Yesterday we heard the sad news that Jordan Mooney (born Pamela Rooke) has died at the age of 66.
Jordan’s often been called an icon, a punk creator, the Queen of Punk or the original punk stylist etc, and so this is one of the most significant blog posts we’ve had to do. Punkgirldiaries doesn’t often publish writing, blogs or interviews by other people, but we do value and respect the experience, opinions and stories of those who are older and, more importantly, who were there at the time.
Yesterday, we were very honoured when writer Jon Savage offered to let us publish the complete transcript of his 1988 interview with Jordan. Most followers of punk history will know Jon’s key work, England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, which sets the scene, gives the details and tells the whole story of punk’s beginnings. Jon’s interview with Jordan is used at various points in his 600-page text, but much of his interview with Jordan is previously unpublished. We hope that readers appreciate the cultural importance of Jordan and of Jon’s wide-ranging conversation with her. Most of all, we’re so pleased to be granted the chance to read and share this extensive document, and our best wishes go out to anyone who knew Pamela, at this sad time. It’s not full of photos and it is a long interview. It’s intended for the devotees, the scholars and those who want to get a full picture.
If you reblog, publish or quote any of this interview, please credit Jon Savage, original interview 1988 and link to this punkgirldiaries.com blog.
Interview with Jordan by Jon Savage 09.03.88
Transcript: Marc Issue Robinson
Jon: Can I start with a boring one, and ask how you got involved in the shop to begin with?
I wore a skirt in Brighton one day and someone asked me if I’d bought it at Let It Rock in London, and I’d never heard of the place.
Jon: What sort of skirt was it?
It was a fifties skirt, with musical notes done in gold filigree. Watermarked, moire… whatever it’s called. I asked them where this shop was, cos I thought if I’m making this stuff up myself down here, scraping around, why not go up there and see if they’ve got anything to sell me direct, rather than search around for things. It was an original skirt, but someone was doing this stuff up in London, it was new. So already I was working on a parallel, before I’d ever heard of them. It must have been ’73 to ’74. I went up there and it was closed. The next time I went someone was putting up this big pink sign saying ‘Sex’ on the door, and I went in and I was floored. I saw the manager, Michael Collins and I was pushing myself, I really wanted to work there. I was working in Harrods at the time, selling designer stuff. Velvet jackets and things like that. I never heard any more. I left Harrods and I got a call one afternoon from Michael Collins saying could I come and help for the afternoon. He was really desperate for someone, and that afternoon sort of blossomed, and I was there for seven years. It wasn’t even a try-out, I suppose I just fitted. It was really based on how you looked. It was pretty important how you looked then.
Jon: You grew up in Seaford, did you?
Yeah, I decided I’d go and see the big wide world and go up to London. I had an interview with Harrods. My mum said I’d never get the job and I did, she said I was too outrageous, with a pink and red mohican haircut at school
Jon: Where did all that come from? From what you were telling me you had that shaved head, Mia Farrow look, at the age of twelve. It must have been very unusual then.
I never took a woman’s magazine and skim it for ideas, but when Mia Farrow had her hair cut short it was quite unusual, and I stole that idea, and I saw an interview with Keith at Smile, and I took all my pocket money and went and got a mohican hairstyle. Short but not shaved, and long and bright pink here, with two red tails coming down the back. I must have been very naïve cos I went to school thinking it would be alright, but it wasn’t. I was sixteen, so that would have been ’71. I was a prefect at school at the time. I didn’t want someone who was nasty to get it, and so I went for it. I just let them do what they wanted – that thing about getting the power and using it to your own advantage. I lost that because of the hair, and teachers came to the house to discuss my future; it was a big debate. I had to wear this headscarf, but I got around that, I’d wear the scarf at school, and when the bell went, I’d run to the gate and take the headscarf off, and just stand there until everyone had left. The headmaster said that I was corrupting people. I got a really good report from my headmaster, but only because I stood up to him. I had real serious arguments with him, that no-one else did.
Jon: Where did you used to buy your clothes round here?
I used to go to these second hand shops, and I found this place that sold original fifties shoes, never been worn, they’d been stocked away somewhere, all size 2 or 3, and I had a size 2 foot, so I got all these great shoes, turquoise leather sling backs, the original ones with the elastic running around the inside.
Jon: Was that in Seaford or Brighton?
Jon: Did you always go to Brighton for amusement?
Yeah, I went to a lot of discos there. I cut my teeth on Brighton; its quite an outrageous place, always has been. If you could hold your ground in Brighton and people knew who you were, then you were somebody. When I came up to London I went to the Masquerade Club in Earl’s Court, a gay club, very outrageous even by today’s standards. The gay thing was very different then anyway, there were no clones.
It was difficult for a woman to get into those clubs, the male gay scene was very insular. They were very worried about women coming into their clubs, and the only way you got in was by how you looked, if you looked crazy and outrageous you were alright, you weren’t a straight girl going down there for a laugh.
Jon: Did you go to these places because you dressed outrageous and you were looking for somewhere different, or did you dress outrageous because you wanted to go to these places?
The most popular question people ever ask me, especially when the punk thing started, was, it must take a lot of guts for you to look like that. But it never crossed my mind. If its a natural expression, like an artist painting a picture, then there’s no question of being anyone but yourself. It so happened that I liked good dance music, and the only places you could get that was those gay clubs.
Jon: Can you remember what they played?
Things like Rock Your Baby, Rock The Boat – lots of Bowie. I was a big Bowie fan, and a big Rod Stewart fan before that. Big Roxy fan. Probably the best concert I ever went to was the Bowie and Roxy double bill at the Rainbow. I’ve still got the original Roxy badges from that. Pink with blue writing.
Jon: What were the boys wearing at the Masquerade?
The wedge haircut, high waisted Oxford bags.
Jon: You were going there while you were working at Harrods?
Yeah, I got away with murder at Harrods, cos I used to wear green foundation and stuff, I don’t quite know how I kept my job there, now I think about it. I think because you weren’t self conscious about it, that sort of attitude gets you a long way. Its not as though you’re checking people’s reaction to it.
I think because I did ballet for many years, it gives you a sense of physical confidence when you’ve done a tight discipline like that. Apart from that, I liked to treat myself like a painting. I didn’t consider that people would be offended or outraged by it. It really never crossed my mind. It’s got to do with the way you carry yourself and the way you walk. If you slouch and look like that, people think you’re a tramp. But if you carry yourself right, that’s style, the way you carry yourself.
I went to ballet school in Eastbourne, I started when I was about four and carried on until I was about eighteen. I know every dancer says they would have liked to have gone to the Royal Ballet school, but I had a really bad car accident when I was fifteen, smashed my pelvis in three places, and that put a stop to that.
Jon: When you were growing up here, was it solitary, or did you have friends, or did you get a bad reaction from people?
I don’t remember any of my friends being embarrassed by the way I looked; you would think that would be the first reaction. That your friends would think you were an embarrassment or a liability to them, if you looked so different from everyone else. At school, I didn’t want to make too many friends, I was very strict about my lifestyle, and I had a few very close friends. I was also quite tough. I used to protect other schoolmates who were having trouble. I would be called upon to beat somebody up after school, on behalf of somebody else.
Jon: I found a picture of you taken by a woman called Robin Beech, of you doing a ballet with Andrew Logan. I might put that in the book, it was such a good picture. That was the summer of ’76, wasn’t it, one of their parties?
It was about then, it was the last night I saw a very close friend of mine who was killed on the road a couple of days later. So its got very strong memories for me, that. John Schlesinger was there.
Jon: You did that incredible scene for Derek as well, didn’t you, in Jubilee. That was beautiful.
It was totally unrehearsed, as well, that was one take. It was different music to the final soundtrack version, and I just danced. Its difficult to dance on points, on concrete, as well.
Jon: It’s a great juxtaposition of images.
Its one of my favourite bits of the film, that dance, very peaceful.
Jon: Who was working in the shop when you started?
There was Michael there; Vivienne came in now and then. Malcolm was away in New York, with the New York Dolls. He didn’t know of me being employed till he phoned the shop one day and I answered the phone. When he came back, we introduced ourselves, but he wasn’t involved with my employment at that time.
Jon: That must have been the very early days of Sex. I don’t suppose Vivienne was designing very much then.
A lot of things were still drapes, beautiful fifties petticoats with bows on, a few sort of lam- things, creepers, penny loafers, the remnants of Let It Rock, and the vinyl and rubber wear. There were some leather trousers. The shop became quite famous for them, because our leather trousers were better than anywhere else.
Jon: The impression I get is that in the early days was that there weren’t many kids hanging about, it was quite a specialised business.
