thu 09/04/2020

Poly Styrene, 1957-2011 | reviews, news & interviews

Poly Styrene, 1957-2011

Poly Styrene, 1957-2011

A pillar of punk has sung her last only a month after her latest release

The death of Poly Styrene (Marianne Elliot-Said) is more than another reminder that the ever-influential punk era is further and further away. It is also genuinely sad as she was always helpful, always approachable and – simply put – a nice person. Her vision was a singular counterpoint to the period’s often simplistic political stance and macho outlook. Her death comes soon after the release of Generation Indigo, her latest album. It has become her final word.

Concerned with the issues in society that formed personalities and affected outlook, songs like X-Ray Spex’s “Identity” - although based on Marianne's observations of a punk cutting herself in the toilet of punk club The Roxy - were about more than that pop-cultural moment. She felt that consumption would consume us all. It was this broader overview that inspired Gossip’s Beth Ditto. Although she ran a clothing stall in the King's Road's Beaufort Market, along the road from Malcolm McLaren's Sex, Marianne wouldn't be sporting punk couture. Op Art was a greater influence.

I came across X-Ray Spex as a result of being a member of a youth club in Covent Garden. The guitar teacher there, the also-departed Jack Stafford, had gone punk and joined this new band. They were incredible live, forceful with that wailing voice of Marianne’s. Funny, too. She told me a few years ago that she was influenced by Janis Joplin but wouldn't admit it back then. The inspiration to form a band came when she saw a Sex Pistols show on Hastings pier on her birthday in 1976. She thought, why not? Pre-punk she had, in 1976, released a pop-reggae single as Mari Elliot. X-Ray Spex split in 1979.

She had problems, which were well documented and eventually diagnosed as related to bipolar disorder. She looked to faith, and it helped bring a feeling of evenness. Punk would define her, but she had also released a softer-sounding solo album (Translucence) and also recorded as Flower Aeroplane. Occasional shows as X-Ray Spex came along, but she was more than that. It is good that Generation Indigo had come out, as there is more to it than punk nostalgia. But it is also very upsetting to realise that, at only 54, she has gone.

Poly Styrene talks about Generation Indigo

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters