Janie Jones, party host of apparent ill-repute, patsy for an establishment steeped in double-standards, prison confidante of Myra Hindley and cause celebre for the Clash during their early rabble-rousing months, also understood the true meaning of seven inches of pleasure. In 1965, by which time she was already a veteran of the London night-clubs, the delectable singer had stumbled into an occasional pop career with the irresistbly chart-bound Witches Brew, a record that won her instant, ghoulish notoriety. Long before her notorious Kensington parties, which reached a steamy crescendo at the tail-end of the Swinging Sixties, secured her headlines of a quite different sort, she released several singles of varying styles. However, all that was eclipsed by her trial and subsequent incarceration at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
The girl from Co. Durham, who’d travelled south to sample the bright lights of London and found instant success singing and dancing in the capital’s top night-spots, was in 1973 sent down for seven years on a charge of controlling prostitutes. Another victim of establishment hypocrisy, like Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies before her, and Cynthia Payne several years later, she saw her reputation torn to shreds by the tabloids while those who gorged on the pleasures of her hospitality dived into the shadows of invisibility that money and power inevitably affords.
Now, and not before time, it’s some of Jones’s secrets & her flirtation with pop & that are being publicly unveiled. For the party host, who was later to share the innermost thoughts of fellow inmate Myra Hindley, released a handful of singles between 1965 and 1983, material proof of a pop past that saw her working with performers as diverse as Marc Bolan, Jimmy Webb, Gordon Mills and the Clash. Her social circle, particularly during the Sixties, also included Cliff Richard, Paul and Barry Ryan, Dusty Springfield, Ken Dodd, Tom Jones and Lulu.
Steeped in the classic showbusiness tradition, where innuendo-riddled music-hall meets cabaret balladry, she found brief pop success with Witches Brew late in 1965. Although she never scaled such commercial heights again, Jones released a string of singles for labels like EMI and Pye, before her intermittent career was abruptly halted by her court case and subsequent trial.
After four grisly years in prison, she was released in 1977, only to learn that she’d become a cause celebre for the punk movement. The Clash, and Joe Strummer in particular, closely identified with the plight of the good-time girl-cum-society scapegoat. The band’s brilliant self-titled debut album kicked off with the chant, He’s in love with Janie Jones wooah!, and Janie joined the Red Army Faction, Gary Gilmore, and the safety-pinned Queen as a punk icon par excellence.
Her relationship with the Clash was cemented in 1983, when the group backed her for a comeback 45, House of The Ju-Ju Queen. More recently, she’s repaid the debt with her own tribute song to Joe Strummer, A Letter To Joe, which receives an official airing for the first time on this CD.
Those seeking to discover more about the ins-and-outs of Janie’s richly coloured life should seek out ‘The Devil And Miss Jones’, her hugely entertaining autobiography, published by Smith Gryphon. But for our purposes (and some thirty years after she began her recording career), we’re going to cast some light Ñ with a little help from Janie herself & on her woefully neglected recorded work.
Stardom of sorts came early to the girl from the coal-mining community of Seaham, Co. Durham, whose earliest years were played out against the background of the war effort. As a child I’d be up on the air-raid shelter dancing and singing keeping everyone amused, Janie recalls. Years spent training as a dancer put her in good stead for a career-enhancing move to London in the late Fifties. I was hooked on entertaining people, she admits. I liked Ethel Merman, and I could take off many voices in my cabaret act, which went down well in the West End. But I suppose my main talent was in having the knack of making people laugh.
Performing in notable watering-holes like the Astor, the Windmill, the Latin Quarter, La Prince, Quaglino’s and the Establishment Club (where she performed alongside up-and-coming talents such as Peter Cook and David Frost), Janie also developed a mild distaste for the vacuousness of the traditional club scene. Showbusiness to me was a lot of plasticy types. I’ve got a vivid imagination, and I’ve always found there are too many empty ‘daahlings’ in showbiz. I’m more down-to-earth. I’m from a coal-mining family!
Janie Jones got her first break from routine in November 1965, with the Witches Brew single that afforded her a second fling with notoriety. (Her first came a year earlier when she arrived topless at the premiere of Michael Klinger’s ‘London In The Raw’ film.) After recording it at Olympic Studios on 24th June, Jones initially had little belief in the song, which (like so many of her subsequent A- and B-sides) had been written for her by her sister Valerie.
