POLY STYRENE : OH, TALKING HEADS UP YOURS!

A GUEST POSTING by flimflamfan

“Oh, for fuck sake!” “Whit!?” “Oh, come on!” “What a load of shite!” “Prick!” (whether male or female). These are but a small sample of my regular responses to interviews by nonentities (Talking Heads) all too keen to embarrass themselves with their ignorance re: the one, the only Poly Styrene.

I’m not one for musical heroes, although I’ll confess to flirting with the notion on a number of occasions, but Poly comes as close as I’m ever likely to get. She entered my life at a very early age and while I can’t recall hearing the previous singles it was the X-Ray Spex single Germ Free Adolescents that captured my imagination. I was indeed adolescent but couldn’t claim with any certainty to be germ free.

My friend, who’s family had ‘disposable income’, had an older sister and brother who regularly bought the most amazing music. The brother obsessively defaced his every purchase with his initials – usually in the top, right-hand corner with a inky. I owe a great deal to his musical guidance but, I digress … of course, he had all of the previous singles and told me that an LP was to be released soon. I wouldn’t be in a position to buy an LP so I waited …

Some weeks later the LP Germ Free Adolescents was released, and as was my way, I inveigled an opportunity to listen. It was breath-taking – every single thing about it. Everything! Once I achieved a little disposable income of my own (some years later), I would re-buy the LP if ever I saw it in a 2nd hand or bargain bin. I’d then give it to someone who I thought might appreciate it.

X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents

I can’t recall being aware of the band splitting but I was aware that Poly Styrene was to release a solo LP, Translucence (1980) from which only one single, Talk in Toytown, would be released. I loved this LP. I still do.

Poly Styrene – Dreaming

In general, I believe it was panned for being too unlike X-Ray Spex. Musically, that could possibly be argued but lyrically it couldn’t. Even musically it would be rather a stretch as Translucence hinted at the sound of Poly’s debut single Silly Billy (released as Mari Elliot) and the b-side What a Way (1976). The comparison is there for anyone truly listening.

Mari Elliot – Silly Billy
Mari Elliot – What a Way

Somewhere between 1984 (I think?) and 1986 I acquired an address to write to Poly. Taking this as an invitation I did so and was extremely surprised to receive a reply – not from Poly – but from her manager Falcon Stuart. Mr Stuart may have learned to regret that 1st reply? A few letters in and I was informed that Poly would be going into the studio and new material would be released. It was all suitably vague but it piqued my interest and then some.

Gods and Goddesses (single and 4 track 12” e.p.) was released to mild disinterest to most but to joy for me. It was a superb release. I wrote immediately to inform Poly of my joy. How thrilled she must have been? The performance below pre-dates the release date by 3 years.

From this point on, until the release of the Poly’s LP Generation Indigo (2011), it was largely reported, in knowing musical documentaries, that Poly was a recluse no longer involved in music. This was not the case.

In 1990 she sang and chanted on the Dream Academy’s cover version of John Lennon’s Love – enjoying an extended appearance on the 12” Hare Krishna mix.

Live LPs and compilations aside X-Ray Spex had – if talking heads are to be believed – released but one studio LP – this is constantly replayed as fact. The fact is that in 1995 X-Ray Spex released their 2nd LP Conscious Consumer. As you might have guessed by now, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

X-Ray Spex – Party

Below is a video for a stripped-down version of Prayer for Peace – this version appeared in 1983.

Flower Aeroplane was released in 2004 and revisited some of the songs that 1st appeared on Translucence.

2008 saw her team up with Goldblade for City of Christmas Ghosts. In was also in 2008 that my wee world was gripped by X-Ray Spex fever – the band was to play London Roundhouse in September of that year, a day before my birthday. I had to be there. I was … but not before a little drama. I managed to damage my right arm – leaving it in a sling – just days before the gig. I was gutted. There was no way I’d be able to get into the belly of the crowd. Arrrrrrrgh! With my sling visible and my Amphetameanies t-shirt worn with some pride we entered the Roundhouse. I was buzzing. The place was all but packed and peppered with ageing life-time punks who could only live in London.

