The world loses some of its dayglo
Poly Styrene (3 July 1957-25 April 2011)
Pioneering punk musician Poly Styrene was born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said in Kent, and raised by her mother in Brixton. Her teenage years in the early to mid 70s were sometimes chaotic. Running away from South London, she drifted from hippy communes to music festivals. But it was witnessing a Sex Pistols performance on her 15th birthday in 1975 that was to propel her life in a dramatic new direction (leading to her ridiculously short experience of the limelight). Inspired by the Pistols scorn of the tired trappings of traditional rock, she formed her own band by placing adverts in the NME and Melody Maker in the summer of 1976, recruiting kindred teenage spirits under the banner YOUNG PUNX WHO WANT TO STICK IT TOGETHER.
She was joined by BP (Big Paul) Hurding on drums, 15-year-old sax player Laura Logic, bassist Paul Dean, the son of a Polish refugee who had fled the Nazis, and Jak Airport a friend of the then glam rock band Japan, who swiftly jettisoned mid-70s stack heels and make-up for the spikes and straightlegs of punk. Jak's flying-V guitar was named Candy Darling. (Candy was the transsexual icon and star of two Andy Warhol films, muse of The Velvet Underground, and featured in verse two of 'Walk on the Wild Side' by Lou Reed).
After six rehearsals in their manager's front room they made their live debut at London's renowned punk venue, The Roxy. They were chaotic, but their originality and self-belief were evident. Always the antithesis of the testosterone-driven rock n'roll exploding all over the pub and club circuit of 1977, personified by biker jackets, aggression, spitting and audience-bating, Poly revelled in thrift-shop cardigans, lurid plastic jewellery, and signature dental braces. Her lyrics were more cerebral than a simple 'fuck the system,' her obsession with dayglo imagery subverting consumer society. From the outset, Poly confronted the gender stereotypes that persisted in rock, presaging the Riot Grrrl movement by 15 years.
Her feminist ideals, together with her braces, dayglo wardrobe and mixed-race background, made her the antithesis of what females were expected to conform to in the 70s rock world. Naturally her free spirit and the vivid melodies of her band eventually struck a chord with London's gathering punk scene. The early X-Ray Spex singles, remain classics of the genre.
After suffering hallucinations after a gig in 1978 she was diagnosed as schizophrenic (although this was later revised to bipolar). She drifted away from punk music just as it was losing its momentum, not to say any remaining shreds of originality. Her later solo work eschewed the crashing chords of 'Identity' or 'Let's Submerge', replacing them with a much subtler, jazzier sound, anticipating the likes of Everything But The Girl by several years.
Her last solo album, Generation Indigo, produced by Youth (Killing Joke) was released in October 2010 and was instantly acclaimed by BBC 6 Music. A single 'Black Christmas' was released in November 2010, in collaboration with her daughter Celeste.
At the tragically young age of 53 she succumbed to cancer.
"An observer, not a suffering artist writing from tortured experiences. I was playing with words and ideas. Having a laugh about everything, sending it up".
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