On the 1979 BBC T.V Show ‘Arena, ‘Poly Styrene’ states that she chose the pseudonym of ‘Poly Styrene’ because “It’s a lightweight, disposable product’.

This charismatic and courageous front woman of the Punk band ‘X-Ray Spex’ chose the name as it echoed her view of herself and how she felt society deemed her. It also mirrors how we all serve a purpose and once that purpose is fulfilled, we’re disposable. It’s fair and just to say that Poly broke the mould and is a shining example of a feminist Punk Rocker in a very much male dominated environment. The term ‘trailblazer’ is maybe a cliché’ and Poly did sing ironically about being viewed as a cliché. I have no doubt that if Poly was alive today, she would cast the notion aside of being the fore-mentioned trailblazer and be embarrassed by the suggestion. I do believe it is true, none-the-less. The word ‘icon’ gets banded about too freely and easily, but I think Poly Styrene has achieved that status and the legacy of music she has left behind is testament to that.

The X-Ray Spex critically acclaimed first album ‘Germfree Adolescents’ set a match under the London music scene and soon saw The X-Ray Spex write and preform their music with lyrics that came from Poly’s heart. The DIY ethos of Punk was coming to a peak and Poly and her assembled gang of musicians were at the forefront of the movement which would become a global phenomenon.  What set the band apart from their contemporaries was the saxophone, along with Poly’s unique vocals. So how does one top such a successful debut album? Well, in the case of X-Ray Spex the answer is ‘Conscious Consumer’. Released 16 years later on CD, the album did not get the attention it deserved and fell into obscurity. Punk, in the eyes of some, was dead by the mid 90s and and even Grunge was fading away leaving Brit-Pop in its wake with our cousins across the pond firing on all cylinders with Nu-Metal and Pop-Punk acts that would be a constant through the noughties and beyond.

I found it hard to swallow that the musical face had changed and shifted in an unfamiliar direction and I would still gravitate towards the music I loved, as opposed to discovering new music and scenes. It did take a while but the love and connection to Punk exploded back into public consciousness and over the last 20 years this resurgence of Punk as new generations find it has become relevant again. You only need to look at the acts that have reformed, recorded new material and are packing Punk Rock punters into clubs and music venues up and down the country. Nah! Punk never died, it just went for a power nap, sloshed a few Red Bulls down its neck, picked up its guitar, stuck its Doc Martins on and is now back loud and proud!

The album Conscious Consumer has been remastered and will be released for the first time on vinyl. This is exciting stuff to X-Ray Spex fans and vinyl collectors alike. You will be able to hear this record the way the band originally meant you to hear it, expertly remastered and produced for your listening pleasure!

I recently caught up with members of X-Ray Spex who worked closely with Poly on this album. Bassist Paul Dean and Saxophonist Lora Logic share their experiences on working, writing and recording the album as well as working with Poly and the anticipated release of Conscious Consumer on vinyl.

“The album came about quickly” says Paul. “Poly got a deal with Receiver Records and she wanted me to play bass and Lora was going to be on Saxophone and she had the rest of the band sorted out. We rehearsed with the guitarist and we went into the studio to record and it was all done in a few weeks. Poly was a great one for fantastic ideas, but not all of them manifested … this one did”.

Lora remembers that ‘Kurt Pagan Davis obtained the masters from Receiver Records which was the original label it was on. It’s just been sitting there, a lost classic.  Kurt (who managed ‘Essential Logic’, Lora’s band post X-Ray Spex) thought it was a shame for it not to be re-released and he’s put so much energy into releasing it in such a lovely way, the artwork is superb, and he loves the album and he put his heart into it”.

Paul followed up with “It actually sounds better to me than it did before because he has remastered and mixed it, so It’s much brighter”.

Lora: “It sounds and looks much better than ever.”

Lora fondly remembers her last conversation with Poly: “Poly said she’d like to open a little tea shop in St. Leonards with a reading room, you see she loved books and was very philosophical and people can just come in, chat to them and it will be a lovely meeting place. She asked me to join her on this project, but due to my family commitments that could not happen at that time”.

Paul laughed as he remembered: “She’d call me up, right in the middle of the night, we had some interesting talks.” Laura smiled in agreement:

Yeah, she had a habit of calling people up I the middle of the night.”

Paul: “Poly was very creative and had loads of ideas…I was as always willing to work with her.”.

Paul went on to say: “Poly would have a melody and words worked out already and she’d sing them, and we’d work out chords and Lora would work out saxophone parts. We did have a lot of autonomy on that way. It’s the same with Conscious Consumer, we’d sit down with the drummer and guitarist and thrash it out in the rehearsal studio. We did create all the music; she had the lyrics and melody. Drum patterns and guitar riffs were down to us”.

Lora. “On the original album (Germfree Adolescents) although I did not play on it, I arranged all the sax riffs and that’s what was played on the album”.

Lora stated: “It was an organic and natural chemistry which was very strong. Crispian the guitarist (Kula Shaker) was very strong. He had a large role in arranging the songs. He’s’ very gifted.  We needed someone to lead musically as it was all to be done quickly.  He’d work around the sax; it would have been nice to have had longer to work on the album. I enjoyed the sax very much as that came at the end, the cream on the trifle!”

Paul said, “Conscious Consumer took about two and a half weeks to record in the studio”. About their favourite songs Paul said: “Cigarettes, Prayer For Peace and Dog in Sweden. Some are funny and whimsical. Also “Junk Food Junkie”

Lora laughed and said, “I was going to say the same”.

Lora went on to say: “I think from the lyrical angle ‘Dog in Sweden’ is written about a person who is a politician in one life who becomes a dog in the next life. A lot of Poly’s ideas were to do with reincarnation and philosophy. You could have been a king in one life, the next a dog. The idea of reincarnation…that Iggy innuendo (Iggy Pop) is fun too.”

Paul said: “Hi Chaperone. I thought it was a funny title, like The High Chaparral (western TV show from 1960s). It resonates today, a lot of her lyrics do”.

Lora remembers: “It was not supposed to be a super deep song, it was supposed to be fun, like ‘Good Time Girl’. Poly told me she wanted to do it a bit ‘Debby Harry’ tongue- in -cheek so there is a sensibility of fun, a take on the traditional ‘pretty pretty’ female role.”

Lora said solemnly “The only sad thing is Poly can’t be physically here to see it’s glorious re-release. Paul nods in agreement.

Conscious Consumer is a fantastic album that has stood the test of time. The music and lyrics and production are top-notch! The album is available now to buy. Check out X-Ray Spex socials for news and updates and maybe some exciting new projects!

Words and interview: Stevie Oi!