That’s right. There were a lot of teddy boys for their drapes. Whatever Malcolm and Vivienne have done, they’ve done properly, and there were certain dress codes that had to be strictly adhered to. They wanted certain things out of their clothes and Vivienne could provide that, so you were guaranteed a certain clientele if you kept your standards up. But nothing really broke until, don’t ask me when, but Honey magazine came in and did a tiny little piece with a picture of an ordinary girl wearing one of those I Groaned With Pain t-shirts on, with a split across it, and gently gave the impression that it was a place to go and see. That there was this shop with rubber walls and chicken wire and that it was worth going to see the shop and the shop assistant, which was me. I think the quote was, “if you don’t want to buy, just go and look.” They were very impressed with how avant garde it was.
Jon: Weren’t the teds put off by the leather gear and the perverts?
Not really, but then the rubber men who came in weren’t put off by the other stuff. Never was the shop just one thing. I know the rubber men did want privacy, they were very introverted about their fetish, but if you’ve got a certain amount of decorum, you can get away with it. There was a metal bed there that just had a rubber sheet on it, just an old hospital bed. It was very strange, it was a strange shape, that shop, with that pole in the middle of it, I don’t know why that pole was there. Maybe it was holding the building up.
Jon: I got a history of the shop which was really interesting. It used to be something called Hung On You, and then it was Mr Freedom, then it was Paradise Garage. It has a good social history; its always been something atmospheric. So there wasn’t any problem between the Teds and the leather men? What were the leather and rubber men like? Businessmen?
The rubber men were a mixed bunch; we had regular customers who would have things made to order for them, whole rubber suits, which were very expensive. There was a rubber screen there, and there was this terrible kafuffle once when someone was putting on these rubber pants, knickers, briefs, behind it – a woman, I think it was – and we could hear this terrible slapping against flesh and her elbow bashed the screen, and the screen came over, and the shop was quite full, and there she was with these pants halfway up her legs. She screamed. I suppose it happens to everyone. We had to go out of the shop cos we were laughing so much.
You’d get people coming in wanting personal attention, or wanting you to try the things on,
Jon: Did you get any famous people coming in? Was the Reginald Bosanquet story true?
Which one? He came in, yeah, he bought a pair of leather pants. He lived just round the corner, used to pop in all the time. He bought me a bunch of flowers once, we were in the florists at the same time, he said, you look so beautiful, and he turned to the assistant and said give her a bunch of whatever she wants. He wasn’t shockable.
Jon: Did you get anybody else coming in?
When David Bowie lived just off the Kings Road, Angie used to come in, with Zowie. We used to get the odd model type with long legs, would come in and try the stuff on, and usually not buy it. People used to like to try things on.
Jon: Didn’t you used to get it slimed on?
No! One of the funniest stories was when we had the Cambridge Rapist t-shirts in, and they found out that the Cambridge Rapist wore one of those zip up masks that we made, we sold them. Michael was absolutely convinced that one of our regular customers was the Cambridge Rapist. He phoned the police up, and it wasn’t him at all. They found out later that his was a home made mask. People were very offended if you wore a Cambridge Rapist t-shirt; I got a lot of trouble on the buses at that time. They didn’t like people wearing them.
Jon: When did that stuff start to come in?
We had those Vive Le Rock t-shirts. I don’t know if this is true, but Malcolm made all those t-shirts for one of those Wembley teddy boy concerts and worked out that one in three people would buy them, when in fact in was more like one in thirty. So he was stuck with all these t-shirts and he made them into pants. We had thousands of them, they lasted for years.
Jon: What about the square t-shirts?
That came from Valerie Solanas, quotes from that book. Those were really one of the first t-shirts that were later to be seized, that the police found so offensive. I remember the original artwork coming into the shop for that.
Jon: Who did that?
I don’t know, I thought it was Jamie but he didn’t do that one. Then there was the American footballer. The real t-shirt boom came after the Sex Pistols came along. That was the vehicle to sell the band. I was interested in the way the designer stuff slowly took over from the original two specialised codes, teds and rubber, then slowly this other stuff coming in, which I suppose was Vivienne getting more into designing. Also the kids were getting more into rubber, and the shoes which were a major feature, the stilettos, the high court shoes were very popular, once you got that market, you had another market for selling clothes, the Teds weren’t an ongoing thing.
Jon: Did Glen work at the shop ever?
Glen did work at the shop for a little while, we had these stand-ins when somebody was on holiday. Sid worked with me for a little while. He was useless as a shop assistant. He used to be so scruffy. I used to take real pride in the way I looked when I went to work. I kept the job because of the way I looked and because I could do the job. If I was no good at selling I don’t think I would have been there very long.
Jon: Was your job partly to weed out the people who weren’t enthusiastic or committed? People tell stories about going along there and being terrified.
Yeah, people were terrified of coming in. I’d heard reports from people who later became friends, that people wouldn’t go in because of me, that I wouldn’t say anything to them, I’d be horrible
Jon: Why was that?
It was just my attitude. I thought I looked better than anyone else. I was very introverted, I know people thought I was an exhibitionist, but I was pretty stand-offish. Even today I don’t take pictures smiling, because I think I look better when I don’t smile. I felt powerful, and I think I looked powerful, I know I looked very intimidating. People were very worried, even the guy who eventually became my husband was very worried about coming in to see me. Adam was the same. By that time I’d built this reputation for myself.
Jon: You just wore on the train what you wore in the shop?
Yeah, and I didn’t wear a coat or anything. Whatever I wore at work, because after I got the job I moved back here so I had to commute. I lost my flat in Sloane Square, Drayton Place, so I had to come back here and commute. I had a lot of trouble when I did it but there we are. What did I expect? The reaction was mixed, sometimes I’d get on a train and all I had on was stockings and suspenders and a top, that was it. People say it must have taken guts, but if it needed guts to do it, you wouldn’t do it. You would look stupid creeping around the streets looking like that, worrying about what people were going to say. The fear part didn’t come into it.
Some of the commuters used to go absolutely wild, they loved it. Then you’d get ladies who’d say I was corrupting their son, and would I move? And I’d say, “well, you were here last, you move”, or I asked the boy, “Am I corrupting you?” I even got the whole carriage once, “put your hands up if you think I’m corrupting this boy!” And everyone laughed, nobody put their hands up. The woman was absolutely furious, she went red with rage: “If I wanted my son to go and see a stripper on a train, I’d go and pay for him to see one!” – crazy. There’s always one of those. That particular woman got up and left. Some of the men got rather hot under the collar, paper on the lap, yeah, there was absolutely nowhere you could go where people wouldn’t say something. It was just too blatant for them. People up on scaffolding would shout, there’d be tourists running, trying to get photos. This is long before it all burst, taking pictures of punks and what have you. I threw a camera out of the train one day. I know that German tourists are renowned for it, but they are really rude.
Jon: What other sort of things did you wear?
I used to go to work in that vinyl leotard and fishnets, and once in just fishnets and those big mohairs with satin padding at the front. Turquoise. And the Teddy Tinling stuff from that picture I showed you. I had a little tennis skirt with tennis racquets up the side, very very short. I went to a party that Lady Ann Lampton had for Andy Warhol, and I stuck some black fringing on them. Those tops started to creep in, the very fine, almost mohair stuff with the vinyl sleeves attached to it. I don’t think it was actually material cos you could pull it apart eventually. It was like a backing material.
Jon: I’ve seen one, I think Simon Rivers has got one, and he’s got a lovely top in parachute silk, with ‘Revolting Things’, written on the tits. I think it was Lesbian Porn.
Vivienne was very clever at making things out of stuff like old parachute material
Jon: Was it her that chose the slogans?
You’d have to ask Malcolm or Vivienne, I don’t know what went through their heads at the time. You’ll find there’s a lot of lesbian and gay porn and the Cambridge rapist, Brian Epstein, that’s one of Malcolm’s obsessions, gay Jewish managers, Larry Parnes.
Jon: So when did the kids start to come and hang around the shop, and who were they?
Well, Marco was an early one, I suppose the kids from Bromley were quite early.
Jon: Did they come before the band had started, or later?
It’s hard to remember … nobody was much wearing the stuff, out. That was the great thing, you could go out and not see anyone with the same outfit as you had on.
Jon: Did a lot of Michael’s gay friends hang about in the shop?
A few gay black guys, but not really, there was a guy called Reece who used to come in. There was a bloke, Italian or something used to be the DJ down the Sombrero. The Sombrero was another one of our hangouts. This was a long time after the Masquerade, which just outraged itself eventually, it was closed down cos it was a public nuisance. I think it turned into the Pink Pig or something. But then it was Sombrero time. At first they wouldn’t let me in, cos Amadeo, I think his name was who used to run it, he was very particular.
Jon: When were you first aware of this supposed band? Were you aware of Steve and Paul, and Glen?
Malcolm took me to somewhere in Shepherds Bush to a big old rehearsal studio – Hammersmith, Riverside – and they were just called QT Jones then, it was Steve and Paul and a guy called Wally. I went down there and saw them rehearse. They were very rock’n’roll, Status Quo, type. Sid used to come in. He was a very serious man, very concerned about his position in life at that time. Worried about passing exams and stuff. It was amazing how when he had the Sex Pistols as a goal, his whole attitude to life changed. Overnight, almost. And John used to hang around.
