A brilliant evocation of ‘70s fashion and pop culture, Defying Gravity is the new autobiography telling the fabulous story of a one-named wonder woman who personified London’s punk scene. The word ‘fierce’ was virtually invented for this indomitable icon of our times.
Most definitely not a mod, the former Pamela Rooke hailed from Seaford on the Sussex south coast, training as a ballet dancer throughout her childhood. Chucked out of school at 14 because of the way she looked (“My headmaster was really worried that people would start to copy me.”), she took the name Jordan (“I wanted something that was just very concise and strong”) and became an avid David Bowie fan.
The newly monikered Jordan would dress up and hang out at the gay clubs of nearby Brighton and London, which was where she first caught sight of the Dame in the flesh, at his infamous Ziggy Stardust concert at The Rainbow… and vice versa: “I was in the front row when he walked over and asked if he could have my earrings. I said no. I liked Bowie, but I liked the earrings more.”
By the mid-‘70s, she gravitated to the capital and began working in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s infamously ground-breaking boutique, SEX, then Seditionaries and, later, World’s End, each of these successive Westwood-McLaren retail incarnations located at the western extremity of King’s Road in Chelsea.
On a purely personal level, Jordan was loosely involved in the first, second and third albums I ever bought; a feat she only shares with one other person, her one-time protégé, the insect warrior himself Adam Ant.
Though it was her ace face—the terrifying dominatrix with the striking geometric make-up and, yep, that gravity defying hair—not the fledgling former Stuart Goddard, who graced the cover of the third: Jubilee, the soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s uproariously notorious Derek Jarman film of visionary alchemy, in which they both featured alongside Toyah Wilcox and the late Lindsay Kemp. Today, Jordan is sanguine about the project: “It’s a difficult film to watch – you either love it or hate it. People talk about the violence but to me it’s about empowering women.”
Throughout my ascent into adolescence, my Buckinghamshire bedroom was plastered floor to ceiling with Antpix and posters, a couple of which featured a certain blond Sylvianesque gentleman who had a couple of minor but memorable roles in Mike Mansfield’s mini movies for the Adam And The Ants’ chart-topping singles Stand & Deliver and Prince Charming. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the gentleman in question was the polaroid-taking visual artist, ‘court painter’ at Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s Blitz club and future Bowie masks maker, Mark Wardel.
In a splendidly full circular kinda way, 20 years after we first met at one of his irrepressible Warhol-like art launches, I’m delighted to welcome Mark as the latest guest contributor to stevepafford.com. He’s also had a bit of a chinwag with our subject, who’s now a veterinary nurse back in Seaford and goes by her married name, Jordan Mooney.
A factor in both their leaving the Ant camp just after the Antmusic single (“You can see me dancing in the video”), Jordan fell for Kevin Mooney, the band’s penultimate bassist (he’s featured on 1980’s epochal Kings of the Wild Frontier, the LP that kick-started my record collection and fetish for all things Adam). The couple were married from 1981 to 1984, the same three-year period my walls were Ant-branded, bizarrely.
Take it away, Mark…
I’m in the lobby of the world famous 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street waiting for the first female ambassador of punk culture, Jordan Mooney, or simply ‘Jordan’, as she became known the world over with her iconic makeup and iconoclastic attitude. She has been muse and inspiration to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, Derek Jarman, the Sex Pistols and Adam and the Antz amongst others. And I’m just musing on how many times she must have graced this doorway over the decades when in a flurry of snowflakes on this, the coldest night of the year so far, Jordan arrives.
She’s looking every inch the style warrior in a superb vintage Westwood sheepskin coat over a ‘key to joy is disobedience’ T-shirt by former Bromley Contingent member Simon Barker AKA Six, accessorised by a lethal and heavy looking silver neck chain. Long gone is the famous peroxide beehive hair and in its place a punky crop of violet spikes. She applies a violent slash of bright red Chanel lipstick for the photo session and once the pictures are done against the setting of the seemingly eternally unchanged venue, we repair to old-style Soho drinking den Trisha’s to talk about her illuminating memoir entitled Defying Gravity.
MW: You’ve always looked great and have famously made some outrageous style statements with your looks especially things like the famous see through skirt and no knickers look of 1976 and I wondered what in today’s climate of blandness and conformity the reaction might be were you to do that now?
JM: That’s a very interesting question and I’ve contemplated it a lot. I don’t know. I think things have gone in a very retrograde direction since then. Obviously, it was seen as very very shocking back then although to me it wasn’t shocking because I felt very free and happy in my own skin. I see you are wearing a male version of the famous ‘tits’ T-shirt which is still one of my favourites which I wear to this day but it gets just as much of a reaction from people in the street now as then. I find this a bit worrying because you’d have thought we’d have moved on a long way since then.
MW: We were all influenced by Bowie of course. Many of us copied his style to a certain extent, but your look seemed to be unique and original right from the start. What were the sources you drew on to put together that amazing look?
JM: It started when I was very young. There was something instilled in me that told me to impose my sense of freedom on my parents, who really wanted this pretty little girl. But they actually got someone who was kind of messing up really lovely vintage stuff and combining it with sort of Eric Stanton-style fetishy gear in which I just felt absolutely comfortable, even though people in the street would look at me.
