From the DVD of The Blue Meaning reissue 2021

TOYAH: “Blue Meaning” obviously followed “Sheep Farming In Barnet”. It was extremely different writing and creative process to our first album. I remember it as we were constantly doing promotion, constantly on the road doing concerts and we were still promoting “Sheep Farming In Barnet” and the EP, which I believe, the very first EP was called “Four From Toyah”. So that period in time I remember as being slightly disjointed.

We managed to get Charlie Francis to join the band around August 1979. And he was such a morale booster for me and Joel. Charlie Francis is the coolest human being I've ever known. And he'll still call. He ended up doing the live radio sound for REM on their arena tours. He has such a phenomenal presence of mind, charisma and character that he could source out anything that was weak. He could source out anything that was inappropriate and he just pulled Joel and I in and I think the reflection of Charlie Francis on the writing for “Blue Meaning” is that “Blue Meaning” became an incredibly complex album in comparison to everything we wrote before.

So if Charlie came in, he came in August '79, that was to do a tour. And on the tours, we were always able to slightly work new material in soundchecks. We were still honing “IEYA” during sound checks, and it wasn't until quite late in the year we ran out of encores during one particular show in Bath. So we put “IEYA” in after the fourth encore and we didn't know what the arrangement was, but as soon as we started playing it, the audience went crazy and we realized we could develop songs that way by testing the water with the audience.

I remember that we needed to get to a residential recording studio to do the main writing. And I think when we went to that studio, we probably only had two songs under our belt belt and that was “IEYA” and “Love Me”. And they still needed formulating.

To put creativity into context back in that time, late ‘79 into 1980, every record company in the world wanted four albums a year if they could get that from the artist. If not four albums a year, two albums a year. And if you were only going to produce one album a year, people wouldn't touch you. So the turnover was very, very quick and the only outlet was shops, radio play shops. So that put heaped pressure of time on the artists.

We were given the luxury of going away to a residential studio in Battle. And of course there is a time problem there, if you're only booked into the studio for two or three weeks. I think we were there for three weeks and I found it hugely pressurized because you couldn't step away from the environment.

You couldn't step away from the people who you work with every day. I tend to write an isolation. I experience the rehearsal studio and I go away and then all the ideas start flying around. So I remember the pressure was huge just to try and find a space to go and be creative in. And then knowing you only had that time and that space for a minimal amount of the day. And then you had to be in the studio. I have never really been anyone who can go into the recording studio and write. I tend to write away from that environment. So it was highly pressured.

I think the pressure we were under making “Blue Meaning” is what's made it such a tense angry kind of exploring extremes album. The songs are complex. “Ghost” is beautiful, but it's complex “Blue Meaning” ... utterly complex. Every musician I've worked with since “Blue Meaning” goes “what on earth is that song?!” Because it changes every time you go through a sequence, the next sequence is different. There is nothing predictable about it. And it meant that the writing process was quite advanced for who and what I was at the time.

I knew the subject matters I wanted to cover. I knew the images I wanted in my head when I wrote, but getting them to fit with the bloody music was extraordinary. And also on this particular set of sessions of Battle where wonderful Steve James was producing again, we didn't have Keith Hale in the studio. And I think creatively I missed him desperately because he understood how I thought, he understood what knocked me off my feet. I still hated wearing headphones. And it was in the Battle studio where Steve set up speakers so I could perform as in a live environment.

So Keith would have sat me down and gone (whispers) “one, two, three, four” and I needed that on those songs. These songs were so out there that I actually needed someone to count me in. And in the end Steve, James ended up sitting with me, counting me in. I mean “Blue Meaning” is wonderfully, wonderfully out of sync in places. Ironically that is what makes the album so magical. Can I sing that out of sync? No. I am so aware of the downbeat now it's impossible to sing out to sync.

With Charlie Francis there and he was such a giant of a man, Joel and I, whenever we felt we were out of debts or couldn't cope or the pressure was on, we just looked at Charlie and Charlie was just like a rolling machine of creativity. He was fabulous. Steve Bray was absolutely stunning on drums. And Steve is very much like me, very energized, very no way of containing that energy. It's got to come out some way or another, and if it doesn't come out properly, it will come out as an explosion. I remember one night “IEYA” was driving us all completely mad and things would go wrong in the studio as we were making this song. It was as if we were summoning some bizarre demon into
the studio.