Jon: There was John Gray and John and Sid, did they come in individually?
No they used to hang around together, they were very group-y in those days. All the Bromley lot used to show up together. The good thing about the shop was that people didn’t have enough money to buy what they really wanted. But they used to just hang around, like the old 2 I’s, I guess, from the old Tin Pan Alley days, where Tommy Steele used to hang out. The shop became a bit like that … you could never just buy something in the shop, it was always, “Why are you buying it?” I remember once I’d just managed to get someone to buy a whole expensive outfit and she turned around and asked them what was the motivation behind it. I think they ended up not buying it in the end, it got too heavy for them, they just wanted to buy the clothes. They didn’t want to have a book written about them.
Jon: Did Chrissie Hynde work in the shop?
Not while I was there. She might have helped out before I got there. But Chrissie and Viv fell out quite badly, didn’t they? And that rubbed off on me, cos Viv didn’t want her in the shop, and I had to eject her one day.
Jon: Did you often have to do that?
Only people who were shoplifting. I had face to face arguments with people in the shop, the t-shirts aren’t as good as they used to be, the quality people used to come in drunk. We used to have the Road Rats come in, those biker guys, try and knock things off. I actually chased somebody up to the Fulham Road once, on my own. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I caught him; he’d just come out of prison and he’d taken all these old clothes off, and left them in the changing room and put a whole new lot on, with shoes, and just run out. What do you do, strip somebody in the street? I didn’t actually ever catch him. I was screaming all the way for someone to help, but did anyone help? I could have caught him, too, I used to be a good runner. He had a pair of bondage trousers on, I could have caught him really easily, his legs were tied together, but I stopped in the road and thought, what do I do when I catch him? We had knife attacks as well, a skinhead came in and drew a knife on me and Michael. All sorts of things
Jon: There was always two of you in there?
Yeah, just about always.
Jon: Monday to Saturday?
Yeah. We had a spell in ’78 or ’79 when we tried opening later in the morning and staying open later in the evening, which didn’t change things dramatically.
Jon: So you were aware of these kids. What were they like, John and Sid, when they came in?
Like I say, Sid was very conservative. Being in the Sex Pistols changed their lives quite dramatically. John was always a bit negative about most things. He used to argue just for the sake of it. He did remind me years later, he saw me wear a safety pin once and that’s what gave him the idea. Which is nice, cos I would never have remembered. They were admiring really. Jeremy was another one, he was very keen buyer of the clothes, and there was Pete Burns, he used to buy loads of stuff. He’d come down from Liverpool with wads of money and buy a load of stuff in one go. Then we did a lot of mail order later as well. In Sex, then it got bigger in Seditionaries, then of course it went into wholesale.
Jon: They must have been making the stuff right until the doors opened.
It was never made on the premises, it was all ready when it got there. There was a lot of out-workers who used to do it. The mohairs were such a big seller, they used to come in loads of big bags.
Jon: So were you aware of the Sex Pistols getting together?
Yeah. That thing about auditioning Johnny Rotten: I do actually remember him standing by the jukebox. I know its a story that’s probably been twisted through time, but I remember him standing by the jukebox and being asked to do something – and him saying he could only play a violin, out of tune. I distinctly remember him saying that. But I can’t remember for the life of me, where I first saw him play. There was Andrew Logan’s, and they played at the RCA.
Jon: They played at St Martin’s. Did you go to that?
Yeah. I can’t remember a thing about it, but I know I was there. I remember Notre Dame really well. There were all these people desperate to get in, it was like a riot. That shop did create such a great buzz about the band, it was a great outlet to let people know what was going on. They’re playing tonight.
Jon: Weren’t they formed to promote the clothes, pretty much?
Well, what came first, the chicken or the egg? The clothes were a pretty important part of their makeup, but also a lot of things were sold because of them. Initially, I think they were just a vehicle, I don’t think truthfully Malcolm knew what was going to happen with them.
Jon: Malcolm was trying things all the time, wasn’t he, to see what went? Teddy boys, rubber wear, a bit of this, a bit of that?
Oh yeah. But there was always some Vivienne could always rationalise what she was doing, she could always make it into some political statement about the world as it is today. Me and Michael really just saw the clothes, I wasn’t interested in what was behind well, you can go on and on, can’t you, about what’s in someone’s mind, and why they designed it. The customers didn’t want to know that.
Jon: It seems like a mixture of accidents and planning to me. The whole business?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people interact so well as Malcolm and Vivienne making a garment. They really worked together so well. If they were making a boot, Vivienne would have the [technical shoemaker’s term of some kind, by the sound of it] made, and the leather, and many times I’d see them around their flat discussing a particular design together, and even though Vivienne had done so much of the groundwork, Malcolm would give that little touch to it that made it work. They had a great relationship, their minds worked well together. I could never quite see either of them designing on their own, put it that way. It caused a lot of arguments too.
The shop became a hive of industry, with film crews coming in. Once there wasn’t a day went by when there wasn’t a film crew from somewhere came in. It was madness really, customers trying to buy things and there you are I was a great promoter, the best vehicle to promote the shop, in Forum and all that, from The Times to Forum, to Newsweek
Jon: You also did specialist sex stuff, didn’t you?
All that rubber gear, yeah, I did whole sessions with all that on. Dressing For Pleasure, that was another film that I – and Malcolm – was in
Jon: The John Sampson one? I’ve never seen that. Was Malcolm in that?
Yeah, very self-consciously flicking through the racks of rubber pants.
But I’ve fallen out with Vivienne loads of times over the years and always either be asked, or go back, one or the other.
Jon: She tends to be a bit school ma’am-ish?
You couldn’t have said anything more appropriate. Vivienne was a teacher, and she has never ever lost that attitude, of teaching and wanting to teach. That’s why people like Debbi and Tracey who were so young, they were the perfect vehicles for Vivienne to sculpt, to teach, to nurture. She is the perpetual teacher.
Jon: What was Malcolm before the band started?
He used to work in the shop sometimes. He was such a laugh. He used to pretend he’d given us our wages when he hadn’t. We used to make clothes to order, and once I’d ordered a pair of vinyl trousers, and somebody came in and their trousers weren’t ready, and he told me to take mine off and sell them to somebody! We used to have huge rows:
“I’m not taking my trousers off!”
” You take ’em off!” I even walked out of the shop
Jon: And what was Sex like in the King’s Road at that time? Was it very different from everything else?
Absolutely. I know the Kings Road has always been such a chameleon-like place, it’s never stayed the same for more than six months. I don’t remember when BOY came along, but they were the poor cousins to the Sex shop.
Jon: Were you aware of ACME Attractions? Jeanette Lee?
Jeanette? God, that takes me back. All those people were terribly in awe. Jeanette was completely in awe of me and Michael. She used to follow me around like a little lost doll. You were the bee’s knees when you worked in that shop, you had The Look. I’m not talking about the clothes, just The Look.
Jon: When did you start growing the beehive? In the early pictures its still quite low, isn’t it?
Yeah. If you trace all the looks I’ve done, you see how they began and how they grew up. I think I already had the beehive when I went for the job. I had that that done by Robert Lobetta who worked at Ricci Burns in the Kings Road. Best hairdresser in the world. I still use him now, when I can find him. I was asked to do those TV shows, like Today, I had to go on that live, about two months before the Pistols went on there. That’s what I meant about the disrespect that people have, I think Luciana was on there as well. It was the most outrageously dressed people in London, and Bill Grundy just went down the line and picked Little Nell was on as well. I can only remember Nell and Lulu and me, but there were about twelve people.
Jon: The other Andrew Logan people? Duggie? Kevin?
I don’t know if Kevin was there, Duggie might have been.
Jon: Freaks Night?
Yeah, they just took the people who looked the craziest and put the rest at the back. They were so rude. Those are all rubbish, they said, right in front of them. It was live TV; they gave you a cross to stand on, and I turned my bum to the camera and said, “Vive Le Cock”. That got them right pissed off.
Jon: The beehive was growing up?
That got wider and wilder; that was all through the Sex shop. And all the vinyl and rubber. I used to bend over and lacquer it all, and then mould it like you would a sculpture. A lot of people used to ask cos they could never get it quite the same.
Jon: I was interested in the idea of making yourself into a sculpture, an art work.
If you got a really good hairdresser and you could tell them what you wanted, like I could, and be persistent, you got what you wanted in the end. I had people up til twelve o’clock at night in hairdressers, calling up the old style hairdressers who did ballroom dancers, saying, I am at a loss what to do next.
Jon: It was quite a fifties look, wasn’t it?
Yeah. At one stage I used to sculpt it and then cut it. It looked useless the next day, but great for one night.
Jon: I remember thinking you were like the mirror image of Mrs Thatcher, there was a doppelganger thing going on, you were bringing all the repression that Thatcher symbolised out, which is why you got such a reaction. That’s what I found interesting about the shop later, bringing all that English repression out.
