Remembering Poly Styrene

2018 marked the fortieth anniversary of the release of X-Ray Spex’s seminal album, Germfree Adolescents. My late husband Falcon Stuart produced as well as managed, the band, who were his first experience in the music business after working as a photographer and film maker.

Falcon and Poly originally got together as a couple in 1975. They collaborated creatively before he helped her set up X-Ray Spex. As a result, Falcon photographed Poly’s journey from the unknown, teenage Marion Elliott, to punk stage diva. Along the way, he saved every single fanzine, flyer, review, magazine, poster, sticker and badge in which she featured.

When he was dying from cancer in 2002, Falcon asked me to give his archive to John Moores University in Liverpool. They also hold Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming collection, and other punk materials. Because the material was so personal to Falcon, and to our lives, it took me a number of years to sort through and catalogue. Poly loved the idea of the donation, which finally took place in 2011, sadly just after she died.  I was also able to give a wealth of material to Poly’s daughter, Celeste Bell. 

Poly’s songs had been transformative for me when I first heard them, aged fourteen, in 1978.  They helped me reclaim a sense of self during the years when I was trying to put myself back together after being sexually abused. Although I did not know this back then,  Poly had also been sexually abused in childhood.  Like me she felt this had marked her adult life.

I knew Poly from 1980 through Falcon, when she was just releasing Translucence.  We remained in regular contact until her death in 2011.    Poly and I both saw the John Moores donation as a key to the project of consolidating her creative legacy – by making this material publicly accessible. We wanted to redress the gender imbalance in punk history, and give documentary witness to her seminal impact and resonance. 

Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell has since used these archive materials, together with unseen photos and film footage shot by Falcon Stuart, extensively in the  moving and powerful film, I am a Cliche.