1978 - 1980
TOUGHNESS IS: GETTING
YOUR ACT TOGETHER
If you can put a name to this face with the piercing eyes you are probably one of the handful of people who got a jolt from Derek Jarman's seminal movie 'Jubilee'. That's where Toyah Willcox made waves as the punk wildcat with the scorching vocal delivery, hissing and spitting at the recording studio glass panel separating her from the world's richest man Borgia Ginz (he of the hyena laugh).
The fiction of 'Jubilee' has a real life parallel. Toyah is lead singer in a new band named after the 20 year old singer/actress. Perhaps that should read actress/singer because Toyah is soon to star in a George Cukor movie 'The Corn Is Green', in which she plays a "mixed up Cockney kid who gets pregnant". Patricia Hayes, of 'Edna The Inebriated Woman' fame plays her mother and the legendary Katherine Hepburn staggers back into celluloid once more in the lead role.
Birmingham born Toyah sees the role as her passport to America and as a means of getting the group some instant attention. The four London lads who make up the rest of the, three month old, group seem pretty chuffed with the idea too.
Original songs, an impressive demo tape featuring four of them and Virgin Records expressing interest in signing them, the group are throwing all their energy into building a stage act. Nothing too theatrical as yet, mind you. That takes money.
Lead guitarist Joel Bogen met Toyah two years ago when he was in another band. That's when she made her first foray into singing with a group. Before that she trained as an opera singer, though listening to her sing one hears more actress than diva filtering through.
Joel and Toyah met up again this year and the idea of 'Toyah' was born. Joel auditioned musicians (he stresses the word) and chose Pete Bush (keyboards), Dave Robin (drums), and Windy Miller (bass). So far they've played private gigs but on July 13 they play the Young Vic.
Arriving late enough to miss The Teenbeats, my initial joy went sour when I realised that the Boys were back in town, but only just. I caught only 'First Time', 'In The City' and 'Cast Of Thousands', all of them were great. There were also plenty of references to equipment problems, without which no gig would be complete. Only marginally less boring than DJ Gary Holton's demented antics.
Toyah ambled onstage and the evening took on a change for the better, although this performance was far from their best. Miss Willcox, as always, looked remarkable, sporting her new bronze age Annie Oakley look, with only Charlie attempting eye catching moves in the background. His peculiar trotting across the stage amused many an onlooker.
These individuals tampering with instruments, and tonight the man called Bogen in particular, develop more forceful characteristics as the gigs go by. And it would seem the actual atmospheres are becoming increasingly more tolerant. The festive spirit speedily festered as fists flew in a sickening outbreak, but after that (in the very first song) the only "heavy scenes" I saw were clashes between bouncers and strange folk trying to break into the Muse after the gig had finished!
As it was so long since Toyah last graced our fiery metropolis, it was purely for accuracy's sake (you understand) that I forced my way past open mouthed shock victims so selfishly blocking my view, and on arriving in the "perfect" spot I received the glare of a stage light directed into my eyes, a trick which Toyah greatly enjoys. Her stage manner is generally that of a highly proficient dervish, much prone to self simulation and only falters when she trips over one of Joel's foot pedals, disrupting her frosty stare into laughter...a welcome relief.
The band play a type of music exclusive to them and this combined with the aformentioned warbling and dancing makes squeezing into a Toyah gig one of the more enjoyable aspects of nightlife.
Retiring, somewhat crushed, to the bar for the last couple of numbers, which happened amid silly rockets and dry ice, I surveyed the crowd below and found them in a curiously muted state! Was it the shock of getting in free or was it her legs that so stunned them into silence? I know not, I care not.
This gig was the last date on the 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' Tour in 1979. It took place at the Music Machine in Camden, London on 29th November. This was the 'legendary' Safari Records Xmas Party
Toyah's last London gig for this year (!) was nothing short of brilliant.....a speedy progression from earlier gigs, finds the band niftier than ever, with Toyah sporting her amazing bondage space cadet look, coupled with her incredible shrinking act (at the rate she's shedding weight there soon won't be a Toyah!).
In three months with only the mammaries...er, the memories to keep our brains alive, Toyah have perfected their music so that it stands apart from most groups. SPECIAL, in other words.
New songs as good as the standards of today were previewed, including amongst them "Insects" on which her imagination ran riot. And the next single "Tribal Look" which at times allowed the bass and drums to find prominence with frantic parts of the Aztec disco shuffle.
They began mysteriously early, and somehow the eternally acrobatic Miss Willcox kept up the furious pace where more experienced athletes would have wilted. Musically they offer you something different to other bands, a sense of purpose for one thing, doing it because they enjoy it. The traditional striving for commercial success comes low on the list. The music seeps into your senses and stays there, whilst the image takes some beating.
The giant bassist who we shall call Plug, leaps around, occasionally helping Toyah on her way with a friendly boot. The drummer, who is the undisputed musical star of the show, pushes through the intensely rhythmic beat that pervades all of the tunes. Joel, ace guitarist, rips out the noise, eyeing his fiancee nervously fearing the impending assault.....and the keyboardman stands solemn but safe behind his machine concocting eerie contributions. And then the lady of the night, whether it's dousing her head in drink, swapping tongue recollections with a girl down front or attempting to eat her way through the floor. Toyah moves on, her body in flames, she exhibits her extraordinary facial contortions every few seconds.
Suffice to say I find it intoxicating.
Appearances in Jarman's forthcoming The Tempest and Jubilee, a part in Quadrophenia, a recent play at the ICA, a recording contract with Safari (sole labelmate: Wayne County) - Toyah Willcox does not lack for art-punk credentials. So it was hardly surprising to find her band, Toyah, rocking out one of Peter Gill's Hammersmith auditoria with their brain-scrambling concoction of hard rock and dramatic gesture.
The singer's appearance tends to a sort of postwar art rococo: geometric/monochromatic layers of clothing, op-art necklace, gothic make-up, the whole squat impish figure topped with a multi directional splay of carrot growing out black.
On first hearing, the voice suggest equally exotic resonances, as it swoops from a smoky jazz tone to blood curdling screams; the trouble is that she has a habit of blowing the whole range within each number, never deploying it to suit the mood or mode of any single piece.
It's not hard to see - or experience more personally, if you sit too near the stage - why Toyah expresses a preference for spacious playing areas where she can swirl about the stage and its environs like the spirit of mischief on speed, apparently kicking the shit out of one member of the audience during "Problem Child".
The band - Pete Bush (keyboards), Joel Bogen (guitar), Steve Bray (drums), Mark Henry (bass), and guest Blood Donor Charlie Stephenson (percussion) - passed by as an undistinguished blur of pumping bass and skull-flattening wodges of guitar and synthisiser. Rather old fashioned, really.
Indeed, the combinations of tricked-up heavy matter and "violence"/"menace" (nothing of the sort of course) comes uncomfortably close to formulaic theatre of cruelty rock.
That said, I hope these are teething problems, because the band's first single, "Victims Of The Riddle" points elsewhere, a remarkably listenable slice of paranoia and macabre chills that the musicians compliment with a clever Terry Riley/disco/electronic backing track. Live, it implies, they ought to be doing more than trying to match Toyah Willcox's awesome excesses of energy and exuberance, a job no one in their right mind ought to take on - even a bloody big PA.
