Punk queen Jordan Mooney: young people today dress like their parents!
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Jordan Mooney was at the heart of the punk revolution. Now she is a veterinary nurse. She tells Steve Anglesey about the glory days and where the punk spirit now resides
"Young people today dress like their parents," says Jordan Mooney. "It's depressing to see. So many young blokes dressed in logos - Superdry, Hollister, Jack Wills. It has no meaning whatsoever, and their dads are dressed just the same, no dividing line. So many girls, all with long hair and the eyebrows, they all look exactly the same. There is no risk-taking whatsoever."
That's not an accusation which could ever be made of Jordan, the Sex Pistols acolyte and punk rock muse whose striking, defiant look made her one of the most recognisable faces of the movement. "People would literally stop on the street when I walked past, and if they said something it was not usually complimentary," she says.
On a typical night in 1976, "I'd have black eye makeup, lots of rubber and leatherwear, high black patent stilettos, crimson lips, and my hair, the whitest bleached blonde you could get it, up in a beehive. I was clever with my hair, because you couldn't redo it every day, so it became a sort of impermeable beehive of polystyrene. I used to sleep very very carefully and then rearrange it the next morning, because you'd often wake up with it on a list."
Now 64, her memories of a music revolution which burned brightly and then burned out in a couple of white-hot Seventies years make up the cornerstone of an intelligent and entertaining autobiography Defying Gravity, which she will discuss at Norwich Arts Centre on Tuesday October 8. Drugs, heartbreak and back-biting as punk fell apart all feature, but there are pleasant surprises like Sid Vicious' love of horse riding, and Mooney's past and current passions for Mondrian and Burmese cats.
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After school, where she was made to wear a headscarf between lessons to cover a proto-Mohican inspired by Roxy Music's Andy Mackay ("my teachers were an enormous obstacle but I never wavered about how I wanted to look"), she graduated to a job at Sex, the King's Road boutique run by designer Vivienne Westwood and impresario Malcolm McClaren. "It was a catchment area for like-minded people," she says. "I always likened it to a cafe where philosophers met to chew the fat," she says. "It had a great jukebox, all Malcolm's ideas, ranging from country to things like 18 by Alice Cooper, which John (Lydon/Rotten) auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to on the jukebox."
Within months, both band and scene were front-page news and Jordan remembers a time when "every day was exciting, and you couldn't wait for the next gig. There were so many good bands around - Pistols were head and shoulders above everyone else for me but I also loved Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex and Adam and the Ants in their first heyday."
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Jordan became a regular stage guest for the pre-fame Ants, ending up marrying bassist Kevin Mooney. While her duties behind the counter at Sex meant she missed the Pistols' celebrated gigs at West Runton Pavilion and Cromer Links and in 1976 and '77, she did make it to the latter venue with the Ants in 1980. "What was amazing about that night was it was the first night I slept with Kevin. I remember creeping very quietly around Marco Pirroni's bed because we were in a very strange B&B in West Runton where you had to get through his bedroom to get to Kevin's bedroom. A momentous night for many reasons."
Her most recent visits to Norfolk have been a bit more sedate. "I've shown my cats at St Andrew's Hall," says the woman who has worked as a veterinary nurse for the past quarter-century.
She saw the end of punk coming a mile off: "The intensity was impossible to keep up and the wonderful time was over when the Pistols split up in 1978. Imagine singing Anarchy In The UK for the 500th time - how do you do that without it just becoming a performance? Towards the end you could definitely see that John was doing it with annoyance at the whole thing. That sneering look he used to give became a job of acting, and he didn't want to do that any more"
New romantic, goth, casual and rave movements soon followed, but Jordan notes the absence from today's streets of any discernible youth cults. "It's not their fault," she says. The awful thing today is that because of economics you can't get away from your parents easily and find somewhere to live. It's very unhealthy. We had a different structure of flats or shared flats, student grants. People got away from home and forged their own identities. Nowadays those routes have closed off and it's a major contributor to the downward spiral of fashion; you are living with your parents at 30 and 35 so you end up dressing like them. I would rather have dropped dead than dress like my mum."
This conservatism of style is, she thinks, partly why punk still carries so much weight over 40 years later. "When I wear the 'Tits' t-shirt now (a Westwood creation emblazoned with a pair of bare breasts) it gets as much reaction if not more than it did in the 1970s," she says. "It shows the power of freedom of expression, which punk was all about. There is a definite legacy of punk, the value of free speech and the freedom of your own destiny. The idea that you can stand out, which would be easy now because everyone looks the same. I'm just waiting for someone to take the risk and do it."
How to see her
Jordan discusses Defying Gravity with co-author Cathi Unsworth at Norwich Arts Centre on Tuesday October 8th. Tickets are mostly sold out but there will be 30 standing room tickets available at £5 on the night