I probably felt the same as you because at one stage I used to wear twin set and pearls with all the geometric makeup and slides. That’s the ultimate diversity. At one stage I used to wear Pierre Cardin outfits with my hair like that, to have the two things on one body, really, and it worked really well.
Jon: You had the twin set in Jubilee.
That’s right, and I carried that on. People found it very perplexing. The look was very rigid, the hair was always very tightly controlled. The makeup was.
Jon: That was the first makeup you did?
Yeah. I nicked that from a guy called Serge Luytens, who used to work for Christian Dior, and he did a Cleopatra makeup very similar to the stereotype Cleopatra, with the one line here, and I made it into …
Jon: A highway!
Yeah! It was a question of finding good products, you had to find a good black, and I passed that on to Siouxsie Banshee, who didn’t know where to get a good black. And finding good pencils that didn’t run, things like that. You had to keep your skin very good, when I wore that white makeup with the geometric, if your skin wasn’t good, you’d had it. White makeup shows every flake, if your skin’s dry, you just look like an old piece of plaster cast. You had to keep yourself in pretty good nick.
Jon: When did you change from the Cleopatra to the geometric stuff?
It might be a good idea to look at the book I’ve lent you. I know the first time I wore that, there’s a picture in my folio. It was an experiment. People might think those lines were random, but it took me three months to work out where those lines should go. I had a line across here first, very Mondrian. I experimented with the curvature of my face until I found the right line. The prototype of that was quite useless. The idea behind the hair was daffodils growing out of grass, and that’s how I explained it to my hairdresser.
Jon: When did you wear that out first, the premiere?
I don’t remember. I do remember the first time I wore the bondage outfit, in the shop.
Jon: I found out the first time John wore the bondage stuff, when they went to Paris, that was the unveiling. The band wore it. They went to Paris to do a gig, the Chalet du Lac. Did you go to that?
Yeah, me and Vivienne went together. It was a scream. We got wined and dined by Jean Charles Castel de Bergac. Nice man. If you can imagine me and Viv turning up at Gatwick, at the wrong terminal, miles away, not a hope, couldn’t get on the Metro, didn’t know what we were doing. Where we were going. Nobody knew we were turning up, it was supposed to be a surprise. It was really exciting. And going to discos – Malcolm and Vivienne and the Sex Pistols and I went to a really straight disco. They were jiving, we were! Me and Malcolm dancing together, I remember that.
Jon: So to go back to the band, didn’t you perform with them a few times?
The first time I remember Malcolm being really excited, we did that Andrew Logan thing, and Malcolm came rushing up to me saying, the NME are here! He was really excited. Its funny to think of it now. The NME are actually here. Do something, Jords! He wanted them to get a bit of outrageous publicity. He said, “take your clothes off, girl”. And I said, “naw, I’m not going to”. He said, “go on, we haven’t got much time”. I said, “I’ll do it if John says. If John knows, and we can do some sort of act. I’ll do it if John rips them off!” Which is what happened. I jumped onstage and John ripped my clothes off. And that was all for publicity, Malcolm asked me to do it and I did it, after a bit of persuading. It was funny, actually, he broke the zip on the back of this polo neck leotard, and a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes!
Jon: What did the audience think?
Well, as you know, the Andrew Logan crowd were pretty unshockable, so we were in good company to do it, but they used it as a poster, and I think it did appear in NME.
Jon: Did you ever go up onstage with them again?
Malcolm asked me to go to that So It Goes thing, to see if I could lend a bit of ambience. We went to that and caused a bit of just the other evening, two weeks ago, Clive James was on TV still going on about that, on Wogan. Still going on about that night. They got our backs up, you see, Tony Wilson, who I have since realised is a very nice man, he turns up with clogs on to greet us, there was another band on wearing blue satin suits, big lapels, all the kids were drinking tins of coke, and you’ve got Clive James who’s a terrible Australian straightie, being terribly huffy and shocked, so we just waded in. I called him a ‘baldy old Sheila’. And John just called him ‘Bruce’ for an hour. They got my back up because they wouldn’t let me wear this swastika armband, right, there was the biggest do about it. They eventually put a piece of sticky tape over it. And there he is in 1988 still going on about it. They were talking about TV censorship. But our backs were up, that’s why the performance was so good. Those were the days when you could actually take advantage of that situation. Nils ripped all the buttons on my Anarchy shirt open. The band were just really pissed off. We’d already had an argument with this gentleman, they said they liked bands like Joni Mitchell, and you can imagine what John said, “you fucking arsehole”. They all started wading in. We realised we were like fish out of water, but there was definite ability there to make the whole show work for us. Peter Cook was on that as well, and he was great.
Jon: You could see Howard and Peter from Buzzcocks lurking, that was sweet. Do you remember any other of the gigs?
I remember the 100 Club, and we had a party at the old Paradise; it was typical. Malcolm gets this club, doesn’t let the people know what’s really going on, they had to clean the place out it was so filthy. There was no drinks licence there was only that two percent lager or whatever, it was run by a load of Maltese guys. Michael and I decided we’d do this punch, made of all this booze together, and we found people were disappearing through the night, they were just collapsing basically. It was 40p a mug, this stuff, and it was really potent. People kept coming back for more. It was really awful. The stage was tiny, with these chintzy curtains, round the back there was this notice, there were fines that they gave the strippers for doing things wrong onstage, if you were two minutes late, it was just a strip club [at this point a photo is discovered, poss. this gig, where John is wearing flares!] Anyway halfway through the evening, these Maltese guys turn up to check that we weren’t selling alcohol, cos the license was lost, and they were really not very well in the head people. Michael and I screamed out, “Drink the Evidence!” and about five of our friends and us drank the lot. All I remember is Mark Tabard came up to me, and he offered me a cigarette, “you wanna Kenzzz’tsss?” I never forgot that Kensitas, it was horrible.
Jon: Were the band drunk as well?
Yes. I think we had the best night ever, but people just collapsed. But it was typical Malcolm, not letting these guys know what was going on. They probably thought it was a folk group in there, or something.
Jon: Were you around when they gatecrashed colleges and stuff?
No, I don’t recall any of that.
Jon: You were really on hand when there was some sort of event going on.
Yeah. I went to the 100 Club a lot. There was a really great rivalry at that time, cos the BOY crowd were very much into the Clash, and we were the elitists, the Sex Pistols bunch, and we very much frowned on the Clash and a lot of the other bands that were around. When you look back on it, not many people made the most of that, did they? They didn’t capitalise on it. Even if it wasn’t the Sex Pistols, you’d think somebody else would have come along and made a few bucks out of it.
Jon: That’s what Jamie said disappointed him, that everybody thought there would be loads of other great bands would come up.
Yeah I remember distinctly we were at some funny club, and Jamie was there, just when the Sex Pistols had finished, I think the Ants were playing at this club, and Jamie said, “The Pistols have broken up, that’s it.” I was really shocked, but he said, “you know it wasn’t meant to last that long really.” But you would have thought that somebody would have had the insight to make a bit of money out of it before it all fell apart. I’m not purist about it, but there was nobody as good as the Sex Pistols, nobody else had a chance of vying for the top position.
Jon: Where do you think that “goodness” came from?
It came from the lyrics in the songs. Most of those punk groups started preaching, and I don’t think people want to hear a sermon set to music, and the Sex Pistols never preached, they made statements, they made them tough, they accused, and they hated and irritated and they got up people’s noses but they never told you what you should do, give you these rules, a lot of the other bands got preachy and high and mighty about themselves. And of course it came from the attitude and the clothes, but mostly it was a vital combination. John Rotten, really.
Jon: Where do you think John got that gift, that he had?
Its hard to say. He was a sceptic, but incredibly, underneath it all he was a very shy person, he wasn’t what I would call a sexual creature. He was very tentative about his sexual persona. There was all these girls after him and I don’t think he ever thought of doing what most bands do which is to pick up lots of girls. Sid was like that too, until he met Nancy he was quite naïve, really.
Jon: Would you say that either of them had gay tendencies, or were simply sexually unformed at that point?
Neither John nor Sid was sexually mature. Totally opposite to Steve.
Jon: Any gay-ness there, do you think?
Not that I ever saw, but because of John’s naivety, because he was such an innocent, there were connotations, we used to make jokes about it, not so much with Sid. Sid had more of a physical presence than John, who was a diminutive figure really. He didn’t see himself as attractive in any way, I suppose, if you were to ask him. He didn’t want the trappings of a normal person. He was John Rotten, and much the same as myself, I didn’t go out with anyone either, the image was everything, in a way.
Jon: I’ve seen pictures of John looking very beautiful, and I use that word with care, it is an androgynous sort of beauty, almost religious, funnily enough.
When he stayed at my flat, he used to take his trousers off in bed, he didn’t like to show his body. Whether he felt insecure, or insufficient, one never knows. When he performed, it was never masculine, was it? It was postured.
Jon: It was similar to yourself, although obviously you were more feminine.
