X-RAY SPEX 1976 -1978
Snapshot surveillance by P-P Hartnett, author of ROCK 'N' ROLL SUICIDE(Sceptre, 2003)
ONCE UPON A TIME...
It was in the hot summer of 1976 that Poly Styrene placed an advert
in the British music papers NME and MELODY MAKER which started with the
grabbing header of ‘YOUNG PUNX WHO WANT TO STICK IT TOGETHER’.
The ad worked like a magic magnet. Jak Airport, Lora Logic and Paul Dean were first through the doors to audition. Poly thought they were talented plus cute, perfect for the X-RAY SPEX dream.
X-RAY SPEX gave their debut performance at London's Roxy in Covent Garden after just six rehearsals in their manager's front room. Energy galore, but a little shambolic - as can be heard on the LIVE AT THE ROXY album. Despite much excitement and days in which their schedule was busier than any one member of the royal family would tolerate, Lora left the band in favour of school. The gang then extended to become:
POLY STYRENE The voice The dreamer
The pen pusher Leader of the pack
See Poly Styrene page.
LORA LOGIC - The School Girl - Essential Departure
Born Susan Whitby, the daughter of a German Jewish father and a Finnish mother, the family had Anglicized their foreign-sounding surname, so they would not suffer racism in the UK. Lora grew up in the middle class suburbs of Pinner in Middlesex. She was barely fifteen and at a public girls school when she auditioned for X-RAY SPEX. The saxophone was her extra curriculum hobby. Lora played on one early X-RAY SPEX record only, the infamous OH BONDAGE UP YOURS! and I AM A CLICHE. Due to Lora's mother being a school teacher, the emphasis on Lora was to finish her education. X-RAY SPEX needed to find a saxophonist who would be able to tour. Lora went back to school and then on to form her band ESSENTIAL LOGIC. She has recorded many albums under this name. Lora was always a bit embarrassed, when her mother turned up at the Roxy Club wearing fur and pearls. It wasn't quite the punky image she projected, her glamorous mother looked like she was attending the wrong venue. The Royal Opera House would have seemed more appropriate. Although Lora always referred to her mother as a peasant, because she was born a Finnish country girl.
JAK AIRPORT - Star guitarist - Heart breaker
Born Jack Stafford. Grew up in the Kentish suburb of South East London known as Catford. Raised single-handedly by his Anglo-German mother.
Jak was very good friends with the glam rock band Japan, but Jak sacrificed his glam looks and locks to join X-RAY SPEX. Jak called his flying V guitar ‘Candy Darling’ after a character in an Andy Warhol movie. Jak gave a very unique sound to X-RAY SPEX with great riffs that Poly loved. The beginning riff of THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED DAY-GLO is a Jak Airport classic. When X-RAY SPEX split, Jak formed AIRPORT AND DEAN, he recorded songs BLONDE DARLING and FLYING, co-written and performed with Paul Dean. The music press thought Jak Airport was somewhat unusual for a punk rock guitarist, as when interviewed he revealed, that his musical tastes included DEBUSSY and KRAFTWERK. Poly often told him of her love of WAGNER, which influenced his choice of power chords in Spex, which led X-RAY SPEX to being, described as Power Pop by CHAS DE WHALLY from the British music paper SOUNDS in October 1977. They were in fact, one of the first Punky New Wave bands. Sadly Jak is no longer on planet earth. Jak Airport left his body and this mortal world in 2004.
PAUL DEAN - Thumping bass - GBH attitude
Grew up in St Albans in Hertfordshire, the son of a Polish Refugee who had escaped the Nazis during World War II. "Paul was not a flashy bass player," says Poly, "but had good pop sensibilities and was always happy to experiment with sound and played some good dub reggae influenced bass lines on WARRIOR IN WOOLWORTHS and GERMFREE ADOLESCENTS." His punky feel was also undeniably good. Paul Dean played at every X-RAY SPEX event (apart from the Brixton Academy in 1991) and on every recording that has ever been branded as X-RAY SPEX. Paul, always seen, as the quite shy member of the band. Helped form the dependable core, the nucleus. Never late or missed a rehearsal, as he always arranged for his girlfriend(s) to meet him at the studio. Which seemed to enhance his charm as a bit of lady killer.
RUDI THOMPSON - Sax appeal - Bubble gum fun
Born Steve Thompson in Australia in the early nineteen sixties. The son of an Aussie Doctor, who came to London to make his fortune as a male fashion model. Poly's pet name for Steve was Rudi, after the famous reggae song A MESSAGE TO YOU, RUDI. Rudi was often in the audience at SPEX gigs and had heard through the grapevine that the band were looking for a new saxophone player, due to Lora's school commitment. Somehow he managed to get backstage and say "Hi!" to Poly and tell her that he played the Sax and that he had grown tired of modelling, as people assumed he was just a pretty face. Poly invited him to a rehearsal and he joined the gang fast. He worked very hard, but still managed to make the sax sound like fun and bubble gum. Rudi played on all SPEX dates and tours, and was signed to EMI along with the other band members. During the recording of X-RAY SPEX's first album GERMFREE ADOLESCENTS, their manager Falcon Stuart brought in another saxophonist, TED BUNTING, one of his public school boy chums from GT MOORE AND THE REGGAE GUITARS. Falcon asked him to overdub a sax riff on IDENTITY and DAY THE WORLD TURNED DAY-GLO and two tracks. It is in fact TED BUNTING's saxophone that features on these TED BUNTING was obviously a very slick player, with years of experience, but this move on the part of their manager, made Rudi very insecure. Unfortunately this was the beginning of the break up of X-RAY SPEX. Rudi penned and recorded his own song ORIGINS ARE SUSPECT and then disappeared along with BP HURDING, who had also been writing and had co-written BETTY DAVIES EYES.
