SONG: “It’s A Mystery”
HOST PHIL MARRIOT: We tracked Toyah down at the Brighton Theatre Royal, when she was there appearing in the production of the "Live Bed Show" to talk to her about it. What is it about?
TOYAH: It was written by Arthur Smith. It’s a two hander and it’s about a dream. But the dream – you never quite know if it goes into reality or what it’s quite doing. It spans about 30 years. It’s basically probably ever cliché or every kind of hidden experience people have had in the bedroom that are never talked about but it’s all happening on stage.
So it’s very much a play of recognition of the audiences point of view. Because there are certain scenes where people draw a breath and go "oh no!" because they recognise themselves in it. But it chops and changes. One moment it can be at the beginning of the relationship and the next moment it can be at the end of the relationship. It’s quite surreal.
PHIL: It’s been advertised as being a strictly adult comedy. Amongst other things you have to fake an orgasm on stage, tell us a little bit about that?
TOYAH: Well, the play appears far ruder than it actually is because the language is just naked. It’s very very crude. There’s no nudity on stage. The play opens and closes with a faked orgasm. But all the dialogue is explicit. I mean to the point where a child would not understand it so if people wanted bring a teenager in who hasn’t had sex yet, they just wouldn’t understand it. Because it is deeply expressive.
PHIL: From an adult point of view would people relate to that … what’s in the play – if they’ve been in a relationship themselves?
TOYAH: It’s possibly what everyone’s thought but hasn’t said.
PHIL: So that’s another reason why children
wouldn’t enjoy –
TOYAH: Also, it’s very autobiographical of Arthur Smith. He’s written it about his past. For instance it’s quite hard for him to see an actor play him. Joe McGann is really playing him. Whereas up until this date only comedians have played Arthur’s role. Like Paul Merton and Arthur played it himself. Arthur’s being really critical about actors playing that male role. He came in last night and he just loved Joe in it so he’s willing to see it go into other people’s hands now.
PHIL: Were you embarrassed about the controversial aspect of sex in this play? You’ve done a lot of things in the past which have tackled the same thing – not in the same way but ... ?
TOYAH: No, I wasn’t embarrassed. The problem is people always think you’re playing yourself. So I’m playing a woman who’s had 500 conquests and the trouble happens in the bar afterwards when people think you’re an easy prey! (laughs) But apart from that no, I don’t suffer embarrassment at all.
In rehearsal I said to the director that there is a potential scene where there is nudity and I said "do you want nudity?" and he said no, it far more interesting, it’s far more sexier not to play that. Just leave things to the imagination. Because the dialogue leaves very little to the imagination. So visually we just stay in pyjamas all the way through.
PHIL: It’s more of a mystery? It’s all in the mind?
TOYAH: That’s it, yeah. You need some kind of veil up. I think it works.
PHIL: How do you think your audiences have reacted to this play so far? Have they been shocked do you think, by the content?
TOYAH: Well, we have an average of 8 walk outs per show –
TOYAH: And you can guarantee their age group. They’re usually over 50. Obviously because Joe McGann comes from an background of sitcom and having played the perfect male in “The Upper Hand” I think his audience are more shocked than mine are. But there’s a relative layer of shock. There’s one speech I have about weighing a man’s penis which really upsets the men in the audience. You get jibes and sometimes kind of comments back.
PHIL: Maybe they’re insecure about that?
TOYAH: Well, I’m afraid it actually freaks them out, it really does. It lays them bare. It’s clever of Arthur Smith.
SONG: “Now And Then”
PHIL: Going back to the late 70’s your acting career when you first started out … you starred in Derek Jarman’s acclaimed version of "The Tempest"(above). You actually appeared topless in that. Was that difficult for you to film that?
TOYAH: It was a bit nerve wracking, I was very drunk when I did it. Derek knew my sexual history from "Jubilee" and realised that I’m not happy in front of a lot of men. He said … I never had to do it, he never made me do it but I said no, I’ll do it as long as everyone in the room is gay. And my boyfriend was there, Gem, and I had bottle of vodka and I did it and really there’s nothing sexual about it at all. It was kind of OK. I was the one that made a big deal about it being incredibly shy and everything.