People were scared out of their wits of me. Absolutely. I would have people write to me, adoring letters, I could do anything with them, I could kick them around the floor, they’d be my slave for life, but nobody would say it to my face. I never got anyone saying they’d like to take me out.
Jon: But you didn’t want it, did you?
No, because I exuded that, leave me alone-ness.
Jon: But there wasn’t much sex around in punk, was there?
It wasn’t a sexual thing, it was something that enticed people. That was the thing about the Sex Pistols, the fans would have done anything to get to them, like Nancy for instance, came over to England to catch a Sex Pistol. I found a postcard in my kitchen. She was writing home: I’ve got a Sex Pistol. It didn’t matter who it was, John, Sid. She made a play for John first and got nowhere, but it could have been anyone. She came over with that specific goal, I’m sure.
Jon: Who was John’s first girlfriend? Was it Nora?
I only remember Nora. That was another thing, mothering him. Sid was the only person who asked me out, in all that time. Came out with it, like a bloke would. Said, would I be his girlfriend?
Jon: I’ve got a letter written by Sid in 1976, and its so intelligent.
That goes back to the exam thing, he was very into the intellectual upbringing.
Jon: Was he a bit of a poser? Did he buy a lot of clothes?
He was a very adaptable person, he’d make a lot of things out of what he already had. Better than all of them. John would need someone to tell him what to do half the time. But Sid was very imaginative. Wearing garters outside of his jeans, I remember that very well.
Jon: And he had a padlock over his willy. Very symbolic.
That’s right. I think Nora was the best person for someone like John, and Nancy was the worst person for someone like Sid. If you’re not a sexual creature and you have your first sexual encounter with someone who’s going to have a hold over you, you hope its going to be a nice person. Nora was a nice person. We used to take the piss out of Nora terribly, cos she was such a dope, really. She didn’t fit in at all with that crowd, and John used to walk all over her. I’m sure they’re very happy now. In those days, John used her a lot.
Jon: I get the impression that Sid was testing himself out. Is that fair?
There’s two things that strike me. When they were holed up together, when they started to have trouble in the streets, and the general public turned on them, they were easily recognisable. John and I got trapped in a taxi by somebody, a middle aged man bashing on the door. Malcolm got them a flat, just off Chelsea Cloisters. They called me up one night and asked me to come over. There was Wobble and John and Sid. An outsider’s impression was that they couldn’t play, they didn’t give a damn, they were just rebels, and I went round there and Sid was practising the bass. He really wanted to be a good bass player. But if you went to the cinema with him he was totally unruly. I went to see a film with him and he just screamed and shouted all the way through it. He didn’t care about people shushing him, and looking at him. It wasn’t a question of him plucking up courage either, to be a punk, he just was.
Jon: Was he at all disturbed? Or vulnerable?
I think he was a vulnerable type. I think that’s what killed him in the end, his vulnerability.
Jon: That’s something that nobody ever thinks about, how sensitive they were. John’s very sensitive.
He is, yeah. When Sid died I was very upset, obviously, and everyone just said, ‘he was a rebel, a loony, a nutcase, a violent person’. In fact he was none of those things, really. He was somebody who could express himself when he wanted to. I knew that if he went to America with the ideals that he had over here – he was very protective, he saved Vivienne once from a fight at the Nashville – if he went over to the States with this attitude of, I’ll beat you up on sight, there would be trouble, cos people don’t just have knives and belts over there, they have guns. I was really sure something was going to happen to him, if he didn’t adapt himself.
Jon: Did he have that attitude initially?
No it wasn’t there all the time.
Jon: Cos he was supposed to be Mister Vicious, Mister Badass. Was that to do with Malcolm exploiting the bike chain, Nick Kent thing?
Not only that, but when he started to take drugs, heroin in particular, it gives you a lot of false bravado. I think he probably thought he was invincible. He wasn’t the right sort of people to get involved in that sort of scene.
Jon: What did you think of the whole swastika thing? Before you answer, I don’t judge it one way or the other, I think its quite complex.
I suppose it was the ultimate shocking symbol. We got banned from an all-night club, The Candy Box, John and Sid and I all got memberships for it, an all night place for people who worked in clubs to go to. It cost a lot of money to get membership. I went down there with a swastika shirt on, and somebody took offence, there was an argument, and that was the end of our memberships. I just liked the shirts, and I didn’t really understand Vivien’s argument for the swastika.
Jon: What did Malcolm think about the swastika?
Malcolm was in awe of the symbolism. Not just the swastika, but a lot of artefacts from that era that were extremely beautifully made.
Jon: Did you have them in the shop?
We had a few things, mock-ups from the regalia shops, the wing badges, the straight wings rather than the American curved ones with the swastika on. We had swastika hankies … We all know what happened, this was my attitude, and we all knew it was wrong, and to all intents and purposes there was no Nazi party now. There was this genius who was also a loony, Hitler, and its all out of taboo, I thought, by that time.
Jon: The whole shop started with one taboo and spread out to all taboos.
The Epstein thing and the bondage thing was another aspect of it, its a corny old term but it was like bringing people out of the closet, and by making things standardised, not making them feel apart anymore. But you get the feeling that those rubber people really wanted to be apart. When the kids took over, a lot of the rubber guys felt worried about it. It was very difficult to get hold of that rubber wear. Mail order was the only way, really.
Jon: Where did Malcolm get it?
A very strange couple who had a council house somewhere, and a Rolls Royce. It wasn’t Atomage, they were very expensive. These were other people.
The biggest scream of course were the fashion shows. Who would ever have thought, when I first went to work there, that we’d be at Olympia, having to put on an establishment fashion show. The first World’s End show. Malcolm and Vivien and I stayed up all night to iron the big pirate shirts for that.
Jon: That’s when you had the lenses didn’t you?
That’s right, I had the ringlets and the lenses at first, then I went on to the ringlets. There was a bit of trouble cos I was working with Adam and the Ants, and the shop, and I don’t think Vivienne could marry the two up. I needed time off, Saturdays in particular, if we were going out to play somewhere, and it got very difficult. I did a lot of sewing as well. We had a lot of out-workers, people did the parachute jackets and I sewed on all the straps. I made a lot of the muslins myself.
Jon: When did things start changing with the band? Do you think they got more rock’n’roll?
They did, yeah. I think the problem was when Sid emerged as the heartthrob in the band. That’s where it started to go wrong, John felt insecure about the situation. I think Sid would have had a great career as a singer in his own right; he had a lot of charisma. Never Mind the Bollocks was a bit one-paced. It’s all too much at one go, it needed something to break it up.
Jon: It was also too defined, too solid. My favourite record of theirs was the single, Holidays In The Sun and Satellite. Its a perfect record.
But it always had a rock’n’roll basis to it, they were a rock’n’roll band really. Much as I hate that term. Sure, they played Chuck Berry riffs, and Small Faces riffs, and Who songs … Malcolm always had a fixation with the fifties.
Jon: Is that also Malcolm’s puritanism? Does Malcolm have a puritan streak? He had a puritan attitude to hippies. He didn’t like that soft style, he liked the hard edged style of the fifties.
Given the choice he always went for the more left wing of the two, but in the end he stuck with something he knew about. Everyone in their life has one point that strikes them as being really formative. For me, you might think it was the punk era, but it was before then, it was going to Edmonton to see the Faces, or the Revolution club in Brighton, the Hues Corporation and all that. That’s when things started to change for me, I’d already reached that point when I got to Vivienne. I’d reached the same point that Vivienne had, and she was in London and I was down here. The fifties must be that for Malcolm.
Jon: What was Vivienne’s time?
I don’t know, I think she was a pretty sheltered sort of a person. It was late in life, for her. She was a Pickering’s Pea Pixie once, she told me. She worked in Pickering’s Pea factory, dressed as a pixie. Green Wellingtons, up to her knees in green pea juice all day. A factory worker. Her mum used to go mad at her apparently, cos she’d come home with green all over her. Pea juice! She had a revelation in her life much later, she didn’t know much about life when she lived up in Manchester. She’s always amazed by things, you’ll notice about her.
Jon: Sometimes I think she puts that on, though. But you had something that was quite a complicated thing, a lot of issues we discussed, but as soon as the music industry got involved, it became rock’n’roll. Is that a fair comment?
Well, I think the most laudable thing about the Sex Pistols was that their image was formed before the record company got hold of them, and that Malcolm had that very clearly mapped out. Had they not been at such an advanced stage of formation the record company might have turned out different. I think they held themselves very well, when you consider the pressure of a major record company, and I know about that, I know how desperate a record company is to make it their idea, and the Sex Pistols came out of that really well. The whole episode of being involved with a company. There’s not many who do. Artistic control is a difficult thing to keep when someone else is paying. It took great fortitude on Malcolm’s part to keep them as they were intended to be, and not to be I mean, they can buy you out. There are ways a record company has of nurturing a band away from its manager, even. If they think it’s to their advantage.
Jon: Virgin eventually did that with John.
