Poly Styrene is a Punk Icon.

Poly Styrene’s image, words and music will

Live Forever.

Poly Styrene will continue to inspire, educate and excite generations to come.

Poly’s daughter, Celeste Bell summed her mother up beautifully in her introduction to the book ‘Dayglo – The Poly Styrene Story’ (Omnibus Press, 2019).

“She was an artist, a maverick, an individual and an eccentric. She marched to the beat of her own drum with little care for social norms and expectations. She also struggled, as so many creative geniuses do, with mental health issues. But my mother was an incredible human being. An inspiration in every sense of the word. An inspiration not only to me but to thousands of people across the world. Many of those young people are young women, who, through listening to my mother’s lyrics, have been able to find their own voices.”

In July 1976 Mari Elliott and friends were in Hastings celebrating Mari’s 19th birthday. Mari knew Hastings well having spent a few holidays there. As they passed the pier, someone noticed a tacky dayglo sign that read ‘SEX PISTOLS’… Mari entered the almost empty ballroom, stood in the centre and watched Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Paul Cook and Steve Jones tear the roof off the past and point towards the future. Mari was energised seeing Sex Pistols and like so many before her, she decided to take it further. Her already blossoming musical skills (she’d recently released a reggae-tinged single called ‘Silly Billy’ on GTO Records) took a turn as she began to write more radical lyrics and started to feed off the mass consumerism around her. Mari Elliott soon became Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex were born. X-Ray Spex burned fast and furious. In three short years they released five singles and one album. Songs that still resonate to this day. Hearing Poly scream OH! BONDAGE UP YOURS still sends a shiver down my spine. Her vocals on Identity make you sit up and take notice. Who are we and what have we become?

I really believe Poly was more punk than punk. Punk was not about spitting, swearing and having funny coloured hair. Punk was and still is an attitude. Do your own thing. Be yourself. Be individual. Sounds easy but as we all know, it’s not. It’s easier to do what other people are doing and to go with the flow. Yeah, we’ll argue every now and then about this and that but ultimately, we toe the line. Listen to those five singles and one album and be inspired.

Unofficial Blue Plaque

On July 3rd 2021 an unofficial blue plaque was placed on the house in St Leonards where Poly had lived from 2004 – 2011 before her untimely death in a local hospice. It was unveiled 45 years to the day that she’d seen Sex Pistols on Hastings Pier and on what would’ve been her 64th birthday. I went to have a look at the plaque a few days later. Standing there on my own, tears started to roll down my face. I didn’t know Poly personally and to be honest I’d not listened to the X-Ray Spex album all the way through for many a year but something touched me and I wept. I wept for all the outsiders who still struggle, for the people who need to find strength to carry on. I also cried tears of joy for the thousands of people around the world who have been spiritually saved and enlightened by lyrics and music.

Polystyrene illustration by Jackie Parsons
Illustrations by Jackie Parsons

Suddenly I found myself outside the science lab at Heath Grammar School, Halifax in late 1978. I was a skinny kid with a shock of ginger hair and not an ounce of anger in me. School children can be cruel though and I was picked on constantly…bullied actually and it was pretty awful. I don’t like to remember because it upsets me and I never understood why they did it. Was it because my accent was slightly different? Because my hair was too curly? Because my parents had split up?

Whatever the reason, it was a constant in my life. Maybe not every day but it was there, lurking in the shadows of the dusty school corridors. Like many others before and since, I retreated into myself and got lost in my own world.

“I knew all the words to pretty much every single”.

My world was music and records. I was obsessed – I would spend any pocket money I got on singles by whatever punk or new wave band I could find. Rich Kids. Siouxsie and The Banshees. The Fall. The Clash. Stranglers. X-Ray Spex. I really loved X-Ray Spex, especially the single that had come out earlier in the year called ‘The Day The World Turned Dayglo’. I knew all the words to pretty much every single I owned but there was something about X-Ray Spex – the words seemed modern and bright and otherworldly. For a 13-year-old kid from Halifax listening to those X-Ray Spex singles was like getting a colour TV after years of black and white. It was that important. Anyway back to the science lab. I was in line to go into class and three or four bullies started calling me names and prodding me. I asked them to stop and that I was tired of it. Prior to them coming over to me I’d been enthusing about X-Ray Spex to my friend Anthony who was buzzing off my excitement. One of the bullies noticed this and questioned what I was talking about. I told them I was telling my friend about this great band and a single they’d got out and how good the words were. “Sing all the words to that song or we’ll kick your head in.”

Hastings Pier Illustration by Jackie Parsons

Terrified but also quietly confident I sang every verse and chorus proudly and to my astonishment they kept their side of the bargain and left me alone. The bullying slowed down after that and life at school became a little easier.

Shortly before her death, Poly was interviewed by BBC Radio 6 Music…

“I know I’ll probably be remembered for ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ but I’d like to be remembered for something a bit more spiritual.”

You are Poly. You are. ⚫

Featured Slider