Is female rivalry any different to the male sort?
Today, the focus is on the way in which difficulties between women assume so much more importance than blokes who fall out. Biogs of male bands are full of sackings, departures, rows and personality clashes, but when it happens between female artists, it’s never portrayed as a straightforward everyday difference. We’re expected to think catty, bitchy, jealous drama queens as fits the stereotype. The punk historians make a lot out of Lora’s claim that X-Ray Spex singer, Poly Styrene couldn’t tolerate having another female in the limelight as her rival:
“Poly saw that I was getting a little too much of the spotlight and I was just replaced without any notice after a year. They even used all the sax parts I worked out for the album (Germ Free Adolescents) with a new player.” Lora Logic
The sacking is true, but how true is the jealousy part? Could others close to the band, as well as the media, be involved in perpetuating this kind of assumption?
One of our early Punk Girl Diaries blog posts was about Lora Logic. In it, we outlined her introduction to punk, short career with X-Ray Spex before being sacked suddenly and finding a completely different kind of life with the Hare Krishna movement.
Starting aged just 15, Lora Logic was responsible for creating some of the most thrilling punk saxophone parts, whether played by her in X-Ray Spex or by male replacements. She then went on to contribute to and create post-punk sounds as well as making experimental, triphop and alternative dancehall music over several decades. Poly Styrene was older, aged 19 when she saw the Sex Pistols and decided to form a punk band. Poly already had a manager/boyfriend and some contacts from her previous recordings. The manager/boyfriend is said to have thought of the name Poly Styrene, and X-Ray Spex as well as making most of the key decsisions affecting Poly’s career.
In fact, many of the interviews with both Poly (real name Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) and Lora (real name Susan Whitby) refer to the wishes and comments of the manager at the time. It was the manager who originally wanted the two-girl front for the band when he got Lora in; it was also the manager who told Lora that Poly didn’t want her because she was taking away the attention. Make of it what you will. There are as many quotes attributing affection and positive work between Poly and Lora as there are power struggles and clashes.
After being suddenly dumped by her band, Lora took it badly:
“I was completely distraught. I was so young and everything I ever wanted was to be in X-Ray Spex. My world came to an end for a while.”
Lora claims that the rock and roll lifestyle then took its toll; this was what led her to join the Hare Krishnas. Coincidently, Poly Styrene took the same path and the two met up and put together a Hare Krishna band ‘Juggernaut’ for Glastonbury around 1983. Poly was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 1991.
Both Lora and Poly did come out of retirement a few times for different projects, including working together on a 1995 X-Ray Spex album.
The following year, Poly Styrene pulled out of an X-Ray Spex gig booked at the 20th Anniversary of Punk Festival in Blackpool, and Lora and bass player Paul Dean went ahead with a substitute singer before disbanding.
This 1996 interview by Stuart Newman with Logic and Dean is a frustrating watch. Obviously, there’s no Poly there; strangely also no reference to her part in the life of X-Ray Spex. It’s a typical poor performance by an interviewer who reads out his pre-written questions and doesn’t listen or draw out a conversation. Lora says very little (although admittedly looks rather cool). More interesting than the actual interview are the background goings-on. For example at 8’21 a woman appears from under the table where she was apparently sleeping.
Both Poly and Lora continued to be involved in diverse recording projects since the 1980s, although Poly died in 2011 following treatment for breast cancer.
Here at Punk Girl Diaries, we love them both. Whether conflict and rivalry came from the musicians themselves or, as we suspect, from the men who influenced punk in the early days is debatable. We love the contrasting sound that Lora Logic’s saxophone brought to the early punk records of X-Ray Spex, The Raincoats and Essential Logic. We also love the vision and confidence of Poly Styrene and the original direction in which she took punk. We look forward to the release of ‘I am a Cliche’ the film about Poly’s life https://www.polystyrenefilm.com/ and salute you both as Essential Punkgirls.