I can believe it. I know what goes on there, I have very little respect for record companies. There was a definite decision made at Virgin when the Sex Pistols broke up. They’d been wooing John. It was as a result of that that they got the Pretty Vacant film done, as Warners did in the States, and some sort of deal was struck, where they agreed to bankroll Public Image – note that he’s still on Virgin, so whether they tied him up for an eight album deal or something absurd, which they were quite capable of doing, they made the decision to go with John who was ‘The Artist’ at that point, to keep a watching brief on Steve and Paul, and fuck up Malcolm. I’ve got a fascinating document from the end of ’78, which indicates that Virgin were going to buy out Glitterbest, lock, stock and barrel. For half a million pounds. The plot thickens. There’s some really good stuff.
Jon: Just a couple of details: where did the name, the Sex Pistols, come from? Was it just something Malcolm thought up from the shop? Some people say it was a New York street gang but I don’t believe that.
I don’t think it was, it was just a play on words. He was trying to think of something which was an ejaculation, almost. Something that would be linked to the word Sex. His imagination.
Jon: You were more involved in the shop. As far as you could see with the band in ’76, with the record companies and Grundy and everything, Jamie claims that there was quite a collective situation, that a lot of discussions were going on. What was the interaction between all the people involved?
They had a little place in Denmark St, and there was a lot of fashion discussion, I know that much, cos I remember John talking with Malcolm about his clothes. It wasn’t just, ‘wear this and do it’. But they couldn’t stand each others’ company for very long, it seemed to me. They were from quite different backgrounds. There’s Steve who eventually got very heavily involved in drugs, I remember him distinctly, we went down to Dingwalls and somebody gave him some coke, and you’ve never seen such a kerfuffle in your life. He wanted someone to go home with him, he felt so ill. He was thrown in at the deep end. None of them were lads, as such. Steve was a lad as far as the girls go, but they came from a totally different world, and suddenly they were going to clubs like Dingwalls and meeting people who’d say,’ you want this and that?’ I would never have believed he’d get into drugs the way he did. I saw him in Los Angeles when Adam went over there, and he was completely clear, he looked great. That was in ’85, he’s been alright since then. But they were quite diverse characters, you couldn’t quite see them going out together. We haven’t mentioned Glen much, but he was an odd character. He used to wash his feet all the time; he had this thing about his feet.
Jon: What was Glen’s problem? Why didn’t he fit in with the band?
I just think he was a bit of a softy really. John was a softy in some respects. He couldn’t look after himself. If someone came up to him and said they were going to beat him up, he’d run. When that thing broke and they were holed up in Chelsea Cloisters, John and Sid and I were walking down the street, somebody just gave John a funny look and he was off like a shot. He’s got a really unfortunate way of running, too, with his feet open. Most unphysical.
Jon: It must have been a lot of pressure for John , being the figurehead.
Yes, they were the bad boys in the eyes of the public, and so easily recognised. Nobody could have that sort of control again. Nobody has ever had that sort of coverage. Every paper in England had them on the front cover in a very short time.
Jon: Twice – once for Grundy and again with the Queen. It wasn’t so much with the Queen. Were you there for Grundy?
No, I wasn’t well at the time. The Sunday People came down here on the Friday evening for a front cover, they held the front cover cos they wanted to find out from me what was true and what was false. They knew I’d done the programme a few weeks before and they wanted to know whether they got people drunk in the hospitality room. I wasn’t in, and they came back on the Saturday, and they still held the front cover. I told them what that show was like, a shambles basically. Bill Grundy was a drunk and it was obvious that Steve was egged on, by a drunk. It absolutely the end of Grundy
Jon: And because Steve was that kind of guy, he would go for it.
There were so many complaints, they were inundated with people calling. It hadn’t happened before. Its alright for us to sit here it 1988 and say, ‘But why?’ – this was a peak time, family show. As far as the public was concerned they were genuine, and they were. It wasn’t like the Beastie Boys who were just brats. You can’t try to shock people these days, it’s too difficult, but that was a genuine incident, on live television, and I don’t think even a mass murderer would get that sort of coverage.
Someone who also got a lot of coverage six weeks before, was Throbbing Gristle and that porn show, at the ICA. Genesis has just lent me all the press cuttings and it was fucking insane. So there was this dialogue going on in the press about being shocked, about being obscene. It was already set up, and because the Pistols were a commercial organisation, a rock band, and you could buy something, it worked much more to their advantage than it did with poor old Gen who was just a performance artist trying to annoy a few people, and he was freaked. He hid for six months. I’ve got the cuttings, and they’re insane. Questions asked in the house. Madness. The British, really, you know.
Jon: Did you go to any of the concerts after Grundy? Screen on the Green, the second time? The first time Sid played with them.
That was crazy. One person that really needs a medal is Roger. He was constant through all of that, he was a benefactor, and someone who didn’t want any recognition for it either. He got badly beaten up on the boat, you know, by the police. Smashed him over the head. I found him wandering around later.
I was objective about their performances, I didn’t say something was a great performance when it wasn’t. I didn’t go there just for the sake of it. There were times when it didn’t work. A lot of it involved the audience, John couldn’t work with an audience that wasn’t feeding something back to him. They had this distance from the audience, but there had to be some sort of buzz going on with the audience for it to work.
Jon: Did they ever use plants in the audience?
No, if anyone would have been asked to do something like that it would have been me, and I was never asked to do it.
Jon: Can you remember any concerts in particular that weren’t good?
I seem to remember a disaster at the 100 Club once. I think it was the night that Steve smashed the sign at the back. I can’t be sure, cos its such a long time ago. It was touch and go. I know from experience, cos I used to do just one song with Adam and the Ants, which was fired with emotion, and I don’t think I could have kept it up for a whole performance. Ant fans used to think it was great. Jumping around and going absolutely mad, but John had to do that for a whole concert. He did walk off one, I remember. It was touch and go on the boat, as well. There was a big do that night. John wasn’t in the mood to do anything, he was in a mood. He was fed up, here was this anarchist group, the Sex Pistols with people like Richard Branson coming to see them, and record company people, poshes on the boat that he didn’t think should be there.
He got the hump that night really badly, he thought half the people on the boat shouldn’t have been there, it should have been fans, real people. The Slits, for instance, got left on the quayside. It was spelling disaster, so he started to play up. Then Steve started to do all the singing, which got John even madder. Cos John wasn’t singing the words, Steve was doing it. There was a lot of stick that night. John was very rude to Vivienne that night. You got this feeling that it had started to snowball too quickly. I think Vivienne went and kissed John and he just pushed her away.
Boat parties are always a bad idea anyway, cos you’re stuck on this thing, you can’t take a walk. Two, we were going up and down the river endlessly, and three there was lots of speed on board. I remember people with bags of speed. There was free drink for the first hour or two as well. The atmosphere on that boat was really edgy, not fun. I thought I was going to get thrown overboard anytime. I know John was really not into it. Its amazing it got going at all, really.
Jon: I thought their performance was really good though. In the end.
It was, but John was furious, that was why. He just got to the limit.
Jon: What happened then? Was there a fight?
As the boat was coming in to moor, someone said the police had been called, and they came on board, and they said for it to stop, and we all screamed for them to carry on, and they carried on for as long as they could. They played No Fun, and the power was cut off, and Paul carried on with the drums. I remember there was a bit of a kerfuffle, between somebody like Wobble and a friend of Roger’s, and there was a bit of argy-bargy, and that was the excuse the captain had been waiting for, cos Virgin had told them that it was Tangerine Dream!
I just thought there was doom coming, after the boat trip. John was being really obnoxious to everybody. It was the star trip, and him thinking that everything had got too commercial. I don’t think he could quite handle it. Nobody quite believes how difficult it is to carry on something like that. Anyone can sing, if you’ve got a good voice, but to sing with conviction, those sort of powerful words every night, words that were black and white, not clouds and rolling hills. I think he’d lost it by then, he’d lost the need to do it. Like snooker players and runners need to do it.
The other thing was that Malcolm didn’t take such good care of them any more. After March, April, Malcolm started playing the businessman, and getting the movie together, and playing mogul. Fair enough, that movie was a great pie-in-the-sky idea, but it made the band feel very uncomfortable, cos they weren’t actors. Don’t you get that feeling when you look at it, there’s this air of discomfort, I’m making a fool of myself? Definitely with Steve. Steve had serious problems with that film. Vivienen asked me to go and take care of him while it was being shot, cos he’d trust me to keep him together. He was finding it a bit of a strain.
The look of the band went in early ’77. They started turning up in jeans and badges and leopard skin waistcoats. The great look that they had went. Malcolm wasn’t putting the energy into them any more. The mixture of fashions wasn’t there anymore. I can’t work out why.
Jon: Wasn’t one of the ideas behind Seditionaries to get rid of the Sex people, in a way? To do a totally new shop, to make it a bit more expensive, more upmarket?
