Poly pins down punk in safety

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I'D HAVE been more than happy to indulge in a spot of po-going myself, but the atmosphere at last week's opening night of "Destroy", the exhibition of punk graphic art at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank, didn't really lend itself to it.

Where once was sedition, I fear one can now read sedate. I suppose everyone has to grow up eventually - even the generation that first put the safety- pin-through-the-nose into the forefront of popular culture - and when I came across the charming Poly Styrene among the throng of still sallow- looking fortysomethings peering at old Rezillos and Delta Five album covers, I didn't altogether mind.

Poly, you may recall, was the inspiration and public face of X-Ray Spex, the group that brought us the wonderful "Germ Free Adolescence" and "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo" and a haunting not to say hallucinogenic variation on the often relentless thrash that was "pure" punk. Poly was always an exotic creature, and still is: in Day-Glo lime and purple she was quite the most arresting sight on a night when Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers and others were paying due homage to black leather and silver studs.

"I got this jumper from a company in Italy called 'Wild and Lethal Trash'," she told me by way of comment on punk's lasting influence on fashion. "Now you find Nike and Adidas producing Day-Glo sportswear, which is very X-Ray Spex."

True to the punk ethic of instant disposability, the group's heyday was short-lived but memorable. It lasted from 1977 to 1979. They went from nowhere to headlining at the Hammersmith Odeon in a mere 38 gigs. They played only 42 gigs in total. They claim to have been the first British band to perform at CBGB's, the New York club that I'm afraid can only be described as legendary, where they attracted an audience that included members of Blondie. And in Poly - real name Marion Elliot - they had a true wild child of rock.

Poly was only 17 when she wrote "Germ Free Adolescence" - a truly ahead- of-its-time comment on consumerism and the sterility of modern love - while doing the housework in her Fulham flat. A punk rocker getting out the duster? I'm afraid so. "People like Keith Moon used to come to our concerts and shout 'The Osmonds!' because he thought we were too clean," she remembered. "I suppose it was a compliment."

Poly lived dangerously in other ways. "John Lydon [of the Sex Pistols] had a flat round the corner, so I went round there quite a lot. But the Pistols weren't very friendly. Sid Vicious definitely wasn't very friendly. He used to go round wielding a knife."

Underneath the whirling-dervish exterior, Poly was a gentle soul who when X-Ray Spex broke up moved on to Buddhism, changed her name to Yogi T, travelled to India, and devoted herself to bringing up her daughter, Celeste, who is now 16. They live in Dulwich and Poly still makes music.

By this stage of the evening, something of an X-Ray Spex reunion was taking place. There was the former guitarist Jack Stafford - now working in publicity at the BBC - and the group's manager, Falcon Stuart. I left it to Falcon, a not un-Malcolm McLaren-like figure, to explain why the punk revolution had been so important:

"It was a genuinely teenage thing. That's what was significant. And it was the first truly British music teen fest. Until then grass-roots things had all come from America. You didn't have to feel intimidated by anything - by the old acts or the big record companies. If you look at it from an industry point of view it was a complete waste of time. Nobody made any money out of it. But it was a moment in history, a cathartic moment."

And could it ever happen again? Falcon didn't think so. "The music industry is now a mature business, in the sense that it is still growing but not as dramatically as it was. And there are just hundreds of little niches. Everybody can find something they want and do their own thing and that's very good."

For a look back at what was after all a movement that celebrated doom and nihilism it was really rather a cheery evening. It looks as if that well-known punk rocker George Harrison had it right. All things must pass.

LONDON film-goers have had to get used to losing all their favourite old cinemas, and the closure of the Lumiere in St Martin's Lane - to be replaced by a swanky hotel - is only the latest in a line that stretches back through the Electric in Portobello Road, the Coronet in Westbourne Grove, the Paris Pullman in Drayton Gardens and the Academy in Oxford Street.

I'm heartened to learn, however, that the name Lumiere will at least live on in the cinema at the French Institute in South Kensington. One of the London film scene's best-kept secrets, the cinema's official name is Le Theatre Artaud - after the great French actor Antonin Artaud - but as of 19 March it will become Cine Lumiere. A re-opening party is planned that evening with Catherine Deneuve as guest of honour.

"When the Lumiere closed we approached the owners to ask if we could use the name," Dominique Hoff, the institute's head of film programming, told me. "They said yes. We wanted to go back to the very source of film, and to give the cinema a new identity. We are not well enough known as a venue." Bonne chance.

The medium sent the message

WHEN you've studied as many amazing coincidences as Ken Anderson has, it takes a pretty special one to impress him. So I was keen to see what he made of the two that have hit the headlines in recent weeks.

You will perhaps recall them. First there was the whist drive foursome from Suffolk who were each dealt a hand comprising a complete suit - a mere 1 in 2,235,197,406,895,366,368,301,599,999 chance. Then, last week, we had the case of the two elderly couples who met each other on holiday in Tunisia. One was Albert Rivers and Betty Cheetham, the other Albert Cheetham and Betty Rivers. After that, the coincidences just kept on coming: same marriage date, same jobs, same number of children, same number of grandchildren, and so on.

Ken, a 58-year-old Australian and the author of four books of coincidences, duly trumped, as it were, the whist-drive coincidence. He had come across two such instances happening to the same foursome in Piltdown in Northern Ireland. Mind-boggling, and, to the sceptics, a clear case of doctored hands. Ken, naturally, prefers to go along with the version of events he's been told. "When you think of the number of hands of cards being dealt around the world all the time, you can see how it would happen now and again," he told me from his home in Sydney. "I can't imagine why anyone would bother to make something like that up."

The two Alberts and Bettys fall into a category Ken calls "mystic meetings". "They are not so unusual - old friends bumping into each other at the top of a mountain halfway across the other side of the world. There are people who get very new-agey about this sort of thing. I look on it as a mystery that hasn't yet been explored."

A former features editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Ken still writes a column in the paper and is sufficiently well established as a coincidences expert for people to write to him from all over the world with examples of the phenomenon. And now he is working on a fifth coincidences book, which Cassell will be publishing in Britain. Naturally I asked Ken if any amazing coincidences had ever happened to him, and he came up with a corker.

"I'd had a letter from someone about a coincidence and wanted to follow it up. The writer had given me an address but no phone number so I rang directory enquiries. When I gave the name and address to the person on the other end of the line, he sounded a bit puzzled and said to me, 'Why do want to speak to this man?' I was taken aback, of course. 'What business is it of yours?' I asked him. 'Well, I'm that person,' he replied. You have to bear in mind that directory enquiry calls can go to one of any number of people in any part of Australia ..." Spooky!

The girl in the lady's chamber

I THOUGHT newspapers had grown out of referring to young women as "girls". At exactly what age it becomes patronising, if not sexist, to do so I don't think anybody has ever agreed upon. But I do know that the Daily Telegraph was pushing it a bit last Thursday when it trumpeted at the top of its front page an article inside about "the girl who has to watch the executions".

Clearly referring to the Karla Tucker case, it was accompanied by a photograph of someone who did indeed have the advantage of looking like a girl aged about 12. Good story! Except that when you turned inside you discovered that the person was actually a Texas newspaper reporter aged 32.

I'm not sure which was worse - misleading the reader like that, or insulting the "girl" in question, Tracey Duncan.

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