This was a one off gig at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London on 18th July 1979. It took place three months after the end of the Resurrection Tour, but is considered the last date of that tour.
The Oxford English dictionary definition of Toyah Willcox runs thus, "small irascible vole equipped with contagious laughter and fiendish footwear". Her heels lay entrenched in red carpet, London SE1, as the toes sped busily through Whitehall streets impaling unsuspecting passers-by on the svelte felt (suede actually) points, like an animated kebab.
It often seems that no matter what publication you perceive, there beams Toyah, scowling, "when I was young I masticated over helpless neighbours", and more.
So there she sits, her toes travelling unhindered through the Northern wastelands, whilst the mind remains rooted in the interview situation. As ever she laughs easily, punctuating speech with ceaseless giggling until the subject of music arises, when she takes on a far more serious demeanour. We begin by discussing her current thespian involvement, 'Sugar and Spice'.
Helluva lot of lines involved. Have trouble learning them?
"Em...not any more. I mean, that's the biggest part I've ever played., It took six weeks to learn that part. I did have trouble learning 'em but eventually I achieved it. The achievement is the only reason for doing it."
Have you ever muffed them onstage?
"All the fucking time (laaaaauuughhs), every night. You get to the point where if you're not concentrating I find I'm talking a load of gibberish because I'm missing certain words out. I'm not thinking about what I'm saying, and the cast are looking at me in horror. You do things like that 'cos there's so many lines, you forget you are talking sense."
Did you do it because you needed stage experience?
"Yeah. I would like to one stage play a year 'cos it's training, really good training."
Better training than a film?
"Totally. Film can be so related and you don't have to concentrate so much. I just find it a good refresher course. It just makes you think."
What's coming up? Tell me in ten seconds.
"Oh God, I don't know. 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde', a film on BBC2. I've done 'Urggh', the music film, two albums coming out. One with the new band which we're working on, and one live album called 'Toyah, Toyah, Toyah' which I've got nothing to do with whatsoever, and a live version of 'Danced' is coming out as a single, which to me, I'm just treating it as a goodbye to the old band. I don't like the rehashing of old material. All I'm interested in is the new music."
What do you see as the perfect role to play?
"They're all men's parts - the Marquis de Sade, a man who is into pornography and cruelty. he's a sadist and a masochist. It's written in verse and it is a brilliant play. It's horrific and totally about madness. I would love to play him, but there's no female role I've ever been impressed with except 'Taming Of The Shrew'. I don't know...Queen Elizabeth the First...period sort of thing."
Nothing to stop you doing a man's part.
"Except the directors (screech!) and the promoters (Howlll!)"
What about typecasting? All your roles have been similar.
"I will get round that with age. At the moment I'm so young, and young parts are usually based on the type of parts I'm playing. So I won't get out of the evil type roles I'm playing until I'm older I don't think. Till I'm more mature, 'cos I'm so small. So small and childlike...I end up playing deceptive roles."
Ever aware of people thinking, 'is she putting it on?' when you're onstage?
"No. I used to "act" at one point but I don't anymore cos I'm a bit more independent now. I've finished with Jem. I haven't got anyone mothering me now, and I have nothing to hide anymore. I used to have to hide this complete tantrum going on in my head the whole time. I used to suffer from this a lot, just explosions going on in my head. I used to hide them. I just used to sit there being very nice, otherwise I'd be running around smashing up the furniture. But now I don't have to worry about that 'cos I've sorted myself out. In know who I am now. When you know who you are you don't have to hide anything or prove anything."
Do you like parties?
"Hate 'em. I was made to throw one for a tv documentary being made on me, and by the time people started arriving I was so frightened at having to go out amongst them that Tom, my bodyguard, had to drive me off 'cos I couldn't go out. They really freak me out, parties. Everyone wants to talk o you, you get piss artists trying to chat you up, you're just expected to be nice the whole time, and I all I wanted to do was go, "Get out of my fucking warehouse!" It gets up my nose, because you can't have a conversation. The people I invite to parties never turn up, but the rest of London does."
Your image of 'niceness', does this bother you?
"I don't really care. What's annoying me is people are writing interviews of me that make me look really aggressive. There was something in the Sunday Telegraph about, 'I care about so and so but everybody else can sod off' and it was a joke but they printed it as though I meant it, as though I hate everyone on this bleeding planet, and I don't like the way people bend your words. I don't care what people think of me...so what if you're nice, so what if you're horrible? They think, 'she's a punk rocker, and punk rockers are supposed to be nasty, but we have found a nice punk rocker and (laughs) so fucking what?!!! (Screeeeccchhh.)"|
Music...what's your favourite piece? What do you regard as your most successful tracks to date?
"Musically I would've enjoyed 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' if it had been produced better and fuller. As a band I was happier with what we achieved with 'Blue Meaning'. It was definitely a band contribution, something the band did as a whole for a change, rather than me bossing them about, even though the band fell apart after it. I'm not really happy with anything we've ever done, except 'Victims Of The Riddle', which was the first tune I ever write, but 'cos a certain member of the band was so stinking jealous that I had written a tune on keyboards it went out as he had written it, otherwise he'd have left the band and I didn't want that 'cos I quite liked his keyboard playing.
"Em...but from now on I don't give a fuck about personal problems. If Anyone does not like anything then they can fuck off 'cops I'm not having my career ruined. I played mother to that band for two years and they just walk out on me. It's left me bitter, but I know I can survive without them."
Is the new music very different?
"It's gonna be based more on 'Victims Of The Riddle' type things. It's gonna be more simple and more from the heart than the head. I dunno, I want it to be like 'Danced' and 'Neon Womb', the numbers with energy, but also with something that people can understand in the lyrics. I want to make it more fun with better use of technical effects like stereo, but not over the top. We've still got Joel Bogen who has improvised no end. I'm going to sneeze. Aaaaachoooooooooo."
"Thank you. We're using the keyboard player from Blood Donor. He helped write 'Victims Of The Riddle'. I can control him and he can control me, we are quite a god writing team. The bass player is called Andy, and the drummer's called Nigel. I can't remember their surnames, and can easily say they are better than Charlie and Steve. They come up with really nice, unselfindulgent rhythms. They're really inspiring, so I am pleased. We haven't had to take a step back, we are taking a major step forward.
"They've got the old band's experience in front of 'em. They know what the possibilities are. I'm going to use them at set times, and when I'm acting they can do what they want. They're free spirits. They're prepared to drop everything to work with me. Things are better already. I actually like it. I'm quite impressed with the music, which is marvellous because it's my success they're sitting on. They are cool, mature people."
Do you get pissed off with interviews?
"I don't get pissed off with 'em, I just...em, they helped me explore myself as the interviewed."
And there we left it. As I wandered off into the London streets to get hopelessly lost, the red-haired object was scuttling about wondering who to invite on her 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' stint. After that it's 'Blue Peter', 'Play School'...who knows what else?
THE GIRL WHO
WOULD BE KING
When Toyah Willcox talks, it's like a time-bomb ticking over...and Toyah's time gets closer every second. So what does make Toyah tick?
Paul Morley sounds the alarm...
