Thursday 4 March 2021

I'm a Cliche - Looking forward to the Poly Styrene documentary

I had a completely different blog on the go. Maybe I'll finish it next week, but I was spurred to write this because sometimes you have to say something important. I was listening to The Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London this morning, as I was undertaking studio reception duties. I was keen to listen, as Robert was interviewing punk icon Poly Styrene RIP's daughter Celeste, about a forthcoming documentary about Poly. Prior to the Interview, Robert played Germ Free Adolescents. I was almost moved to tears. The song is beautiful, but also prophetic. It was recorded in a time when there was no autotune. The rawness sounded amazing. X-Ray Spex were a very accomplished band and were one of the more musically talented of the first generation Punks. I saw them a few times in the early days and at a reunion gig at the Roundhouse in 2008 which I mentioned in an article I wrote at the time for The Barnet Times, a few short years before Poly's untimely death in 2011.

I felt very nostalgic as the interview progressed and I will definitely be watching the documentary, which is entitled "I'm a Cliche". I was jarred out of my nostalgia when one of Roberts  listeners called in with a memory of Poly facing down a bunch of racist skinhead thugs at a gig. I was at that gig. I daresay anyone under the age of 57 wouldn't remember, but going to gigs in 1977 was a precarious business. There was a Skinhead revival and the Skinhead movement had pretty much been hijacked by the racist National Front. They would hunt in violent packs and attack punks, Asians, Black people etc. They would attend punk gigs to cause trouble and were a constant worry. Whereas the original 1969 Skinheads loved Ska music and the black artists that made it, the new lot followed Nazi bands like Skrewdriver, who played bad punk with racist lyrics. I well remember the scene. We were there to see a band we loved and these thugs turned up en masse and were randomly attacking punks in a large pack. The punks were not there for a fight. Although I wouldn't let on, I was a terrified 15 year old kid. These guys were older and rather scary. And then a wonderous thing happened. Poly saw what was going on and verbally destroyed the baying mob. She was tiny, a bi racial English/Asian woman. In a fair fight she wouldn't have stood a chance against a baying Nazi horde. But it wasn't a fair fight. Poly had a microphone, a PA system, wit, intelligence and was utterly fearless. She was a pop star, they were a rabble. When the spotlight was turned on them, they couldn't respond. All they had was hate and violence. Poly had something far stronger. They seemed to shrink and slink off. At that moment, I redefined what I believed courage and intellect were. I realised that with courage and intellect, you would always win and ignorance and hatred would always lose. I cannot possibly convey how empowering that was. In my head, it was like the key piece of the jigsaw had been found. 

It would have been easier, comfier, safer, more sensible for Poly to run  away or ignore the scene before her. But she didn't. Tomorrow night, I will get a nice Takeaway from the Mill Hill Tandoori, a good bottle of wine from Mill Hill Wines and I'll download and watch the film, probably shedding a tear or two.

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