Photography: Joe Ely


British Music Experience 1/8/17

The BME summer season of In Conversation sessions ends with a fascinating chat between punk stalwart John Robb and Celeste Bell, daughter of Poly Styrene, best known for her work fronting X-Ray Spex.

The conversation ranges over the life and work of Poly but has a focus on two forthcoming Poly-related projects. First off is a documentary entitled I Am A Cliché, and there is also a publication which is tentatively entitled DayGlo: The Creative Life of Poly Styrene. The book (set to be published by Omnibus) and the film are both scheduled for November 2018 which is the 40th anniversary of the X-Ray Spex debut album Germfree Adolescents. This is an album which still stands up as one of the greatest British punk records ever made. While Poly is undoubtedly best known for her X-Ray Spex work, she was also responsible for some great solo music: looking across the body of her work, what stands out is the consistently incisive and brilliant songwriting.

The gravelly-voiced John Robb is the perfect interviewer for this. Not only is he steeped in punk lore (his book Punk Rock: An Oral History is a must read for anyone interested in that era), but he was a good friend of Poly’s, so he brings even greater insight and sensitivity to the conversation.

Poly’s life was far from conventional and this is fully explored in the conversation, from her running away from home at 15, her first reggae-influenced single released when she was just 18 (under her real name of Mari – short for Marianne-Elliot), and then the pivotal moment of seeing a Sex Pistols gig in Hastings on her 19th birthday, which led to her forming X-Ray Spex.


"Celeste talks movingly about the influence of Poly’s Somalian heritage (her Father was from Somalia) and the challenges Poly faced around racism and misogyny"

Celeste talks movingly about the influence of Poly’s Somalian heritage (her Father was from Somalia) and the challenges Poly faced around racism and misogyny, as well as her life living in a Hare Krishna temple. Poly apparently never enjoyed performing which brought on real anxiety. She suffered from mental health issues, finally being treated for her bipolar disorder after initially being diagnosed as schizophrenic and sectioned.

During the interval, we are treated to a trailer for the forthcoming documentary, which looks like it will be brilliant – as you would expect given the closeness to the subject of those making it. Celeste announces at the end that funds can still be contributed to the film via Indiegogo. The target for the actual making of the film has been reached but further funds raised will go into post-production and editing.

All in all, DayGlo Cliché has provided a fascinating and intimate insight into a punk legend, that makes you want to go home and play all your old X-Ray Spex records again. The BME’s central space, flanked by the fabulous collections of musical ephemera, works well for intimate chats such as this, resonating with the artefacts surrounding them. If their autumn programme holds such further events in store, we’ll be regular visitors.

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