"Be original, don't bitch me," smiles Toyah Willcox as I leave the Royal Court Theatre, smiling back over my shoulder.
I'd spent ninety minutes interviewing her in a tatty dressing room with a miniature bay window that looked down a stumpy alleyway at a fragment of London's Sloane Square and the top end of the King's Road.
"People who don't even know me," she told me, incredulous at such rudeness, "have dug my grave in the music papers, and I just think that's hilarious. What problems have they got that they want to do that to someone else? I just think, God, they must be frustrated if they feel a need to be that nasty.
"It doesn't affect me." she raises her head a little, punches her chest. "It bites there for a few minutes, then I just think - fuckers! You're not going to stop me, baby! Nothing will stop me. No words."
She pouts fiercely.
In print Toyah appears more bad-tempered than she sounds. When she talks, it's very theatrical fierceness - though not hollow. Whatever, she's not atall a cold person.
"I think that's my problem. I'm not atall cold. I have problems being cold. I don't like being bitchy, I don't necessarily enjoy it. That's why people have taken me for a ride a lot of the time, because I'm usually a very nice person. I usually tolerate a lot.
"I'm just not a slag, which is what the media makes me out to be. I'm totally unlike this sort of wild sexist-creature-on-the-stage image. I hate it. I'm just having a good time, and I want the audience to have a good time as well."
In the world that Toyah is charging through, it doesn't seem simplistic to proclaim she will be a star. One of the last. In conversation her husky yet hard-edged Cockney deals out thoughtful, even rehearsed, lines and responses reminiscent of the snap, crackle and boast of old Bolan interviews: a pot-pourri of self championing, certainty, studied aggression, mild-contradiction, cosmetic angst, just the right amount
of self-deprecation and a dash of spontaneous insight. She listens to her questioner with supreme politeness. Interviews form part of her drive towards an unashamed 'career' success. She uses them with the professionalism of Sting, always conscious of the image it's helping to shape - gently rubbing the past out, setting up the next stages.
Toyah so far has been the on the make catalyst looking to set up a hallucinatory venue for perpetual freaking out, the girl who slept in a coffin and dealt in black magic...
"Black magic was just a fascination. I hate the idea of satan. Man is satan."
Man or the human race?
"The human race. The male has a lot to do with it. I mean, in black magic only the man is special, which is probably why I don't like it."
What if it was the other way around?
"It's a negative form anyway. I still wouldn't like it. The coffin was just another morbid fascination. I used to lie in it because it kept men away from me. A very effective barrier."
Sometimes it seems as though she's steering and scheming towards success purely for its own sake.
"I couldn't tell you why it is. I've never analysed it. I just know that the feeling's so strong. I couldn't do anything else. If I'm meant to become something then I'll become something."
She acknowledges the media's part in this, claiming she will exploit its trivialising debasement. I ask her how she will deal with being absorbed into the media's sanitised notion of what is and isn't a female rock star. She has it all sorted out.
"I would kid them to believe they'd absorbed me into that for a few weeks, but then I'd spit into their faces. I do like misleading those sort of people. I'd enjoy that totally. They've already tried - oh, Toyah, sexy thing - and I turned round and farted in their faces. I wouldn't mind if there was a great big thing launching the new album and I was the new Debbie Harry...then weeks later I'd shave my head and start gobbing on old ladies. I'd do anything to make them contradict themselves."
Toyah, as a singer, has attracted the kind of aggravated dark-punk following that goes for set images, scrawlable logos, noticable spite, that needs to identify. Her fans will have their name painted on the back of their leather jackets underneath Crass and above Adam.
Musically... "I don't know why. Our music is very jazz based."
It's you, isn't it?
"Yeah, definitely me. Because of my image, the media made me out to be some outrageous rebel, and I'd done Jubilee, the Punk Rock Movie. Some of the girls who get to me are bent as well. Little girls rubbing me left, right and centre. Very peculiar. I didn't know there were so many lesbians about." She laughs, a quick giggly
burst. "Mind you, I get equally as many little boys after me."
Is it identification? The possibility of transcending roots?
"Totally. There's this problem child onstage performing to kids going through their teens."
Were you a problem child?
"I was a fucking bitch. I used to be so quiet and then I just lashed out at something and when I lashed out I physically hurt someone. I used to sit there and then explode and people could never make me out. One minute I'd be all demure and the next minute I'd be holding them up against a wall smashing their faces in. I had total lack of control. I couldn't control my temper. If I didn't want to go to school, I wouldn't go to school. I had to be physically locked in my mother's car in the morning and driven to school. To me school was just one long prison sentence. I really hated it."
What did you want to do and be then?
"I wanted to go to a snotty acting school in London. I've always wanted to be an actress. My mum was one, but I never found that out until I was in my teens so that's got nothing to do with it. It's just been a mad desire, really mad. I think it was because I was a compulsive liar. I was always lying to everyone to cover up my
mistakes, to cover up the fact that I'd been playing truant. And because I could convince people with my lies and I found it very exciting, I wanted to lie for a profession."
As Actor, Toyah is currently featured in Nigel William's self-consciously savage play Sugar And Spice at London's Royal Court Theatre. Williams, a glum Rob Halford lookalike, has an intelligentsia cultivated reputation as an enfant terrible of new theatre. His plays, Line 'Em Up, Class Enemy, Trial Run and now Sugar And Spice, all chipped from the same coarse, heavily stylised block, have earned him an inevitable punk/new wave tag.
His plays frame resentment, bigotry, the clumsy emotions of tribalism, reproducing in fantastic setting the gripes, fears and loathings of an idealised working class. The great tension and barbarism in his plays comes not from the generous shower of expletitives - his loving use of fuck, cunt, piss, has become an easy handle for media - but from the confusion and disillusionment of the victims of prejudice: usually adolescents and the working class.
Sugar And Spice is an ugly and funny play about hate, despair and sexual derision. It's simply structured. In the first half, motherly Honey-punk Suze (Carol Hayman) picks up a gang of girls and takes them back to her off-Kings Road council flat for shelter and whisky. Toyah as Sharon is the defiant leader of the gang; Carol (Gwyneth Strong) is the neurotic temptress who lures Steve (Daniel Peacock) into the flat, separating him from his mates who wait outside; Tracy is the obsessively tidy, uncommitted punkette in love with marriage, whose domesticated hooks are deep inside the poor Derek (John Fowler) who, after ahilarious opening burst of mock bravado, becomes almost sexless as the play progresses; Linda (Caroline Quentin) is happy to shadow Sharon, almost as tough but much less suss.
The girls taunt and goad Steve for fancying Carol. Sharon spits morally destructive anti-male invective at him, and insidiously persuades best friend Carol to castrate Steve - who, due to a mixture of his own conceit and Sharon's toughness, is naked. As she moves towards him, almost hysterical, Steve's 'hard' mates, skinhead John (Tony London) and rude boy Leroy (Leroi Samuels) burst in to save him.
The second half switches emphasis. John wildly attacks what he sees as the uselessness and stupidity of women just as Sharon attacked the ego and selfishness of men: Sharon addressing Steve's vulnerable penis, John screaming at Carol's pubic hair - Sharon now also naked, through her gullibility and John's chauvinistic demands. The play climaxes with an unsettling jab of physical violence - Steve having his genitals twisted out by the broken whisky bottle.
