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X Ray Spex - Interview

  by Andrew Twambley

published: 4 / 5 / 2024

X Ray Spex - Interview

For those of you who were around in 1976, when punk rock exploded, you will recall with affection Poly Styrene and her band X-Ray Spex. Who could forget her dressed in her iconic bin bag outfit on ‘Top of the Pops’ belting out ‘Germfree Adolescents’? X- Ray Spex were pioneers with a female dominated line-up in a male dominated business…punk with sax appeal! They produced a seminal album also called ‘Germfree Adolescents’, but then as punk faded away, so did the band. X-Ray Spex were a one album wonder!...we thought. But no…they regrouped in 1995 and produced a banging set of songs on the album ‘Conscious Consumer’, which was more of the same but refined and polished with some amazing sax breaks. The album was completed just as Britpop was exploding, but it fell through the cracks and was barely released or distributed. ‘Conscious Consumer’ has been rediscovered…a lost gem…and has been released to a new generation, and us older folk. We spoke to bass player Paul Dean about what happened and why now? PB: So, Paul, we are primarily here to discuss ‘Conscious Consumer’, a lost classic that slipped through the cracks in 1995. Firstly why did such a great album completely disappear so suddenly? PAUL DEAN: Well, that was all down to the record company, Receiver Records. We recorded it and it was all ready but it was never launched or marketed in any way. No reason was given…it was just forgotten, so I also forgot about it until quite recently. PB: That must have been a real shame. It is obviously a well-crafted piece and much thought was clearly put into it. How did you feel about that? PD: That’s just the music business. By the mid-1990s I was pretty cynical about the whole thing. You are right. We put a load of effort into that album. We worked out all the songs, sorted the arrangements, rehearsed, recorded it and then…nothing ! We put a lot of work into it and it wasn’t easy. There were a few personality issues and such like, but it was a good laugh at the time. Getting back with Lora (Logic -saxophone) and Poly was great and I really felt part of it. For me, it was like my last throw of the dice even though I was relatively young then, so you can imagine how disappointing it was with no follow up and no contact with any record company and no sales. It was the second of a trilogy of albums Poly had written, so we will never hear the third, which is a great shame. By the time we finished recording, Poly was becoming unwell so this did nothing for her mental state. Her mind was somewhere else by that time, so we never really explored how she felt about it all. PB: Would it be fair to say that it suffered from Britpop explosion? PD: Yeah, that’s a really good point. It was right in the middle of all that and we were from a different era so it probably got squashed by all the Britpop noise and we must have just fallen through the gap. PB: So, why now, nearly 30 years later? PD: Well, that was down to Lora Logic’s manager, who got it re-released. I am so grateful for that especially if it sells which it appears to be doing….so everything is great. PB: You and I are about the same age and I was into the punk explosion in a big way in ‘77/’78. Everyone knew X-Ray Spex and everyone had the album ‘Germ Free Adolescents’, but I had honestly never heard of ‘Conscious Consumer’. I had thought you were a one album band! PD: Well, we were, for a good few years. We didn’t record ‘Conscious Consumer’ till the early 1990s. But Poly had more songs and it was intended to record another three albums. But at least we have this one out. It is good for the band and good to keep the name alive. PB: What were you up to in the seventeen years between albums? PD: I continued in the music business for a while, but along came a family and I had to get a normal job! I couldn’t live in a squat all my life with no money. These days, even if you are in a band, you generally have to get a job. PB: I have been listening to the album for a few weeks now. It is clearly an X-Ray Spex album but it is more mature and polished, and I would say a finer body of work than ‘Germ Free Adolescents’. PD: That’s good to hear. Poly wrote all the lyrics. They are a continuation from the old album but there is definitely a growth, especially on tracks like ‘Prayer for Peace’ and ‘Junk Food Junkie’, which is a more mature work. There is some fun stuff on there like ‘High Chaperone’. You know normally, one records an album then you play it, but with this we never played it because it never existed, so it’s good to talk about it now and listen to it again. I agree that it