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Poly Styrene, the singer with astonishing punk rockers X-Ray Spex, has died after a short battle with cancer of the spine and breast.
Born Marianne Elliot-Said, it was a visit to see the Sex Pistols on Hastings Pier for her 18th birthday that inspired her to change her name and form the band. In a very short space of time they became one of the most inspiring acts on the punk circuit, not least because day-glo Poly with her braces and astringent yelp was a world away from either the punk archetype — skinny white boys in leather jackets and jeans, or the over-sexualised female pop star.
Always a better thought-out proposition than some of their lunkhead peers, X-Ray Spex released one album, “Germfree Adolescents,” in 1978. It contained rampaging howling dervishes like “Indentity” and the band’s signature tune, the riotous “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” which began with Poly’s muttered mission statement “some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think oh bondage up yours!”
Needless to say, she’s been hailed as an inspirational figure for generations of female musicians, from Riot Grrl to Britpop to Alt-Folk.
Here’s the band performing the creepy meditation that is the album’s title track on Top of the Pops:
After that album and a calmer solo album “Translucence” in 1980, issues with her mental health — not the least of which was a mis-diagnosis of schizophrenia, which lead to her being temporarily sectioned — Poly turned her back on music to join the Hare Krishnas and raise her daughter Celeste.
She’d pop up from time to time, appearing on the music quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks in the identity parade, or releasing her new age album “Flower Aeroplane”. In 1991 she was properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
She had just released her warmly-received third solo album “Generation Indigo” last month, and was in the midst of promoting it when she became ill. Her last public message, on April 19, was a tweet, saying: “Slowly slowly trying 2 get better miss my walk along the promenade. Would b so nice 2 sing again & play Generation Indigo live. Luv Poly X”
In a statement on her Twitter feed, Poly’s team announced the sad news: “We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places.”
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Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic