"SOUNDS OF THE 80's"
BBC RADIO 2
WITH SARA COX
SARA: Welcome to the "Sounds of the 80's" – Toyah!
SARA: Hello! It's so funny sitting here looking at you now because I've obviously been watching a thousand of your performances in the 80's -
TOYAH: Yeah, right -
SARA: With your incredible hair. (They both laugh) And now it's kind of like sort of warm blondie -
TOYAH: Grey! (They both laugh)
SARA: It's not grey ladies and gentleman at home, listen, it looks fabulous! But you really landed in the early 80's with a real sort of crash bang wallop it seemed, you were like a firecracker!
TOYAH: But he thing was back then women really had to make a mark. We really had to make noise to the point of the 80's in the 70's. You had Lulu, you had Sandie Shaw, you had wonderful wonderful women but you could count them with the fingers on your hand. And then suddenly the 80's came along and if you didn't fit into an ideal at the time, which was either Farrah Fawcett–Majors or "Charlie's Angels", you just wouldn't be seen, you were invisible.
So we came – I came in trough the punk movement, I always say "we" because there was me, Siouxsie Banshee, Hazel O'Connor. We came in with a band- we had to make a mark. And we did it visually as well as through sound. It just happened to coincide with the beginning of the video age as well, it was perfect timing.
SARA: Did you enjoy all the making of the videos?
TOYAH: Oh I loved it! I'm barely five foot tall, I've always been slightly dumpy muscular woman. I could never make myself look tall and elegant like a model so I went in straight for the image. My saying was “look on the outside how you feel on the inside”. So I had a team of make-up artists, hair artists, we'd all work together.
I'd collect books on Kabuki theatre which is kind of Japanese traditional opera, on Masai tribes, on Papa New Guinea tribes. And we'd put these pictures up and I'd go “oh, I'd like a bit of that” and they'd create these incredible hairstyles with beautiful colours and make-up and became an urban tribes woman basically.
SARA: when you put all this stuff on and you got on the stage did you become “Toyah”?
TOYAH: Yeah. It's very much role play. Derek Jarman, the director, pointed out to me that I'm one of the people that put the mask on and lived in the mask -
SARA: And he was the director of “Jubilee”?
TOYAH: Yes, with Derek Jarman I made “Jubilee” and I made “The Tempest”.
SARA: OK. And “Jubilee” was in 79' wasn't it? (Jokingly) We can't mention it on the "Sounds of the 80's" but you started initially with acting. You've always sort of done both skills -
TOYAH: Acting and singing, yeah. In '77 I was the youngest member of The National Theatre Company, I made two films with Derek Jarman and I made “Quadrophenia” -
SARA: Of course!
TOYAH: And I made a beautiful film with Katherine Hepburn called “The Corn Is Green”.
SARA: Wow. And then as we go into the 80's, music for you -
TOYAH: Just took over.
SARA: When you saw The Sex Pistols, it it true that you didn't think “oh, that's changed my life” - you just thought “I want to have a go at that”?
TOYAH: No the audience changed my life. I saw The Sex Pistols play a club in Birmingham in 1976, there was nothing there that I remembered – when you hear the recordings you think “wow, that's classic” but live Johnny was having a huge strop and kept going off. But what did it for me – I walked into the club and there were 300 people with the same heart as me.
They looked like me, they had different coloured hair, they'd all made their own clothes, they all felt completely dispossessed by the culture they were born into. It was the audience that changed my life.
SARA: You felt at home amongst the audience and thought “I want to perform to these people.” You want to get that reaction?
TOYAH: I was 17 years old and for the first time in 17 years I thought “oh, I do belong.”
SARA: Now, you made quite a bit of music before you had your first sort of success?
TOYAH: “Sheep Farming In Barnet” was number one in the Indie chart for a year. My first single “Victims Of The Riddle” was number one in the first Indie chart for 12 months. “Blue Meaning”, number two in the national chart. And then three years later I had “It's A Mystery”.
SARA: So you just kept churning out all this music, people loved you and -
TOYAH: I mean when I played back then - you did pubs and when I played riots would happen. Two thousand people would turn up to see you in a pub.
TOYAH: We couldn't get EMI to sign us, we couldn't get Virgin – no one wanted to sign us and then suddenly Safari Records came along one day. I was doing “Quadrophenia” with Sting at the time and they said "could you put the band together at lunchtime and play for us?"
So I shot a scene in the morning, put the band together in a room and went back to shoot another scene in the afternoon at Shepperton (Studios) and was able to say to Sting “I've got a record deal”.
SARA: Wow! That is so -
TOYAH: That is one of the proudest moments of my life. (Puts on an annoying voice) “Hey Sting! I've got a record deal!”
SARA: What was the most fun time? Was there a moment where you just thought “this is awesome!”
TOYAH: I had my Justin Bieber moment when I got a lifetime ban from the Britannia hotel in Manchester.
