Jayne Payne

Counter-cultural survivor

Arty Types

This article is taken from the April 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

The other volunteers in the Kidderminster “Meet ‘n’ Greet” charity shop have long suspected that there is something unusual about their colleague Jayne. “You can just see”, as one of them recently remarked, “that she hasn’t led what you might call an ordinary life.” 

For her own part, Jayne — in her mid-sixties now, with a worn old face and incongruous raven-black hair — enjoys stimulating this curiosity. Her admission, a couple of weeks back, when someone donated a bundle of Adam and the Ants CDs to the music shelf, that “I used to know him when he was called Stuart” caused an absolute sensation.

What did Jayne once do that is so remarkable? Well, 47 years ago she was a member of the socio-musical grouping known as “the Bromley Contingent.” 

She and Johnny Rotten once shared a Twix

Not all of them were from Bromley — Jayne herself hails from Beckenham — but it was a convenient tag for the music papers. In this capacity, when not dodging the brickbats flung by her disapproving parents, she attended early punk gigs, hung out with members of the Sex Pistols and was, or so she maintains, arrested on Jubilee night in 1977 for hitting a police constable trying to break up an anarchist demonstration on the head with a traffic cone.

Jayne, as she will occasionally reveal, was not merely an attendant upon all this late-70s mayhem. No indeed, she was — literally — a player, fronting a feminist ensemble called Valerie Solanis and the Tough Girls that recorded two singles for Rough Trade, contributed several poems to an anthology entitled “Baby, I’m Not Your Fucking Muse”, appeared in a promotional video with the Damned, and can be seen swelling several scenes in the early Derek Jarman films. 

What happened afterwards? Alas, punk rock came and went. The Bromley Contingent broke up, and most of its members were swiftly re-absorbed into the “straight” world. Jayne herself went into graphic design — by no means an unglamorous calling, but rather a come-down for a girl who had once snogged the late Joe Strummer at a bus-stop. 

On the other hand, time brings its consolations for those who have been a part of bygone “movements”. About ten years ago, in an age of punk retrospectives and a riot of books with titles like Sid, Nancy and Me, Jayne became aware that the cultural capital she had accumulated in the days of binliner skirts and Vivienne Westwood leather gear was unexpectedly marketable.

The result was “The Jayne Payne archive”, a collection of old concert flyers and photos of girls in bondage trousers, now located at University College, London, and a memoir, published by an enterprising small press, called How I Fought the Punk Wars, which sold nearly 2,000 copies. 

If plans for a compilation album of her work have stalled — nobody at Rough Trade knows what has happened to the master tapes — then the late-career acquisition of minor celebrity is highly gratifying. Hard at work pricing up crockery in the shop, Jayne assures herself that the time is ripe, come the next coffee break, for telling her co-workers the story of how she and Johnny Rotten once shared a Twix.

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