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Poly Styrene

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Marianne Joan Elliott-Said (3 July 1957 – 25 April 2011),[1][2] known by the stage name Poly Styrene, was a British musician, songwriter and singer, most notably in the punk rock band X-Ray Spex.


Early life[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Styrene was born in 1957 in Bromley, Kent, and raised in Brixton, London.[3] Her mother, who raised her alone, was a Scottish-Irish legal secretary.[4] Her father was a dispossessed Somaliaristocrat.[5][6]

As a teenager, Styrene was a "barefoot hippie". At age 15, she ran away from home with £3 in her pocket, and hitchhiked from one music festival to another, staying at hippie crash pads. She thought of this as a challenge to survive. The adventure ended when she stepped on a rusty nail while bathing in a stream and had to be treated for septicaemia.[4]

After seeing the Sex Pistols performance at the Pier Pavillion Hastings on 3 July 1976[7][8] (her 19th birthday) she thought that anyone could do what they were doing and so decided to form the punk band X-Ray Spex. She eventually became a passionate feminist and posted a blog dedicated to women's rights and defence of women.

Music career[edit source | editbeta]Edit

See also: X-Ray Spex

Styrene recorded her first demo with producer Ted Bunting in 1975, when she was 16 years old,[9] and released her first, reggae, single, "Silly Billy"/"What A Way", as "Mari Elliott" in 1976.[10]

After watching a very early gig by the Sex Pistols in an empty hall on Hastings Pier, playing a set of cover songs,[8] she thought that anyone could do what they were doing and so decided to put an ad in the paper for ‘young punx who want to stick it together’ to form a band.[11] So it was that, as Poly Styrene, the singer with X-Ray Spex,[4] she was described by Billboard as the "archetype for the modern-day feminist punk"; because she wore dental braces, stood against the typical sex object female of 1970s rock star, sported a gaudy Dayglo wardrobe, and was of mixed race. She was "one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history, male or female".[12]

In 1978, after a gig in Doncaster, she had a vision of a pink light in the sky and felt objects crackling when she touched them. Thinking she was hallucinating, her mother took her to the hospital where Marianne was misdiagnosed withschizophreniasectioned, and told she would never work again. Although she missed playing at the time, in hindsight, she felt that getting out of the public eye was good for her. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991.[13]

After the original version of X-Ray Spex broke up, Poly Styrene recorded a solo album, Translucence, in 1980. The album abandoned X-Ray Spex's loud guitar work for a quieter and more jazzy sound that has since been described as anticipating later work by Everything but the Girl.[14] In 1986, she released the EP God's & Godesses [sic] on the Awesome record label. A New Age solo album, Flower Aeroplane, followed in 2004.[4]

In 1983, she was initiated into the Hare Krishna movement and recorded at their recording studios while living as a devotee at Bhaktivedanta Manor. She lived as a Hare Krishna convert in Hertfordshire and London from 1983 to 1988.[15]

In 2007, she was invited to the Concrete Jungle festival in Camber Sands,[16] where she and the gathering's organiser, Symond Lawes, agreed to initiate a 30-year celebration of X-Ray Spex's debut album, Germ Free Adolescents. They decided to hold a live show at the Camden Roundhouse, which was a sell-out event on 6 September 2008. A live album/DVD of this event, Live @ The Roundhouse London 2008, was released in November 2009 on The Year Zero label by Future Noise Music.

She made a guest appearance at the 2008 30th anniversary concert of Rock Against Racism in Victoria Park, London, performing "Oh Bondage Up Yours" with guest musicians Drew McConnell (of Babyshambles and Helsinki) and 'Flash' David Wright playing saxophone.

That same year, she dueted with Goldblade's John Robb on a remix of Goldblade's "City Of Christmas Ghosts".[17]

In March 2009, she joined other members of PRS for Music in criticising Google for allegedly not paying a fair share of royalties to musicians. This followed Google's removal of millions of videos from YouTube because of a royalties dispute with the organisation.[18]

NME.com announced on 29 October 2010 that Poly Styrene was to release a solo album titled Generation Indigo, produced by Martin Glover (aka Youth from Killing Joke), in March 2011. She released a free download of "Black Christmas" in November 2010.[19] "Black Christmas" featured and was written in collaboration with her daughter, Celeste. It was inspired by the killing spree in Los Angeles instigated by a man dressed as Santa Claus.[20]

Poly Styrene announced "Virtual Boyfriend" as the first single from her new album Generation Indigo via Spinner Music,[21] as well as the launch of her brand new website.[22] "Virtual Boyfriend" was released on 21 March 2011, and featured an animated promotional video directed by Ben Wheele. Generation Indigo was released on 28 March 2011, via Future Noise Music. The album received critical acclaim, including a perfect 10 out of 10 score in Artrockermagazine, and 8 out of 10 in The Telegraph newspaper. Generation Indigo was also chosen as Album of the Day on UK radio station BBC 6 Music.

"Ghoulish" was the first posthumous single to be released from Generation Indigo, and was backed by a remix from Hercules and Love Affair.

Personal life[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Poly Styrene described herself as "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."[4]

She lived in St Leonards, East Sussex.[5]

Her daughter Celeste Bell-Dos Santos is the frontwoman for the music group Debutant Disco based in Madrid, Spain.[23]

In March 2009, Poly Styrene took part in the inaugural Instigate Debate night. The night's theme was modern day consumerism. Other current issues were also discussed.[24]

Death[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In February 2011, in an interview published in The Sunday Times magazine, which largely focused on her past and present relationship with her daughter Celeste, she revealed that she had been treated for breast cancer, and that it hadspread to her spine and lungs. She died on 25 April 2011[1][2][25] at the age of 53.

Solo discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

EPs[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • God's & Godesses (Awesome, 1986)[30]

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • "Silly Billy"/"What A Way" — as Mari Elliot (GTO, 1976)[10]
  • "Talk In Toytown"/"Sub Tropical" (United Artists, 1980)[31]
  • "City Of Christmas Ghosts" — Goldblade featuring Poly Styrene (Damaged Goods, 2008)[32]
  • "Black Christmas" (2010)[19]
  • "Virtual Boyfriend" (2011)[21]
  • "Ghoulish" (2011)

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