Punk icon Poly Styrene dies at 53
Punk icon Poly Styrene, former X-Ray Spex singer, dies aged 53
Punk singer Poly Styrene, former singer with the X-Ray Spex, has died at the age of 53 after suffering from cancer.
She was one of the first female punk icons, whose unorthodox yet infectious style was highly influential.
Real name Marianne Elliot-Said, she had cancer of the spine and breast.
A statement on her official Twitter feed said: “We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places.”
Singer Billy Bragg was among those who paid tribute, saying: “Punk without Poly Styrene and the X-Ray Spex wouldn’t have been the same.”
Poly Styrene formed her band after watching the Sex Pistols perform on Hastings Pier on her 18th birthday and became known for her unpolished vocals and energetic rallying cries against consumerism and environmental destruction.
Poly Styrene released her third solo album only a month before passing away
X-Ray Spex’s signature tune was Oh Bondage Up Yours!, a riotous rejection of social and gender norms that began with Poly Styrene’s spoken line: “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.”
The band released just one album, Germ Free Adolescents, in 1978, before splitting up.
The singer went on to record a more subtle and subdued solo album, Translucence, in 1980, before retreating from the music industry to join the Hare Krishnas.
She moved into a Krishna temple in Hertfordshire with her daughter, and struggled with bipolar disorder.
Boy George – who once tried to break her out of the temple – wrote on Twitter: “I was a fan of Poly before I got to know her, she was a Krishna follower too, oh bless you Polly you will be missed! Legend!”
Former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock praised the “general joie de vivre nuttiness” shown in songs like Oh Bondage Up Yours!
X-Ray Spex, with Poly Styrene, right, recorded just one album before splitting up
“She wouldn’t kow-tow to even what the punk fashions should be, I think that’s what that song is about,” he told BBC 6 Music.
“I did see her not that long ago so it’s sad. Again, somebody from the punk rock scene has died far too young and it’s a loss.”
Billy Bragg told the radio station that Oh Bondage Up Yours! was a “slap in the face” to male punk bands and rock journalists.
“It’s always hard for women in rock music but it was particularly hard in the 70s,” he said. “I think she cut right through that. The work that she did and the things that she produced always stayed true to that original spirit of punk.”
TV presenter Jonathan Ross said his first concert was an X-Ray Spex gig, adding that the singer had “changed lives”.
Poly Styrene occasionally re-emerged into the limelight, holding a sell out 30 year celebration of xrasy spex live at the Camden Roundhouse in 2007 and released her third solo album, Generation Indigo, in 2011
“I know I’ll probably be remembered for Oh Bondage Up Yours!” she told 6 Music last month. “I’d like to remembered for something a bit more spiritual.”
From Concrete Jungle Festival to Xray Spex
What was I thinking, the day I decided to get involved with Punk Rock. My youth was way behind me, long gone were the days when I thought we were going to change the world. Call it a mid life crisis, or just plain madness, but I would like to think it was more the desire to preserve and celebrate a time in British culture and music.I had been away, become a father, worked for many years as a television actor, seen the world, discovered foreign cultures and philosophy. I didn’t need a pair of doc martins to define myself.Whether it was because I had often played skinhead roles on television shows, the bond I had with my friends, the memories of punks queuing up outside the town hall when I was a kid to see our local band the Xtraverts. The Clash at Brixton, Madness in Hammersmith Odeon, The fact Gavin Watson had made a living from photographs of my friends and me, or the TV documentaries I took part in on the subject. whatever it was, inside me was a belief which I discovered in my teenage years, which had kept me safe throughout my life. that said whoever you are, from where ever you come, you can get up there and do it. Punk Rock was a lot more than fashion and clothes, records and rock stars. It was a belief system, shared and loved by thousands.
After my time working with the Mean Fiddler came to an end, I was at a lose end. throughout my time doing large festivals, such as Leeds and Glastonbury, working behind the scenes, I had witnessed hundreds of bands come and go. The large American corporate labels selling the new generations, their version of Punk Rock, never booking the real thing. I often felt it such a shame that the kids of today or the Bands of real Punk had never had the chance of such exposure to each other, so when I bumped into an old friend, who was guitarist in the biggest band on the punk underground, Cock Sparrer, I agreed to work with him to produce a punk festival. I had experience with production, he was well in with the scene and all the bands, so the agreement was that I would sort the venue out, he would book the acts.
Straight from signing the contract with the venue and paying the deposit of £10.000 I was in too deep, and alarm bells started ringing. Bands contacted me to ask who I was and why was I advertising that they were playing at my show. I was just going on what my booker was informing me, but apparently it had been discussions in bar rooms, and not official agreements made. “Oh well that’s how its done in Punk” He told me.
Things were quickly ironed out with most bands, but a few had to drop out because of other commitments. The tickets went on sale through a punk website, at first all was OK, but after months of promotion it became apparent that tickets weren’t selling at anywhere near the amount we needed to break even. I then noticed even headline acts hadn’t put on websites etc. that they were even playing. I didn’t have the money or time to go to every small gig in Europe to give out flyers, I was hoping the punk scene would rally behind a great new event. but what I got was the polar opposite.