I remember Steve Bray went up to his bedroom and jumped out the window. And we said to Steve “why did you do that? You can go down the stairs and through the door.” I mean, we were just going mad, absolutely mad. And part of it I think was that we had a record company who really believed in us and invested in us.

We missed the audience terribly. We were very much typically punk in that the audience reflected themselves in us and we reflected ourselves through them. We needed them so badly. So it was a completely new experience. Ironically, one of the first experiences where we were treated like professional musicians and we found ourselves needing to be in a pub in front of drunken people.

Steve James has always been a fabulous producer and he was so important. He was dealing with - because he was working on his own and not with Keith Hale, which he had done on “Sheep Farming” - so Steve had everything to do and he was learning the new (mixing) desk. He was learning the desk at Battle.

So Steve was very, very focused and he had five of us absolute crazy people, just like we're "Aaarrgghh! “We're in the country! We're in Battle! We're near the sea aaarrgghh! Were punk rockers!” So Steve had to focus all that energy. Oh and add to that “Oh, someone's cooking for us three times a day! We're going to eat three times a day!” I mean, we were just children. So I remember Steve as being just very focused, wondering how he was going to help us all.

I would say how he saw us as individuals is Steve Bray, absolutely brilliant at coming up with drum patterns and anchoring the time. Charlie Francis, an absolute natural, probably it's just sailed through it. Me just like ... I wouldn't say I was floundering. It was how do you anchor down everything? When you have so many ideas, I was like how do I anchor this down? And Joel, I think really wanting to progress the music beyond punk, thus the very complex time signatures, we're in four four but he was still shifting and breaking the rules with the barring systems within the songs.

The process at Battle for a long time felt as though we were trapped under the ice. And what I mean by that is we had no idea what we were coming up with. We had no sense of it. So we were producing music. We were writing music, performing music, but for us it didn't have an identity until we started to put “IEYA” down. And “IEYA” was like giving birth to a demon. It was so strange in the studio ...that song, which I always felt was like summoning something.

Anyway, when I sing it I go into a completely different place. Well, that song has always had that otherworldliness and we needed to arrange it because whenever we'd done it live up until this point, we would just go on and on and sometimes we performed it on stage for 30, 40 minutes. It was that popular. So trying to tie it down to an arrangement was challenging.

But once we started to get “IEYA” down and to learn what it was and what it could be, we started to realize what the album was going to be. That was the song that kind of pulled all the threads together. And we realized we'd written quite a sophisticated, angry, new wave post-punk album. I mean, it goes straight into gothic. There's so many images on this album that are gothic, but it took “IEYA” for us to stand in that studio and think "bloody hell, we've done it. We've
done it!"

It took forever to record “IEYA”. The vocal just took days, because again, it was exploring how I was going to use the voice. At this point I was using the voice as an instrument so there was a lot of late night sessions me just alone with Steve James, exploring vocal sounds, exploring the timing of the vocal sounds and how we do the choruses and how we bank the vocals up.

We were not sure about this track, but we sent it to Safari and they fell in love with it. It was eight minutes long. And I think our thinking was well, if Queen could do “Bohemian Rhapsody” as long as that was and take over the world with that track and Safari like “IEYA” and it's eight minutes long, who are we to argue?

We knew it was a winner with our audience. We'd already lived through it with our audience. And here we were presenting something really polished and really finalized and realized. It went to Safari. They fell in love with it. And there's a story - I wasn't there - but Tony Edwards played it over and over and over again. I think he played it about 20 times until a man appeared at a door with a knife and said he was going to kill Tony if he ever heard that song again. This song still causes riots. It cause riots back then, it causes riots today. It's a very, very special evocative song.

For me, the colour blue is a very powerful colour. It's a colour that has so much depth, resonance, so much meaning. The word has meaning, it has many meanings. So I really liked the idea of the “Blue Meaning” touching upon creative depression and this thing about how most creatives suffer depression, but also the perverse side, the use of the word blue as kind of the sexual side. So I wanted something that was ambiguous and “Blue Meaning” as a song is such a powerful song that we felt that that was just a really nice kind of adult, as in mature, name to give the album.

