Former punk rocker in defiant cancer battle

Poly Styrene
Poly Styrene

RICHARD GLADSTONE this week spoke to punk rocker Poly Styrene about her music and coping with a life-threatening disease.

“I AM living with cancer, but not dying from it” were the defiant words spoken by a feminist punk rock star this week.

Poly Styrene, best known for her vocal performances for X-Ray Spex in the 1970s, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November last year after months of increasing agony.

It had spread to her spine and lungs, but despite barely being able to move, the singer has been promoting her album Generation Indigo, from her bed at St Michael’s Hospice, where she is recuperating.

Poly, 53, whose real name is Marian Elliott-Said, started on the album last spring with famous producer Michael Glover, also known as Youth from the band Killing Joke.

She began to feel a slight pain in her back which got progressively worse over the next six months.

She was left reeling after being diagnosed with cancer.

Her liver is too weak for chemotherapy and she has just been put on the drug Herceptin, and, despite being tired all the time and spending her days in bed at the hospice, the singer remains upbeat and is determined to beat the illness.

Poly, who is half-British and half-Somalian (her father was a dispossessed Somali aristocrat), said: “Since my diagnosis I have been promoting the album by doing a few interviews.

“I have hardly any mobility at the moment but am trying to get it back. It make take a year but the hospice and Conquest Hospital are helping me. I am trying to walk a bit each day but could not go out and perform on stage.

“They (doctors) say I’m getting better and I am walking a bit every day but I couldn’t go out and perform on stage. The main thing is I’m not on the death list.

“Doctors have been brilliant and the hospice has been amazing. As well as taking Herceptin, I’m also taking herbs and undergoing homeopathy, doing everything I can.

“One of the nurses at the hospital who administered my treatment had cancer and took Herceptin and it cured her. So, you never know.”

The singer was inspired to start her music career after seeing a gig by the Sex Pistols perform on Hastings Pier on her 18th birthday.

She was watching them, together with two students from Sweden and decided to place an ad inviting others to join her in forming a punk band.

Poly formed X-Ray Spex in 1976 and their debut single Oh Bondage, Up Yours became a rallying cry for the punk movement.

The band released their famous debut album Germ Free Adolescents in November 1978.

Poly wrote a solo album called Translucence in 1980.

The name of her latest album originates from the term ‘indigo children’, a label coined from New Age concepts in the 1970s that describes children who are believed to have psychic abilities like telepathy and extra sensory perception.

Poly said: “Indigo children are known to be spiritually advanced. I read about them in Kindred Spirit magazine and they are meant to be quite psychic and have a desire to change the world for the better.”

The vocalist has had a rollercoaster ride most of her life.

After watching a gig in Doncaster in 1978 she had a vision of a pink light in the sky and was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and sectioned for several months.

Poly was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991, and, four years later, when she reformed X-Ray Spex she was hit by a fire engine.

She said: “It has been a struggle with the bipolar disorder but that’s just life. I have managed to be creative, make a new album and thank God this cancer did not strike before then. It’s been a difficult journey with the cancer but I take each day as it comes.”

Generation Indigo, which was released on Monday, features 12 songs written by Poly and they showcase her musings on pop culture and fashion, to more serious issues like war and racism.

The album is available via Future Noise Music. Log onto