Yes, it was, I think she wanted to go into high fashion. She wanted to create these proper outfits, that locked together. The whole look, around the shop, and went to great expense with the acid-etched windows. People said it would never work. She wanted to create a total image
Jon: What had happened to you? When did you move back from Seaford to London?
I went back up to London when I stayed with Linda Ashby, and I wasn’t working at the shop then. It was when Adam first started which was ’77, and I was working on Adam, and a few months later I was asked to go back again.
Jon: Who worked at the shop while you were away?
It must have been Debbi and Tracey.
Jon: Where did Linda live?
St James’s. Great flat, it was out of this world, it was so cheap, a luxury flat in a private courtyard with a fountain and everything, a lift. Originally it was Linda and myself and Simon, David Pavlovitch, then Derek Dunbar. Then Nancy stayed there when she first came over.
Jon: Was that where she seduced Sid?
Jon: Were you there when that happened?
Well, Rodney Bingenheimer rang up one night, to do an interview, so we all stayed up for it. I think Nancy was there then. She was very clever. She came straight from America to the shop, where she met Linda, where she got into the flat, where she got her Sex Pistol.
Jon: She was obviously pretty smart in some ways. Did you like her?
Not at all. I remember she had a book of photos of famous people that she’d met, her and so-and-so. And it had lots of blank pages. She’d say, that was a picture of me, and so-and-so, but I had to give it away. She was like that. She was awfully slaggy as well, she worked in a hostess place some nights. A disaster. She never washed her clothes, just left them in a heap in the kitchen, which just got bigger and bigger.
Jon: What was Soo Catwoman doing around?
I never got friendly with Soo Catwoman, I don’t know why.
Jon: Do you remember Bernie at all?
Bernie Rhodes? Yeah, I remember Bernie. We didn’t like the Clash at all, I used to go to Clash concerts just to boo. Rubbish! Bernie helped Malcolm quite a bit, he had that studio in Camden Town and when Malcolm needed a studio to get all that fashion show material together for World’s End, Bernie was still around helping Malcolm then.
Jon: He did some printing of t-shirts in the early days didn’t he?
That’s right. He was another deep person, Bernie. I quite like him, actually. I thought he was a real pain for ages, but I liked him last time I met him. But God, he’s hard work. I thought the Clash had so much more potential than Bernie got out of them. I always thought that Simonon should have been the bass player in the Sex Pistols. Paul Simonon was a Sex Pistol, a star.
They all looked a bit straight. What I hated was all these old rock’n’rollers coming up and pretending they were punks, like the 101ers. Dreadful sort of Jimmy Pursey. That was the end of it. It made you feel sorry for it all, really sad. What Sham 69 did was to try and set people against each other again. Stupid skinhead thing, no thought behind it.
Jon: It was an open invitation to meatballs, wasn’t it? One of the things I liked about the original punk was the androgyny, the mixture of gay and straight, the blurring. I’ve always liked that in pop, and in life in general. That’s the way that things really are
There has to be some mystery to it. If you give too much away too soon, you’ve had it. Bowie was like that, he didn’t give too much away. What he did give away was very avant garde. That’s the way to do it. The Pistols were like that too, nobody knew much about their personal lives. They just knew about what bad deeds they’d done. As you say, I had hundreds and hundreds of interviews I did, all desperate to know about my personal life. Desperate. And the more I didn’t tell them, the more desperate they were.
Jon: Were you having much of a personal life?
Not really no, but they wanted to know if I was going with girls or boys, they couldn’t understand somebody being without an allegiance, sexually, and I deliberately made it that way.
Jon: But did that change, cos it seemed there was a point where the androgyny disappeared, it became defined, it became boy’s rock’n’roll. Did you feel that?
To me the whole of punk was the Sex Pistols and once they had stopped, then I didn’t really want to follow it on, I went straight into Adam and the Ants, to something that was overtly sexual. There was a great divide there. I liked Siouxsie and the Banshees at the time, yet again, asexual. There was a time when the Ants played with the Banshees and they were great concerts, real value for money. They were vying with each other. Very good.
Jon: By mid ’77 the hard core punks were already drifting away from the Pistols … the Banshees picked up the hard core following, then the Ants picked them up, cos I remember the Ants having a real hard core audience. When did they start getting that?
It all started at the Marquee, about early ’78. They did like a residency, with a brilliant poster, a torso shot of Adam, an enormous poster, with very few words on it, and it worked, the imagery together with this very sexual act, combined with me coming on, worked really well.
Jon: You were managing them then. What did that actually mean?
It was very much hoping, cos I didn’t have any money to back me up, and it was difficult getting transport to places. When we could get transport we’d do the Northern gigs with the Banshees, we did a couple with the Slits. It was great cos Adam just blew the Slits off the stage, the Ants were much more proficient than the Slits, who had their good days and bad days. It was difficult when it got to Jubilee stage, when Megalovision, Howard Mayling took over, he sort of weaned the Ants off me because he had some monetary backing. Basically the trouble was getting them from A to B, for me. I stayed on as a personal manager, advising Adam about what he should be doing with his life, cos he had all these great songs.
Jon: He wasn’t very focussed then. I remember seeing the Ants, it was quite late, it must have been ’79, I remember thinking Adam was great but they weren’t very good.
I remember asking Malcolm to take them over in the World’s End shop, and he thought it was a duff idea, then suddenly changed his mind, he must have gone home and thought about it, I suppose. I don’t know what went through his mind. Except the homework for Adam. When that whole episode with Malcolm and Adam had come to pass, I sort of stepped back in again, to get him focussed again. After losing your band its a bit of a shock really. I’d already stolen Dave Barbe from the Desolation Angels. He was the leader of the band, I got him out and the band folded. I stole Dave Barbe and nurtured him, cos he was a rock’n’roll drummer and we were trying to go into Burundi, much heavier beats. Drummers are funny people, they don’t like people telling them what to do
Jon: Did you live with John at some point?
I never lived with John. He stayed at the flat, they all did from time to time. They used to crash at our place sometimes.
Jon: What happened to Tracey? How did Tracey die?
It was really tragic. It hit everyone really hard, cos she was so young and vital, and out of Tracey and Debbi, probably more clued in. No disrespect to Debbi, Tracey was a tough girl. She had some trouble with her periods. She hadn’t had any periods for years, two years or something, and she went to the doctors about it, and they did tests and found she had a particularly virulent form of cancer. And she just died in hospital. She was there for a while. Vivien tried everything, she even went to faith healers, it was that bad. I didn’t go and see her in hospital, for some reason. It was all quite quick.
Jon: When did she come on the scene?
Burnt Oak, is that where Debbi comes from? They hung around together, and if Vivien saw somebody come in the shop, like Lizzie, Jeremy’s girlfriend, that she liked the look of, she would pick up on them. I can’t remember when that picture of Debbi was done, with all the red white and blue ribbons in her hair, the Jubilee, so it was a bit before then.
Jon: When did you go back to the shop?
I went back in ’78… the only way I can remember what happened when was by the photographs. I’d just stopped singing with the Ants, cos it was difficult to do this and sing with the Ants as well
Jon: Tell me about Jubilee a bit. Was it fun to work on?
It was, yeah. Derek first came to me with the idea of doing a super 8 documentary about the Kings Road, and I said I’d be quite willing to help him on it, collaborate with him. And I didn’t hear from him for a while, and the next time he came in, he had a script. He’s decided to make a feature film out of the whole thing, and asked me to play Amyl Nitrate in it. I didn’t really hesitate. I learned an awful lot about actors in that film. Like not wanting to be an actress. What I saw of actresses in that film didn’t impress me very much. I did a play for Jonathan Gems after, and there was a speech, and she said don’t ever go to an acting school, because they churn out a certain sort of actress and she liked my quality of not being that sort of actress. I didn’t quite understand it then, but when I look back at Jubilee, I understand what she meant. There are certain qualities, like being caught on the hop. I like some of the mistakes that I made in Jubilee, and I think Derek was right to keep them in. That makes somebody fallible.
Jon: There was a good contrast between you and the other actors.
I thought it worked, there’s things about the film that I didn’t like, and Derek would probably agree. I thought it could have been made into a story of some punks, and the story of an apocalypse in England, without the references to Elizabethan England. It could have been made more modern. There are numerous things I could say about it.
Jon: Would you say that Derek didn’t understand certain aspects of punk?
I don’t think it was that. I would have made it more commercial. I would have made it a modern day, action story, with all the police prejudice, all the bits that were very good in it.
Jon: I love that scene with Adam on the roof, pissing himself laughing. That was the difference with not being an actor.
It would have been absolutely dreadful if he hadn’t done that. Very naïve. Some people have said it was naïve. That was the quality of the time as well, I don’t see what’s wrong with being naïve. That’s what I’ve always liked about Derek’s work, despite a lot of the nihilism in it, he’s not cynical, and I like that, there’s a freshness, even though a very black freshness.
Jon: Last of England is very fresh even though in some ways its very bleak. Vivienne hated it, I’ve got that t-shirt which she wrote the open letter to him. Was she cross with you for doing it?
