TOYAH TALKS MUSIC
SOME OF HER ALBUMS
IN HER OWN WORDS
The Blue Meaning (1980), Toyah!Toyah!Toyah! (Live) (1980),
Love Is The Law (1983), MINX (1985), Prostitute (1988),
Ophelia's Shadow (1991), Take The Leap! (1993)
THE BLUE MEANING
The main song on The Blue Meaning was 'IEYA'. This song already had a remarkable history. I've always believed that music is a universal language and if I was asked to define God, I'd say God is music. Music transcends everything. It's the most wonderful form of communication and proof of the existence of God. And really good music makes you transcend your natural state; it helps you evolve.
The glory of punk was that it brought music down to a level where young people could find their identity, find their feet and become confident.
'IEYA' started off as a jam, a jam on stage. Some months before, we'd been playing Bath, where we had a hall full of two thousand rioting kids. The show itself had gone phenomenally well, and as usual in those days we hit the fourth encore and we'd run out of music. What we used to do was repeat a song called 'Danced', about the second coming of Christ, which would slowly build layer upon layer of sound, encouraging the audience to dance and dance and dance almost into a hypnotic state. Well, at Bath we had a lot of trouble with the National Front. A lot of my band were Jewish, and we all found it particularly offensive that the NF would recruit at concerts - they'd go around the audience intimidating the youngest, the smallest, the scrawniest boys into joining the NE By the end of this concert in Bath, the NF were chanting 'Sieg heil' at the back. Charlie Francis, our bass-player, found this intolerable, and Joel kept taking his guitar off to go and beat them up, which we all had to stop him from doing. Instead we just shouted back 'Nazi scum' and got the audience to chant 'Nazi scum'.
For the fourth encore, all we could think of doing was something that had started as a jam in the sound-check that day, which was 'IEYA'. It was a sequence of chords that grew, so every verse had more chords added to it, and it had a fantastically simple chorus, a chant, 'IEYA'. 'IEYA, I am solar, IEYA I'm the beast.' I have a habit of writing about extreme opposites: I often write about Christ and Christianity in hidden forms, and then the next day I'll write about the Devil and mankind. 'IEYA' is about mankind believing in ourselves so much that we believe we are immortal and can become our own gods, therefore challenging God as the Devil, in the form of the Devil; man being the beast. So we walked on stage and started 'IEYA', and within the first sixteen bars the audience was behaving in a way I'd never seen before. And because 'IEYA' had no real form, we'd only ever jammed it, what should have been a four-minute song went on for twenty minutes, and the audience didn't stop dancing once, and I just kept making up words as I went along. At the end of the concert the NF were so incensed that the police were called and had to get us out via the Gents window at the back and into a police van, because the NF were outside, kicking in cars, waiting for us at the stage door to kick our heads in. A full-blown riot was in progress.
When we started to record 'IEYA' in the studio in Battle, we had to put it into a digestible form and decide how long it was going to be. It turned out to be seven minutes long, which is longer than any average song. But the atmosphere in the studio became terrifying. Just like when The Exorcist was made, things started going wrong. Technical equipment wouldn't work, arguments would start out of nowhere, distrust would enter the studio, and I had a severe problem with writing seven minutes' worth of lyrics in what was a repetitive song. It took days for me to record the vocals. It was a multi-layered song, and the chorus had many voices - all mine. But doing the verses was murder. I hadn't quite learned by this time that the simpler I kept the subject matter and the simpler I kept the phrasing and the words, the more effective the song would be. I always wanted to make things over-complex to try and prove myself.
Eventually, after many frustrating late nights in the studio, the song was put down and we sent it back to London for Safari to hear. Safari loved it so much they played it over and over again in their office and decided it should be a single. On about the twentieth play in one day, a man appeared at the door of Safari records with a knife, grabbed Tony Edwards by the throat and said he would kill him if he ever heard that song again. Thus began the legend of 'IEYA' - the song that could turn any concert into a riot. It was just an incredibly powerful song. The question is, did we write it or did it come to us from somewhere else?
