum Runner club goers. As well as the clubbers who were too young to go to the Rum Runner at the time. But desperately wish they had been part of the legacy and experienced the Rum Runner first hand and listening intently to the colourful stories and amazing encounters.

Neil remembers the first time he went to the Rum Runner, ‘I knew nothing about the club, my friend dragged me along, I went and never looked back, it was amazing. It was 1980, and I saw Duran Duran play there. At the time Birmingham was dark and dinghy and just concrete and tower blocks. I came to the Rum Runner and it was jaw dropping, people with wild hairstyles, boys with make up on. I went to the club to see Duran Duran half a dozen time, secretly putting eyeliner on and sneaking out the house before my parents saw me.’

Lucy, was just 13 when she fell in love with Duran Duran, itching to understand first-hand the stories of the Rum Runner, but never old enough to go. She says: ‘Before the Rum Runner was demolished I visited the site pressing my hand against the walls of the club, regretting never being able to experience the joy in there, but feeling joyful at what it stood for.

Sean Williams, one of the DJ’s at the Rum Runner, remembers those days with absolute joy, ‘It was out of this world and I’m so glad I was part of it. I worked there from 1979 to 1983.  ‘I remember one night setting up my DJ gear and while I was waiting I did a bit of dancing as  I am a Jazz dancer. There was a guy cleaning the mirrors and will I was doing silhouette and spins the guy turns to me and says, “will you show me how to do that.” It was Simon Le Bon! I did show him and what a cool laid back guy he was. A genuine person and all about the music, it was always all about the music.’

Andrew Perry, a Rum Runner Super fan says, ‘I’m here because I truly believe the Rum Runner club was the best club in the world. I have so many fond memories of the club. I was 17, when I first went the Rum Runner and became a regular so I had to be here today. Nobody had seen anything like it in Birmingham before. It was truly incredible. I was a bit reserved so I didn’t dress up like most of the clubbers, partly because I was too shy and partly,’ he smiles,’ because I didn’t want to get beaten up on the bus getting to the Rum Runner!’

Sharon says: I used to come to the Rum Runner club regularly and I loved it. I use to wear my black leotard and a velvet cape with sequins. I could wear anything in the club, I felt safe there, it was almost like a private member’s club. All the stars went and I was so lucky to have been part of the scene.’

Izzy, Paul Burrows wife of five years says: ‘Paul has been so excited about the blue plaque unveiling and of course he had to be here. It was a huge part of his life. He gave all his energy to the club and wanted to make it the best club it could be. He often tells me about the club and they are fantastic stories. The blue plaque is recognition of all the hard work that he put into it.’

 

Al Bear, doorman at the club says: ‘I worked at the Rum Runner from the beginning. The whole concept of club culture changed in Birmingham. We wouldn’t let just any one in, you had to dress in a certain way. If people came to the club in a suit, we’d turn them away telling them to take the suit off, dress in something different –  stand out. That’s how the New Romantic movement started and the rest is history. I was on the door and worried parents would drop their kids off at the club and ask me to look out for them, we’d let parents in to have a look to reassure them. Guys weren’t allowed to grab girls and ask them to dance. It was a very respectable place with a very relaxed atmosphere. I worked with Paul and Michael for seven years – it was amazing. It was as much about attitude as it was about fashion – everyone was accepted and everyone’s heart was in the club, it was all about the scene.’

 

And as the evening progressed and BCS listened to fascinating stories about the Rum Runner it was time to unveil the blue plaque. With an introductory speech from BCS chairman Michael Butler, celebrating the Rum Runner’s history and heritage and BCS’s dedication to marking Birmingham’s iconic, places and people. It was a proud moment for all Brummies’ knowing our great city has been and still is a great exporter of music and cutting edge culture.

Followed by speech by the Lord mayor of Birmingham, Cllr Maureen Cornish and introducing Paul Burrows to unveil the plaque.

 

 

Paul Burrows, says: ‘I have to thank everyone for coming, it’s such a warm welcome. I’d like to thank the teams of people in the Birmingham Civic Society who have recognised the uniqueness of the club. It’s very humbling.

‘When I was 16, I would clean the dishes in the club on a Sunday morning and that was my first experience of working in the hospitality industry. My family gave me that job to start me off and teach me the ropes. In time my brother and I took the club over in 1978 and were inspired by what we had seen in New York at Studio 54. But not to be underestimated, it was all the people that came to the club, it was team work, we all contributed, all of us – and I thank you.’

Clearly moved by the occasion, he had one clear message, how honoured he was that the club was being recognised with a blue plaque, what an important and exhilarating time it was in his life and how proud he was to know that the Rum Runner has been honoured by the city.

 

 

As Paul and the Lord Mayor unveiled the plaque there were huge cheers and a loud round of applause for what signified a momentous moment.

The plaque reads: ‘The Rum Runner, 1964 – 1987. Run by the Berrow family on this site. Home of Duran Duran who worked, rehearsed and performed here as well as generations of Birmingham bands, musicians, DJ’s, fashion designers and clubbers who played, danced and hug out here. 2022

 Jez Collins, the founder of the Birmingham Music Archive and a member of the BCS Heritage Committee says: ‘It’s fantastic that the Rum Runner is being recognised with a blue plaque from the Birmingham Civic Society. We’ve had the incredible Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies that highlighted the city’s amazing music which Duran Duran performed at.’

 John Gale, BCS’s blue plaque designer and part of the BCS Heritage Committee then presented Paul with the silicone cast of the blue plaque to keep – the only one in the world. A truly special memento Paul was honoured to accept.

 

There has never been another night-club in Birmingham or indeed the country with the type of history the Rum Runner has. Where being there felt like you were at the centre of the world, where you watched musical history being made, where the excitement was palpable. The scene was like no other experienced before, where the fashion was outlandish and exuberant and the clubbers were like a family, where difference was embraced, togetherness was celebrated and music was everything.

How lucky you were to be part of that generation – to be part of that legacy!

 

 

James say: ‘What a fantastic honour for the Rum Runner to get a Blue Plaque.

At 71 years old I can still remember the the club well before Duran Duran came on the scene. I practically lived there. I remember the booths and stage. The trek from broad Street down the ramp walk where the doormen would check to see if you had a jacket and tie.

Straight ahead was the cloak room and turning right into the dance floor with the low stage on the left. In the centre was an island bar that had 360° access to customers. I thought it was a great idea. I met many a girl for a date at that club and the music was always top quality. It’s also interesting that on closing we would exit and head for the top of broad Street up by Five-Ways. There was a Greek restaurant with a 24/7 cafe next door called “The saints and sinners” where clubbers would go to continue the night. (More down market than the tow rope across the road.)

Everyone who was anyone would turn up for a sandwich and a coffee, also in the back there was a clandestine disco for any who dared. At the very top of Broad St. There was a strip club that kicked out at 1am and all the strippers and punters would also come in.

The police treated it like a foreign embassy and what went on in there stayed in there.

But Broad Street has an iconic status and The rum runner was at the heart of it and will never be forgotten. Great memories indeed.”

Happy memories from James.

If you have memories of the Rum Runner you would like to share with BCS please email them to justinemarklew1710@gmail.com – thank you.