The stunned gang ring 999. The play ends with an endless ringing tone. No one cares.
As grotesque caricature of adolescent emotional warfare, Sugar And Spice is exuberant entertainment. Toyah projects Sharon with a mercurial blend of facetious wit and alarming attack; she'svery impressive.
The night after the play's premier we talk about it in the boy's dressing room. Toyah sits on a wooden folding chair a couple offeet in front of me, casting occasional glances at my tape recorder and the peculiar lie of my hair.. She's dressed in black. Her boots are exquisite, of course - suede, with toes as long and lean as stilettos, which are high to give some inches to her 4' 10".
At most, Sugar And Spice will tickle the fancy of the liberal middle class, but it won't be appreciated by the kind of audience Toyah hopes for - her music followers, the fifth form schoolkids the play romanticises.
"The critics have torn it to pieces because they don't understand it," gloats Toyah perversely. "I think it's a brilliant play, so bloody funny. It's so true, the perversities in a young boy's mind. I think he's got it down to a tee. But it's a complicated play to perform.
"You can't do it with taste because there is no taste in the play. You've got to be basic gutter cat sort of thing."
Was there anything in the part of Sharon that you added to or adjusted from the original writing?
"Yeah, I took some of the writing out. Some things that to me were too similar to the character of John, just perversities against women. I had some speeches..."
A failure because it was a man writing it?
"I felt it was a man writing it and going slightly over the top. Nigel Williams is a super-realist writer - it's not real, it's made bigger - and I just thought it was a little too much when the character Sharon kept going on and on and repeating how much she hated housewives and certain things like that. She kept repeating things
throughout the play that would have got monotonous and boring whereas the character John gets boring and monotonous and eventually bores all the other characters into hating him."
Did you immediately like the play when you first read it?
"I hated it at first. I was offered the part of Carol, who is the bird that ends up naked, and I instantly refused it. I just couldn't handle a part like that. I sent the script back, and was offered the part of Sharon, which I was quite happy to take. I feel more capable of performing it. I just wouldn't feel right doing that sort of performance for the character Carol. I just haven't got the right physique. I'm not physically right for the part."
Is that the only reason?
"The nudity would freak me out. Completely. It would be wrong for me to do nudity cos when I go out onstage with the band everyone immediately shouts out 'Show us your tits, show us your tits'. The audience only go there to see your body in that case and that really annoys me."
Do you see any of yourself in Sharon?
"When I was younger, yes, quite a lot. The violence side, the aggression towards men, I had a hell of alot of that when I was younger. I didn't have the same amount of confidence that Sharon's got. I was too well brought up. I sort of kepy my thoughts to myself."
The way your "careers" have developed, it's been a case of massive confidence.
"In my case it's been a lot of bullshitting. That to me is what confidence is. It's just a case of being able to deal out the bullshit. When I first moved down to London I was the most naive little twat I've ever heard of, looking back. I was so fucking thick. I didn't know when members of the National Theatre were laughing at me, I didn't know that people were laughing at me when I walked down the street. Why do people keep laughing at me? Am I making them happy? I was just thick.
"I soon learnt to start bullshitting when people started ripping me off left, right and centre, using me in every way because I allowed myself to be used. I like dealing out the bullshit. I like misguiding people who think they have power over you. I can't really give you examples...Like last night you have a load of old farts in to see you backstage, casting directors, all that, and they come and see you and say oh dahling, what are you doing next? Oh actually I'm off to Hollywood to do a big movie, and OK I'm being asked to do a big movie in Hollywood," she shakes her head as if it's all so tiresome, "But I don't know if I'm doing it yet. But I give them all this bullshit, about how big the movie is, and they go away wanting to employ me, because I've made them think that I'm important. Which is a load of crap.
"I just give people what they want to hear, which is a load of bullshit sometimes."
How much satisfaction is there to your sense of creativity to play Sharon?
"The great sense of exhaustion after the show. It's not so much the audience reaction, it's the silence at the end of the play that I like, the silence during the play when they're listening, that I prefer to the laughter. It's just the great sense of having so much adrenalin running through you and not being able to control it. That's what I get from acting.
"The whole time I'm on that stage I'm on a complete high. The words take you over completely. Toyah no longer exists. It's great to escape from this person for two hours a night."
Toyah talks about acting with great passion and perception, with a deeper sense of grace and coherence than when she talks about music. As actress she is respected, and she knows why; as singer she is still searching for respect, searching simply for the right way. "In my acting career, people come to me. In my music career, I have to go to people."
Acting came before music. After dreaded school, a single O-level in music, she accepted a place at Birmingham Old Rep Drama School.
She appeared in the BBC's Second City Firsts' Glitter along with Noel Edmonds and was offered a place with the National Theatre in London. She played Emma in Tales From Vienna Woods and in the summer of '77 she persuaded Derek Jarman to let her play Mad in Jubilee: a vain attempt to feel under the surfaces of punk for...something.
"I think it's a film in its own right. When it came out I thought it was brilliant, but it's boring looking at it now."
Did you feel that it was going to help you?
"I had incredible doubts about it. I'd never seen a nude person before." She looks for a reaction from me. I give it her. "I was 18. I'd never seen one. It had quite a few in it. I'd never seen a nude person. The absolute truth! Except myself. And there was this scene where I jump into bed with two brothers and get the lighter out and the first time we did it they had their clothes on and then we did the take and I jumped into bed and they had nothing on! I completely freaked out. I'd never seen a nude man before!"
Were you scared to be involved with those sorts of people?
"No, it excited me actually. They were the sort of people I dreamed about spending my company with. Very few people like that existed in Birmingham - colourful people, just being themselves, not caring what society said about them. I just found it exciting. I soon found out they were arseholes like everyone else."
In 1978 she appeared in The Corn Is Green with Katherine Hepburn, began filming the TV Quatermass for Euston Films, and during the latter months of the year filmed the part of Monkey for Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia, rudeness and developing versatlity winning her the role.
When talking about the directors she's worked with, revealing respect and love for Derek Jarman and compatibility with Bill Alexander (Sugar And Spice) she says of Roddam: "He was OK, but I knew he was completely manipulating everyone in the cast."
Toyah was fast growing up. She appreciated that in the film there were certain faces used, but that this benefitted the faces used - Sting, Phil Daniels, Toyah - as much as anything else.
"Of course! I wouldn't have stayed otherwise. Getting up at five, catching pneumonia. I didn't have a day off. I had to keep going, there was this nurse with me the whole time. I really was very ill. But I realised the film wasn't only benefiting Roddam. It was benefiting me as well."
In early 1979 she presented the BBC chat show Look Here from Birmingham, appeared in Stephen Poliakoff's play American Days at the ICA Theatre, forced her way into an episode of Shoestring, started filming the BBC series Jekyll and Hyde, and was offered the part of Miranda in Derek Jarman's film version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Her 'wild child' performance here described as "naive and knowing", exotically puffed out her image. Did she feel that appearing in The Tempest was going to do her some good?
"I knew it would benefit my acting career within the acting world." She affects a silly snobby voice. "Punk rock star Toyah Willcox doing Shakespeare. It had that sensationalist aspect about it. But
not only has it benefited my acting career. It's opened up a new audience for me."
