Monthly Archives: September 2021

Is Terry Hall A Venue?

A letter in Smash Hits, number 63, 30 April – 13 May, 1981.

I’m writing this letter with plastic gloves on my hands. You see I’ve just been to the National Youth Unemployment Rally and had my hand autographed by the 2-Tone leader himself (yes folks, your hero and mine, Jerry Dammers).
My friend and I spoke to Jerry, Lynval and Brad and, as we suspected, they don’t think much of Margaret Thatcher. But they thought even less of the skinheads who were chanting the occasional “Seig Heil”. One of the offenders had the nerve to come clad in a 2-Tone T-shirt, which I presume indicates that the wearer is so ignorant he probably thinks Terry Hall is a concert venue in the East End.
I thought everybody knew Ska came from the West Indies, and the 2-Tone movement (the best thing to come about in my short but sweet lifetime) is all about Blacks and Whites.
After all, Walt Jabsco is decidedly black & white, is he not?

A soldier in the 2-Tone battle.

Smash Hits

Poem from the letters page of Smash Hits, May 17-31, 1979.

Smash Hits is great, the best one I’ve seen
Where’ve you been hiding?
Where have you been?
I’ve waited and waited – until now that is
For songwords and posters, reviews and gigz
So now that you’re here I’d just like to say
As far as mags go, you’re ace okay?

Jannette Petitjean, Blyth, Northumberland

Hard As Stone

From Anarchy, A Journal of Desire Armed, number 9, Dec 85/Jan 86. This was the paper of the Columbia Anarchist League in America.

Hard As Stone

No wonder lifers turn to alcohol
Rotten life
Straight lies.
The sting of whisky
cools this steaming sadness.
Oh bring me back my baby
from the shadows.
I am watching the river
of the gutter
and nothing comes
to take us away.
Only the sewer,
past our cheap shoes.
Let me no wonder
continue my wandering.
The coiled metal
on my finger
is for the next fist.
How did it get like this?
Contemplate hell
and drink fire.
This fire ice
for this cold ash
of a night,
a sliver of a
moonless midnight,
a foggy dusk
and a sunless morning.
I pass through
as a stranger
hateful and
hard as stone.

Sally A. Frye

Just Another Asian

Savitri Hensman was a member of the Hackney Writers’ Workshop. The workshop came together in 1976 as a Workers’ Education Assocoation class.
Savitri was born in Sri Lanka and came to Britain in 1965. She lived in Stoke Newington was in her final year of school when this was published in the third Hackney Writers’ Group collection, which came out in 1979.

Just Another Asian

Watching were the stars that night
Watching was the moon
As Abdul left the bus-stop
Whistling a tune

The street was still and quiet
And the street-lamps they were bright
But something gleamed more brightly
In an alleyway that night

A cold breeze stirred and dwindled;
He did not see or hear
Th silent youths who played with
The knife as he drew near

His eyes were on the street ahead
His thoughts were on his wife
And then he heard the curses
And he struggled for his life

They stabbed him in the face and chest
They stabbed him in the back
Then they kicked him as he lay there
And told him to go back

In the stillness of the moonlight
Stands a woman by her gate
Waiting for her husband
But tonight he will be late

The police stand by the body
Nothing much to say
Just another Asian
has been killed today

Savitri Hensman

Token Book Review

Patrik Fitzgerald’s Poems reviewed in Jamming, number 8, 1979.

Patrik Fitzgerald: Poems
The first book of poems I know of that’s come from a new wave artist. Put out by Tower Hamlets Art Project (THAP) 75p may seem a lot for 30 small pages, but it’s better than paying £3.00 for 10 Buzzcocks songs, isn’t it?
It’s hard to review a book. Basically, this is a collection of Patrik’s well-known and not so well-known (to me) poems, with a few pictures here and there. Well known stuff like Make It Safe (‘Come and get your punk in Woolworths/Bondage trousers twelve pounds/Mohair jumpers sold next to cardigans’), The Paranoid Ward, and I Wandered Lonely, but practically all lesser-known, though just as impressive, stuff like The Alien In Tottenham Ct. Rd, Do Something Constructive, Robotic and especially The Pigs At Gigs (Bouncers).
All in all, 17 poems and 3 bits of prose makes a very worthwhile book. Patrik Fitzgerald may now be on Polydor, but he’s always been witty, honest, and accusing when he need be. For anyone who’s ever liked him (or for anyone who wants to), go and get this now. And let’s hope more books like this come out, and soon…

The Joy Of Spex

X-Ray Spex in ZigZag, No. 86, August, 1978.

