Styrene in 2010
|Marianne Joan Elliott-Said|
|Born||3 July 1957|
Bromley, Kent, England
|Died||25 April 2011 (aged 53)|
|Genres||Punk rock, new wave, downtempo|
|Labels||Universal, EMI/Virgin, Future Noise Music|
Styrene was born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said in 1957 in Bromley, Kent, England, and raised in Brixton, London. Her mother, who raised her alone, was a Scottish-Irish legal secretary. Her father was a dispossessed Somali aristocrat.
As a teenager, Styrene was a hippie but also trained in opera. At age 15, she ran away from home with £3 in her pocket, and hitchhiked from one music festival to another, staying at hippie crash pads. Thinking of this as a challenge to survive, her adventure ended when she stepped on a rusty nail while bathing in a stream and had to be treated for septicaemia.
Styrene recorded her first demo album in 1975, when she was 18 years old. Her manager enlisted Ted Bunting to produce the record.
In 1976, Styrene released her first single under her real name, Mari Elliott. Titled "Silly Billy", it was a reggae track, with some touches of the then popular ska style. She co-wrote the B-side "What A Way" with the record's producer, Falcon Stuart. The single came in a GTO Records sleeve.
After watching a very early gig by the Sex Pistols in an empty hall on Hastings Pier, playing a set of cover songs, she was inspired to put an ad in the paper for 'young punx who want to stick it together' to form a band. So it was from that, she went as singer with X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene, a name she chose from the 'Yellow Pages' when she was 'looking for a name of the time, something plastic.' She was described by Billboard as the "archetype for the modern-day feminist punk"; because she wore dental braces, stood against the typical sex object female of 1970s rock star, sported a gaudy Dayglo wardrobe, and was of mixed race. She was "one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history, male or female". They launched their debut single in 1977.
In 1978, after a gig in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Styrene had a vision of a pink light in the sky and felt objects crackling when she touched them. Thinking she was hallucinating, her mother took her to the hospital where Marianne was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, sectioned, and told she would never work again. Although she missed playing at the time, in hindsight, she felt that getting out of the public eye was good for her. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991.
After the original line-up of X-Ray Spex broke up, Poly Styrene recorded a solo album, Translucence, in 1980. The album abandoned X-Ray Spex's loud guitar work for a quieter and more jazzy sound that has since been described as anticipating later work by Everything but the Girl. In 1986, she released the EP God's & Godesses [sic] on the Awesome record label. A New Age solo album, Flower Aeroplane, followed in 2004.
She described herself as "an observer, not a suffering artist writing from tortured experiences. I was playing with words and ideas. Having a laugh about everything, sending it up."
In 2007, Styrene was invited to the Concrete Jungle festival in Camber Sands, by her friend Goldblade's John Robb where she and the gathering's organiser, Symond Lawes, agreed to initiate a 30-year celebration of X-Ray Spex's debut album, Germfree Adolescents. They decided to hold a live show at the Camden Roundhouse, which was a sell-out event on 6 September 2008. A live album/DVD of this event, Live @ The Roundhouse London 2008, was released in November 2009 on the Year Zero label by Future Noise Music.
She made a guest appearance at the 2008 30th anniversary concert of Rock Against Racism in Victoria Park, London, performing "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" with guest musicians Drew McConnell (of Babyshambles and Helsinki) and 'Flash' David Wright playing saxophone. That same year, she dueted with Goldblade's John Robb on a remix of Goldblade's "City of Christmas Ghosts".
In March 2009, Styrene joined other members of PRS for Music in criticising Google for allegedly not paying a fair share of royalties to musicians. This followed Google's removal of millions of videos from YouTube because of a royalties dispute with the organisation.
NME.com announced on 29 October 2010 that Poly Styrene was to release a solo album titled Generation Indigo, produced by Martin Glover (aka Youth from Killing Joke), in March 2011. She released a free download of "Black Christmas" in November 2010. Inspired by a Los Angeles killing spree of a man dressed as Santa Claus, "Black Christmas" was written in collaboration with her daughter, Celeste.
Styrene announced "Virtual Boyfriend" as the first single from the new album Generation Indigo via Spinner Music, as well as the launch of her new website. "Virtual Boyfriend" was released on 21 March 2011, and featured an animated promotional video directed by Ben Wheele. Generation Indigo was released on 28 March 2011, via Future Noise Music. The album received critical acclaim, including a perfect 10 out of 10 score in Artrocker magazine, and 8 out of 10 in The Daily Telegraph newspaper. Generation Indigo was also chosen as Album of the Day on UK radio station BBC 6 Music. It was released in the US on 24 April 2011, the day before her death.
"Ghoulish" was the first posthumous single to be released from Generation Indigo, and was backed by a remix from Hercules and Love Affair. Lauryn S. Siegel directed a music video for it.
The band U2 paid tribute to Styrene during the "HerStory" video tribute to notable women in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree during a performance of "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" from the band's 1991 album Achtung Baby.
In 1983, Styrene was initiated into the Hare Krishna movement and recorded at their recording studios while living as a devotee at Bhaktivedanta Manor. She lived as a Hare Krishna convert in Hertfordshire and London from 1983 to 1988. Styrene was a vegetarian.
In February 2011, in an interview published in The Sunday Times magazine, which largely focused on her past and present relationship with her daughter Celeste, Styrene revealed that she had been treated for breast cancer, and that it had spread to her spine and lungs. She died of metastatic breast cancer on 25 April 2011, at the age of 53.
It was in the hot summer of 1976 that Poly Styrene placed an advert in the British music papers NME and MELODY MAKER which started with the grabbing header of 'YOUNG PUNX WHO WANT TO STICK IT TOGETHER'.
The track was inspired by news reports about an American serial killer dressed as Santa Claus, and references the recession.