(Toyah Willcox / 2000)
TOYAH! TOYAH! TOYAH! (LIVE)
Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! Was an album I new nothing about until it was happening. Prior to the live recording I had a film crew following me around making the ATV documentary that was to be screened prime time in Winter 1980. The crew had been at my warehouse, at band rehearsals, at play rehearsals, followed me shopping, eating and playing. By the time we had made it to Wolverhampton the novelty had worn off and to be honest I wanted a bit of peace and quiet. So imagine turning up for a quiet out of London gig to find the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit outside and a full film crew inside the venue, all this and I hadn’t had a hit single yet.
What I did have was an incredible fan following which made my rise into the mainstream inevitable and everyone wanted to be there first. Can I remember the gig? Yes, I was in the town Slade came from, and Jasper Carrot for that matter. The gig was to end a tour that had started months earlier but a play at the Royal Court called Sugar and Spice interrupted the schedule as did a short tour of Germany. This was the last gig I did as a club act, three months later I was the biggest thing in England since sliced bread!
(Toyah Willcox / 2006)
LOVE IS THE LAW
‘Love is the Law’ is a saying I borrowed from the famous occultist Aleister Crowley. I was never a fan of what he represented, which was mainly dark, devious and debauched, but I thought the phrase ‘Love Is the Law’ was possibly one of the most beautiful to ever be uttered because it crosses every social and tribal divide.
The making of this album was the happiest period of my life because in 1983 everything was going right. I was starring in a stage play called ‘Trafford Tanzi’, which won me especially huge critical acclaim, and I was about to star in a film, ‘The Ebony Tower’ with Lord Laurence Olivier just as soon as the album was finished. Because my schedule was incredibly full, the band moved into my house in Finchley, London where we transformed my gym into a make-shift recording studio to pre-write and programme all the material in the daytime. I’d then go to the theatre for five o’clock and meet the band at the Marquee Studios to do the main recording of the vocals after midnight. It was a killer timetable but I loved it with a passion.
Because of work and time commitments we tended to write very quickly. I’d complete a lyric the same day as I had to record the vocal, this has it’s up and down side, but the most powerful effect is spontaneity and a broad spectrum of possible meaning in each song as I never had time to rethink anything. Also, as you may guess, I was surfing on adrenaline for almost six months and by the time I got to the recording studio at midnight each day I was literally ready to explode, thus the track ‘I Explode’, one of my all time favourites. Sometimes my head would be racing so much that the only way to get me to calm down was to give me a sleeping pill. This is not something I would readily admit, but it was the only way the producer could get me to sit long enough to finish a track and is the reason ‘Rebel of Love’ and ‘Martian Cowboy’ sound so relaxed for a Toyah song!
(Toyah Willcox / 2005)
Up until 1984 my record company and various other ‘suits’ in my life had always referred to me as Maggot - to my face, which I thought was particularly brave. As soon as producer Chris Neil came on the scene he shed a more gentle and flirtatious light upon me by calling me the Minx. Luckily it caught on and allowed me to grow up and mature into a butterfly rather than a bluebottle.
By 1984 the world had changed beyond recognition from the punky, spikey, spitting and cursing days of 1977, when my music career started. There was a shocking conservatism among artists especially women, which was only banished by Madonna with the improbable wish, ‘like a virgin’. Minx was my growing up, my first steps into maturity and my first step into large, world dominating mainstream record companies. I had left my long-term relationship with indie label Safari Records in the hope of reaching a larger market and signed to CBS’s fledgling label Portrait.
CBS, at this time was run by Maurice Oberstein. A living legend in music, who had worked with the Beatles, the Stones, the Who. Now his dream was to collect all the best female singers in the world and sign them to the one label, Portrait. He went out into the world in 1984 with a shopping list of names from Dionne Warwick to Pat Benatar, to Tina Turner to Debbie Harry and tried to buy them all.
