The death of Poly Styrene (Marianne Said -Elliot) at 52 from cancer is double shocking for us here at Louder Than War. Not only have we been robbed of a great talent but also of personal friend whose phone calls would cover everything from music, punk rock, spirituality, Hare Krishna, politics and life with the perceptive smarts that were ingrained in her wonderful lyrics and songs. I met her loads of times and we always had really good fun with great afternoons in the Hare Krishna Restuarant in London.
My band Goldblade even recorded a song with her and as a return favourite I sang some backing vocals on her ‘Generation Indigo’ comeback album only released a month ago.
She was a wonderful, warm eccentric woman in all the best possible ways and an all too rare positive spirit in a cynical world.
Perhaps one of the key performers in the punk period her powerful songs still affect and influence women and many men performers three decades later. Her band X-Ray Spex left behind an amazing legacy of songs that were utterly original in their brilliance. The songs were brilliant enough but it was her lyrics that were some of the best of era that really stood out. Great perceptive poems about plastic society and consumerism that cut through all the bullshit.
And her voice. A voice that was full of life and fantastic vibrancy that had the clarity, intelligence and sense of fun and independence that so perfect for the punk period. Her image was also fantastic – self designed she was the ultimate self styled icon who rebelled against the conventional female sexuality of pop at the time and looked far better by being herself.
No wonder that John Lydon always had kind words for her – and that’s rare from him!
At least she lived long enough to see the love people had for her and the great reviews for her ‘Generation Indigo’ solo album.
‘Generation Indigo’ is neither the raucous, sax driven punk rock of her youth or the spiritual trip outs of her occasional solo releases, it’s an album that sees her idiosyncratic viewpoint stretched over several different styles.
Of course there are moments of the punchy punk rock pop she made her name on in the punk era but there is also dub, reggae, electro, mantras and pure pop bubblegum on here for her still great voice that combines innocence with a perceptive, very smart and very 21st century take on the world.
With her great self-styled image, kooky imaginative wardrobe, brilliant witty lyrics and powerful presence Poly was one of the few genuine originals in punk and the unforgettable frontwoman from X-Ray Spex and one of the iconic faces on the punk scene.
The band may have only been around for about two years but their series of hit singles have stood the test of time and made Poly a major icon for generation after generation of young musicians- including whole scenes as diverse as Riot Grrrl and Britpop.
Currently a new generation of young American bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Gossip, Le Tigre and countless others recognise her fiery, inspirational presence and articulate, clever lyrics that took on consumer culture and won.
Poly’s indomitable spirit inspires and she is a role model for women who break the mould.
X-Ray Spex were one of the key bands in the punk revolution. With their series of powerful hits that were a combination of fierce riffing, signature sax breaks and the irrepressible Poly vocals, the band sounded like no other.
That burst of energy would have been enough for most people and for years Poly was off the music scene either with the Hare Krishnas or just getting on with life.
In 2009 she reformed the band for a memorable sold out one off gig at the Roundhouse, London and wrote a new song, ‘Code Pink’ for the gig but didn’t play it live. Luckily a demo of the song was heard by Year Zero Records who persuaded Poly to record a solo album. She was on the verge of a great comeback but will always be remembered for her dazzling brilliance and her one off individualism.
The solo album was a fitting epitaph to a wonderful woman. I’m missing you Marianne.