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Toyah - Zig Zag Magazine (1980 )

The following article was in Zig Zag magazine in 1980. In it Toyah discusses her career including her appearance in "Glitter" with Bilbo Baggins. Thanks ust go to Dreamscape web site who first reproduced this article. Visit them at

The article was produced before her heyday, which started in 1981, and during the New Wave period when it was fashionable to put down what had previously gone before as dinosaurs. If you just want to read the reference to "Glitter" and the Bilbos click here. Go To Glitter.

For images from "Glitter" click on the following link, which will take you to the Dreamscape web site. Go To Castaways

Toyah and her band are only just beginning to gain their very own appreciation society whenever they play. After severe knockings from the music press, the band are now selling out gigs all over the country and their records are consistently seen heading the alternative charts. Toyah has been called the Lene Lovich / Kate Bush figure of the punk scene, as well as "The Banshee from Birmingham".

I first took an interest in this little bundle of Midlands energy when I saw her starring in Derek Jarman's film "Jubilee" in '77. Her performance stood out in a film which was sadly underrated as a 'fad' movie, made only for the golden era of punk. It was a lot more than that, but that's getting away slightly from what this article is supposed to be about. Toyah formed a musical partnership with Joel Bogen, a guitarist who helped her form what has since become her regular band.

Toyah met Joel at a party when she was acting in a play called "Vienna Woods" at The National Theatre. Between them they worked out a few ideas and proceeded to form a band - known simply as Toyah. A keyboards player, Peter Bush, was added, whilst Steve Bray, former drummer with The Boyfriends, joined alongside bassist Mark Henry. Mark was replaced in August '79 by Charlie Francis, formerly a member of Patrick Fitzgerald's electric line up. Charlie was last to audition, seeing 79 others refused ahead of him. "Charlie was the light at the end of a bad storm", says the outrageous orange haired vocalist.

Although still only 21 years old, Toyah has worked with Katherine Hepburn in "The Corn Is Green", made two critically acclaimed films with Derek Jarman ("Jubilee" and "The Tempest"), starred in the film version of "Quadrophenia", been involved in a number of television projects and recorded three records with her band. The first single, "Victims Of The Riddle" was closely followed by the first (and so far, the only) alternative play record featuring six tracks but playing at speed. The latest recording is a double A side single with "Tribal Look" and "Bird In Flight". All three records were released on the Safari label.

I went along to talk to Toyah knowing that there was no shortage of subject matter to discuss. We ended up discussing her music, her acting, her tastes in music and literature, as well as black magic, a topic that we both acknowledge being interested in. I found her a fun loving bundle of energy with a black sense of humour who admitted with all truthfulness that she was very pretentious in certain things.

Toyah: I love being pretentious. I like pretentious music and pretentious films. There's nothing wrong with being pretentious, but I admit it can become predictable.

ZigZag: You said shortly after you starred in "Jubilee" that you wanted to put on more of a performance when you played live. Are you still trying to create better shows?

Toyah: Yeah, we're still working on that. The reason it hasn't been done yet is because it hasn't been possible due to a lack of audience reaction until now. As soon as we get our record market going quite smoothly I want to create a real show for kids. I don't want them to pay two quid just to see us on stage for an hour. I want to put on a show that will run for about three hours. I'd like us to be on stage for, say, an hour and a half and then put on some kind of video or some other kind of visuals with loud music playing for another hour until we come back on for another half hour to close the show. This way they'll be seeing another form of entertainment as well as us. I want our audiences to be physically exhausted. The band weren't ready to do anything like this before, but now I believe we've got the mental energy to do it properly. We'll need a lot of backing, of course, but it's something we're all working towards for the future.

ZigZag: Would you be prepared to use props on stage in the future?

Toyah: No, never! I like to have invisible props such as a really good light show because I want our audience to have to think for themselves and therefore create their own images. I saw a recent film of Kate Bush using a gun as a phallic symbol and I found it very corny and embarrassing to watch. It seems so childish to me. I like to improvise around an audience and I tend to react very differently on the audience.

ZigZag: You seem to be getting a much larger audience these days, so you must have been putting a lot of energy into most recent gigs?

