I used to have three singles by X-Ray Spex in my collection, but they were lost many years ago as part of the shambolic episode in Edinburgh that I’ve mentioned a few times over the years. I never got round to replacing them, mainly as they weren’t always the easiest to come across in second-hand shops, certainly in Glasgow.
A couple of years ago, a dear friend of this blog very generously gifted me a spare copy of Germfree Adolescents, the band’s debut album from 1978. I was thrilled to be on the end of such generosity, not least as it took its place as the only piece of vinyl by X-Ray Spex in the collection, and given the price of second-hand records by post-punk bands, it is likely to stay that way for quite some time.
It wasn’t an album I bought back in the day. I wanted to, but there was only so much vinyl that could be purchased from pocket money, the paper round and the notes placed inside birthday cards….besides, many of the tracks had already been issued as singles or b-sides.
At the time, I never quite appreciated just how young Poly Styrene was when her band became such an important part of the post-punk scene in the UK. She was barely 20-years of age, just six years older than me, but the difference between a 14-year-old and a 20-year-old is about as wide as it ever can be in any aspect of the age gap….I just saw her as another grown-up adult singing with a band and appearing on my TV screen on shows like Top of The Pops. It’s only as I look back at what I was like when I had just left my teens to see just how incredible an achievement it was for her to be up on those stages, even more so when the difficult upbringing she had experienced became more widely known many years later.
I’ve often wondered when listening to Germ Free Adolescents as to how Poly Styrene would have grown and evolved in the digital era rather than the late 70s. She would have surely very quickly become a role model for so many people, disaffected or otherwise, while the music she and her bandmates were making would have found a wider audience than was the case – the album didn’t get any higher than #30 while there was just the one single to make the Top 20. One thing for sure, is that she would easily have found a platform to express her views, thoughts and opinions and not had to rely on the whims of editors and reporters from the music papers with their own more narrow agendas and outlooks on life.
As I was saying, Poly would have fitted in perfectly with the modern era, but back then the men who ran the music and entertainment industries didn’t know what to make of her.