MW: Like making a performance art statement in a real life situation.
JM: Yes, I’ve always disliked nostalgia but I believe the history of fashion and music has a place and that place is to be worked upon, utilised and transformed in some way. And I was the transformer of the ‘50s look and mussed it up took that look to somewhere else.
MW: I saw the early punk movement as almost more a fashion and art-based thing than the music.
JM: Yes, it was born out of the art movement and its nucleus was Vivienne and Malcolm’s shop at 430 King’s Road, which is somewhere that’s always been a kind of moving and shaking point.
MW: Certain areas of London seem to historically always attract certain types of people or energies. I find this very interesting. Peter Ackroyd talks about this in his books.
JM: I interviewed Vivienne Westwood for the book and she said the same thing. Historically, something had always been there at 430 King’s Road and because it was so inaccessible people had to make that long pilgrimage from Sloane Square, often accompanied by tooled up policemen because of the danger of violence.
MW: The ‘70s were violent times. people now don’t realise how violent that decade was, but it must have been incredibly exciting and stimulating when the whole Sex Pistols thing exploded?
JM: It was. It made me rather spoilt for choice actually and they were such a great band, head and shoulders above anything else at that time because of their uniqueness. I always liken them to a great play or TV series like Star Trek with the perfect cast. They would never have become so famous if they hadn’t had those exact people in those parts, and the Pistols were like the perfect band.
MW: How does this place (Trisha’s) compare to Louise’s, the famous lesbian club in Poland Street which became the main social hangout for punk’s inner circle?
JM: You know, there is a really big coincidence connected to
Louise’s. When I mentioned it to my 90 year-old dad, it turned out that he had once worked as a book binder at that very same address! But yes, Louise’s was a lesbian club, and when you first walked in the first impression was that it was full of very well turned out men in tuxedos etc. dancing with each other. But suddenly as you looked around you realised they were all women. No men at all!
MW: Didn’t you have to look through a hatch to gain entry?
JM: Yes, it had a very Berlin type of vibe, and Louise was this very grand sort of Marlene Dietrich type but a little worn around the edges sitting at a little table at the top of the stairs. And in those days, because of the licensing laws you’d have to have something to eat so your admission included what they called a ‘meal’. In reality a bit of chicken and lettuce in a basket.
MW: At the Sombrero Club, where the Bowie lot used to hang out in 1971/72, you got spam.
JM: Yeah, sometimes spam too, but the punks really took over Louise’s and there was a really great DJ, a gay girl called Caroline. And at the end of every evening they’d play this song “every little breeze seems to whisper Louise”, and you knew the evening was ending. I swear I’d almost be crying because I didn’t want it to end, but then we’d go on from there to the Candy Box, Samantha’s etc. the real late night West End places that catered to people who worked in clubs and wanted to unwind until dawn. Actually, Johnny Rotten/Lydon and I got banned from the Candy Box! (laughs).
MW: Did Vivienne Westwood ever come to these places?
MW: I find it very weird retracing our footsteps in this city which has changed so much, and yet small details such as maybe old paving stones you might have walked over a thousand times still remain. Gives me goose pimples to contemplate it.
JM: Yes, same here. It is a weird sensation and we were just at the 100 club, which is still going strong. But so many other places I used to frequent such as the Marquee on Wardour Street have all gone. Actually, instead of going to The Ship (famous Rock ’n’ Roll pub near the Marquee) with the rest of the band, Adam Ant and I used to go and watch porno films on Wardour Street before his Marquee Gigs!
MW: Yes, those seedy little cinema places on Wardour Street, I remember them well. But Adam’s imagery was very ‘fetishy’ before he went mainstream. Was that your influence?
JM: It was, and this is what the love letters I nearly lost go into.
MW: Oh yes, your fetish/vintage/dominatrix looks famously used to cause outrage in the Seventies when you travelled up to work daily from Sussex on the train, but you more recently had another nearly disastrous train experience. What happened?
JM: Because of my memoir coming out, I had been to the publishers with a bag containing a lot of irreplaceable photos and documents spanning my childhood until now, including love letters from Adam Ant along with a book of his hand written lyrics to the Dirk Wears White Sox album (my second LP purchase, in case you were wondering – Ed.) amongst other priceless stuff. Basically, my entire life was in that bag, and while rushing to get the train I left the bag on the platform. As the train pulled out I looked down and realised I only had my handbag, and had left the bag on the platform.
MW: OMG, I’m surprised you didn’t pull the communication cord.
JM: I know, and the next stop was Gatwick…I started phoning around and the station staff said they could do nothing unless it got handed in, so I filled out an online form and resigned myself to the situation. Then about four days later I got the most wonderful call from a lady called Gladys who said “Ere luv, is that Jordan Mooney? We’ve got your bag!”
And so, courtesy of the fabulous Gladys and the sterling efforts of the folks at Victoria Station, Jordan got her ‘entire life’ back, her book was subsequently published to great acclaim and she embarked on a nationwide promotional tour which continues to this very day.
Defying Gravity – Jordan’s Story, by Jordan Mooney with Cathi Unsworth, is published by Omnibus Press
An edited version of this interview previously appeared in Journal