But the joy about that film was everyone on that film was gay so I didn’t feel intimidated or threatened at all. Very different story to when we did "The Ebony Tower" when I felt I needed to prove something. I was on screen with Greta Scacchi for instance, who is a true sex siren and I just thought I want to tackle my inhibitions and do this. My other boyfriend was there, Tom, who turned into an absolute nightmare – he dragged me off the set but we managed to get the shots done before he lost his cool.
PHIL: Do you think he was upset about you taking your clothes off in front of other people? Even though most of the people were gay then?
TOYAH: No, on "Ebony Tower" –
PHIL: Oh - "The Ebony Tower"?
TOYAH: On "Ebony Tower" with Lord Olivier, none of them were gay. There were men hiding in the bushes for that one! No, I think it was his insecurity. I think OK - I’m pretty outrageous and outrageously spoken but I’m a very private person and he just couldn’t handle that.
PHIL: You mentioned "Jubilee" (below) - the other film that you starred in the late 70’s which was the punk epic, a Jarman film again. It caused outrage again when it showed on Channel 4 because it contains a lot of violent scenes and also kinky sexual overtones as well. One of the scenes is you castrating a policeman or trying to. Actually you did go ahead with it, not you personally but in the film. How was that?
TOYAH: That was brilliant!
PHIL: Did that shock you?
TOYAH: No, I loved it! I was with a very good actor, sadly I can’t remember his name but he was a stunning actor. He was up for anything and he allowed us to kind of kick and beat him for real which was quite extraordinary. He was in retrospect – he was quite heroic because he took that scene quite a few times and he had to put these intestinal guts in his clothes and stuff. He was really brilliant about it and he never once kind of said "hold back, stop that, I feel humiliated."
He was actually stunning. So that was for me the most fulfilling scene to have done in "Jubilee" because Derek just let us go for it. I had no problems with it at all. I think the reason it had such a uproar when it showed on Channel 4 in the late 80’s was we still had a Tory government and Margaret Thatcher brought it up in the Houses Of Parliament saying that films like that must never be made. It was around the time of section 28 and all of that. She was just closing down the gates –
PHIL: No freedom of expression? Like Mary Whitehouse -
TOYAH: No freedom of expression - censorship, everything. I think, you know, it’s a quite a tame movie by some standards.
PHIL: How did the news of Derek Jarman’s death from AIDS affect you? Has it changed your mind on the disease at all? Has it affected your life?
TOYAH: Well, it affected my life from 1984 when it was first brought into public that it was an isolated disease. Until that point they thought it was related to other illnesses like pneumonia and cancer. AIDS has probably been round since the 30’s but no-one could isolate what it was that was causing the deaths. When Derek got ill the thing that affected me most was he went underground. You couldn’t find him anymore, you couldn’t talk to him directly.
He surrounded himself with his closed gay friends. That kind of hurt. I wrote to him regularly even though I didn’t get replies back in the last two years of his life. I just wrote to him welcoming him to my life and obviously I was getting day by day accounts of what he was going through from his friends sitting at his bedside. I just think what was remarkable was how creative he was in those last few years. But I missed him and I miss him now terribly.
PHIL: Did you get on with him as a friend as well as working on films?
TOYAH: We were in love. He had an ability to love women. I think his relationship with Tilda Swinton proves that because they actually lived together. But I just loved him passionately. It was a platonic love. But he is someone I miss dearly. He was extraordinary. There is no-one I know like him.
PHIL: In the 80’s you appeared in "Trafford Tanzi" the musical - fighting her husband so would you call yourself a feminist?
TOYAH: Yeah. Through and through.
PHIL: And why?
TOYAH: A feminist and a chauvinist – a female chauvinist. Because of all the psychological pain I’ve been put through. Feminism for me has given me a way of expressing myself. I’m quite proud and intense about it I suppose. It’s given me my strength. It’s given me the vocabulary I needed to remain sane. That’s why I’m passionate about. I think feminism is very different today – it’s softer but I am feminist, definitely.
PHIL: And you’ve been heard as well – you’ve made your point with those male chauvinists?
TOYAH: The main one was “Prostitute” which in America is seen as the forefront of the feminist musical movement – now. It was hugely inflamed. It did really well, it’s probably in everyone’s collection. It was seen as the beginning of the angry female. I did an interview in America the other day because they feel that without "Prostitute" lyricists like Alanis Morrissette might not have arrived.
It was considered the beginning of women fighting back. Even though in retrospect it’s quite tame now. But for me even though it wasn’t a commercial success by any means it was one of the most important pieces of writing I’ve ever done.