For Toyah, very important. But did she simply do Quadropheniaand The Tempest to further her careers, or were there other reasons?
"I did Quadrophenia for other reasons. It was at a time when mods hadn't re-occurred and I loved the fashion and I loved the music...and then it re-occurred and I fucking hated it. I still like the music. I Just hated the hype. The Tempest I did purely as a challenge, because I was frightened of Shakespeare. I didn't think I was capable of doing Shakespeare."
Did you feel that you were doing Shakespeare, or something else?
"I felt I was doing Shakespeare with added life."
That added life was important. "Oh yes. I knew Derek wasn't going to 'do a punk version of The Tempest'. Load of crap He was going to do a version as true to life as when Shakespeare wrote it, and that's why I wanted to do it. Because I knew it would be mystically beautiful." A touch of her impressionable soft centre seeps through the hard business exterior. "The filming technique is marvellous, but I hate me in it, because...well, I just don't like Shakespeare. I got to like The Tempest after reading it six times. I've just got an anti-Shakespeare feel left from school."
Did you feel that through acting you were communicating other people's feelings, and you made music because you wanted to communicate your own ideas and feelings?
"Oh yeah, music is something very personal to me. I want to achieve something within music because I love music. It is definitely my own communication. You've hit the nail on the head. When I'm acting I'm someone else's puppet. I'm the director's or writer's puppet. That feels very expansive. You feel that you are eating other people's minds to create a totally seperate person. You're creating something that doesn't exist, and it's great. You feel like a creator."
The roles Toyah has played have all had great attraction: been bright boosts. They have meant that as actress she is solidly established and undeniably "hot". As musician, much less so. She's busy getting to grips with that. As she admits, in the past she tried too hard, wore masks, and contrived an ill-fitting image. She desperately wants her music to be as accepted as her acting.
"It's difficult to compare the two worlds," she admits, "and say why you're doing both. I generally just do whatever I want to do next."
People are always suspicious of actors who perform music onstage - they feel it's a con, certainly a conceit.
"Right. I'm still the one person about, I think, who's managed to keep the two careers completely separate. Very little of my music gets involved with my acting, and I wouldn't like it to.
There's a movie I'm doing next year for which I'm writing the music, but it's not supposed to be a rock musical, the music is all atmosphere, like Eno's sort of, not rock songs. I'm not interested in that at all.
"I like doing both music and acting. I get a lot of inspiration from acting and the music. Doing a play like this leaves the days free to work on music. It's just perfect. I need to work day and night time, so having both enables me to do that."
Doesn't doing one take away from the other?
"No, one complements the other. The only commitment is time, but because I'm capable of working longer hours I can fit into other people's schedules.There was a time when I was doing two movies and an album." She makes it sound so natural. "Quadrophenia and Quatermass and the 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' LP. I didn't sleep for two weeks and I was very happy." A short, sharp snatch of giggle.
You wouldn't sacrifice one for the other?
"No, because I don't believe in those sort of sacrifices. If I did that I would be sacrificing for someone else, not because of my career, but because some selfish bastard at the other end wanted to make more money out of me. Fuck that. I do what makes me
happy. I know that sounds selfish, but you've got to be like that otherwise you're someone else's puppet."
She glares through me. "I've got two personalities that both need feeding at the same time. I couldn't tell you what they are. I've got the snob in me and I've got the commoner in me. The snob does the acting and the commoner the music."
I would have said the other way round. (I wouldn't actually, but that's what I said at the time.)
"Not anymore! Because I'm fighting for my music career now. I feel I've taken a step back doing the music and I want to take a step forward again."
The group 'Toyah' began to take shape prior to the bulk of her acting successes; end of '77, early '78. The group that made the singles 'Victims Of The Riddle' and 'Bird In Flight', the six-track 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' (these all compiled for a German import LP with the same title), the Safari LP 'The Blue Meaning' and the single from the LP 'Ieya', have now fallen apart. Only Joel Bogen, guitarist and founder member along with Toyah, remains.
Toyah has her bile against her former group well organised, using their inadequacies and negative fastidiousness - their laziness to fend off attack against the music's erraticism. I ask her how aware she was of the music's erraticism, especially neat to the fluent acting development.
"Totally," she affirms, hungry to get it all off her chest, dragging the group in. "When anything went wrong with the band a particular member would say it was because Toyah was acting." Toyah bitches with a practised persuasive sheen of authority. "Which was a load of crap. So the band would go out, make
mistakes, not rehearse enough, lose money, and they'd blame it on me because I was away acting. They couldn't live without me. They were totally dependent on me, so that overworked me. I was having to mother them the whole time. Which was ridiculous. They were like a bunch of old women, continually having periods as far as I was concerned." She grimaces, spreads out loads of examples of the group's exasperating stupidity.
Toyah says the group - absurdly - resented the attention she was getting, her tendency to want to write the music, the time she was away pursuing a role that created her image and diminished theirs. Yet during the time the group was splitting at the seams, Toyah was happily protecting them in interviews, broadcasting how well they were all getting on. "Of course I fucking was," she shoots back, "I was trying desperately to make things OK, even though they weren't."
It's surely inevitable that Toyah is the group is the leader is the face is the one that is wanted.
"You can't do anything about that. I tried, I really tried."
"Because I actually cared for the band."
That seems a bit wet.
"I know it's a bit wet. I actually tried to keep the band together. I didn't want to lose them. All I wanted to do was get on the stage and perform in front of an audience. I didn't want to be the main number. But I realise now that I have to be. You've got to be number one..
"The music's improved no end by the loss of those three members of the band. I don't think there'll ever be a Toyah band again. I won't call it that, the next group, cos the five members we all wrote together and the music is part of 'Toyah', whereas now we've lost three members the music is completely different. A new image and a new presentation. It's lost all its self-indulgent pap."
Toyah's musical favourites include Marianne Faithful, Tim Buckley, Laura Nyro, Jimi Hendrix, Eno, Lou Reed, Pere Ubu, Marc Bolan, David Bowie. With loves like that you know she'll make music more heroic than she has done. Does she strive to equal the music of those idols?
"I'd like to equal Tim Buckley's imagination," she considers. Pause. "I'd like my voice to be as sweet as Laura Nyro's," she prays. Pause. "I'd like my imagination to be as perfectly correct as David Bowie's. I love them all because they have a certain quality."
Her music so far - which she doesn't completely denounce, but neither does she admit to feeling proud of - vulgarly extends the cosmically deranged elements of Patti Smith like Pauline Murray gracefully extends the easy listening elements. (A critic described it as Patti Smith on speed. In fact, it's closer to Patti Smith off speed. "I never use drugs for inspiration. They blott my mind out.") Enchantingly uncouth ghost music even more extreme than Pink military, 'The Blue Meaning' is Toyah in Wonderland.
To achieve the hit singles that the face and the fury demand and deserve, she needs to pack all her flights of fantasy and diabolical fanciness into a taut commercial framework. She'll appeal to lovers of Sting, Gary Numan and Kate Bush, if properly disciplined. Right now her lyrics are precious and precarious - she's called them pretentious.