Toyah: Oh, yeah! We've been getting triple the amount of people at all our gigs on this recent tour. We've always managed to sell out London in the past, but we had a rough time outside of London, whereas on this tour we've sold out everywhere we've played and that is something I'm really happy about. It's such a good feeling and it makes it all so worthwhile and inspiring. It's got to the point now where I have so much energy on stage that I can't stop still at all At Huddersfield there were kids running on stage and they were crying and holding onto me. It was so funny that I was hysterical. Can you imagine some little kid with his arms around my waist, holding on while I'm running around trying to sing a song called "Love Me"? This enticed them even more and we had to leave the stage three times, but I love it when all the audience gets on stage and participates in the act. I'd hate to see our audiences sitting down just watching us.

Zigzag: It's obviously a refreshing start to the eighties for you, but how did you see 1979?

Toyah: Last year was a dead year for us! I never thought it was particularly fun at all because everyone seemed to be against me, especially the music papers. It didn't worry me that much, but it gets so bad sometimes that you have to wonder what's wrong with what you're doing.

Zigzag: Would you attribute the negative reaction of the press to the fact that you were an actress turned singer?

Toyah: Oh yeah! I had so much pre publicity from "Jubilee" before I'd even done anything musically at all. I consider my singing to be nothing whatsoever to do with my acting. It's a totally separate character and I benefit from doing both because I believe I am capable of doing both!

Zigzag: How does the band feel about you taking time off to act in films?

Toyah: They're fine! They're really cool about it and they realise that they also benefit from when I'm seen in films. They also like to rehearse without me sometimes so they can jam on their own without me bossing them around and telling them to turn their amps down so I can hear my singing. My being away gives them the time they need to put the music to some of my lyrics. They don't lie dormant or hide away in cupboards or anything. They're always busy with something.

Zigzag: You write all the lyrics for the band don't you?

Toyah: Yeah, that is one thing that I insist upon because I only really want to sing because I want to write my own material. Singing isn't enough for me, I need to write all my own words and I would never think of singing non originals because if I'm madly in love with a song by someone else then it's because it's his song and he performs it the best.

Zigzag: Tell us about a couple of your songs. What about "Neon Womb"?

Toyah: That song came about when I woke up in a tube station at 6.30 in the morning. I'd spent the night there as I was homeless at the time and when the lights suddenly came on I had this image of being in a neon womb. It was like a test-tube baby kind of thing and there I was lying on a seat, homeless and yet still comforted by having my own little womb to be in. It's the womb complex about being in a room or somewhere. It's also like a verbal mime. The kind of verbal telepathy you get when you're so drunk you can't actually hear what another person is saying and yet you can still communicate, like knowing what a dog means when it barks.

Zigzag: How about "Danced" and "Waiting"?

Toyah: I did those two songs the same night. This is gonna sound silly but I woke up in the middle of the night seeing something in the sky. I saw a very strange light in my dream and then I woke up it was actually there in the sky. I wrote down the lyrics for those two songs as soon as I woke up. I write a lot of my material in the middle of the night. So many of my best lyrics come from dreams.

Zigzag: How about the two songs "Tribal Look" and "Bird In Flight"?

Toyah: "Tribal Look" came to me when I was sitting in a car one day and I thought of how a lot of my lyrics were pretentious and I wanted to write a simple song with a simple chant running through it, like a tribal chant. So the actual tune came to me whilst I was in the car. "Bird In Flight" came from another dream, but this time it was a different kind of dream. I dreamt about a blind kid who fantasised about flying and he took some acid and jumped off a cliff. My sense of humour is coming out now, but I wanted to have a video of a kid jumping off a cliff and at the end of this lovely song he'd go 'splat' on the ground. Everyone said it wouldn't sell, but I like that kind of black humour. I listen to all of John Cale's records because he has a similar sense of humour.

Zigzag: Do you listen to a lot of music?

Toyah: Oh yeah, I listen to everything. I buy all the new releases to keep in touch with what's going on because I like to know which directions the public are going in, although it never affects my music. I listen to a lot of Bowie and I really like synthesized music that you have to think about. I call it meditation music and I find it so refreshing because I can get separate images of each different track. I like to think I'm projecting images with my songs and that's why I'm looking forward to recording an album. I hate singles, really. They're such messy little things and you sit on them and smash them so easily. I think we're more an album band.

