Poly Styrene - Interviews - Soundblab

Poly Styrene

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Poly Styrene is, of course, a legend and an icon. As the singer in X-Ray Spex, she was one of the first off the blocks when punk came calling on the disaffect youth of late-70 Britain. The air raid siren howl she unleashed on debut single 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours' personified the explosive liberation punk symbolised for kids across the late-70s UK, liberation from every kind of bondage - historical, sexual, racial, political. More than 30 years later, that song still sounds like the purest, most elemental expression of rebellion at any cost. There's just nothing in the lexicon of British pop that can touch it.

With her mix of anti-fashion genius (not for Poly the regulation punk drainpipes and spiky hair - she made her Top of the Pops debut rocking multicolour pyjamas and a turban!) and satirical, socially-conscious lyrics which tackled contemporary consumer culture, racism, pop fads and fame obsession, Poly (born Marian Elliott-Said) continued to be an inspiration for new generations of punks, riot grrrls and outsider artists long after X-Ray Spex collapsed after their classic debut album, Germ Free Adolescents in 1978.

Since then, apart from a trio of solo albums and some X-Ray Spex reformations, Poly has been largely absent from the music scene. This Christmas, however, she's back with a skewed and darkly comic take on the season of goodwill in the form of 'Black Christmas', a soulful reggae collaboration with her daughter Celeste. It will be followed by a new album on March 2011, titled Generation Indigo, and produced by Youth.

Soundblab caught up with her for a quick chat.

Your new single 'Black Christmas' has some bleak but sometimes funny lyrics. What inspired them? Is that how you really feel about Christmas?

I was with my daughter Celeste at the time we wrote the melody and lyrics, we were just having a bit of fun and sad at the same time when a guy dressed as Santa Claus did a shooting at a party in LA. Amazing synchronicity.

I think Christmas is a tragic story really, because this beautiful being comes into the world and we know that at the end of it he's crucified. Also originally December is not Christ's birthday, and what we're celebrating is a pagan festival. I love Christmas because it's a family get together but there's an underlying sadness there.

It was co-written with your daughter, Celeste, who's also on the song. Is this the start of a song-writing partnership? How did the collaboration come about?

It was a spontaneous collaboration and we just do that when we get together sometimes.

If Soundblab came round to yours for Christmas, what kind of day would we have?

A veggie Christmas and some champagne.

What can you tell us about your new album? Will you be playing live to support it?

The new album is a collection of songs that are topical and try to capture the moment of the times, with songs like 'Virtual Boyfriend', 'White Gold' and 'Code Pink'. It was a pleasure working with Youth as a producer / arranger. It was the first time I worked with a producer apart from myself, I'm really happy with the result. I hope to do some live shows around the summertime after the release in March.

What music inspires you these days?

The seagulls and the sea.

If you were asked to give an alternative Queen's speech on Christmas day what would you say in it?

She's very good at what she does and she doesn't need any extra help from me.

You reformed X-Ray Spex in 2008. Any plans for a further reformation or is that it for the band?

Never say never, but at the moment I'm concentrating on my new album, Generation Indigo.

I saw some of your artwork at an exhibition earlier this year. It was fantastic. Is that something you're still doing and any plans for more exhibitions?

No plans for any other exhibitions at the moment, but those pieces are going to print soon for a limited edition.

You once said you'd shave your head if you became a sex symbol. What do you think about women in the media spotlight today? Have attitudes changed for the better?

I think women are more comfortable being feminine, but still there is a lot of pressure on them to fit into a certain stereotype, hence all the plastic surgery.

Are there any bands or artists around now who you feel are carrying on the legacy started by you and the other original punks?

I've heard that some of the new female fronted bands have quoted me as an influence.

Finally, New Year - rubbish or great?

It's always good to have a fresh start and leave the baggage behind. It's nice to be able to make New Year resolutions.

Thanks, Poly - you're an inspiration!

Thank you, it's been a pleasure.

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