Poly Styrene RIP

We hope that the blog will be more than a series of obituaries, but within an hour of posting our first entry on the new fantompowa music blog we have heard the sad news that Poly Styrene, the lead singer of X Ray Spex, died yesterday of breast cancer.

Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene 1977

Originally from Brixton, then Bromley [the borough on the Kent side of Lewisham] from where many of the original punk contingent first emerged  in the mid-1970′s, the then Marianne Joan Elliott-Said [3 July 1957 – 25 April 2011] left home as a teenager to travel round the free festivals and tag along with the original [New Age] traveller community.

In 1976 she released a reggae single “Silly Billy” as Mari Elliot , but it was seeing the Sex Pistols in  a near empty venue by Hastings Pier which was  a cathartic moment that led to her advertising in Melody Maker for young punx to form a band, who then became the fantastic X Ray Spex .

The headlong rush of their first single, the anthemic Oh Bondage Up Yours and the following album meant that both became iconic products of the Punk movement.

Poly Styrene defied all definitions and by doing so she liberated a whole generation of girls to be themselves, rather than slowly transforming into their mums without thinking there was a choice. She was the daughter of a Scots-Irish legal secretary and a dispossessed Somali aristocrat who made no concessions to the bourgeois expectations of the suburbs and the reactionary mood of the early 1970′s.

During the 1980′s and nineties she was more an inspiration from the past, hidden away with the Hare Krishna community,  but in the 21st century she started to re-emerge into the public light. She produced a recent album of her own songs with Youth from Killing Joke which was called Generation Indigo [2010]. She had also been doing an increasing number of gigs in recent years, one of which was to take part in the Victoria Park RAR 2008 30th anniversary concert.

As someone who was at the first one, I can say that one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life was being in the crowd near the stage waiting impatiently for hours in the park with thousands of others, and then seeing the slight figure bouncing across the stage in her day-glo oufit shouting the line ‘People say little girls should be seen and not heard, well I say . . . ‘.

As you can imagine, the crowd were hers – and because of who she was, with her strengths and frailties and that stand-out character that led her through the different paths of her life, she was someone who could represent all of us; and for that she was much loved . . .

She was a burning star in the first year or two of Punk, but by 1978 was hospitalised and diagnosed with schizophrenia, and later in 1991 with bipolar disorder.

It has been reported that her doctor gave her painkillers for months, until she demanded an MRI scan, which only then revealed how far her cancer had spread.

We can only hope that she didn’t suffer too much, and send commiserations to her family and friends, particularly her daughter [Celeste Bell-Dos Santos, singer in Spanish group Debutant Disco].

She changed the lives of our generation, and left the world a better place by being brave enough to be herself – and by writing some great songs which caught the spirit of the time, and in the way of all great art, transcended it.

Here you can read a recent article in the Independent or a recent article in the Guardian.

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