The Joy of Spex

My mind is like a plastic bag
That corresponds to all those ads

It sucks up all the rubbish
That is fed in through by ear
I eat kleenex for breakfast
And I use soft hygienic Weetabix
To dry my tears

My mind is like a switchboard
With crossed and tangled lines
Contented with confusion

That is plugged into my head
I don’t know what’s going on
It’s the operators job,
Not mine I said

(Lyrics by Poly Styrene)

THE lyrics above came from My mind is like a plastic bag, one of the best songs that X Ray Spex have in their strong set. The words are a good example of the kind of hatred that Poly Styrene holds against the plastic society we live in. On paper you can see the serious aspect of Poly’s writing, yet when you witness Spex on stage, Poly treats these lyrics to her own brand of fun. As Poly says herself, her lyrics are “Serious, ‘n’yet not serious”.
All Spex songs are like statements about the synthetic world we live in. Poly doesn’t tell us to tear down society. In fact if there is a message in her lyrics, it is to sit back and have a good laugh at ourselves.

I clambered over mounds and mounds
Of polystyrene foam
Then fell into a swimming pool

Filled with fairy snow
And watched the world turn day-glo, you know
I drove my polypropylene car
On wheels of sponge

Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun
The X-rays were penetrating
Through the latex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
Fell from the rayon trees

(Lyrics by Poly Styrene)

It’s taken “Zigzag” a long time to write about X Ray Spex, but believe me it was never intentional to miss out on them. Spex have been one of my favourite live bands since their early days when they could barely fill the small Man in the Moon pub in Kings Road, Chelsea. Since then, they’ve headlined at the Roundhouse a couple of times, been over to New York to play a residency at CBGB’s, been involved with two record companies, played with The Clash and TRB for RAR and been on Top of the Pops singing “Dayglo”.
The nucleus of the line up has always been Poly Styrene (vocals), Paul Dean (bass) and Jak Airport (lead guitar) but the positions of saxophonist and drummer haven’t really been very stable until recent months. In fact there have been three drummers and three saxophonists in the short (so far) life span of the Spex. Holding down the posts at the moment are Steve Rudi (sax) and B. P. Harding on drums. Former (and original) sax player Laura Logic has recently cut a single of her own, using ex-Spex-drummer Richard Tees. Laura left the Spex because of her schooling, but is now, it seems, trying to get back into the music scene.

X Ray Spex started, naturally enough, with Poly Styrene. She had written a lot of songs and wanted to form a band so she could get out on the road and perform them. She advertised for musicians and the first two to arrive on her doorstep were Paul and Jak. They soon got themselves a drummer and it wasn’t until Laura Logic rang Poly to ask if she could be in the band that the sax entered the scene. Since that day, of course, the sax, coupled with Poly’s flamboyant characteristic voice, has become a trade mark of the Spex.
The band kicked off their musical career down the Roxy in March ’77. It was when the Roxy was still buzzing with talent and Spex proved to be no exception. It was shortly after this that the band grabbed themselves a residency every Sunday at the “Man in the Moon”. The dive bar was very tiny, without a stage, and the equipment was so shabby that it suited the surroundings. All the same, the place had a certain kind of atmosphere all of its own. The gigs were advertised by way of photocopied ads left lying around in “specialist” shops such as Rough Trade or by word of mouth. The regular support acts for Spex at this time were The Unwanted and Adam and the Ants. This was where X Ray Spex gained their regular following and when they stopped playing there, the place never really caught that atmosphere again (though small bands like Defiant and Local Operator did attempt to recreate it – but to no avail).

Poly Styrene has always been the centre of attraction in X-Ray Spex though bassist Paul Dean is quick to point out that the rest of the band are quite happy with the current situation. Paul is the oldest member, though to look at him you’d imagine he was the youngest.
Paul informed me that it was always Poly who would bring in a set of lyrics and hum a tune for him and Jak Airport to work into a new song. Paul has writtn songs, but they are used solely for his own purpose of singing them to his friends. He has no immediate ambitions to use any of his material within X Ray Spex. As he says, this is Poly’s band and it always has been.
Whether the rest of the band’s laid back attitude of allowing Poly to be the sole centre of X ray Spex is wise or not, only time will tell. Personally I believe that Poly is going slowly under with all the pressure she is getting. Oh sure, she may seem very calm in her interviews but I have read between the lines. She is constantly being bombarded with questions about racism, how she feels about RAR and how serious people should take her lyrics. Well, in regard to Poly’s lyrics, I find it obvious that if she sits down and writes such thought provoking words as those in “Plastic Bag”, “Germ Free Adolescence” and “Genetic Engineering”, then she must want them to be taken seriously, But at the same time Poly strives hard to remain her fun-loving self and adds this all-important ingredient to the whole plastic artificial language soup that she is cooking up for her public. Of course the lyrics are important. Spex are a very important band.

