Following last year’s 40th anniversary of the seminal X-Ray Spex album Germfree Adolescents, we have an update about their iconic front woman, Poly Styrene which includes a wonderful new book, exhibition and even further news regarding the film I Am A Cliché.
Singer songwriter, lyricist, artist, free thinker, postmodern style pioneer and lifelong spiritual seeker, Poly Styrene was a true punk icon. This rebel queen with the cheeky grin was also a latter day pop artist with a wickedly perceptive gift for satirising the world around her, and her brightly coloured playful aesthetic was sharply at odds with the stark monochrome style and nihilism of punk.
When, in 2011, I heard of the untimely death of Poly Styrene, real name, Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, I was profoundly saddened, as of all the punk artists she was anything but a cliché.
Sure she decided to form the punk band, X-Ray Spex after seeing the Sex Pistols perform at the Pier Pavilion Hastings in 1976 like many acts of the time. However, Poly was a former hippie, whose mother was Scottish-Irish and her father, a dispossessed Somali aristocrat, which made her stand out from the rest. She was described by Billboard as the “archetype for the modern-day feminist punk”.
X-Ray Spex first release, Oh Bondage Up Yours, was not about sex, or bondage clothing, but was about consumerism and disposability, a message which is as true today as it was over forty years ago. This quirky singer could equally be endearing whilst delivering serious messages, in sub three minute slices of classic punk.
X-Ray Spex went on to release the seminal album Germfree Adolescence in 1978 and the singles from the album were The Day The World Turned Day-Glo, Identity and their biggest hit, the title track, Germfree Adolescents. Then in 1979 Poly left the band due to increasing mental health issues, which really begs the question what could have been. And so now a new book explores all of that and more.
In Dayglo: The Poly Styrene Story, published by Omnibus Press on 28th March, the vibrant jigsaw of Poly’s inspiring and often moving story has been lovingly pieced together by her daughter, singer songwriter Celeste Bell and acclaimed writer Zoë Howe (Typical Girls? The Story Of The Slits, and Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams and Rumours). It tells Poly’s story as an oral history together in one place for the first time, and includes testimonies from Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jonathan Ross, Neneh Cherry, The Slits’ Tessa Pollitt, Thurston Moore, Jon Savage, and many others.
The book honestly and openly explores Poly’s exceptional life right up to her untimely passing in 2011. Growing up mixed-race in Brixton in the 1960s and being at the forefront of the emerging punk scene with X-Ray Spex in the 1970s, Poly balanced single motherhood and sometimes debilitating mental health issues with a solo music career.
She went on to find faith with the Hare Krishna movement. It is fully illustrated with personal photos from Poly’s family collection, handwritten lyrics, hand drawn artwork and band logos, short stories and entries from her diary. The book beautifully captures Poly Styrene’s creative and personal legacy, reminding us that if anyone had the power to turn our worlds dayglo, it was her.
In further news, items from the Poly Styrene archive will be included in an exhibition titled the Paris-London Music Collection 1962 -1989, looking at the parallel music scenes that emerged as a result of immigration in both Paris and London in the mid to late 20th centuries at the Palais de la Portee, Paris. The exhibition will open on the 12th of March.
Also the hugely anticipated film Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is slated for a 2020 release. In this feature-length documentary, the jigsaw pieces of Poly’s life will be brought together for the first time.
Original interviews, new research and previously unseen archive material are combined to present a thrilling, poetic and at times impressionistic portrait. Underscored with Poly’s music from throughout her career, I Am A Cliché celebrates one of punk’s most uncompromising icons as well as an intimate look at the relationship between mother and daughter.