She’s been cross with me for lots of things, for working with Adam and the Ants, for being in Jubilee, and she was really cross with me for getting married. “How can Jordan get married?” she said.
Jon: Did you keep any contact with any of the band, or did you move away from them?
I did go round to see John once in that place he had off the Kings Road. Gunter Grove. And I did see him once, when Richard Branson invited me to a concert at a place that’s now turned into a burger place, the Venue. I saw John there, but for some reason I’d lost my need to be in contact with him. I felt very sorry for not keeping in contact with Sid but then he wasn’t the sort to keep in contact with people. He called me up from Sweden once, at the flat, just for a talk. He wasn’t enjoying it, he must have been lonely.
Jon: It must have been tough for him, proving himself as a Pistol. And as a musician.
All at once, and very quickly, with smack on board.
Jon: Its such a combination of tragedies, a lot of that stuff.
I said something about John in the press, which I can’t even remember, and he got really fed up with me over it. It was something like that. He was very quick to jump to conclusions, to misconstrue what you said. Paranoid, put it that way. We did get back together again at Gunter Grove. We both said sorry.
Jon: It must have been very difficult to go through all that. Where do you go from the Sex Pistols?
I think he managed really well. I really respect John for that, I thought Public Image made some really good records. And he is an artist. I loved Love Song. But then I saw something he did to old Pistols songs on some old programme, and you start to think, ‘I didn’t know how he could do it.’ He’d probably get the hump now I’ve said that. For instance, Adam offered out of the kindness of his heart, when he was crashing at Linda’s flat, Adam offered Sid some help, cos Adam is basically a bass player, cos he’d been thrown in at the deep end, he was now a Sex Pistol and he now had to learn the bass. He said to John that if Sid wanted any help, to come over and they’d go through some things. John said to Sid, “Oh, Adam Ant thinks he can teach you a thing or two.” And Sid went and knocked on the door one night, and attacked him. Totally ridiculous, bizarre.
Jon: He tried that on with me, when I first interviewed him for an American magazine last year, he tried to rile me for ninety minutes.
This small clique, the instigators of punk, myself and John and Sid, had the most incredible ability to spot an outsider immediately. Somebody who hadn’t got the look, a poser. Once you had labelled somebody a poser in those days, they never ever gained your confidence again.
Jon: Wasn’t that a bit cruel?
It was, it was very cruel. And very cut and dried, but in that way we kept ourselves a bunch of elitists, really.
Jon: I think there was a lot of cruelty around in general at that time. Did you feel that there was a lot of negativity around, as well?
It became so, didn’t it? You just had to look at the Kings Road to see that. The whole thing about peacocks and whatever, flaunting their feathers. It wasn’t just that, they were just walking up and down the Kings Road. I know where it went wrong. You know that bit down the end of the Kings Road, Sloane Square, with loads of punks just sitting. People thought it was just good enough to look. Malcolm always said I should have used the way I looked, and he was right. I didn’t, because I felt I would have been bastardising it. But Malcolm was right and I was wrong. He said I should have gone into doing adverts. But instead of me doing it, they just got actors to dress up, looking silly. The shop became a place where shop girls and stylists would come to get the stuff to dress somebody else up in it. Malcolm said I should have done that and earned myself some money doing it, and its true. Better to have somebody who was real than somebody who was just had a bit of gel on their hair. But I didn’t see it as a commodity for sale. But Johnny Gems offered me a part in that play he did, The Tax Exile, which did really well, it got great reviews. It was the part of a punk in it, and for that reason I didn’t take it. I thought, I can’t agree with every line in this play, it’s going to make anyone watching it identify the words with me. And think I mean them. All the articles I had been in, I had expressed myself very strongly, and to then go and do a play where I spoke some really stupid, daft words, even though it was legitimate within the play, I was worried that people would think me a turncoat for being in it. Selling out, in a way. But really, there was a lot of money to be made there.
Jon: What happened then? When did you leave the Ants? The second time.
The actual break with the Ants is a very complicated and personal story, cos I used to go out with Adam, then we weren’t going out, there was no actual break, but he had several other girlfriends and I then went out with Kevin who was in his band, and Adam felt that I had my allegiance with Kevin and not with him. I did something really innocent. There was a Royal Command Performance, which I don’t actually like the idea of doing it anyway. I wasn’t just a punk dressed up, I believed that you shouldn’t kowtow to Royalty like that, stand in line and shake hands, it doesn’t mean a thing to me. I felt the Ants would be out of place and I did Kevin up in this Palomino makeup, and didn’t realise it would make him stand out, and Adam was cross. I finally left the shop in ’81 to work with Kevin. and Wide Boy Awake. They had bags of talent, that band. What happened was the old record company lottery, throwing up a bunch of names and if your band comes down I once saw a memo about Bow Wow Wow that would make your hair curl. You knew that they were going to get dumped. Wide Boy Awake had a really saleable image and a saleable record, and RCA just didn’t do it for them, and you lose heart.
Jon: So why did you get out of all that?
The beginning of ’84 I got out. I’d had enough, it was a real uphill struggle. There were a couple of people in the record company who were very sexist and didn’t really think it was a woman’s job to be doing what I was doing. One man in particular, you wouldn’t think it still existed, that sort of prejudice. I knew that Wide Boy Awake had about four chances. A band like the Eurythmics, RCA blew it three time for them. The fourth single worked. I hung on till the fourth, then I knew that something had happened, then lost confidence. I wanted to get out of that interminable rat race that revolved around the record company, fighting every day.
Jon: Its a shame almost that you got side-tracked into rock’n’roll. Instead of acting.
Looking back on it, I would have loved to have been in a Star Trek movie.
Jon: What do you think that whole period said about England? It was something totally to do with England, wasn’t it?
I think it was, it was something extremely personal to England, if you took the two years before punk emerged, you can see that the seventies had become extremely boring. I know that’s an easy explanation for it all, but nothing was happening, things were getting more and more repressed every day, politically as well. Nothing could have happened, I’m not saying it would have happened, without Malcolm and Vivienne. It might not have happened at all without them. They focussed it so cleverly, and so clearly, it was that clarity that got it all going. Clean lines, hard edges, bright colours. Whereas that terrible John Maybury gloom doom black look that has happened since had none of that. It gave the kids hope where there really was none.
Jon: What were the truths about England that the shop and you and the band expressed? What was it that struck to the heart of this country, that it appeared to reflect it so powerfully?
The only thing I think is very clear is that England is an enormous source of fashion, music, hair, the lot. You have this artistic freedom, no matter who’s in government, Thatcher, whoever. I still believe that Thatcher will not get us down. I know we’re under another repressive phase now, as you say, possession-gaining, of being in your own plot and being safe and happy, but the rest of the world looks to England, and every now and then England comes up with it. I really believe that this is the place to be if you want to express yourself in any form of art. If you want a really great haircut, England is the place to get it. And I’ve been all over America, lots and lots of places. I can’t put my finger on what was the catalyst for it all. I think that quite a powerful part of it was the particular English sexuality. The key to the whole thing is Sex, whether in the shop Sex or in the Sex Pistols.
It was important in those days to be able to express yourself. I found very quickly that I was the advert for the shop, and there was no rehearsals, there was no indoctrination. I had to go to do an article with a Russian journalist who was sure that there was a hard and fast political reason for this happening here. Because that’s the way Russians think. He thought the whole culture of punk was politically based somewhere. Like the Labour Party, that we all went to a place and had a meeting and it was the overthrow of the government, this terrible Russian paranoia coming out. I could not make him understand that there is still, amongst all this repression, that there was a certain amount of freedom that allowed people to do this, that nobody was going to jump out with a cosh, the police weren’t going to come storming down the street in armoured cars and beat up all the punks. At least we were allowed to do t.
Jon: Don’t you think there’s a sense in which its become ritualised now? Its terribly easy to be a punk, to be outrageous, to be this or that?
Adam and I lost an awful lot of confidence in the punks because there were still a lot of punky people who were fans of Adam, believe it or not, even though he caught all that young audience, and they begged him to go and do these concerts and he went and did the Hammersmith Odeon as a warm up for the American tour, and no punks were there. So they were a big let down. It was all these young kids who had grown up a bit that turned up. I don’t quite know what goes on with punks any more, I don’t see many around, I don’t know where they go, I don’t know if they have revival meetings, or what. I was on the train not so long ago and there was this girl sitting opposite me, in a floral dress and a big hippy hat and lots of bells around her neck, flowers in her hair, and she looked at me really odd for about half an hour and said, you’re Jordan, aren’t you? I can tell by your profile. I said yes. ‘She used to be a punk’, I thought, this is really odd.
Jon Savage interviewed Jordan (Pamela Rooke) in Seaford, Sussex, 34 years ago. Punkgirldiaries is grateful to Jon Savage for giving us permission to publish this interview in the week when Jordan has sadly passed away from cancer.