Tuesday, 22 March 2011

POLY STYRENE for Clash Mag


In '76 Poly Styrene began a career as the confrontational singer of X-Ray Spex, her image and music immediately caught the imagination of a small group of musicians, artists, and rebels that soon became the epicenter of a movement that within the year become known as Punk Rock. Punk was fundamentally anti fashion, playing with the idea of rebellion and confrontation, the stars of the scene becoming style icons in their own right. In a matter of months X-ray Spex and Poly became a fixture on the tiny but burgoning scene playing gigs at infamous Roxy in Covent Garden and a residence at The Man In Moon pub on The Kings Road, which was really where it was all happening in the 70's. All this is well documented and Poly Styrene's legacy, which spans over 30 years, has become quite legendary. Her music and personal style of the day was somewhat unique even then as she strode into London with her short hair, braced teeth and Oxfam clothes trimmed off with ankle socks and stilettos. 'I tried you know, I did have an amazing amount of confidence, I think you do when you're young, I just did not care, I just went out there wacky.' She adds with a sense of humor, 'I remember my mum refused to walk down the road with me because I had odd socks on... anyone would have thought I had a mini skirt on up to my cheeks. Jesus, she wouldn't go out with me....' She remembers with an amused tone. When describing the way Poly presented herself and the way it went with the music, the misconception is that everyone thinks in the days of punk everyone walked around in bin liners with saftey pins hanging out of theirs noses. In actual fact everybody had their own individual look. Siouxsie Sioux went for an S & M look, whilst Jordan wore Seditionaires jazzed up with skyscraper hair and geometric makeup . Girls like Tampax and Cat Woman customised themselves with an uniqueness that would make you look twice even today. Poly Styrene stood out for her way of jumbling things around. 'Doing it on a budget, you don't really get paid a lot of money when you first start gigging, living hand to mouth that can make you a bit more creative...' Wearing clothes that represent your personality at any given time, Poly's personal wardrobe flourished in X-Ray Spex, 'You've got put your own personaility into what you wear.' And certainly Poly's wardrobe assemblages reflected the ironic but socially conscious side of her music. 'Oh Bondage Up Yours' a two fingered salute to society, Poly donned a a political stance and looked like the lyrics she sung... 'Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard'. Poly could be seen and heard! I asked her whether she was aware of her impact of what she was doing, 'It's funny', she says, 'when you do something, you don't think about that sort of thing at the time, you just go out there and do something'.  Her DIY stance was all very tongue in cheek and her short lived self named shop in the Kings Road became a hang out for bands and style seekers alike. 'In the beginning I was well styled focused'. She adds. 'but later on I was playing so much it got a bit more Oxfamy... we got so busy that i didn't have so much time.' 

Her image was at that that time really was very individual, 'I thought that was quite important,' she explains, 'Early on  I tried to create a different look, with short hair and I had braces anyway, that was different. Dresses by Sophie Horgan, I had these stilettos and the day glo rolled down socks with tights and leotards.' Her ingenious attitude developed as time went on but by 1979 it seemed X-Ray Spex was over when Poly Styrene left the band amid a flurry of rumours. A debut album 'Germ Free Adolescents' and a string of singles behind them, in those few years Poly had created a lasting legacy with her various looks and unique music.

Much of X-Ray Spex's music became anthems of the time, living on through the 80's, 90's and 00's to the present day. Just like the image, Poly's music has become seminal, she says, 'I did feel there was something about it, I just thought this feels right, it feels like it's connecting with everything in the world. Sometimes you get a little magic feeling about what you create, and that album has a magic feeling about it.' As I talk to Poly she reveals her song writing process, 'Sometimes I don't feel like I've written my songs, it's like I've been channeling them, coming through me with the melodies.' There were no other bands at the time that had your particular sound, I state and Poly readily agrees, 'Yes I wanted that, some of  the other bands had a nilistic end of the world doom and gloom. I didn't believe that, i'm quite an optimist really.  I tried not to be like the other bands, not that I didn't like them because I liked the Pistols, I liked the Clash. Some of the influences I did like, John Lydon for his vocal style and the Clash for their high energy. I saw a lot of those bands live at The Roxy, The Jam were always very good. It was good to be a bit different...' 

Living very much in the now Poly Styrene is presently battling with cancer, she's in reflective mood as she tells me, 'It's quite amazing that I get all this positive feed back - how it's influenced other people. As long as you can influence for positivity, I think thats great.'  Her current album Generation Indigo produced by Youth makes a reverent nod towards X-Ray Spex such as on the track 'LUV' nevertheless it has a forward thinking attitude attached to it. Deciding to do something again after a gig at the Roundhouse in 2008, she was amazed at the response she got and it was suggested she start work on a new album, 'It could have been an X- Ray Spex album but it would have to have had that particular sound.' She decided on a more contempoary feeling, something which gave her scope to experiment in a less limited way. 'It was liberating to do it as a fresh start.' When Youth was suggested as the producer, Poly went away for a bit and came back with 20 songs.'Obviously we lost some a long the way, I just thought it was a new experience, I'd heard of Youth but i'd never met him. I thought why not try it, i'd never really worked in the indusrty in that way before where a producer had been suggested and I really enjoyed it, so that's how Generation Indigo came about.' 

Princess Julia for CLASH MAGAZINE


  1. R I P Poly, when I interviewed Poly for this she was in a hospice, she was very chatty and very positive so I am very sad to hear passed away on the 25th April 2011. I feel very privileged to have been able to talk to her and we talked about a lot of stuff which is not included here...
    Here's to a wonderful girl with so much style xxx

  2. Princess Julia,
    I came over from Christina's blog. I really enjoyed your interview with Poly and am very sorry to hear of your friend's passing.

    Best to you,