A feature documentary about the life of X-Ray Spex singer-songwriter and punk icon Poly Styrene is in the works. Styrene’s daughter Celeste Bell is the executive director and narrator of the upcoming film, I Am A Cliché.
Poly Styrene was the epitome of post-war England – the product of a working-class British mother and a father from Somalia who’d made his way to London by working on a Merchant Navy vessel. Poly Styrene, as she came to be known, was born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said in 1957 in Bromley-Kent, southeast of London. Though she grew up in a tenement block in Brixton and was of mixed race, she dismissed the British tabloid stories of her rough upbringing that would follow her over the course of her career. She wrote on her website, “Mum was forced to leave Bromley because she felt it was too white and judgmental for me to grow up in and that we could never be accepted. That’s why we moved to Brixton. But although life was a bit austere, we were always well fed, clean and respectable – mum was a legal secretary, and where we lived that was considered posh!”
Though bored in school, she nonetheless developed a strong work ethic that would serve her well, when on July 3, 1976 (her 19th birthday) Poly saw the Sex Pistols play a set of cover songs on Hastings Pier in East Sussex. Thinking “I could do that,” she quickly formed the band X-Ray Spex. Initially made up of Poly Styrene on vocals, Jak Airport on guitar, Paul Dean on bass, Paul “B.P.” Hurding on drums and Lora Logic on saxophone, X-Ray Spex produced only one album and a handful of singles in their first iteration as a band. With braces on her teeth, a Dayglow wardrobe and a voice once described as “powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal,” it’s not too hard to see why Billboard magazine wrote that she was “one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history, male or female.”
Success came quickly for the band and they soon found themselves on the same bill with the Buzzcocks, Wire and Johnny Moped (a band that included a young Chrissy Hynde). In April 1979, X-Ray Spex played the Rock Against Racism concert which also featured Steel Pulse, The Clash, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X, and Tom Robinson Band.
The band’s best-known song “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” opens with Poly’s voice speaking/screaming, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think, oh bondage, up yours!”