When I asked a headline band from Scotland called the Exploited, if we could renegotiate their fee, which was four times higher than their usual gig fee, they refused and threatened the website selling tickets, which then panicked and returned everyone’s money that had ordered tickets. The money I had taken directly had all gone to pay the monthly deposits ordered by the venue, which was non refundable.
Rumours became loud about cancellation, other punk promoters sent texts out to tell people it was cancelled. Political extremists started to spread personal insults and commit purgery about me. Even one disgruntled ex Punk singer Jimmy Percey, who incidentally was the singer of a song which changed my life called the kids are united, put on his website that the event was some sort of Nazi rally, because his previous band had decided to play without him.Then the next head-liner started causing trouble because the logo used mentioned a band he was once a member of, again one of my all time favourite acts from coventry, and ex members of the Coventry Ska band accused us of trying to cash in on the name or give people false hope that it was in fact the original act playing, which was completely untrue, but he also had to pull off of the event.The stress levels were effecting my personal life beyond belief. I had invested my life savings. I naively thought that the scene would get behind a great new event. 60 bands were booked. but sales we lower than band members. with no sleep for three months my mental health was suffering, I had no energy left to fight an internet war, I had no idea about what bands had been involved with in the last 30 years politically, had no idea about how many loyal fans they had, I took the word of people I thought knew. a very bad business decision. as the stress became higher and higher, I cut away from people, found myself lost in the internet world of make believe, just looking for positives. it cost me the relationship with the girl I loved.Two weeks before the event the website/ production manager demanded full payment then ran away, refusing to work any moreMy girlfriend and helper abandoned ship and left the country. taking what she thought should be her wages, but was in fact ticket money to be paid to bands. but worst of all my emotions.An hour away from the show, I knew I was financially ruined, my crew had left, the money gone, I preyed for a walk up which never came. but I had found some friends who had come in to at least help on the day, my kids ran the merchandise stall with my sister, some real angels helped to make the show go on. In terms of entertainment it was highly successful. many people told me later that it was the best punk show they had ever attended, but emotionally. financially and mentally I was broken.One guest came that day, who was to turn the whole tide, and if there is a god on Earth it was her. Poly Styrene is her stage name. to me she is Marianne.She offered me the hand of friendship, showed me a way forward, gave me support and mental help, the courage to go on.She also offered to perform an X-Ray Spex show with me. With my last bit of energy, I agreed and booked the Roundhouse in London, for a show the next year. I was finished financially, so what did I have to lose, it was not like Concrete Jungle festival,this was a standard venue, with a band which were icons of my youth. one of my all time favourite acts, and true punk rock, in attitude and action.The Roundhouse holds 3000 people, and by new years day we had sold enough tickets to break even, but there was a lot of work to be done, find musicians, work on the set, organise all the promotions, the radio, press.Poly suffers with serious mental health issues, which had to be considered everyday. until she actually got on the stage we never knew if it would go ahead. we had the usual people trying to sabotage the event, but we also had an army of loyal fans that made X-Ray Spex live at the Roundhouse the best day of my life.
for the year running up to the event, we booked the venue, put our money where our mouth was, poly was constantly worrying about her mortgage payments, she had a little house in st leonards by her mother, any money she had made years before had been taken from her by bad management and sharks. we were in the same boat, it was us against the world. but the word spread, the love which was attracted to poly from across the world was unbelievable, with no big business, no big corporate promotion we did it. people said it wasnt punk rock, because we put the show in a big venue, but the roundhouse is a charity which helps deprived kids, poly and me decided its the only place we could possibly hold it, she didnt like the drinking festivals which most punk gigs were, neither of us liked the corporate events. we wanted to do the show for the real fans, from all walks of life, all ages groups and backgrounds. the night before the gig my friend fiona was cutting the logo out to stick on a drum kit on her lounge carpet, for the kit we had got from ebay, the drummer didnt have his own kit. pete heywood had his circle of plyboard from his old band pink fraud, to be used for the stage projection. on the day we didnt have any catering or food for the band, but no one complained, poly got on the stage and took the house down. halway through the gig my son asked me to go upstairs. we looked over the balcony, the place was full from wall to wall, back to front, people of all ages, from many different countries, the atmosphere was beyond words. my son said to me ‘ Dad did you do this’ the pride i felt at that moment will live with me forever.later i stood on the side of the stage with my nephew alfie, watching the crowd going crazy, poly was alive and so young, her natural charisma shining like a star.Thank you Poly, Saxby, Flash, Paul, Pete Heywood, Oonagh. LukeMy son Jack, Sally, Alfie and Steve Reeve daryl, ian, daz and gussAnd everyone that bought a ticket or helped out with promotion and spreading the word Rest in Peace my dear friend xxx