BP HURDING - D-r-r-rums - Big smile Brave heart
BP was the only child of elderly parents, who were true Brits from London. SPEX had two Paul's in the band and as BP towered above everybody else, he became affectionately known, as BP: Big Paul. Poly led the press to believe the abbreviation stood for British Petroleum, being sensitive, as she too was a bit on the plump side. BP grew up in North London, and was the youngest member of the band. He was a roadie for a while, but when he expressed a desire to be a drummer his parents bought him a huge drum kit and paid for lessons. It was a pretty big present for a fourteen year old. Poly first spotted BP in another punk band, he gave her some pictures of the band, because he was looking for a manager. She thought he was perfect for X-RAY SPEX and very naughtily poached him for the SPEX line-up. BP Hurding was an excellent drummer, had a great personality and his own following, he was an amazing young talent. BP and Poly really bonded as they were both covered in puppy fat and both had grown up in inner city London. BP always chauffeured Poly around town, in his beat-up old white van. BP's nickname for their Manager, Falcon Stuart, was 'Dad' - although the rest of the band thought it was a bit of giggle. It created a bit of rift between Falcon Stuart and X-RAY SPEX. It was a bit like the hippies, in the 1960's, who called anybody who seemed to be in authority 'Grandad'.
Poly Styrene was sitting in her 'POLY STYRENE' boutique in Beaufort Market, King's Road, when the manager of local pub named MAN IN THE MOON came in and picked up a snazzy, slim-line, day-glo tie. His focus, however, was on the girl with braces on her teeth: Poly. Having read in the local Chelsea newspaper that Poly also had a band, this entrepreneur offered a residency at MAN IN THE MOON, the now infamous World's End pub and theatre space in Chelsea between Vivienne Westwood's notorious shop then named Seditionaries and Beaufort Market. The answer was "Y-E-S." X-RAY SPEX Played every Wednesday night, on the lower ground floor of MAN IN THE MOON, thus making them a very tight band. Admission was a mere £2 to cover costs. They soon became the darlings of the arty Chelsea set, a handful of music journalists... and fans who'd spotted them early on. Poly also gave other bands a break at MAN IN THE MOON, among them ADAM AND THE ANTS, THE SWANK and ANNIE LENNOX AND THE TOURISTS. X-RAY SPEX started to get a following as they played small venues all over the UK. Word had spread about the fresh appeal and raw power, which resulted in a swift signing to Richard Branson's Virgin Records for a one-off single, the infamous OH BONDAGE UP YOURS!.
SWEETNESS AND ROTTEN...
Poly Styrene remembers Rotten's envy, when X-RAY SPEX later signed
to EMI as the Sex Pistols had been dropped, for upsetting Her Majesty
by depicting the Queen of England on the front cover of their single GOD SAVE THE QUEEN with a safety
pin rammed through her nose with a lyric declaring:
‘She made you a moron
She ain't no human being’
JOHNNY said to Poly, "At least you're on a proper label", as Virgin were then viewed as a successful independent and 'cool' company.
FAST FORWARD TO FAME...
X-RAY SPEX made several television appearances in the UK and Europe. Poly gave interviews on the radio, but X-RAY SPEX at the time were not considered to have a radio-friendly sound. Their following mainly came from their live performances. They did play live on the John Peel sessions, however, a highly-esteemed Radio One late night show that had more of an underground appeal.
NEW YORK, NEW WAVE...
X-RAY SPEX got lucky, playing twice a night for two weeks at CBGB'S in New York City. Many of the New York New Wave set turned out in style. Among them members of BLONDIE and RICHARD HELL from the VOIDOIDS, who wanted to date Poly, but her heart was elsewhere.
On returning to the UK, the venues got bigger and bigger, culminating in a tour of all the Odeons in the UK, with Hammersmith Odeon as the Grand Finale. The drummer from the SEX PISTOLS, PAUL COOK, and KEITH MOON of THE WHO, were often spotted at the front of stage checking out the competition. MOON, the wild man of drums would be sweating amongst the pogoing kids, shouting out "Osmonds!"
X-RAY SPEX released several singles throughout '77 and '78:
The album: GERMFREE ADOLESCENTS
Original track listing:
Obsessed With You
Warrior in Woolworths
I Can't Do Anything
I Live Off You
I Am A Poseur
Germ Free Adolescents
The Day The World Turned Day-Glo
CUT AND PASTE...
X-RAY SPEX often changed their line-up until they finally all gelled with each other. Other line-ups included GLYN JOHNS on sax and RICH T on drums, who were great... but somewhat older than the rest of the crew. In the final line-up everybody felt musically equal due to age and experience, which was very little. "It was a little like being in the last year of school together," says Poly, "gigging alongside. Jak, Paul, Rudi and BP. Similarly as at the end of school term, the time had come to say good bye."