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Poly Styrene

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Poly Styrene
Styrene in 2010
Styrene in 2010
Background information
Birth nameMarianne Joan Elliott-Said
Born(1957-07-03)3 July 1957
Bromley, England
Died25 April 2011(2011-04-25) (aged 53)
Sussex, England
GenresPunk rock, new wave, kirtan, downtempo
Occupation(s)Vocalist, songwriter
Years active1976–2011
LabelsUniversal, EMI/Virgin, Future Noise Music

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

Early life[edit]

Poly Styrene was born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said[3] in 1957 in Bromley, Kent, and brought up in Brixton, London.[4] Her mother, who raised her alone, was a Scottish-Irish legal secretary.[5] Her father was a Somali-born dock worker,[6][7] although Poly Styrene used to tell the press that he was a dispossessed Somali aristocrat.[8][9]

As a teenager, Styrene was a hippie. When she was 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 sepsis.[5]

Having been 'an itinerant traveller, alternative fashion designer and a failed pop-reggae singer',[10] she saw Sex Pistols perform at the Pier Pavilion in Hastings on her nineteenth birthday, 3 July 1976,[11][12] and 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 18 years old. Her manager enlisted Ted Bunting to produce the record.[13]

In 1976, Styrene released her first single under her real name, Mari Elliott. Titled "Silly Billy", it was a reggae track, with some touches of the then popular ska style. Her daughter Celeste has called it 'similar to Althea and Donna, who she really liked'.[14] She co-wrote the B-side "What a Way" with the record's producer, Falcon Stuart. The single came in a GTO Records sleeve.[15]

X-Ray Spex[edit]

After watching a very early gig by the Sex Pistols in an empty hall on Hastings Pier, playing a set of cover songs,[12] she was inspired to put an ad in the music papers for 'young punx who want to stick it together' to form a band.[16] From this, she became the singer with X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene,[5] a name she chose from the 'Yellow Pages' when she was 'looking for a name of the time, something plastic.'[17] She was described by Billboard as the "archetype for the modern-day feminist punk"; because she wore dental braces, rebelled against the archetypal female sex object of the 1970s, sported a gaudy Dayglo wardrobe, and was of mixed race. She was "one of the least conventional frontpersons in rock history, male or female".[18] They launched their debut single in 1977.[19]

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. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991.[20]

Solo career[edit]

After the original line-up of X-Ray Spex broke up in 1979, 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 foreshadowing later work by Everything but the Girl.[21] 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.[5]

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."[5]

In 2007, Styrene was invited to the Concrete Jungle festival in Camber Sands,[22] by her friend John Robb; Styrene and the festival's organiser, Symond Lawes, agreed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of X-Ray Spex's debut album, Germfree Adolescents. The celebrations included a live show on 6 September 2008.at the Camden Roundhouse, which was a sell-out. 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.[23]

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.[24] That same year, she dueted with Goldblade's John Robb on a remix of Goldblade's "City of Christmas Ghosts".[25]

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.[26]

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.[27] Inspired by a Los Angeles killing spree of a man dressed as Santa Claus, "Black Christmas" was written in collaboration with her daughter, Celeste.[28]

Styrene announced "Virtual Boyfriend" as the first single from the new album Generation Indigo via Spinner Music,[29] as well as the launch of her new website.[30] "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 Daily 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.[19]

"Ghoulish" was the first posthumous single to be released from Generation Indigo, and was backed by a remix from Hercules and Love Affair.[31]

New York magazine's music journalist Nitsuh Abebe described her singing style with X-Ray Spex as "a bold, keening yelp" and "fierce but fiercely feminine."[19]

The band U2 paid tribute to Styrene during the "HerStory" video tribute to notable women in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree during a performance of "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"[32] from the band's 1991 album Achtung Baby. In 2023, Rolling Stone ranked Poly Styrene at number 195 on its list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.[33]

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.[34] Styrene was a vegetarian.[35]

In 1995, Styrene's solo work was put on hold when she suffered a fractured pelvis after being knocked down by a fire engine.[36]

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.[37]

Styrene had a daughter,[38] and lived alone in St Leonards, East Sussex.[8]


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 of metastatic breast cancer on 25 April 2011, at the age of 53.[1][2][39]

Documentary and biography[edit]

Author Zoë Howe and Styrene's daughter, Celeste Bell, co-authored a biography of Styrene that was published in November 2018.[40] The book, titled Day Glo: The Poly Styrene Story, was published in the United States in September 2019.[41]

In 2021, Styrene was the subject of a documentary, Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, that was initially crowd-funded[42] until the project got some investment from Sky Arts. Like the biography, the documentary was co-written by Howe and Bell, with Celeste Bell also directing with Paul Sng[43][44] and providing the narration with Ruth Negga.[45][46] The documentary coincided with the 40th anniversary of the release of the first X-Ray Spex album, Germfree Adolescents.[42] "This film will be a celebration of the life and work of my mother, an artist who deserves to be recognised as one of the greatest frontwomen of all time; a little girl with a big voice whose words are more relevant than ever," Bell said.[42] The world premiere of I Am a Cliché took place online on 27 February 2021, with the film being released on digital formats on 5 March 2021[44] and broadcast by Sky Arts on 6 March 2021.[47][48]

Solo discography[edit]



  • Gods & Goddesses (Awesome, 1986)[53]


  • "Silly Billy"/"What A Way" – as Mari Elliott (GTO, 1976)[15]
  • "Talk in Toytown"/"Sub Tropical" (United Artists, 1980)[54]
  • "City of Christmas Ghosts" – Goldblade featuring Poly Styrene (Damaged Goods, 2008)[55]
  • "Black Christmas" (2010)[27]
  • "Virtual Boyfriend" (2011)[29]
  • "Ghoulish" (2011)