sounds really fresh. But back in ‘95, everyone wanted to listen to Oasis, Blur or Pulp…X-Ray Spex was old hat! PB: Lucky for the people around today as it’s a album full of bangers…I love ‘Cigarettes’ and ‘Sophia’ but ‘India’ is my favourite. PD: Yeah, they have brilliant lyrics. Poly would write about such unusual topics, mostly things that affected her. All her lyrics were unique and now provide an interesting perspective on how people, especially minorities, were treated back then. PB: I read somewhere that when this album was finished, Poly wanted the sax removed. That is surprising when it is such an integral part of the album. PD: Poly had these ideas and we often had to convince her that they were not always the best ones. I mean, taking the sax out…it wouldn’t be X-Ray Spex!! PB: Going back in time, what was it like for you in 1976 when punk exploded and ravaged the then somewhat comatose music scene? PD: I was playing covers in local bands and was desperate to get into the punk thing. I had a bass guitar and saw an advert. So, I turned up met Lora and Poly at The Roxy where they were watching Buzzcocks, Eater, The Lurkers and I think Wayne County, I remember waiting in the dressing room before I spoke to Poly and these blokes came in dressed as women, which was unusual in those days. I recall them looking at me and saying, “Oooh, aren’t you a sweet little boy? How old are you? Twelve?” I laugh about it now, but then I was petrified, but they turned out to be really decent guys! PB: I did a feature for Pennyblack a month or so ago, on the subject of a gig you would like to revisit and why. I chose ‘Rock Against Racism’ in Victoria Park on the 30th April 1978. You were there. I chose that gig because, sadly, I just cannot remember much about it. What was it like? PD: Well, yes, what a day that was! It was unlike any outside event today. It was free and there was one stage with a load of amps which everyone shared. Poly had shaved her head the night before, at Johnny Rotten’s house. She was having one of her episodes, but Rotten gave her a turban to wear. No idea where he got that from! Anyway, she took it off halfway through the set and nobody seemed to care. The sad thing about that gig was that they only seemed to film The Clash. I just don’t know why Don Letts didn’t film us….. but maybe he did, and that will eventually come out! That was the biggest gig we ever did with so many thousands of people there. It was an important and for a worthy cause, which is still important today. PB: Another bit of time travel, if you don’t mind…the 10th June 1978…you were headlining at Eric’s in Liverpool…Do you have any recollections of that? PD: Yeah, Eric’s. I don’t recall that specific date but we seemed to be playing there at least once a month with bands like Big In Japan. We would leave London about 10 a.m. and make our way to Liverpool in a clapped out van. It was really chaotic, but Eric’s was a really great club and there was a great scene there, so we loved Eric’s. I used to be quite friendly with Budgie, from Big in Japan, who went onto to drum with The Slits and Siouxsie. In fact most of the people we met there were in a band or went onto form a band…people like Julian Cope, Ian Broudie, Frankie…the list is endless. I remember once we arrived late and there were no hotels free. The manager had booked a room for Poly but hadn’t bothered about the rest of us, so we ended up in some doss house. It was so disgusting that we just got in the van and drove back to London. That was just the way we were treated. Poly was always ferried around in a car, and we were left to our own devices. People forget that we created all the music and Poly did the lyrics. It was a joint effort and we contributed a lot, but we were seen as second rate. Those were the days! PB: And finally, you were there right at the beginning of the punk scene, so why don’t you have a punk name, like A Pauling or DeanMonised? PD: Ha! Ha! I think it was because I was just boring! I did think about using my name in Polish which would have been Pav…but I didn’t want people to call me Pavlov’s Dog! PB: Thank you.

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X Ray Spex - Interview

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X Ray Spex - Interview

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Andrew Twambley speaks to Paul Dean, the bassist with iconic punk act X-Ray Spex about the vinyl reissue of their lost second album, 'Conscious Consumer'.


Interview with Poly Styrene Part 3 (2005)
X Ray Spex - Interview with Poly Styrene Part 3
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Interview with Poly Styrene Part 2 (2005)
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