Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Poly Styrene - X Ray Spex Style Icon
I first met Poly Styrene through Falcon Stuart, who had managed X Ray Spex in their heyday and was managing me in the mid 1980’s. Poly or Marianne as she was known by 1985, was at a Hari Krishna house party in a posh Maida Vale flat which I had been encouraged to attend by my mum’s friend’s daughter…still with me?
Anyway, needless to say Poly was a punk icon with truly original style and had made and sold her clothes at the Beaufort Market on the Kings Road in London. She's been a style and music inspiration to Agnyess Deyn, Beth Ditto of Gossip and countless other artists including Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile.
Marianne Elliott-Said was born in 1957 in Bromley, Kent, and raised in Brixton, London. Her mother, who raised her alone, was a Scots-Irish legal secretary. Her father was Somalian.Marianne was a teenage barefoot hippie. At age 15, she ran away from home with £3 in her pocket, and hitchhiked from one music festival to another, staying at hippie crash pads. Poly recorded her first demo with producer Ted Bunting in 1975, when she was just 16 years old, and released her first, reggae, single, "Silly Billy"/"What A Way", as "Mari Elliott" in 1976. After watching a very early gig by the Sex Pistols in an empty hall on Hastings Pier, playing a set of cover songs, she was so inspired that she put an ad in the paper for ‘young punx who want to stick it together’ to form a band. So it was that, as Poly Styrene, the singer with X-Ray Spex with distinctive stage gear of polyester fibres, thrift shop clothes, and braces on her teeth, she was described by Billboard as the "archetype for the modern-day feminist punk"; because she stood against the typical sex object female of 1970s rock star, sported a gaudy Dayglo wardrobe, and was of mixed race, she was "one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history, male or female".
Apparently in 1978, after a gig at the Outlook Club in Doncaster, she had a vision of a pink light in the sky and felt objects crackling when she touched them. Thinking she was hallucinating, her mother took her to the hospital where Marianne was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, sectioned, and told she would never work again. Although she missed playing at the time, in hindsight, she felt that getting out of the public eye was good for her. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991. I am not sure that Doncaster was actually to blame for this, though you never know.
After the original version of X-Ray Spex broke up, Poly Styrene recorded a solo album, Translucence, in 1980. The album abandoned X-Ray Spex's loud guitar work for a quieter and more jazzy sound that anticipated the 1990s dance band Everything But the Girl. In 1986, she released the EP God's & Godesses on Falcon Stuart’s Awesome record label. A New Age solo album, Flower Aeroplane, followed in 2004.
In 2007, she was invited to the Concrete Jungle festival in Camber Sands, where she and the gathering's organizer, Symond Lawes, agreed to initiate a 30-year celebration of X-Ray Spex's debut album, Germ Free Adolescents. They decided to hold a live show at the Camden Roundhouse, which was a sell-out event on 6 September 2008. A live album/DVD of this event, Live @ The Roundhouse London 2008, was released in November 2009 on The Year Zero label by Future Noise Music. She made a guest appearance at the 2008 30th anniversary concert of Rock Against Racism in Victoria Park, London, performing "Oh Bondage Up Yours" with guest musicians Drew McConnell (of Babyshambles and Helsinki) and 'Flash' David Wright playing saxophone.
That same year, she dueted with Goldblade's John Robb on a remix of Goldblade's "City Of Christmas Ghosts".
In March 2009, she joined other members of PRS for Music in criticizing Google for allegedly not paying a fair share of royalties to musicians. This followed Google's removal of millions of videos from YouTube because of a royalties dispute with the organization.
NME.com announced on 29 October 2010 that Poly Styrene was to release a solo album titled Generation Indigo, produced by Martin Glover (aka Youth from Killing Joke), in March 2011. She released a free download of "Black Christmas" in November 2010. "Black Christmas" featured and was written in collaboration with her daughter, Celeste. It was inspired by the killing spree in Los Angeles instigated by a man dressed as Santa Claus.
Poly Styrene announced "Virtual Boyfriend" as the first single from her new album Generation Indigo via Spinner Music, as well as the launch of her brand new website. "Virtual Boyfriend" was released on 21 March 2011, and featured an animated promotional video directed by Ben Wheele. Generation Indigo was released on 28 March 2011, via Future Noise Music. The album received critical acclaim, including a perfect 10 out of 10 score in Artrocker magazine, and 8 out of 10 in The Telegraph newspaper. Generation Indigo was also chosen as Album of the Day on UK radio station BBC 6 Music.
"Ghoulish" was the first posthumous single to be released from Generation Indigo, and was backed by a remix from Hercules and Love Affair.
In February 2011, in an interview published in The Sunday Times magazine, which largely focused on her past and present relationship with her daughter Celeste, she revealed that she had been treated for breast cancer, and that it had spread to her spine and lungs. She died on 25 April 2011 at the age of 53.
Fan JONATHAN ROSS left a Twitter message revealing that X-Ray Spex were the first band he saw live — adding: "RIP Poly Styrene. You changed lives."
Her friend BOY GEORGE said: "Oh bless you Poly, you will be missed."
SPANDAU BALLET star turned actor MARTIN KEMP said it was Poly who "gave me so much ambition when I was a punk".