From this came Minx and out of all the albums I have ever made, this one belongs firmly in the 80s. It is such a period piece it astonishes me. It’s that cliché that, at the time one believed you were breaking new ground, being inventive, being the first, but in truth this album is as free of its’ place in history as the mini-skirt is free of the 60’s and Glam Rock is free of the 70s. There are albums I have made which remain fresh, competitive and relevant in present times but Minx bless it, is a granny among the young. This isn’t to put it in a negative light, but to place it rightfully in its musical pocket. This album won me a worldwide following, in countries I had had no previous success and many put that down to the femininity of the writing and production. Minx definitely made me more accessible and desirable to a wider audience.
(Toyah Willcox / 2005)
What is a Prostitute? “A woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse for payment”, if you want to be literal. But that is not the meaning in this case. For me, Prostitute is a word of great power, often misused and misinterpreted. It is a word that evokes poverty, a slavery and entrapment of the opposite sex. It is a word that says compromise has become exploitation. A word created by misogynists and applied to too many great women through the ages.
The period in which “Prostitute” the album became a concept in my head was a period of unavoidable change. I had lived through phenomenal popularity as an early eighties icon, and I felt that all that was new and vibrant about me had become staid and predictable. I was desperate to change and move on and to express the real me that had become embedded in layer upon layer of images and misquotes.
I had recently married my husband, it was 1987. I made one fatal mistake. In private we were an ordinary couple who loved everything about the other. In public we were the odd couple that prompted ridicule and speculation about the longevity of the relationship. My husband Robert Fripp is a very intelligent man and considered an academic in music. I, on the other hand was a pop star, shallow, an airhead in the eyes of the academics. This is how we were perceived and I had made the fatal mistake of believing love was enough to justify a bond between two people. Boy! I was f------ angry. All the scum of music journalism suddenly felt the right to play God and judge our private lives, instead of showing any form of decent human nature, all they did was display their mental fascism. At this time hubbie and I had the same management and they too treated me as the little woman who would retire and have babies. I was ready to kill!
By entering into this marriage I felt I had gone from all-powerful artist to invisible woman. My bank manager would discuss my bank accounts to my husband without even bringing me into the conversation. It goes without saying I was f------ fuming.
There was a great need to get this out of my system. Metaphorically I was ready to kill. A friend of mine at the time was Alex Paterson, he was a roadie when I knew him, and later went on to form The Orb. I mentioned to him that I was desperate to do an album of pure vocals, where the content of the lyric was the driving force and very little else interfered with it. Where the structures were basic but the words carried the impact. This fascinated Alex, where I saw vocal complexities, he saw vocal minimalism. It was a good meeting for both of us, he helped me sort my head out and after that I decided that for the first time in my career I was going to compose and produce an album where I would not compromise my ideas for anyone. Alex went away and created “Little Fluffy Clouds”.
This album was an exorcism for me, an exercise in self worth. In the UK when my management tried to sell it to the music reps, an awful lot got up and walked out of meetings; all male I hasten to add. In America, Billboard magazine said it was the dawning of a new era for me as a producer and that it was an antidote to Madonna. (I disagree as I feel Madonna is one of the greatest women of all time) I started to receive mail from professors at eminent universities telling me they played the album at their lectures as an example of the new way of thinking coming from contemporary women.
I could have made a career out of being angry in America alone, but why throw fuel onto an insatiable fire when change can be achieved in far subtler ways. This album struck a chord that never stopped resonating.
(Toyah Willcox / 2003)
If I were to be asked which of my albums were my favourites, my answer would be Sheep Farming In Barnet because of its youthful naivety, Love Is The Law because it has a freedom about it's style of writing, but above those I would rate Ophelia's Shadow as the one album I made that truly represents me. It was planned as part two of a trilogy, Prostitute being number one, and was made during a more settled period in my life.