"Pretentious doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. I am a pretentious person in a way. Well, I don't think I am now because in a way I've proved myself quite a lot. But I don't worry what the lyrics are like as long as it fits the music, and I've created a good melody line. I would love my lyrics to be accessible and for people to repeat them, sing them, which is something that my lyrics haven't got yet. I'd love it if people could walk along the streets singing my lyrics.
"I do think about things like that, but if I'm not capable of writing like that there's no point in trying cos you'd just come out with real crap. The lyrics are very personal to me. At the moment I'm still developing, and that's the thing about music. I don't care if it doesn't work at the moment, cos I'm developing so quickly and there's so much inside me to develop. There's no way I've burnt myself out. I've only just grown up in a way."
The new music, she confidently reveals, is 'more sellable'. "It's sort of controlled chaos, studio-based chaos. I'm keeping the word chaos there because I think that's a very valuable part of our music - you could move to it and there was action there. Movement to me is the main form of communication. It's not just going blah blah blah. If you move, and you make the music to move to, the people will like it.
"I won't be able to break away from the punk thing, but I'll be able to make it grow into a bigger thing. I hope so. I'd like to think so."
Do you want to be a star?
"I want to be on the move."
Toyah moves around on her hard wooden chair, fiddles around with a heavy looking eye-ring, attention occasionally wandering as a struggle through a question. Midway through the conversation there's a solitary yawn, discreetly and inoffensively performed. She seems surrounded by a halo of energy - stamina, perhaps
derived from her stockiness, enough for four. "Basically onstage." she had said, "I am a man, and y'know, that's all I can say..."
I press charges. There must be more to that?
"Erm...the only way you can be asexual, for a woman to be asexual, is to say that she's a man. It's no good saying 'I'm asexual' cos then you get everyone left right and centre trying to chase you. But if you say you are a man, people will say oh? oh; and stay away."
She explains that when she's onstage singing, she likes to forget her body. She often refers to her body with slight distaste. "Oh yeah, I do like to forget about the shape of it and all that." Another quick giggle. "I don't know why. I just like to forget that I'm female basically..."
That's the shape you're referring to. "Oh no, the shape I don't like is being small, like a dwarf. I haven't got a hang-up about it, I just feel that it's a bit of a drag sometimes."
Does it upset you that you have these feelings?
"No, because they make me look after myself a lot more. I think if I liked the way I looked I wouldn't look after myself. But I really look after myself physically. I'm sort of a keep fit health freak, what I eat and everything. Because I'm so afraid of going bumph!" she flings her arms wide.
It affects your self confidence?
"It happened once and it did totally. Not only that, it's cos then I can't move around a lot and I have a lot of physical energy. If I get half a stone overweight I'm completely fucked. The slimmer I am, the more hungry I am, the better the performance."
It's nothing to do with the kind of vanity Sharon would attack?
"I think vanity does come into it. Vanity is a form of giving yourself self-confidence. I do so like to wear decent clothes and things like that and I do wear make-up and I do have my hair done and so that's vanity, isn't it?"
Toyah has intense moral concern about certain things.
"All I ever see of woman is usually groupies. They disgust me." She crinkles her nose, shakes her head. "How can they jump into bed with someone they've just met is beyond me. The man I live with now was my bodyguard on tour and he used to disgust me more than the lot. He used to go through about six a day on tour, you know the incredible male ego."
Yet you've ended up with him.
"My preaching eventually got to him. I used to go in and thump these groupies in the face, tell them to get out, I don't want you around. They used to sleep with everyone in the crew to get near me, some of them. Some of them were dykes and they used to sleep with the crew so they could talk to me during the night or something. They used to disgust me." Her skin visibly crawls. "I just don't understand. There's no brain there as far as I'm concerned.
"There's no self-respect or pride there, and therefore those people would stab you in the back. If they don't respect themselves they won't respect anyone else. And I just used to generally worry about members of my crew catching things. Ugh? There's some awful dogs on the road. That's what we used to call them - dogs."
How can she be so involved if she feels this way? She loosens up.
"I can put up with them. As soon as they get to me they change. They want to talk to you rather than pull your body. But as soon as I see them pulling, I just leave the room. I don't want to be associated with that atall. The band used to go out pulling every night and I just used to go back to the hotel. I wouldn't go anywhere with them. I get so many men trying to pull me, but only a few try now cos of my bodyguard. They know I don't like it.
"I just don't like being taken for granted like that. I'm not one of those
women, er...So I am very heavily protected when it comes to fans getting near me. I'll talk to them, I'll do whatever they want, but I won't be balled by them."
Virtuous Toyah, grand dreamer and shrewd determinist, wishes it known that she's really just started. Everything thus far has simply been experience for the ultimate.
"I'm in a very tricky situation," she puzzles, locked away from external reality in this dressing room. "I've got so many movies in the pipeline. I've got an enormous worldwide record deal in the offing, unbelievably big, along with a world-famous producer wanting to work with me - someone who once had trouble finding a producer who liked my voice. It's an offer you can't refuse, no matter how rebellious you're supposed to be."
Fame and fortune at all costs?
"These offers are going to give me something that I wouldn't really like to be, but are going to give me the chance to do things in later life. I need fame and fortune to carry on my own ideas. My ambition is to be self-financed, not to be held down by censorships and thing like that. I just want to be completely free and have time to myself and buy people for a change rather than them buying me." She laughs her stacatto giggle, as if to say she doesn't mean it - she probably does.
Toyah Willcox dreams her dreams - and lives some of them.
"I'm not leaving my punk fans behind atall," she reprimands me, though I don't really care. "That's where the original chaos comes in. I always want to have that sort of energy there. I want to be big because it means I've got a good chance of fucking the whole world up." She pours her conversation into a dream. "Which is a really nice image to have. I think it's really great! What's the point of having a good thing on a small scale when you can have it on a big level, and let everyone suffer it? It's a fucking great idea.
"My idea of a good time is seeing a world revolution and no-one knowing what to do, when everyone dumps the cars and starts looting."
Someone like you will be the first to go when that happens.
"It'll threaten me but I'll enjoy it very much. Don't worry, I've got my fair share of tommy guns stashed away.
For you, her public.
AT THE ICA THEATRE
A strange transformation takes place as you leave the ICA Theatre. A gloomy black hall gives way to a bright, white bar. Much the same happened to the music.
First call, Blood Donor, have had hard times of late, falling foul of a tangling record deal. Sadly the disillusionment seems to have got them down. Clever, innovative synth sounds and a powerful, drummer (the base lines are handled by one of the two keyboard players) were pulled down by the lack of image or direction, and a monotonous vocal delivery. A shame. They could be excellent as the ideas are fine.
Invisible Sex romped around with Devo-esque, white boiler suits, foil masks, and a fire-eater. Tight, punchy playing, more excellent keyboard work and a shower of gob from the unappreciative audience.
Toyah was the bright light. Fresh in a new tangerine and gold haircut she bounced round the stage like a spit ball in front of a superb band. The lady has talent but the band were a good 50% of her success that night.
Every song had cunning, dipping arrangements with gripping dynamics. 'Dance' had a vast string sound, thick chords and a fuzzed bass ending. Keys man Pete Bush washed the stage with power while bass player Charlie Francis and drummer Steve Bray glued down each change.
