Well there’s an alternative King’s Christmas Broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK so why not an alternative Christmas Song on Channel NMC?
For many, Greg Lake’s ‘I believe in Father Christmas’ is alternative enough but there are plenty of others out there. The NME (no relation!) lists 35, Virgin 20, and there are 50 on some other sources.
You’ll be surprised who’s made one: Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie, Sonic Youth, Beck, Modwai, Arcade Fire, They Might Be Giants, The Fall, Cocteau Twins, The Killers, Goldie Lookin’ Chain (‘Dubstep Christmas,’ can you believe it)… I’ll stop there; we only have so much space.
This is easily my favourite. X-Ray Spex, the 1970s punk band from London was fronted by Poly Styrene, aka Marianne Joan Elliot-Said, and she was certainly one of the most memorable characters of that era.
Quite apart from her stage appearance – she used to wear large braces on her teeth – you tend to get noticed when the opening line of you first single is “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think, Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”
Marianne, described as the first “joyfully angry punk activist” was lured into the punk scene like all those latter day celebs were at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester by going to a Sex Pistols concert. In her case it was in an empty hall on Hastings Pier in Sussex. I can’t think of anywhere more depressing…
X-Ray Spex, which included characters called Lora Logic and Jak Airport, did quite well at first, supporting bands such as The Buzzcocks and playing a two week residency at CBGBs in New York and has even been credited as a leading light in a British pre-riot grrrl movement.
But Poly left, exhausted, in 1979 and the band soon split up. Her health had always been indeterminate. Born to a Somali aristocrat father (the Said bit) and a Scottish mother, she became a hippie at 15, living between music festivals and getting septicaemia along the way. Later she was sectioned with schizophrenia for a while and later still diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
But she was trained in opera and a talented lyricist and she persevered with a solo career, releasing a couple of solo albums and an EP over the course of 14 years, during which she changed styles, initially to jazz thence to New Age.
In October 2010 it was announced she would release a solo album in March 2011 called ‘Generation Indigo’ and this track, ‘Black Christmas’, was a free download from it, released in November 2010. At first glance the video looks like a zeitgeist one, with its images of environmental mayhem, riots and even crucifixion, as it came out just as the economic crisis was reaching a crescendo.
She sings “a child was born on Christmas Day but they crucified him anyway”, while the refrain is “Oh no, I’m not merry, no.”
But actually the song was based on a killing spree at a party in California by a man dressed as Santa Claus and that image does appear often throughout the video.
It’s in a reggae style and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Before X-Ray Spex she had released a reggae single as ‘Mari Elliot’ that included a hint of the then popular ska style as well.
You have to wonder what ‘Poly’ would have been doing now. ‘Generation Indigo’ was released on the 28th March 2011 to considerable commercial acclaim and some 10/10 scores. Even the conservative Daily Telegraph gave it 8/10. The work, which managed to blend reggae with electronic synths, was fittingly described by Rolling Stone as “a life force of an album” on which “her searing voice had mellowed but her passion burns bright…”
‘Fittingly’ because Marianne died on 25th April 2011 aged 53 from a fast spreading cancer that moved from her breast to spine and lungs. The album was released in the US just one day before her death. The saddest thing is that on the video made only six months earlier she looks so well.
But her legacy lives in the form of her daughter, Celeste Bell-Dos Santos, who appears in the Black Christmas video, who was front woman for ska-punk band Debutant Disco/Celeste Dos Santos and the Tabloid Queens based in Madrid, before completing a master’s degree in Political Philosophy.
Celeste became the custodian and manager of her mother’s artistic estate and archive, and worked on a book and film project documenting Poly Styrene’s life and work. The book, ‘Day Glo: The Poly Styrene Story’,was published in March, 2019. The documentary film ‘I Am a Clichè’ was released in the UK in early 2021 and in the US in 2022.
Find them on:
Celeste Dos Santos and the Tabloid Queens: https://www.facebook.com/TabloidQueens
Poly Styrene: https://www.instagram.com/polystyreneofficial/