Entertainment / Q & A

Poly Styrene, a musical inspiration

After running away from home at just 15 years old, she had nothing but a head full of dreams of becoming an actress or a fashion designer. Yet, it all dramatically changed one night on her 19th birthday at Hastings Pier when she watched the animalistic rabble which was The Sex Pistols.

Shortly after the event, she began combining her passion for fashion with her love for music to stand out in the punk world. By mixing stylish business suits, military helmet and her iconic barbed wire braces, she became her alter ego. This is of course a reference to the late Poly Styrene and the soon to be released feature length documentary about her life.

Poly Styrene 1During the 1970s, very few women were revered in rock music, apart from Janis Joplin, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde to name a few. Overall, James Brown put it best ‘…this is a man’s world’. Yet, no one woman has ever had to overcome sexism, racism and, shall it be said, dentures like Poly Styrene has.

Now a documentary, co-produced by Styrene’s own daughter Celeste Bell, is soon to be released to celebrate her mother’s life called ‘Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché’.

The documentary will focus on the early years on Poly Styrene’s career from her revered whimsical and unconventional lyrics during the anarchistic punk era, to her onstage antics in London and New York in never seen before footage and additional interviews.

For those of you unfamiliar, Marianne Elliot-Said, aka Poly Styrene, was born in Kent 1957 to a legal secretary mother and a dispossessed aristocratic father from Somalia.

In the Arena documentary shown by the BBC, ‘Who Is Poly Styrene?’, Elliot-Said explained how she came up with the nickname Poly Styrene. ‘I chose the name Poly Styrene because it’s a light weight disposable product.’

‘It sounded alright, because I thought it was a send up of being a pop star. Like a little a figure, not me being Poly Styrene, just plastic, disposable. That’s what pop stars were meant to mean…’

In 1978 they released their debut album Germ Free Adolescents, which included such tracks as ‘Let’s Submerge’, ‘Art-I-Ficial’, ‘The Day the World Turned Dayglo’, ‘I Am a Poseur’ and the highly explosive feminist track ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’, which cried out the line ‘Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.’

Despite the band disbanding shortly afterwards, X-Ray Spex left a lasting impression on the punk world, only ever reuniting for the release of one final album, Conscious Consumer, 17 years later.

Poly Styrene 2Yet, despite Elliot-Said suffered with personal struggles with the real world and mental health issues, she went onto to release three solo albums. Her last album, ‘Generation Indigo’, was released near her untimely death from breast cancer aged just 53, despite using advanced treatment.

Artists such as John Lydon from the Sex Pistols and Morrissey from The Smiths have cited Poly Styrene as inspiration and influence in their music and paid their respects.

The Billboard Magazine rated the documentary’s highly, calling Poly Styrene: ‘One of the least conventional Front-Persons in rock history’

With the documentary set to be released in November 2018, it proves that even though Elliot-Said is tragically no longer with us Poly Styrene isn’t as disposable as one may think.

 

By Lewis Chesworth

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