Poly Styrene

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For the polymer used in Styrofoam, see Polystyrene.
Poly Styrene
Poly Styrene cropped.png
Background information
Birth name Marianne Joan Elliott-Said
Born 3 July 1957
Bromley, Kent, England
Died 25 April 2011(2011-04-25) (aged 53)
Sussex, England
Genres Punk rock, new wave, downtempo
Occupation(s) Vocalist, songwriter
Years active 1976–2011
Labels Universal, EMI/Virgin, Future Noise Music
Associated acts X-Ray Spex

Marianne Joan Elliott-Said (3 July 1957–25 April 2011),[1][2] known by the stage name Poly Styrene, was a British musician, singer-songwriter, and frontwoman for the punk rock band X-Ray Spex. Her daughter, Celeste Bell-Dos Santos, is the frontwoman for the Madrid-based band Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens.

Early life[edit]

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

As a teenager, Styrene was a hippie but also trained in opera.[7] 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. Thinking of this as a challenge to survive, her 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 Pavilion Hastings on the south coast of England on 3 July 1976[8][9] (her 19th birthday) she decided to form the punk band X-Ray Spex.

Music career[edit]

Demo and first single[edit]

Styrene recorded her first demo album in 1975, when she was 16 years old. Her manager enlisted Ted Bunting to produce the record. According to Bunting, the album's punk rock sound allowed Styrene to tap into her lyrical talents, writing words that resonated directly with the period's youth.[10]

In 1976, Styrene released her first single under her real name, Mari Elliott. Titled "Silly Billy", it was a rock track, with some touches of the then popular ska style. She co-wrote the B-side "What A Way" with the record's producer, Falcon Stuart. The single came in a GTO Records sleeve.[11]

X-Ray Spex[edit]

See also: X-Ray Spex

After watching a very early gig by the Sex Pistols in an empty hall on Hastings Pier, playing a set of cover songs,[9] 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.[12] So it was from that, she went as singer with X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene,[4] a name she chose because it represented what pop stars were to punks: "a lightweight, disposable product."[7] 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".[13] They launched their debut single in 1977.[7]

In 1978, after a gig in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Styrene 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 with schizophrenia, sectioned, 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.[14]

Solo career[edit]

After the original line-up 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.[15] 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]

She 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]

In 2007, Styrene was invited to the Concrete Jungle festival in Camber Sands,[16] by her friend Goldblade's John Robb 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.[citation needed]

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

In March 2009, Styrene 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] Inspired by the killing spree in Los Angeles instigated by a man dressed as Santa Claus, "Black Christmas" was written in collaboration with her daughter, Celeste.[20]

Styrene announced "Virtual Boyfriend" as the first single from the new album Generation Indigo via Spinner Music,[21] as well as the launch of her 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 Artrocker magazine, 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.[citation needed] It was released in the US on 24 April 2011, the day before her death.[7]

"Ghoulish" was the first posthumous single to be released from Generation Indigo, and was backed by a remix from Hercules and Love Affair.[citation needed] Lauryn S. Siegel directed a music video for it.

New York magazine's music journalist Nitsuh Abebe described her singing style with X-Ray Specs as "in a bold, keening yelp" and "fierce but fiercely feminine."[7]

Personal life[edit]

In 1983, Styrene 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.[23]

In March 2009, Styrene took part in the inaugural Instigate Debate night. The night's theme was modern day consumerism. Other current issues were also discussed.[24] She lived in St Leonards, East Sussex.[5]

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, Styrene revealed that she had been treated for breast cancer, and that it had spread to her spine and lungs. She died on 25 April 2011, at the age of 53.[1][2][25]

Her daughter Celeste Bell-Dos Santos is the frontwoman for the music group Celeste Dos Santos & The Tabloid Queens based in Madrid, Spain.[26]

Solo discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

EPs[edit]

  • God's & Godesses (Awesome, 1986)[31]

Singles[edit]

  • "Silly Billy"/"What A Way" — as Mari Elliot (GTO, 1976)[11]
  • "Talk In Toytown"/"Sub Tropical" (United Artists, 1980)[32]
  • "City Of Christmas Ghosts" — Goldblade featuring Poly Styrene (Damaged Goods, 2008)[33]
  • "Black Christmas" (2010)[19]
  • "Virtual Boyfriend" (2011)[21]
  • "Ghoulish" (2011)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "BBC News – Punk icon Poly Styrene dies at 53". BBC. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Poly Styrene dies, aged 53, Digital Spy, 26 April 2011
  3. ^ Telegraph obituary
  4. ^ a b c d e "The return of punk's first lady" – The Independent 21 November 2008
  5. ^ a b Philby, Charlotte (19 April 2008). "My secret life: Poly Styrene, Singer, 51". The Independent (London). Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Abbene, Jillian (2008). "on the record with Poly Styrene". Sugarbuzz Magazine. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Abebe, Nitsuh (9 May 2011). "A Glorious Yelp". New York magazine. pp. 112–13. 
  8. ^ "gig list – my sex pistols collection". Punk1976.webs.com. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Simpson, Dave (23 March 2011). "Poly Styrene: The Spex factor". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  10. ^ McCarthy, Nick (30 April 2011). "Poly Styrene and the Birmingham demo tape". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Mari Elliot – Silly Billy " at Discogs
  12. ^ Hartnett, P-P. "Once upon a time...". X-Ray Spex. Retrieved 26 April 2011. "It was in the hot summer of 1976 that Poly Styrene placed an advert in the British music papers NME and MELODY MAKER which started with the grabbing header of 'YOUNG PUNX WHO WANT TO STICK IT TOGETHER'." 
  13. ^ "Poly Styrene Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  14. ^ Published on 2 April 2011. "Former punk rocker in defiant cancer battle – Features – Hastings St. Leonards Observer". Hastingsobserver.co.uk. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "X-Ray Spex Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  16. ^ "Concrete Jungle Festivals". Jacktheladproductions.com. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  17. ^ "News | Update: Robb & Poly Styrene Cosy Up For Xmas". The Quietus. 3 December 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  18. ^ "Musicians criticise Google in YouTube royalties battle | News". NME. 25 March 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  19. ^ a b "X-Ray Spex Poly Styrene to release solo album". NME. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  20. ^ Murray, Robin (9 December 2010). "Track Of The Day 9/12 – Poly Styrene – Punk Icon Gets festive". Clash (magazine). Retrieved 26 April 2011. "the track was inspired by news reports about an American serial killer dressed as Santa Claus, and references therecession." 
  21. ^ a b "Poly Styrene Takes Aim at Technology's Failings in 'Virtual Boyfriend' Video – Spinner UK". Spinnermusic.co.uk. 9 February 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "Poly Styrene". Poly Styrene. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  23. ^ "When ‘gay’ Boy George was rejected to be part of Hare Krishna movement". topnews.in. 27 July 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  24. ^ "Ken Livingstone debates with pop stars in London pub | News". NME. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  25. ^ "X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene dies of cancer | News". NME. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  26. ^ "Wonky Pop At Cargo – Thur 9th April 09 | music news". ilikemusic.com. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  27. ^ Translucence at Discogs
  28. ^ "x-ray spex official site – poly's solo activity". X-rayspex.com. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  29. ^ ASIN B004LYG4I8, Generation Indigo (26 April 2011)
  30. ^ Robb, John (17 March 2011). ""Generation Indigo" Track By Track Interview". Poly Styrene Official Youtube Channel. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  31. ^ Gods And Goddesses at Discogs
  32. ^ "Talk In Toytown " at Discogs
  33. ^ "City Of Christmas Ghosts " at Discogs (list of releases)

External links[edit]