She wrote that for me because I’m the seventh child of a seventh child & I’m psychic. It was done during time leftover for a song she was recording (as Valerie Mitchell). Witches Brew was a novelty record, complete with bubbling cauldron sound effects (achieved by plunging a Hoover into a pail of water), but when Valerie’s husband and the record’s producer Sidney Gilbert touted it round the companies, it soon became clear that Witches Brew was deemed far more commercial than a second track taped at the session, Take-A My Tip. I love comedy, Janie recalls, but I really couldn’t see why they preferred that song. We took it to Pye and Decca, who both insisted on having ‘Witches Brew’ as the A-side, but when EMI also agreed, that sealed it for me.
Leased to EMI’s HMV subsidiary, Witches Brew soon crept into the U.K. charts, and Janie found herself on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’, ‘Time For Blackburn’ and the BBC’s flagship pop show, ‘Top Of The Pops’. They had me coming through the clouds in my witch’s gear, broomstick, pots and all, she says. And at the same time, Marc Bolan was promoting his first song, called ‘The Wizard’. We did some gigs together, and he was supposed to go on first, but he asked me to go on first ‘cos he was a bit nervous. Marc also wrote a poem for me, which was very sweet. Actually, I met him at the premiere of Lionel Bart’s ‘Lionel’ a few days before he died, and he looked wonderful.
The flip, Take-A My Tip, again a Valerie Mitchell original, was in the vein of an old-time music-hall number, and much closer to Jones’ stage origins. Because I was good at comedy, she gave me comedy songs and kept the more serious ballads for herself. Yet it was me who got into the charts! Janie recalls.
The follow-up, Gunning For You, also came with its own stage routine (spinning guns, what else?!), which found more favour with cabaret audiences than with the record-buying public. I was an all-rounder, and people thought pop stars would quickly come and go, she says. No surprises which market Valerie’s Tickle Me Tootsie Wootsies was aimed at either, although that particular song remains something of a Jones favourite judging by the spirited impromptu rendition she is wont to give at the very mention of its title. As for the flip, High And Dry, delivered Jerry Lewis baby-style, the trumpets were as flat as pancakes on that record! she laughs.
By May 1968, Jones had switched to Pye, for the dreamy, post-flower-power pop of Charlie Smith, recorded at the label’s own studios on 29th March, and written by Alma Cook. By this time, it wasn’t unusual for singles to be promoted by low-budget film shorts, and the tale of Charlie Smith, the lighthouse-keeper who fended off a gaggle of amorous girls for an attractive singing mermaid, was a gift to film-maker Keith Beckett.
I got Richard Stamp, younger brother of Terry and Chris, to play Charlie, Janie remembers. While the other two had gone off to Hollywood, Richard, who was 19 or 20 at the time, was staying at Chris’s flat with Kit Lambert. But because Kit was gay, he felt unsettled and so he asked if he could stay at my place. I said OK, if you don’t mind loads of models and celebrities being around!
I hired a bus, a load of girls, and a boat to sail out to the lighthouse. And of course all the girls fell in love with Charlie Smith, but he was in love with me, the mermaid on the rocks, complete with fish’s tail! The film promptly disappeared without trace and, despite a keen bout of fly-posting (bearing the legend, ‘Charlie Smith and last seen on a lighthouse’), so did the song. Perhaps it was too similar to Alan Price’s ‘Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear’, muses Janie.
1968 was also the year that Janie Jones met John Christian Dee, a talented songwriter who’s probably best known in this country for writing the Pretty Things’ classic 1964 hit, Don’t Bring Me Down. In Germany, though, success had bought him a Mercedes, and – according to Janie – some troublesome personal habits. So they struck a bargain: if she married him and settled down, he’d clean up his act. Janie kept her side of the arrangement, but Dee found his promise rather more difficult to keep. But he did gift her with a string of songs which, despite their doomed marriage, she maintains were among the best she ever recorded.