  1. ^ a b "Punk icon Poly Styrene dies at 53". BBC News. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b Nissim, Mayer (26 April 2011). "Punk star Poly Styrene dies, aged 53". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  3. ^ Sweeting, Adam (26 April 2011). "Poly Styrene obituary". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Music Obituaries: Poly Styrene". The Daily Telegraph. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e "The return of punk's first lady". The Independent. 21 November 2008. Archived from the original on 11 February 2011.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Lisa (3 February 2022). "'Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché' Review: An Overdue Close-up". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  7. ^ "Omnibus Press". Facebook.com. Archived from the original on 26 February 2022. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  8. ^ a b Philby, Charlotte (19 April 2008). "My secret life: Poly Styrene, Singer, 51". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  9. ^ Abbene, Jillian (2008). "On the record with Poly Styrene". SugarBuzz Magazine. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  10. ^ Garry Mulholland Fear of Music, p.51
  11. ^ "Gig List – My Sex Pistols collection". Punk1976.webs.com. Archived from the original on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  12. ^ a b Simpson, Dave (23 March 2011). "Poly Styrene: The Spex factor". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Nick (30 April 2011). "Poly Styrene and the Birmingham demo tape". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 3 May 2011.
  14. ^ Dayglo, the Poly Styrene Story, p.38
  15. ^ a b "Mari Elliot – Silly Billy " at Discogs
  16. ^ Hartnett, P-P. "Once upon a time..." X-Ray Spex. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. 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'.
  17. ^ jaymusseato (6 April 2013). "X-Ray Spex / Poly Styrene interview '77 punk". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021.
  18. ^ "Poly Styrene Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  19. ^ a b c Abebe, Nitsuh (9 May 2011). "A Glorious Yelp". New York. pp. 112–113.
  20. ^ Gladstone, Richard (2 April 2011). "Former punk rocker in defiant cancer battle". Hastings & St. Leonards Observer. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  21. ^ "X-Ray Spex Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  22. ^ "Concrete Jungle Festivals". JackTheLadProductions.com. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  23. ^ X-Ray Spex - Live @ The Roundhouse London 2008, retrieved 30 March 2022
  24. ^ "David "Flash" Wright". Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  25. ^ Denney, Alex (3 December 2008). "Robb & Poly Styrene Cosy Up For Xmas". The Quietus. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  26. ^ "Musicians criticise Google in YouTube royalties battle". NME. 25 March 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  27. ^ a b "X-Ray Spex Poly Styrene to release solo album". NME. 29 October 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  28. ^ Murray, Robin (9 December 2010). "Track of the Day 9/12 – Poly Styrene – Punk Icon Gets festive". Clash. Retrieved 26 April 2011. The track was inspired by news reports about an American serial killer dressed as Santa Claus, and references the recession.
  29. ^ a b "Poly Styrene Takes Aim at Technology's Failings in 'Virtual Boyfriend' Video". Spinner Music. 9 February 2011. Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  30. ^ "Poly Styrene". Poly Styrene. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  31. ^ Ghoulish - Poly Styrene | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 30 March 2022
  32. ^ "The Women of Ultra Violet: Light My (Mysterious) Ways: Leg 1". U2 Songs. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  33. ^ "The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time". Rolling Stone. 1 January 2023. Retrieved 19 January 2023.
  34. ^ "When 'gay' Boy George was rejected to be part of Hare Krishna movement". TopNews.in. 27 July 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  35. ^ Galland, Hugh (25 May 2011). "Poly Styrene". Vive Le Rock. Archived from the original on 23 August 2018. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  36. ^ Swash, Rosie (26 April 2011). "Poly Styrene dies aged 53". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  37. ^ "Ken Livingstone debates with pop stars in London pub". NME. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  38. ^ "Punk icon Poly Styrene dies". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  39. ^ Fullerton, Jamie (26 April 2011). "X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene dies of cancer". NME. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  40. ^ "Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex frontwoman and punk icon, subject of a new documentary". FACT Magazine. 29 March 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  41. ^ "Celeste Bell | Day Glo: The Poly Styrene Story". Celeste Bell. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  42. ^ a b c Gush, Charlotte (30 March 2017). "i am a cliché: documentary on x-ray spex frontwoman poly styrene announced". i-D. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  43. ^ "Film Review: Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché". cine-vue.com. 5 March 2021. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  44. ^ a b Bradshaw, Peter (5 March 2021). "Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché review – riveting take on British punk heroine". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  45. ^ Cooper, Leonie (3 March 2021). "'Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché' review: the perfect tribute to punk's forgotten queen". NME. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  46. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (24 February 2021). "Utopia Picks Up Sales Rights To Glasgow & SXSW Music Doc 'Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché' Narrated By Ruth Negga". Deadline.com. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  47. ^ Aggs, Rachel (5 March 2021). "Poly Styrene's inspiring sensitivity should be the true legacy of punk". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  48. ^ "Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché — bittersweet portrait of a pink pioneer". Financial Times. 4 March 2021. Archived from the original on 11 December 2022. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  49. ^ Translucence at Discogs
  50. ^ "Poly's solo activity". X-raySpex.com. Archived from the original on 25 January 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
  51. ^ ASIN B004LYG4I8, Generation Indigo (26 April 2011)
  52. ^ Poly Styrene Official Channel (17 March 2011). ""Generation Indigo" Track By Track Interview". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  53. ^ Gods And Goddesses at Discogs
  54. ^ "Talk in Toytown " at Discogs
  55. ^ "City of Christmas Ghosts " at Discogs (list of releases)

External links[edit]