Genetic engineering
Could create the perfect race
Could create an unkown life force
That could us exterminate

Introducing worker clone
As our subordinated slave
His expertise proficiency
Will surely dig our grave

It’s so tempting
Will biologists resist?
When he becomes the creator
Will he let us exist

Bionic man is jumping
Through the television set
He’s about to materialise
And guess who’s coming next

(“Genetic Engineering” –
lyrics by Poly Styrene)

Poly knows we all live in a celophane wrapped-up world and she not only sings about it in her songs, but she tries to combat it in real life. She wears outrageously coloured plastic clothes and sings songs like “Iama Poseur ” and “I am a cliche” as a kind of reassurance to herself as to what she is totally against. She is forever struggling to remain plain ol’ Poly Styrene from Brixton. In a way, it’s the same as Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69. Jimmy is another who is forever being quoted in the press as being like a kid off the street. I believe you, Jim, I also believe Poly. They only repeat it so much so that they can remind themselves, not others.
Poly really was shocked when she realised that her over-exaggerated plastic look was “For Real” in New York. She was treated as a fellow poseur, when the whole idea was to send up these poseurs. To use an old hippy sayin, it must have been “mindblowing” for Poly to see what could happen here in down to earth UK.

When I spoke to Paul, I aske him about the fun-kind of image that Spex tend to put across. He assured me that this was never contrived and that the band really are all great friends and they love playing on stage. They just can’t wait to get out there and, of course, Poly is a gem once she’s onstage. X Ray Spex records may be good, but when you get right down to it, they’re no substitute for seeing the group perform live. Poly, like all great live performers (Rotten, Pursey, Jagger, etc.), is compulsive to watch. She has outstanding originality on her side.
I asked Paul how he felt about bands like Subway Sect or the Buzzcocks, who tend to take a more serious attitude to their music. He sensibly replied that there was room for both attitudes and gave a preference for liking the Buzzcocks. I then asked him if he was happy with the way that the new wave had developed. He said he thought that the media were hyping the more psychedelic bands (Devo, Pere Ubu) and that it was going the same way as the ‘sixties. He was also a little sad that a lot of bands had split up. He said that he could never see the Spex having to split up, because everyone was happy in his or her role in the band at present.
Spex have made two singles and both have been successful. The latest, “The day the world turned dayglo” taking them into the national charts. Another single should already be out by the time you read this article. In fact they should soon complete their first album. It should be a classic.
They left Virgin after releasing “Oh bondage, up yours” because of the contract they were offereed. Not for them a long term contract to produce albums like Heinz produce cans of beans. They chose to work with EMI International, who agreed to them signing a short contract at a time and also having an “X Ray Spex” label just for their own records. This is obviously a very happy arrangement for the Spex as well as EMI, who surely can’t fail to make money, with such a great band.

RAR has had an unusual side effect after the large open air gig in Hackney and Paul and the band have noticed it. It’s a funny ol’ subject called “Politics”.
Paul explains: “I really believe in RAR and I know that the rest of the band do as well. We did the gig at Hackney because we are all totally against racism of any kind, but a lot of Socialists used that event for their own political reasons. I am not a socialist and I just want to say that I was not there for that reason. It’s like we get a lot of Sham 69 fans at our gigs and they say it’s ‘cos we’re a street band, whatever that is. I live in St. Albans, so I wouldn’t know.”
The rest of the band live together with their manager, Falcon Stewart in his house. They are a very close unit and that is why they should stay together for some time. I haven’t interviewed Poly for this article as I thought it would make a change to read the views of another member of the band – Paul Dean. However, I will end with some of the very clever lyrics she has written for her band.
I know the pressure is on you, Poly and a popular saying is “It’s tough at the top” but I’m sure you’ll survive when you remember a quote from Lemmy of Motorhead – “It’s tougher at the bottom”. Stay on top, Poly.
Here are the lyrics from what will probably be the new single by X ray Spex. It’s called “Identity”.

Identity is the crisis
Can’t you see
Identity, identity

When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the TV screen
Do you see yourself
In the magazines
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream.

When you look in the mirror
Do you smash it quick
Do you take the glass
And slash your wrists
Did you do it in a fit
Did you do it before
You read about it.

Alan Anger