Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Oh cancer up yours!

This is sad. Poly Styrene, one of the quirkiest and most beloved figures of the original 1976-78 London punk scene has died of cancer at 53.

As singer and lyricist for the legendary X Ray Spexs, Poly was a striking presence as much for the playful and insightful lyrics as for the uninhibited wailing yelp she sang them with. She also set a visual style of her own combining a trash punk aesthetic, with a Raggety Anne sensibility, and a love of the gaudiest dayglo colours imaginable. This gave her a look that was far removed from the angry goth bondage look sported by most of her contemporaries. Awkward and geeky and certainly not a conventional beauty with braces, and sometimes a little chubby she could also appeal to girls who might be a little intimidated by Siouxsie The Ice Queen, Debbie Harry and Annabella Lwin The Pinups or Gaye Advert, Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde The Biker Chicks. Poly, whose real name was Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, was a mulatto of mixed Scots/English and Somali parents and she would so also become the first non-white figure in the punk scene.


X Ray Spexs put out one classic single in "Oh Bondage Up Yours", and apeared on the "Live at the Roxy" album, before releasing the brilliant "Germ Free Adolescents". In their book about the early days of punk, "The Boy looked at Johnny", writers Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill called Poly the one true poetess of punk.


Unfortunately in spite of being a positive role model for many, Poly was also a fragile figure who was began to crack under the pressure first firing her female sax player, Laura Logi. Then she began reporting seeing hallucinations which she claimed were alien UFOs who were communicating with her. She was hospitalized and misdiagnosed with schizophrenia then later as bi-polar. When released she later joined the Hare Krishnas. By then X Ray Spexs had obviously broken up. She would resurface in years to come and occasionally even record an ep or two. But was essentially in retirement until the legacy of X Ray Spexs was rediscovered and the band made a couple of reunion gigs in 2007 and 2008 minus guitarist Jak Airport who died of cancer in 2004. She announced her own solo album, produced by Youth from Killing Joke, to be released this year. Unfortunately she also announced in February that she had breast cancer which had spread to her spine. Actually I had a sort-of close encounter with Poly a few months back when I posted a response on Twitter to a statement made by Sammy Hagar in a vain attempt to appear interesting that he had made claiming to have seen a UFO. I pointed out that Poly had already done that years ago. Within a day or so she had added me on Twitter. That was pretty cool.


I am also going to take a moment to pay belated tribute to Mick Karn, (born Andonis Michaelides in Cyprus) bassist for early New Wave band Japan and later Dali's Car. Japan were actually contemporaries of the first wave of punks in the mid seventies with a look and sound like a European version of the New York Dolls that seemed dangerously out of step with the leather clad punk hordes but they kept slogging along and developing a more smooth Roxy Music meets Chic style that would become highly influential to the later New Romantics and Goths although Japan would always hold themselves aloof. As a bassist Karn, who was originally a bassoon player, developed a totally unique style involving extremely fluid runs on a fretless bass that was miles away from everyone else at the time, and since for that matter. He also played sax. Japan developed a rabid cult fan base and scored a few mid size hits before breaking up in 1982. After that Karn was briefly in an abortive project called Dali's Car with former Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy who recorded one album before also breaking up. Karn continued to do occasional solo work and there were announced plans to reform Dali's Car with in the summer of 2010 with Murphy when Karn suddenly announced that he also had cancer. He died in January of 2011 aged 52.



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