‘The Crank’ was a great writer, she says, but I was lucky enough to record a song written by one of the truly wonderful songwriters from that whole period. That was Jimmy Webb, whose catalogue now includes some of the most sublime standards from the world of the post-war popular song. Up, Up And Away, Windy, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Wichita Lineman certainly rival anything from the pen of Sixties’ songwriting gods Bacharach & David.
So, of course, does MacArthur Park, the enigmatic chart-topper from ‘68 which had the country musing on the significance of why anyone would leave a cake out in the rain. And it was while Webb was working with Richard Harris on that memorable song that Jones first encountered the sun-blessed songwriter.
Jim Webb had been looking for Richard Harris for two weeks, to do ‘MacArthur Park’, she recalls. Dermot, Richard’s younger brother, phoned me up to say that Richard had joined the ‘lost’ list. He’d gone on the piss-up, gone missing, and Jim and I looked all over London for him because Lansdowne Studios had been booked and his disappearance was costing them a lot of money. Eventually, we found him, he recorded the song, and it was just brilliant. But it was while I was at Richard’s flat, just off Eaton Place, that Jim played me the ‘Girl’s Song’.
I fell in love with the lyrics, but he told me that I wouldn’t be able to do it because it had a very difficult key change. Actually, I find it easier to do something that’s difficult than something which is simple, so I asked him to let me try it. I did it there and then, and he was amazed and gave me the demo. It was really an album track, about one lonely person trying to contact another. It was very sad, but it’s still one of my favourites.
As with much of her late Sixties and early Seventies work, Jones was always on hand to supervise the sessions, which she also paid for. Girl’s Song, backed by sister Valerie’s I’ve Never Met A Boy Like You, recorded at Pye in late March/early April ‘68, failed to chalk up another Webb success, but this evocative period piece certainly gave its London-based singer creative fulfilment.
By the end of the decade, good songs were, in Jones’ eyes, becoming harder to come by. Sydney had gone to the States with Valerie, and though I was starting to record some of the Crank’s songs, we weren’t releasing them. Then she stumbled across Back On My Feet Again by the successful Carter/Lewis songwriting team. That reminded me of Pickettywitch, she says. But despite an appearance on a TV show with Ed Stewart, where she dressed up in a hand-painted Indian costume, accompanied by the Crank as Cody Smith, this uptempo slice of home-grown bubblegum, recorded in August 1970 and released on President, just couldn’t revive her chart fortunes.
The flip, Psycho, was in retrospect infinitely more interesting. I was in the studio with the Crank, she remembers, and we were searching for ideas for the B-side. I suggested that we base it on me shouting at Eric (Eric was – and remains – Janie’s devoted, long-term manservant). It’s a psycho song, it’s mad. And I said to the Crank, you repeat the kind of answers that Eric would give back to me. What I remember most about recording that one was that I was dying to go to the loo, but I couldn’t go because he didn’t want me passing the men in the studio. It was an absolutely mad record.
It was Long John Baldry who first introduced me to the Crank, muses Janie. He said John Christian Dee’s a good songwriter, but he’s penniless, and he’s got nowhere to stay. Could I sort him out for a couple of days. He brought him round, and he played his guitar. I remember the song to this day. It was ‘The World Can Pack Its Bags And Go Away’. And the lyric to that song blew my mind.
When Gordon Mills heard it, he said, ‘Janie, I’m gonna record you with that, that’ll be a hit.’ The unfortunate thing was I had a dose of flu, a 103 temperature, but Gordon didn’t believe me. He thought the Crank was jealous, he didn’t like him, and he came round to make sure that I really did have the ‘flu. Needless to say, Janie didn’t record the song, and apparently the Crank replaced her, even singing in her key.
Besides writing songs that made Janie’s heart swoon (they married on 7th November 1968), John Christian Dee was also in the business of discovering bands. One such group was Faith, Hope & Charity, whom he tried placing with Decca before they emerged with a lone single on the independent Crewe label (So Much Love/Life Won’t Be The Same Without You (CRW 3; 1970). Janie sang backing vocals on a suitably spooky track named after occult painter, Austin Osman Spare. It was a weird time, recalls Jones. We went out for the day with the group and stopped off at this monastery. I said I could feel psychic things here. I didn’t know what it was, but there was something coming out of the walls trying to give me a message. So we went into the sitting-room, and there was a ouija board there. I said, if we’re gonna go on it, I want you to be serious about it, ‘cos these are dangerous things.