Toyah has presence. What she lacks are easily remembered melodies. 'Tiger, Tiger' sticks but otherwise there is little to hum on the way home, it all happens at the gig such as ' visions'. A meandering build through the verse developed into a dancing bass line before you realised it.
As a vocalist she sits somewhere between Kate Bush and Noosha Fox, an odd comparison but a rough guide.
Guitarist Joel Bogen was undermixed for most of the night so his contributions were difficult to judge. Those of the roadies were easier. They spent the last number, a dramatic 'She', soaking the audience with a hose pipe.
Smart move boys. Whoever let them get away with that on a stage snaked with cables should be shown what a water and mains cocktail is like.
LOOKING FOR TOYAH
Next Thursday Derek Jarman's film of 'The Tempest' opens. Toyah Willcox, late of 'Jubilee' and 'Quadrophenia' plays Miranda. Chris Auty went in search of Ms Willcox...
Last Easter weekend in Brighton, Scarborough and Southend, nearly 400 kids, mostly mods and skinheads, were arrested after violent clashes with bikers, holidaymakers and police. Said one mod, happily: 'The 60s were the great time.' In outraged newspaper editorials the next day you see one word: 'Quadrophenia'.
From peeling posters for that film Toyah Willcox's face stares out, a new Wave icon being used to paper over the punk-mod gap. Strange to think just how much the film originally relied on the life-blood of punk culture; Johnny Rotten was auditioned for the film's lead and Toyah came to the film after 'Jubilee'.
Now she is in the new Derek Jarman film of 'The Tempest'. Twenty-two this year, brought up in Birmingham, learning to read only after she had left her (Church of England) school, Toyah was spotted because of her crazy hair: 'I told these people to fuck off. I thought they were perverts...' Now it isn't just the dirty old men: 'If I'm seen in the street now they run and try to grab anything on me. I just cover my hair all the time - it's the hair which does it.'
'Everyone had their own interpretation of punk,' she said. 'Kids on the street thought it meant they could hit people. Kids in bands thought meant they could be political about fascism. Other kids thought it meant they could be fascists. But at the time it was exciting. It gave the 1970s a reason for being . I thought the 1970s were a very boring time and I thought punk was exciting and needed. But like everything that's really exciting, when it dies, it dies a death, and everyone puts it down. I forgot about punk after 'Jubilee' was released. I just started moving on.
'Quadrophenia' itself pushed things to a crunch: Lambrettas in, bondage out. In a pub near the Marquee in Soho, Easter Friday, the pimps are doing their early evening drinking. Two girls come in - bleached hair, bondage gear and tartans. 'Oi!' yells the barman, brutally pointing the way to the door, 'You know you can't come in here. Out!' Conversation doesn't even falter
I listened to Toyah's album, 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' . On the radio I had heard she invented the title on the spur of the moment, but I think it smacks of calculation. So, after a while, does the music: electric sounds mocking the electronic age as Toyah's voice swoops and dives over a synthesizer background like Patti Smith on speed. What the angst-laden album cover doesn't prepare you for is a psychedelic overtone that leaps weirdly back into the acid culture:
'I believe that people should use drugs...people abuse drugs, drugs don't abuse people...and have their freedom to so what they want with their false happiness. I was living in an old British Rail warehouse in Battersea. There would always be goings on there, like films showing on the roof...it was a place to go and have a good time. But the police banned me because I was getting about 1,000 people there each night, and they were on the roof and demolishing anything they could lay their hands on...a riot.
'What I want to do now is buy a cinema and create a place where people could come for 24 hours, take what they want to take, and live out their own fantasy by having images everywhere. I also want to use it to do video things, and have bands rehearsing, for people to get their things together...experimenting with people's emotions. And also I'd plant cameras and film these people...'
Money without corruption...drugs without punishment...and the world as her oyster: Toyah's dreams have the ruthless naivety that made Warhol and Mary Quant the coolest stars of their generation.
Moving to London, she appeared on TV and in 'Tales From The Vienna Woods' at the National, and started a band. Then, in the summer of 1977 she met Derek Jarman, whose first film, 'Sebastiane', had just been completed. 'I went along and had tea with Derek, and read the script of 'Jubilee' and asked Derek if I could play Mad, and Derek just said yes. Simple as that.'
'Jubilee' was a cult success in London, trailing its mildly scandalous reputation, and Toyah's self-hating role, through Punk's peak in 1977-78. The move from stage to screen was one she welcomed.
'Stage acting as far as I'm concerned is very frustrating, because it is too set. You do the same thing night after night for months on end. But on film you are acting to a make-believe audience and that excites me totally. You are concentrated into a machine which has got to go through a process, and it has got to go out into all these people's brains. On film it has to be perfect every time - it really keeps you on your toes...And I like the camera, I like having to go in front of it.'
How did she get her part in 'Quadrophenia'?
'Franc Roddam, the director, was thinking of casting Johnny Rotten (Lydon) in the lead role, and I went along and helped him audition by improvising with him and being a friend to him. Then the insurance people refused to insure the film with Lydon in it. So I thought "Fuck, I've been chucked because Lydon's been chucked", and I went along to Franc and told him to give me the part of Monkey...and I think he was so taken aback - I was quite rude - that he gave me the part. Partly because he couldn't think of anyone else to do it.
At about that time the Pistols started on their film, 'The Great Rock And Roll Swindle'. For a while - when Russ Meyers was due to direct - Toyah was going to take part in the movie. Then, like so many names associated with the project, her role fell through. Derek Jarman, meanwhile, was casting for his next project, 'The Tempest'.
'I had read 'the Tempest' once, and it was truly the only Shakespeare play that I felt interested in because the story from the very beginning had mystique, and I felt I could follow it, whereas with other Shakespeare stuff you've got to read it all the way through before the characters really connect - I find his language so hard to understand that by the time I reach the end I've forgotten the beginning.'
Did Jarman change the language of the play?
'No, but he cut out the boring bits, which I'm very grateful for, because Shakespeare doesn't half gabble on. Not everyone can get into that, and I think by cutting certain bits Derek has expanded the audience. I think it's a fabulous film.'
With the exception of cod-Freud sci-fi film (made in 1956 and entitled 'Forbidden Planet'), Jarman's 'Tempest' is the first celluloid version of the play. The dreamy magnificence of the original, with its embittered, exiled magician-king stirring a tempest of nature and mind to transform a wrong turning from his past, is better rendered than in most stage productions. The film's willingness to fantasize eases the notoriously compact rhythms of the play. It also banishes the one major headache of theatrical versions, the presentation of Ariel, Prospero's genie, whose appearances, disappearances, and general magic play a large part in the plot. 'The Tempest' is one of those rare films in which every element of production fell into place: the crew (many of whom had worked on Jarman's earlier films), the impressive cast, above all, the mysterious, decaying location of Stoneleigh Abbey where the film was shot.
'By the end of the movie almost everyone was living in the abbey. Each night there used to be cabaret shows. Everyone would put on a show and get pissed out of their brains. I was forever exploring the place, and I remember once it was just before dawn and there was no electricity in certain parts of the house, I remember walking into a cellar and there was just a ray - one beam - of light...coming out, looking around...and slowly my eyes became accustomed and it was full of stuffed animals, stuffed bears, and they were all facing me. It was early early in the morning, I was quite pissed, and that moment captured the whole energy in the place.'