PHIL: Do you think with artists like Alanis Morrissette - is it a dated thing now or are you inspired by that?
TOYAH: No, I just wish I learned to cover up my anger because "Prostitute" didn’t actually do me any good in Britain and in Europe. So I had to learn to cover up the anger. Even though I think “Ophelias’s Shadow” is the best album I’ve ever made I think if I’d continued in the vein of "Prostitute" it would’ve built and built and built.
But then I would have to have a career of being angry and for me anger is on the parallel of having cancer. I think you have transform that energy into something more positive. I am really only a lyricist even though I do music – I’m only a lyricist. My lyrics will always be strange and quirky but without realising it I hit the right note with "Prostitute". It’s resonated for many years.
PHIL: Quickly touching back to the late ’70 when you began your pop career – (above with Joel Bogen, the guitarist of the Toyah band) were there any sexual antics with groupies in the band or did you come into contact with the so called "sex, drugs and rock’n’roll" aspect of the career?
TOYAH: The band did – I didn’t. You have to remember I was going out with my bodyguard so things like that just – he was very possessive. If I have one regret I just wish I’d been single throughout that period. But no, I didn’t at all. I think the weirdest thing that happened to me I was in Finland and I came out of the theatre - there was a boy standing there in a loincloth in Finland in winter – it must’ve been below freezing, like –6.
He had bare feet, everything and he said "I’m Jesus, I’ve come because you ought to have my baby" and my boyfriend at the time was nowhere near me and I just thought "get me out of this!" He was really beautiful as well, I’m sure if I was single I would’ve gone off with him for the night. That was probably the weirdest thing! I think people were terrified of me and didn’t quite know how to deal with me.
So there were very very few advances. There was one from a head of a record company in Stockholm - again he was gorgeous but I mean that was about it. In fact it’s only now that I’m getting propositions and my husband can’t understand it. We’re throwing away letters on a daily basis of men just chasing me. Men in the industry as well!
PHIL: Is that scary?
TOYAH: No, I love it! Because I’m 40 and if I worked harder I could be slimmer and look better but I just allow myself to be my natural self. For the first time in my life I’m actually being chased, that’s never happened before.
SONG: “Maybe This Time (From Cabaret)
PHIL: Back to the punk scene – you must’ve seen some really sordid things going on?
TOYAH: Not with my guys. With other bands. I remember Killing Joke that we often used to tour with. They used to keep away from me because I used to get in punch-ups. Me and Jaz – I’ve been held back from knifing him so many times because his chauvinism set me off.
He threatened to hit me once in a hotel in Manchester and I went for him with a knife. I come from a violent background, a very violent background where men have kicked the shit out of me. Not in my family background but in street gangs in Birmingham.
So you can’t just say I’m aggressive, I protect myself. It’s not that I’m aggressive, I’m a natural … self-defence. Jaz and had the same management and they learned to put us in separate hotels after a while because Jaz knew he could press that button. But I got on with the rest of the band, Paul Raven played bass on the "Minx" album.
But I can remember one night Geordie had been in the room next to me and he’d spent the night with a woman who had two rats in her hair! These rats were attached by a chain to a dog collar. I just thought rock’n’roll but that’s taking it … no I have no desire to do that (both laugh) I mean perversions are to do with – I’d rather be on top of a mountain naked having sex than in a hotel room with someone with rats in their hair!
PHIL: Of course you’re into animal rights as well?
TOYAH: Yeah. I’ve always been more a naturist when it comes to sex.
PHIL: You’re recognised as being a gay icon and you’ve hosted and performed at the Gay Pride Festival as well. Why do you think that many gay people have this fascination with you?
TOYAH: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m not gay but I’m not anti-gay, obviously. I have no idea. I like to think that I’ve worked so long to try to find the truth of who I am and to present that – perhaps gay people can recognise that. Perhaps because I’m not a six foot glamour model, I’m just a very basic person. But with an odd mind.
PHIL: Very colourful as well. Going back to your early pop career – you’ve always had different colour hair –
TOYAH: Yeah, that’s probably it as well, the dressing up –
PHIL: The dramatic?
TOYAH: Definitely, yeah.
PHIL: You went to advertise a women’s deodorant on TV and rumour has it that you couldn’t stop laughing because every time you held it up it reminded you of a vibrator. Is that true?