As the Seventies began, Janie Jones was still making regular visits to the studio whenever an appropriate song presented itself to her. These, including two recent finds, Dee’s The Woman In White and Cross On The Wall In Nashville, would often be recorded with Dee at the producer’s desk. Both were taped at Lansdowne Studios on 4th January 1972.
And then Jones’ world caved in. While in America in order to get her husband’s career off the ground, Janie received a call concerning a story that had just broken in the ‘News of The World’. She returned to London and was greeted by mass tabloid hysteria, with a mountain of ‘Vice Queen Janie’ headlines. After all, there’s nothing the British public enjoys most than sex scandals involving the nation’s ruling classes. The fun was quickly over for Janie, though, who, in the summer of 1973, was sentenced to a seven years’ prison sentence and a £16,000 fine for controlling prostitutes. The high jinx of her partygoers (be they gold-owners or golddiggers) wasn’t to Janie’s taste, though. Quickies weren’t for me, insists the lady with the two-way mirrors. I never joined in on what happened at my parties, though I’ve watched it all!
Four years later, in April 1977, she walked away from the indignities of Holloway Prison, and returned to her Kensington home only to hear the strains of Punk Rock blasting out from nearby Notting Hill. The first thing I heard on the radio after being inside was ‘Who’s in love with the Janie Jones whoaa’. I thought, who the hell was that?
It was, of course, the Clash, who had not only immortalised Janie in song, but stuck the track, simply titled Janie Jones, at the head of their classic CBS debut album. We met, and got on like a house on fire, remembers Janie. Later on, I asked Joe Strummer to write a song for me. Within two days, he’d written one, ‘House Of The Ju-Ju Queen’. I thought it was dynamic, particularly on the version he recorded on tape for me featuring just him and a guitar. That, too, has been unearthed for this collection.
Strummer’s benevolence extended beyond simply donating a song to a fellow miscreant: he stumped up the cash for Janie to record House Of The Ju-Ju Queen at Wessex Studios (on 29th December 1982), and brought along the Clash to back her. Remember, you are the star, were his instructions for the session. Contractual reasons demanded that the group hid behind the pseudonymous name of the Lash, but no one was in any doubt about the true nature of the collaboration. We managed to include a photo of the Clash on the wall in the promo video, she recalls, even though it was all so hush-hush.
After that brief revival of fortunes, Jones has since maintained a dignified silence, save for the publication of her memoirs, ‘The Devil And Miss Jones’, in 1993. Very much an alternative view of the Sixties, it brought to life elements of the Swinging Decade which had often been overlooked in the face of dewy-eyed nostalgia Ñ the slow, but certain passing of old-fashioned stagecraft, the struggles to find a niche in pop’s marketplace, and the tragedies like the one involving the youthful, impressionable Miss Hindley. Jones, once a cheerleader for Hindley’s cause, now believes that the decade’s most notorious peroxide blonde should spend the rest of her life behind bars. She made a fool of me, she says, in the light of developments in the Moors Murders case during 1987, which saw Hindley returning to Saddleworth Moor, burial ground for victims of awful crimes over twenty years earlier.
Punk stars like Joe Strummer had also known what it’s like to have been vilified by the press. But Jones has nothing but admiration for the man whom she now claims, gave me back my dignity as an artist. As a display of her continued affection for the ex-Clash frontman, in 1992 she asked her good friend (and songwriter of some repute) Tony Waddington to translate her feelings into song. Two days later, he’d written ‘A Letter To Joe’ for me. I just seem to inspire songwriters, she says.
Joe once invited me along to a Clash show on his birthday, remembers a still grateful Janie, who seems to hold him in higher esteem than all of her old Sixties pals rolled into one. I’ll never forget it. I went to the party afterwards, and as soon as he walked in and caught sight of me, he came straight over and sat at my feet. I was really touched by that. In fact, I was knocked out by the whole evening. The crowd went so bananas during ‘Janie Jones’ that I was almost frightened by it. Janie Jones has already earned her place in pop history even before you’ve opened this CD. Now experience what lies on the other side of the mirror.