I was ecstatic. The band were just astonishing; everything I could ever have wanted they delivered and a little bit more …

As we stood to the rear ‘due to my ’disability’ we were assaulted by the most dreadful loud-mouth bore. On and on he went about himself and his career it was more than distracting, it was fucking disgraceful behaviour and that’s exactly what I told the ‘celebrity’ Paul Kaye. I also pointed out that I was here to listen to X-Ray Spex, not him, and that he should be fucking ashamed of himself. I swore a lot. I was very, very angry. Mr Kaye trundled off with some snot hanging onto his every word.  Prick!

You may recall, you may not – I’ve been going on a while now that:

a. I had a habit of writing to Poly
b. X-Ray Spex delivered a little more at the Roundhouse gig
c. It was my birthday – just about

I wrote to Poly (via a new address I had acquired. Scary, huh?) explaining I’d be coming to the gig and could she ‘do’ a little something for me. What a chancer. She did.

All is revealed in the video below. It’s a highlight of my life. I’m not kidding. If you listen carefully to the introduction at 0.25, you’ll maybe understand my delight.

In 2010 Poly released Black Christmas as a stand-alone single. It was quickly followed by the sublime LP Generation Indigo and it’s 2 singles Virtual Boyfriend and Ghoulish.

This was a standout track from Generation Indigo

Poly Styrene – Kitsch

To all those that promote to the notion that X-Ray Spex released one LP and that Poly Styrene was a recluse I say, fuck right fucking off! I haven’t mellowed.

I sign off with this. Not one of Helen Love’s best but I uphold the sentiment.

flimflamfan

10 thoughts on “POLY STYRENE : OH, TALKING HEADS UP YOURS!

  1. Really enjoyed reading that. Great tribute that makes me want to do a lot more research of her (I now know) rich catalogue, but a bit scared to have a conversation with you about her in case I get my facts wrong ! (lol)

  2. @Alex: apologies re: my exasperated tone. It is directed solely to those appearing on documentaries about Poly as experts. I was re-watching old documentaries in anticipation of the new one, currently being crowd-funded, and became bugged by the nonsense … hence my rant. One ‘expert’ who I believe to be Lucy O’Brien laughingly stated “She (Poly) was a trained opera singer but she just used her voice, she just subverted her voice and used it as a weapon, almost.” In the same documentary Ms O’Brien goes on to the peddle the one X-Ray Spex album mythology without qualification. As far as I am aware, I’m absolutely no expert, Poly did have singing lessons (her daughter, Celeste, refers to them in an interview in 2019) but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Poly wasn’t a trained opera singer. Sometimes my passions get the better of me …

    Question: does anyone know if Poly worked with Boy George?
    I have heard rumours of this for years and have always assumed it would have been with the Jesus Love You project, specifically Bow Down Mister, but I can’t find anything to corroborate it.

  3. What a great read. The enthusiasm almost knocked
    my socks off. Great stuff, Flimflam – you thoroughly
    deserved your mention from the stage.

  4. What a lovely post. Poly was one of my first heroines on hearing Oh Bondage! Up Yours when I was 14 in ’77 – so inspiring for me! – she was such a complete original. What a fab birthday tribute for you too. I recently re-watched the 1979 TV documentary too, ‘Who Is Poly Styrene?’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3VfugdCTTU – reminded of how sweet and gentle she was, and how weird it was in those days to be a bit different (the scene with the women in the EMI record factory sums it up completely!) Sorely missed. Thanks for this.

  5. What a lovely post. Poly was one of my first heroines on hearing Oh Bondage! Up Yours when I was 14 in ’77 – so inspiring for me! – she was such a complete original. What a fab birthday tribute for you too. I recently re-watched the 1979 TV documentary too, ‘Who Is Poly Styrene?’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3VfugdCTTU – reminded of how sweet and gentle she was, and how weird it was in those days to be a bit different (the scene with the women in the EMI record factory sums it up completely!) Sorely missed. Thanks for this.

  6. Hey @Flimflamfan absolutely no need to apologise, your tone as well as your knowledge of subject is what made the piece so readable, and I’m sure we can have all felt the same exasperation with these “knowledgeable” talking heads at times. I certainly have.

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