Very sadly, earlier this year one of P&P’s heroes passed away. Poly Styrene – the beautiful frontwoman of ’77 punk group X-Ray Spex. We published this tribute to her in issue 4, but we want as many people to know about Poly as possible…
Oh Poly…you brace-faced doll. Ruler of the Riot Grrrls, Plastic Punk Princess of Pop. Warrior in Woolworths. I had been listening, and enjoying all the classic boy punk stuff. The been-to-Borstal sound… testosterone loaded guitar thrashing and little-boys-pretending-to- be-macho shouting. It sort of matched how I felt, but it was a bit like when you find a jumper in a charity shop that you think is exactly what you want, you put it on and it’s a bit disappointing, itchy and even though you know it doesn’t look that great you persevere with bloody-minded determinedness… that was how I wore boy punk. I really didn’t want to be a poser, and I did get it, it just didn’t answer all the questions I had at fifteen years old.
I bought a Live at the Roxy compilation reduced to £1 from Music Zone – a discount CD and video franchise up North. All my usual suspects were on it – Sham… Buzzcocks… Damned. It was a really hot summer and I put it on mega fuzzy loud when my parents were out and enjoyed the faster more fucked up versions of the punk sing along songs I already knew. Just wearing my underpants and left-over eye pencil (in ‘Prunella’ – half sweated down my face) I collapsed onto my bed to the closing white noise of I think it was an Adverts song. Clammy and hungry I was flat on my back when the crackle of the next song began, and I heard her voice
for the first time. “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard…” The next one and a half minutes were so violently blissful it felt like a succubus had taken hold of my wriggling teen frame. Jerking and twitching to the mad saxophone backed track, it all happened so fast.
X-ray Spex were the first thing I ever found that fitted… In Poly I immediately found what I had been looking for so urgently. All the pretentious books I had read and all the CDs I had thought I should buy could be thrown in the bin. Part of the reason I could never properly relax around the boy punk stuff, even though I was into it… it’s those white, angry working class boys (and posh white boys pretending to be working class) who I’d spent a life loathing for their bullying and idiot nature. Was I meant to now surrender to those boys who were the types who would snicker about me on the bus, or throw stones at me on the sausage bridge? Part of me knew that the only thing separating the boys in Sham from the gangs of scallies on every corner of Widnes were leather jackets and monkey boots. I wasn’t willing to pledge subcultural alliance.
Then Poly barges in… an angry girl… mixed race… train track braces on her teeth and NOT POSH or cushioned by any kind of cultural privileges: all this and dressed like Bon Marche at the Nuremburg Rally. In my fantasies I see her wearing a neon yellow version of the SS uniform, kicking the shit out of Hitler and Lacoste clad scallies – pulling sticks of dynamite out of a granny handbag and shoving them down the throats of fascists and misogynists, kicking people in the balls with Ferragamos spray painted rancid green.
From the moment I heard Poly for the first time things changed. To begin with there was the SOUND. Smart, poppy, punky… like the Ramones who I loved but less dumb, much real-er and more vital. Poly ended up being my signpost into Riot Grrrl and a whole other maze of musical brilliance; but no matter how much I loved a good angsty bus ride with Kat Bjelland groaning in my ears, or stamping my customized converse to Rebel Girl, nothing really stirred the same fire in my belly as X-Ray Spex. As obsessive misfit teens did in the days before Google (well to be honest – it wasn’t but I was just not interested in the whole internet thing. My only super highway surfing had been around Angel-Fire Wiccan webrings – copying and pasting incantations into my word-art decorated digital Book of Shadows…) I took to Probe records and bought everything they had by the Spex. I quizzed everybody I could on this elusive Queen of the Underworld. Good Golly Miss Poly.
Poly has been by my side constantly- a cultural skeleton key, allowing me into other worlds. A translator facilitating my understanding of different art forms and cultural earthquakes. She’s been my pair of heart-rimmed sunglasses – making the world take on more magical colour and form.
Poly’s impact on the world will never fade. Like a Styrofoam cup that will never return to the ground, she’ll always be here reminding us to be noisy and make change and wear odd socks. Non Recyclable Plastic.
Words John William