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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Poly Gone! A Tribute To Poly Styrene

It seems almost inappropriate, indeed downright offensive to begin such a personal and poignant piece by quoting a pompous buffoon who has no place in the ~Streetlamp~, but....."How long? How long must we sing this song?"
With the metaphorical ink barely dry on our obituaries to Ari Up and Tura Satana, once again we find ourselves in mourning at the passing of another of our musical heroes and Pop Culture icons.

For today we wake to find that Poly Styrene has passed away.
Poly Styrene (real name Marianne Elliot-Said) was the lead singer with one of Punk's most unique and thoroughly original bands, X-Ray Spex.
One of the first wave of Punk bands in the UK they sounded completely apart from the rest of the movement, but were as every bit as essential as any of the others. Most of Punk's original icons had a distinctive look (a far cry from the heavily xeroxed rent-a-Punks that comprised the second wave); just look at Lydon, Vanian, Strummer, Ari Up, and Siouxsie for example. But Poly was way out on her own, dressed in eye-scorching Dayglo, cheap plastic accoutrement's, and with her corrective braces still wired defiantly to her teeth. She was an imposing sight for sure, frightening my parents on Top Of The Pops like she'd just arrived from another planet whilst I sat agog and agape, enjoying every second.
Vocaly too, she was quite extreme, possessing one of Punk's true Marmite voices; you either loved it or hated it.....I'll let you guess where we stood on the matter.
And then lyrically, well, again she was out there doing her own thing. Unlike the other Punk voices of the day she wasn't whining on about unemployment, boredom and the state of the nation. No, she was singing about turning the world Dayglo, teen consumerism, OCD level cleanliness, spiritual and physical bondage, non-conformity, and of course pure individualism. Something Poly had in spades.
I can't really speak for Ray on this matter but I know that Griff and I must have played X-Ray Spex's first (and in a sense only real) album 'Germ Free Adolescents' in excess of a thousand times. And no, I'm not exaggerating! I know this must be the case as I own the original vinyl pressing which I got when I was still at Primary School, the CD re-issue from around 1990, and then the Special Edition Box Set CD with all the demos, B-sides and a full concert. It's always been a record that has been around us.
And why not? Unlike some other Punk records, the playing is immaculate; the band incredibly tight with the startling juxtaposition of Lora Logic's mournful sax rubbing against Poly's shrill vocals.
Below are a few of my favourites:

After 'Germ Free Adolescents' X-Ray Spex just seemed to fritter away. Poly vanished from the scene, becoming a bit of a put it mildly! Occasionally she would do interviews but these seemed to wander off into talk about the Hari Krishna movement and the existence of UFOs.
John Lydon remained a friend but even he seemed troubled by her fragile state of mind.
There were often rumours of some kind of comeback and only recently did she release a new album called 'Generation Indigo' to very favourable reviews. There was even speculation of some live dates to accompany the release. As I write this I haven't got the new album yet but it is high on my agenda. I had also hoped to persuade Griff and Ray to go and see her in concert if she toured. Now, sadly, just like the final Slits tour that we never got to see, it's not to be. I will probably write about the new album in this Blog at some time in the future, but now it's time only to reflect on a beautiful human being and an extraordinary talent.
Farewell then Poly,
You turned the world Dayglo for us,
We thank you....and we miss you,
Sleep well xxx


A little addendum:
Several years ago I was at a record fair in Glasgow and I noticed that the original vinyl pressing of Germ Free Adolescents, identical in every way to my own much-loved copy, was going for a price in excess of £50. Not a bad price when you consider that I probably only paid a few quid for it. Needless to say, however, I wasn't tempted cashing-in. To even consider parting with this record for monetary gain would be on a par with selling my soul to the devil. No, this LP stays with me until the bitter end. In a sales-driven world of high-turnover, disposablity and accelerating consumption, always remember that there are higher ideals, deeper truths and alternative paths to walk... that's what Poly taught me.


1 comment:

  1. Great post thanks and a fitting tribute.