SARA: I love that Justin's name is now being used as the rebel because of late, the things that have been going on with him! (They both laugh)
TOYAH: I was in Joel's (Bogen, the guitarist of the "Toyah" band, above with Toyah) clothes and Joel was in my clothes - which happened to stockings and suspenders, bra and pants and we were running around the top floor of the Britannia and I thought it would be fun to dive off the top floor onto that big chandelier that goes down the centre.
And as I did it someone grabbed my ankle and left me hanging and I got dragged out, locked in my bedroom! But we got out again and back then the Britannia had these huge life size china animals like zebras. Joel and I got out of our room, we got a zebra, we put in the lift and we were then arrested trying to get it in the tour bus. And that was it – a lifetime ban from the Britannia.
SARA: Was there more to follow or did you think “oh no, I've done that now”?
TOYAH: No - it was like that 24 hours a day.
SARA: We're going to play “It's A Mystery”. Tell us the story behind that song please?
TOYAH: It's quite a cliched but a powerful story. The band formed in 1980 broke up, it was acrimonious, my head had got too big to be in the same room as anyone else. And suddenly Safari records came to me and said “we have this demo for you, written by Keith Hale” and would I do it?
My instant thought was “this is the end, I don't like this, it's not the way I want to go” and it needed to be turned into a proper song. And lo and behold three months later – it was selling 75 000 copies a day. Pressing plants had to stay open 24 hours a day. It was massive!
SARA: The poor men and women kept from their families, toiling to churn out this hit!
TOYAH: Yeah! And it's interesting because I didn't identify with it and now I sing it virtually every day.
SARA: And what's your relationship with it now?
TOYAH: It's a blessing.
SARA: We do get some quite young listeners on the "Sounds of the 80's" – often admittedly some of them are being forced to by their parents - if that's you, hopefully it will be their first time hearing it. It's “It's A Mystery” by Toyah.
SONG "It's A Mystery"
SARA: So that's “It's A Mystery” from Toyah, she's here on the "Sounds of the 80's." Take us to 1984 – is that right, you became a solo artist?
TOYAH: 1984 I was signed to CBS. Maurice Oberstein - who is legend - had this vision that he wanted all the greatest women in the world signed to one label. There was me, there was Pat Benatar, there was quite a few of us and that was an exciting period for me and it was the first time I was treated as a serious solo artist.
And I ended up on a label with Alison Moyet called the "Portrait" label. But it just didn't happen. They didn't have the power or perhaps they were just expecting the power of the name to sell but it just didn't really happen. And after that I just went into theatre for about six years. But it was a different career.
SARA: Now which career for you holds the fondest memories or is that just an impossible question?
TOYAH: It's impossible. They only way I can answer that is I sing and I act and I write. They're the only things I can do. If those fall away I'm unemployable. I've got three feature films lined up this year and I've got the shows going out this year - 2014 is busier than any year in the whole of my life.
SARA: So this is Toyah "Up Close And Personal" which combines all your skill sets?
TOYAH: Yeah. It's driven my music, it's high energy but I use film behind me so it's going to be a proper set list of songs.
SARA: And who's in the audience? Who are you expecting to be in the audience?
TOYAH: With the "Up Close And Personal" we do arts centres and theatres so it's usually – daughters bring their mums. It's so nice because the daughters come up to me and say “I know you through my mum. What you've done with your life - my mum has started her life again aged 50.” Because a lot of women either divorce or they break up. I've written books about plastic surgery -
SARA: Have you had any work done?
TOYAH: Oh God yeah! All the time!
SARA: I need to get some numbers of you! You look awesome!
TOYAH: But I always say what we're never told in our culture – firstly, tell your daughters they're beautiful but secondly with every decade we're enriched – we have something more to bring to the workplace. And I keep hammering that home because I meet so many people that become invisible after fifty. So in my audience -
SARA: But do you think that message can tally up with maybe getting a little bit of a tweak here and there -
TOYAH: It has to be a personal choice. Not a choice because you're looking for a man or it's because you're looking for a job. It's purely personal. I want to eradicate any unhappy memories and I'd do that but by changing myself.
SARA: I've got to mention “Splash!” because you appeared like in a swimming costume – (Toyah laughs) gallivanting on our screens – it's a guilty pleasure, isn't it? I mean on a Saturday night, I love it, the kids love it! Just congrats for being so brave! For people who have not seen it – Toyah threw herself – how high was that jump?
TOYAH: I only made it to the five metre -
SARA: You jumped off backwards into a tuck -
TOYAH: And then dived.
SARA: Impressive that! And you look great! Was it a good experience?
TOYAH: I've never loved anything as much as that!
SARA: We're going to finish with your favourite 80's track?
TOYAH: I think I'm going to go for a Duran Duran track and the reason being – in '81 and 80' I had TV show in Birmingham called “Look! Hear!” and I gave Duran Duran their first TV appearance. They did “Planet Earth” but I'm going to go with … “Say A Prayer For Me”.
SARA: Lovely to chat to you Toyah! Thank you so much!
TOYAH: Thank you, Sara.
SARA: And we'll end with your track from the 80's - “Save A Prayer” by Duran Duran Duran.