Zigzag: Whose idea was it to record the AP (Alternative Play) record?

Toyah: Well, what happened there was that we were in the studios last May and we were recording stuff for what would have been our first album. We were having a number of problems as we'd never been in a
studio before and were having trouble with a certain member of the band who wanted to run everything so we weren't happy with the atmosphere at all. There was a total lack of confidence showing in everyone, including myself. I just totally freaked out and said to Safari, "Look, a hell of a lot of kids will be buying this just because they haven't heard of us, so it's gonna be a taster for them. Why can't we make it like an EP so that the people who buy it won't feel ripped off if they don't like it?" It was purely a paranoid reason with me and the price of albums became a very topical subject in the news. Another thing was the waste of energy in producing vinyl, so Safari came up with the name 'AP' and we did it like that. We'll definitely be doing an album next, though, because I feel we've got the right line up and we're all clicking together now. I'm more together as a person and I'm more conscious of being a part of the music scene.

Zigzag: Is it true that you once sang on a TV Play with Bilbo Baggins?

Toyah: (Laughing Aloud) I'm afraid so! It was the first professional thing I ever did and I was fresh out of drama school. It was a play on BBC 2 called "Glitter" and I had the lead part with Phil Daniels playing my boyfriend. He played himself again as usual! I'm afraid I don't respect him that much as an actor. The group Bilbo Baggins were given the part of a band I was supposed to have had a fantasy about and I sang with them. At the time I thought, "Wow, fab, man!", but looking back, what a bunch of hype they were. They were supposed to be the drunkard version of the Bay City Rollers, it was all very embarrassing really!

Zigzag: Had you any ideas of turning your talent towards music at the time?

Toyah: Yes, I had several ideas but there was nothing there to be formulated because I was so young and naive. I had absolutely no idea of the music business at the time. It was all like a fantasy.

Zigzag: How did the role in "Jubilee" come about, seeing as this was the role that brought you fully into the public's eye?

Toyah: One of the actors at the National with me - Ian Charleston - had been cast in "Jubilee" and he said I ought to go along and have tea with Derek Jarman, the director who was going to make a punk movie and I thought,"Wow! That sounds interesting." So I met Derek and read the script with him and I asked if I could play 'Mad'. Derek said yes straight away and it was as simple as that.

Zigzag: What was the attraction of choosing to play 'Mad'?

Toyah: Well, out of all the parts going - which was 'Crabs', 'Mad', and 'The Artist' - it was the best part to choose. I mean, there's no way I could have played 'Crabs' because I wasn't in any way very femininely attractive. I was really fat at that time and a bit butch looking and I liked Mad's character because it was a chance for me to try different things. She was called 'Mad' and she could do practically anything and as it was my first movie, I was really desperate to make an impression, because I wanted to make more movies in the future. If I played the role now then I'd do it a lot different. I'd make her more controlled instead of the little girl character and I'd make her far more evil and intense. What I liked about working with Derek was that he allowed you to create your own character and he just guides you along. He's a lovely person as well.

Zigzag: You also made "The Tempest" with him, didn't you?

Toyah: Yes, that was a really big challenge for me because I've never been able to understand Shakespeare at all, but Derek brought life into the script, even though I still cringe when I hear myself saying those lines.

Zigzag: Your appearance on "Shoestring" must have helped the band immensely?

Toyah: Yes, since we appeared on that we've done really well. That came about with a director called Merrick, who I considered as my favourite director, rang me up and asked me down to see him. So I went along and he practically begged me to play a part with my band in an episode which at that time he hadn't even written. I thought he was an absolute nutter at the time, because he wanted to film us in a week's time and he sent me a rushed script in about three days. I wanted to do it because it meant the whole band would be seen and Merrick fiddled it so that we could play the whole of "Danced" over the closing credits
instead of the regular "Shoestring" theme. In the original script Gary Holton had the lead role and my part was just a small part with the band, but Merrick ended up changing it so much in our favour that I was playing a dual role with Gary by the end.