Prostitute had proved it's self a small critical hit which gave me a lot of freedom as a solo artist and producer to call the shots on a larger album using a full band. It was recorded at the same time l as I was writing and performing for the band that I had with my husband Robert Fripp, Sunday All Over The World. Creatively I felt I had escaped the tag of being an Eighties pop star and was dawning on a new future as a true musician/songwriter. At the same time I was appearing in the Christmas show Whale at the National Theatre, so life felt good and on track. Because of that O.S. is not such an angry album, which believe it or not I had complaints about from professors in the USA who thought they had found a new raging feminist after the release of Prostitute, instead O.S. is more feminine, touching deeply the truth of who I am, more so than any other project I have ever embarked on. I am fiercely proud of this album and want it to be the one I am remembered for as I think it has never found its audience.
The title for the album came from my love of the spurned character Ophelia, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia is driven mad and kills herself because of unrequited love. The Shadow is a reference to Jung's Shadow, the dark alter ego we all have that plays our demons out, inside our heads. The idea is about the old femininity, the one that is capable of self sacrifice and unconditional love meeting up with a new mind set, the woman who is free of her romantic heart and capable of uncompassionate actions. There is also direct reference to the transience of beauty and a celebration of decay, but that is just perversity on my part, I love the idea that a person can carry a bible of dreams, whether they have been realised or not. The Shaman Says is about lust and the gentleness of fingers upon acoustic guitar strings is part of its sensuality. Prospect is about digging to find yourself, your gold, your soul. Take What You Will is very much in the Prostitute vein that most men feel they own their women lock, stock and barrel. The final piece of music on the album is played out by the legendary jazz pianist Keith Tippet, who I have been a fan of for years. It leaves the album without closure and a feeling of suspense. How can you have any closure on an autobiographical piece when you are only 28yrs old?
(Toyah Willcox / 2003)
TAKE THE LEAP!
By 1992 I started television presenting, this was complete career change, nothing I had ever planned, but it restored my confidence in life and in myself. Alongside this I was acting but I wasn’t singing and no matter how hard I tied to leave the world of music, lets say my soul dragged me back! Because of my past experience I felt I couldn’t seek music management, in fact I never have since 1990, I’ve managed myself. But there was a calling to be singing again.
I had spent a year in Berlin writing and recording with Kiss of Reality, and was now back in England presenting all over the country. One of these jobs was in my then home town of Salisbury where I was very active on the youth scene. In fact a young, undiscovered P.J. Harvey and myself where briefly involved with an all women’s choir during this period. I was filming a series called A Tale of Four Cities, when I chanced upon a young local band called Friday Forever. They were extra ordinarily talented and to help put their foot on the ladder to becoming professional I took them out on the road on a national tour, where we split all profit equally among ourselves. They did very well out of this!
Record companies were showing interest but I wasn’t ready to commit to a company who would tell me what to do regardless of whether it was right for me or not, so I financed Take the Leap! We all moved into a deserted farm house on the outskirts of Salisbury and for three weeks we lived and breathed the music.
The drums were in the living room, the lead guitar in a bedroom, the bass and rhythm guitars in other bedrooms and in order to get good sound separation I was in the barn surrounded by hay. All the tracks where recorded as live with very little overdubs or repair. My live soundman Paul Nicholas was at the helm and problem solving all the way as we tried to chase ducks, cows and crows from the building. Once all the tracks were down we hotsy trotted to Judy Tzuke’s studio in Weybridge and started the mixing process.
The boys in the band did really well, they ended up recording and touring with Judy Tzuke, Mark Owen and Scarlet. Not bad for a team of 18 year olds who were still taking their A-levels when we were recording. I love God Ceases To Dream and I hope some of the songs will get picked up for a film soundtrack one day. Personally, I give the best vocal performances of my career on this album.
(Toyah Willcox / 2006)