TOYAH: I said this on the Jonathan Ross show and it lost me the contract. Jonathan Ross changed his policy after that never to bring up advertising with his guests. I actually said on the show that it’s strange advertising a deodorant that looks like phallic symbol. And that was it, I lost the contract! (laughs)
PHIL: So you didn’t think about that before you went to the advert –
TOYAH: No, no. We sold the advert on the fact that we had to get CF gasses out of products and it was one of the first products to successfully get CF gasses out of spray cans. So I’m quite proud for that and the two years I did the advert for that paid for the making of "Prostitute", the making of "Ophelia’s Shadow" and the making of "The Lady Or The Tiger". It made three albums.
PHIL: We’ve talked about it before but "Prostitute" - what was that all about? Did you any problems with the title - did you think about the implications?
TOYAH: No. I wanted it to be called "Pro". And then list the five numbers that come in the dictionary after Pro. So you’ve got Prostate, Prostitute, Pros … what’s it called when you lie in front of a cross? (shouts to someone outside the room) Damien?! What is it when you lie – prostate? Thank you!
And there’s a prostate gland. You can look up in the dictionary anyway. It was the five most important words in my life. When I designed the cover I had a diagram taken from a Victorian book of a medical examinations done on a human body. But what they did, they only did them on women because women were considered lower beings than men. It was disgusting.
I wanted a gatefold album where you could fold out and open up the medical examination the way the Victorians saw it. It literally turned the woman into rat. You could open up – there was the “inferior liver”, “the inferior kidneys”, “the inferior lungs”, everything was listed as “inferior” to men. That record cover – the shops wouldn’t take it. They said no so we had to go with that rather obscure performance artist at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts)
It was to be called "Pro", listing and ending in prostitute. But it became "Prostitute" because it was simpler. Basically it was about – as soon as I got married – this was the origins of it - my manager, my bank manager, my financial managers, my lawyers – wouldn’t call me to talk me to talk about my business.
They’d call my husband. At that point I decided not to take a married name, sent letters to everyone saying you will sued if you talk to my husband before me about any of my affairs. I literally sacked everyone after that –
PHIL: Girl power!
TOYAH: Oh yeah, I was just furious! Furious! The marriage between me and Robert is a spiritual decision, not because I wanted to loose my identity to somebody. It took quite a few years to sort that out. But I think the 90’s consciousness has shifted so much, women are individuals in their own right now. Ironically after everything I’d fought for through the late 70’s and early 80’s came back in my face in the late 80’s.
SONG: “Ophelia’s Shadow”
PHIL: Just quickly let’s touch on the Good Sex Guide. Have you got anything juicy to spill on that? Any perverse sexual fantasies or sexual habits?
TOYAH: It was medical programme and also it was telly. The oddest one for me that I couldn’t get my head round was the pony people who wear shoes with hooves on and like to drag carts and have their hair in a pony tail. I just thought how can you get a kick from that? I mean I understand it more now than I did at the time.
That whole thing of the security of childhood when you play games but we could never get into things like triple penetrations and all those. We talked about them off camera but we couldn’t do it on camera but it was a great show to make. Off camera we spent more time discussing things.
PHIL: It looked a real scream –
TOYAH: It was a real scream. The sexiest thing, we had woman on, I think she was called Trish who has a shop called Shhh! in the City. It’s for women only, men can come in only if they’re escorted by a woman. She was very beautiful and incredibly lady-like in that 50’s sense. I discovered on air that she is a lesbian who likes to have strap-on dicks and I think she was the sexiest thing I’d ever met! I thought that was the closest I’ll ever come to a lesbian experience. She was wonderful.
PHIL: So do you think you learned on a personal level from doing that show?
TOYAH: I learned so much! You’ve got to remember I haven’t had many partners, I’ve only had four partners in my life purely because I’ve come from a background of abuse. So everything I’ve experienced about sex has been in dialogue and in discussion. So it was quite good for me.
I’m open to Robert about this – my only regret in life is that I haven’t had more partners because I’ve been very under developed on that side. The Sex Guide was very good for me because it meant I almost grew up to my husband’s sexual maturity. Because he’s got a very vast sexual background! (laughs) When I started doing the Sex Guide I became less jealous of him.
PHIL: Thanks very much for taking to us about all this and good luck with the "Live Bed Show". Thanks Toyah.
TOYAH: Thank you.