Zigzag: Would you say you act out a role when you're on-stage singing with the band?

Toyah: I am acting because I don't just stand there and sing. I like to have a different way of moving for each song so it's something new to watch. I'm choreographing myself more than acting, though I like to put across certain feelings in a particular song. I believe all female singers
should perform with feeling, because male singers can always get away with just standing there and looking butch. Female singers have to prove a lot more.

Zigzag: How did you first get to sign with Safari Records?

Toyah: They read a review of a gig we did a year ago at the ICA and they flew back from Germany in order to see us. They were looking for a band like us to complete their label and we all wanted to sign with a small label at that time. We didn't want to sign with a big label as we were frightened of being lost and totally fucked up. We thought it would be a good experience to sign with a smaller label for a year and we've just signed for another year. I don't ever intend signing with anyone for more than a year at a time. These bands who sign for five years are signing for far too long in my opinion, and we can communicate better with a small company. We don't have to go through six extensions to talk to the top man.

Zigzag: What about producers? You've used a different producer on each record. Is that something you planned to do?

Toyah: Yes, we want to get a variety of sounds and we haven't found the right producer who gives us the sound we want. Keith Hale, the guy who produced the first single as well as playing keyboards on it, found the right sound for my voice because he knows what I want, but he wasn't right for the whole band. Steve James is an engineer who produced the AP and that was quite near to what we want but we aren't too pleased with the new single production. I think we rushed it too quickly. Mark Dangerfield was called in at the last minute to produce it. "Bird In Flight" should have had an over-the-top production whereas "Tribal Look" could have been even more basic and didn't need any production at all. I'll probably use Keith again on some film music I'm writing, but that's a project which has nothing to do with the band. Keith is one of the best keyboard players I know. He plays in a band called Blood Donor.

Zigzag: Your record sleeves have caused quite some attention, especially "Victims Of The Riddle". Who thought up the ideas for the sleeves?

Toyah: I did. You see, the first single ("Victims") was based on vivisection and I found this picture of a human baby which had actually been stuffed by the mafia and was in it's death pose. So I thought I'd put that on the cover to see how people would react. If people can take a stuffed dog or cat then why can't they take a stuffed baby? It had its shock value, but no one understands that it was meant to be a kind of protest song. People are doing that kind of thing to animals every day and yet you'd never let that happen to a human child.

For the AP I wanted it to be psychedelic, so I had the sheep with a flower in its mouth and a photo of me painted blue. It's called "Sheep Farming In Barnet" because I gave a whole list of names to Safari to choose from as all my names would have been too pretentious or too punk. They loved that name so we put it on. It's just a name for the product and has nothing at all to do with the content.

Zigzag: I heard you were interested in black magic and I can detect certain parts of that in your lyrics?

Toyah: It's only an interest. I'm not a Satanist and I wouldn't like to be labelled with it. It really is just a fascination that comes across in my song, but I don't want to become so predictable that all my lyrics are about black magic. A lot of things interest me, like ESP, telepathy and human capabilities. I only read things that inspire me and I like reading a lot of what I call 'comic horror books', such as "The Omen" and stuff like that. I also read a lot of science books on brain structure and new discoveries. I've read all the regular stuff by people like Kafka and Kerouac, but I prefer to read factual books rather than literary masterpieces.

Zigzag; Okay, so what are the plans for the band in the near future, apart from the album?

Toyah: Well, we did a TV thing in Germany and our record is selling well over there, so we're looking forward to going there. The TV thing was sensational! After miming to a song we smashed up the entire TV studio and they said they hadn't seen anything like it on German TV since The Who. It seems that they're ready for a band like us now.

So with Germany and the UK practically under the spell of Toyah and her band, it looks very promising indeed. I doubt very much if the band will ever achieve worldwide recognition, but that's a compliment because I believe she could become just as important in cult circles as Syd Barret, Can, Cale and today's acts such as PIL, Joy Division and The Pop Group. This is obviously the kind of direction she has taken, whether she be known as pretentious or not.

Morley Enterprises

Page Last Updated: 4 March, 2010

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