“A woman of mixed race who wore fluorescent thrift-shop outfits and proudly sported dental braces onstage, she refused to conform to conventions of how female performers — punk or otherwise — were expected to appear.
Although her wobbly, discordant shriek and the band’s music fitted the punk template well enough, X-Ray Spex’s colourful image was a refreshing contrast to the nihilism of older colleagues; The Rough Guide to Rock describes them as “a wonderful, shambling, musical mess of rebellion, fashion and fun”.
Poly Styrene wrote songs about consumerism, conformity, racism and alienation, and is widely acknowledged as an important influence on the “Riot Grrrl” movement of the early 1990s .
The band’s fresh approach quickly earned them a string of appearances on Top Of The Pops. In 1978 and 1979 they released one album and had four UK chart singles. Even though their notorious 1977 debut, Oh Bondage Up Yours!, failed to chart, it is now considered a punk rock classic .
Poly Styrene was born Marian Joan Elliot-Said at Bromley, Kent, on July 3 1957. Her mother was of Scottish/Irish descent, her father a dispossessed Somali aristocrat. Bringing up Marian alone, her mother feared that the local environment was “too white and too judgmental”, so they soon moved to Brixton.
As a child, Marian was fascinated by the glamour of Hollywood but was unhappy at school. She ran away from home at 15 to live a hippy existence, drifting from one rock festival to another for two years before a bout of septicaemia brought her back to London. She then set up a boutique at Beaufort Market in Chelsea, and coined her future stage name.
After attending a Sex Pistols gig in a near-empty hall on Hastings Pier on her 18th birthday, she decided to become a singer. As “Mari Elliot”, in 1976 she released the unsuccessful reggae-flavoured single Silly Billy on GTO Records. The same year, after placing an advertisement in Melody Maker for “Young Punx who want to stick it together”, she formed the five-piece group X-Ray Spex, which initially included the honking sax player Susan Whitby, also known as Laura Logic.
In July 1977 a live recording of Oh Bondage Up Yours! appeared on the seminal punk compilation The Roxy London WC2 (Harvest). A tamer version was then issued on Virgin, which promptly dropped the group, but they soon reappeared on EMI, and played their biggest gig ever at the Rock Against Racism Rally in London in April 1978.
In November that year X-Ray Spex released the album Germ Free Adolescents, which suggested an increasing musical sophistication. Always ambivalent about her pop star status, however, Poly Styrene then quit the band after experiencing a vision onstage. She was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, leading to the first of several spells in psychiatric hospitals.
In 1991 she would be rediagnosed as “bipolar”, but later blamed the break-up of the band and her deteriorating mental health on their manager, Falcon Stuart, with whom she had a six-year legal battle over unpaid royalties.
She re-emerged on the music scene in 1980 with the nu-jazz/electro album Translucence and then joined a Hari Krishna sect. In 1986 she released the eastern-inspired EP Gods and Goddesses.
X-Ray Spex reunited for a gig at London’s Brixton Academy in the autumn of 1991, and in 1996 released a second album, Conscious Consumer . Further projects were abandoned after Poly Styrene was run over by a fire engine in central London, suffering a fractured pelvis.
She returned with a solo album, Flower Aeroplane, in 2004 and made sporadic appearances afterwards. But shortly after completing her album Generation Indigo (2011) she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
She is survived by her daughter, Celeste Bell-Dos Santos, the front woman for the Madrid-based group Debutant Disco.” Taken from the Telegraph