The amazement in her voice matches her role as Miranda, emphasized in the film by the deletion of elements of comedy and intrigue. Miranda/Toyah is the original wild child enchanted by a brave new world. Like Toyah's dream of a palace of images, like the psychedelic ramblings of 'Sheep Farming In Barnet', like Stoneleigh Abbey, the new world is a metaphor for imagination, a pleasure dome through which to wander on the passage away from childhood.
The Photo Session
It is Saturday afternoon in a North London studio. Standing in the livid red spotlight, in her New Wave haute couture, Toyah waits patiently. She is 'into art fashion', and wears regally black clothes, rings, bronze bangles. Surrounded by four men in the studio, who arrange and dissect her, it is hard to tell whether she is the heroine or the victim of the event. In 'the Tempest' Miranda confesses: 'I do not know/One of my own sex; no woman's face remember/Save, from my glass my own', an admission that her sense of innocent wonder is possibly only because of the island solitude her father has imposed.
Toyah's aloofness in the red spotlight is different. It is a display of self-possession.
'I hate showing my body...really hate it. I don't mind so much now, but I have lost almost two stones since that nude scene in 'The Tempest'. It was very bad at that particular time. I was supposed to be 16 but to me I have the body of a 30-year-old. And now I find, as I am slowly becoming established as an actress I am being offered things just to show my face somewhere, phenomenal amounts of money...'
Toyah greases back her flaming red hair for the last few shots, and stands sideways to the camera, stubborn not to lose the pose although she is tired. the camera whirrs in the stale room. The light outside fades fast. After the last take we step fro ma dark interior into a warm and twilight London. Toyah leaves with her roadie, Jem - off to the Marquee to do the mixing on her new album. The photographer stays behind packing his gear.
And The Future?
'I would only go to America for a fucking good reason. There are so many tits hanging around in Hollywood anyway, and I think they are just there because the money is phenomenal and they can lead a life of luxury. I don't want that. I like being on the move. I watch things and I study things, but I just live my own life. I want to create my own image.'
TEA WITH TOYAH!
When 14 year old Sandra Gibson saw Toyah Willcox in the TV series Shoestring she became an instant fan. So she wrote to FAB's Dream Come True department asking to meet Toyah.
And as we too think that Toyah's really great, we were only too happy to oblige. To give Sandra, from Tottenham, North London, a first class outing we arranged to meet Toyah at the Savoy Hotel for tea. And Toyah flew in from Holland just to meet one of her biggest fans!
Sandra was very excited as our taxi drew up outside the Savoy, which is one of the very best hotels in London. We meet Toyah inside, where she had turned quite a few heads. But with bright orange and red hair that's hardly surprising.
Then we were ushered to our very own private suite to be served with tea. While we were waiting, Toyah produced a whole bag of goodies which included her latest single Ieya and her album The Blue Meaning. She was surprised to see a 12 inch copy of the single. "Even I haven't got one of these!" she exclaimed.
Sandra proved what a dedicated fan she was. At one point Toyah told her that she had released three singles.
"Oh no you haven't," said Sandra, "it's four!" Which is quite right too!
Sandra's favourite record is first single, Victims Of The Riddle, and it was Toyah's favourite too.
Then tea arrived and we all tucked into the Savoy's delicate little sandwiches and their beautiful cream cakes.
When we had finished tea Toyah had an extra surprise for Sandra. She gave her a beautiful little silver box which was inlaid with mother of pearl.
"I was so pleased to meet a fan who really wanted to meet me that I had to give her something personal," said Toyah.
"Toyah is every bit as nice as I thought she would be." said Sandra as she set off home.
We have to agree - she's one of the nicest people on the pop scene today. Even so, the doormen at the Savoy breathed a sigh of relief as a taxi whisked her away.
They'd had enough excitement for one day!
BIRD IN FLIGHT TOUR
Toyah Willcox is a diminutive screaming banshee in a black metallic epauletted jump suit, who pirouettes, poses and marches like a toy soldier, shaking her wonderful orange hair with black undertones like someone possessed.
One of the adoring male fans was weeping, some were in hypnotic trance, whilst others stroked her striped locks, yes they were that near. Toyah wasn't a bit perturbed but did tell everyone to stop it or they couldn't continue.
Reluctantly the crowd withdrew and at last we had a full frontal of Toyah.
The rest of the band didn't look quite so happy. Pete Bush on keyboards, wasn't for a lot of the time, but managed to not only stay with it but come up with a really exciting sound. Joel Bogen on guitar and Charlie Francis on bass must have majored in the art of obstacle racing, whilst Steve Bray was a bit out of it at the back of the stage, his drums serving as sandbags.
Toyah Willcox has a theatrical aura which excites the mob into a frenzy, and I felt something almost akin to compassion for their imposed exile. They needed to touch her - or have a cold shower!
'Dance' was a well known, much loved, song and someone grabbed the mike and sang along with Toyah until he fell off the shoulders he was precariously balanced on.
The new single is a double A Side, 'Tribal Look' and 'Bird In Flight'. Nearly everyone is going to prefer one or the other, and 'Tribal Look' is a hit as far as I'm concerned. The songs are self-penned, Toyah Willcox supplying most of the lyrics. They are freshly original, though much of the credit must go to that voice - cerebral.
Goodnight Toyah. A really good night.
I went anticipating some god awful actress type to come on twittering unconvincingly about life and death whilst generally making a right fool of herself
I soon saw the light; several of them actually and they were flickering. It was amongst these, and some taped effex that they trundled into vision. The usual story of the girl-led band is that on first acquaintance you take little-note of the band and concentrate solely on the-ball of energy they call Tonka Toyah (small hard and irresistible) and whilst her cohorts behind slip into an excellent pop style Gloria Mundi soundtrack la Willcox begins her cavortings.
She didn't stop throwing herself around alt-night despite the disgusting heat; forever bounding prancing and generally hurtling about. We get tantalising glimpses of her manufactured madness as the band provides the pulsating sanity because it’s not real horror, only a game - but one of the best all the same.
Comparisons are apparent, not particularly with the music as that is freshly compelling, both lump and odour free, but Toyah when dancing combines the essence of Siouxsie with the kamikaze dash of Adam Ant. Her feverish twirling stops, then a quick transfixing glare and a dart away and bounce, bounce, bounce into the darkness.
Her and the boys are a unique blend that never fall short of their aim - to hold your attention. Toyah also sings as bewitchingly as she gyrates, with all the power of an insomniac tiger on the fast ones and in occasional slowies tends to huskify a little. When not tearing left or right she danced near the crowd, teasing and taunting all the while; avoiding copulation by a whisker, plummeting to the floor whilst trying to wrench the guitarist in half with her darting tongue. After the ‘Sheep Farming’ encore where she discarded her blouse in the finest sexist tradition there wasn’t a dry mouth in the house.
To suggest she doesn't play up, to her massive sex appeal would be laughable. She's as energetic and outgoing as they come. The dervish dancing did nothing to detract from her needle-sharp singing and with this accomplished collective behind her there can't be much preventing her stardom. I was hoping she’d kick me in the face but that’s quite enough of that.
She tricked me into adoration. You’re next.