I could give you a modern viewpoint on the album artwork from now and with hindsight, I'm going to give you the narrative from that moment when we did it with Gered Mankowitz and we wanted something about female oppression and the fact that this was like a little maid from the big manor, who'd done something wrong and was tied up for the beast to take from the gates outside.

So I was in ballet blocks. I was on tiptoe and I was tied up by my wrists. So it was slightly exploring a fascination of mine, which was created by Giger. The designer of the "Alien" monster and Giger had always used women's form or the female form in an erotic way. So it was definitely a point to S&M eroticism, but also we left it open that it was punishment, that it was the maiden about to be taken by the dragon and all of that. We wanted this kind of feeling that eventually is very obviously pre-goth. It's a goth image.

And then Gered Mankowitz and I went into the studio and Gered had the idea that he wanted me to have a light pen and we did the back cover (above). And by this time my hair was pink and down and he just had me on a slow frame on his camera, drawing the light pen round the edge of the frame. And that became one of his most famous images.

Melissa Caplan was very, very important in my life because up until that point I hadn't really had proper stage costumes. I had one beautiful dress made by Adam Ant’s wife Eve and that was a gorgeous, again kind of gothic black dress with many buttons. That's the only dress I really had so we needed to extend the image further. And back then, because creativity was so quick, we'd have four singles out a year. You had to have four images a year.

I came across Melissa Caplan, no idea how I met her, but we hit it off straight away. And I talked to her about my love of Egyptian mythology and Egyptian imagery and she came up with these very primary colour outfits. They were very geometric. She hand painted them. They were highly patinated. I think also she liked the idea that I wanted to be third gender, I wasn't into showing my chest much or showing my legs.

I liked being covered up. That gave me a confidence. So she created these kind of very square shape, oblong shape things that I could just put on which she hand painted, thus the capes and thus the hieroglyphics on the clothes. But she did all of that by hand. And it would take time because when we get to the next year, when I did Top Of The Pops she couldn't get my costume ready on time, I had to go with another designer. So for Melissa it was a really hands-on time. She was just creating outfit after outfit.

But what I found with the cape dress, which became the image of “IEYA”, was it was just perfect for that time. It made me feel confident on stage. It reduced the amount of times I got groped on stage because it was a kind of non-female non-gender specific outfit. And I was just getting groped so much. And it kind of put an invisible wall between me and the audience, which was quite a good wall, but there were times when we were touring and I would try and take that outfit to a dry cleaner and they wouldn't touch it. It was just absolutely covered in gob.

And in those days, just before Siouxsie Sioux contracted an illness from being spat in the mouth, people would just ... spat, spat, spat, spat all night. And even though it was utterly repulsive, my feeling was is you stand up to something that causes you fear. You can just kind of brave up to it. So I kind of continued with it in the hope people's mouths would just get dry and they never did. They just continued spitting.

But I remember going to a place in Newcastle with my costumes saying "can you dry clean this?" And they said "don't even bring it in the shop". People just would not help in that way. So I started to have to have multiple copies of that outfit just so that we could get around the having to soak it so often and get it clean. It was an extraordinary time to be performing because the spitting was so bad. I think if anyone did that to you today, you could actually have them arrested.

There were definitely conflicts at the time between my acting career and the music because I was taking off in both. As an actress I was taking off in a way I never expected to take off. In this particular period when we were recording “Blue Meaning” I was starring alongside David Hemmings in “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde”, and working with Diana Dors.

I also was promoting Derek Jarman's “The Tempest”. And then after, towards the end of “Blue Meaning” a documentary was made about me for ITV. And I think what happened it became very clear that this band had a front person and that's not a nice feeling for anyone who is investing their time with what they think is a band. And I think it became very problematic. When I stepped away to do these projects it always gave breathing space for Joel to write and for the others to kind of get together and write backing tracks for me to put lyrics to.

But I just remember my success growing made it harder for everyone to keep up with my persona because I was starting to be recognized on the streets and we were being followed everywhere. Fans were following us. Following us in cars, hiring buses, following us. The whole dynamic was changing dramatically. Also, I think because “Sheep Farming In Barnet” did so well, and it was featured on “Shoestring” with Trevor Eve, expectation really weighed on us. People were expecting the next album. They were expecting the next development and we'd been completely creatively free up until that.

And I think expectation is a really hard weight to carry for an artist. So it was an interesting time. We were taking prop planes out in the middle of the night to Germany and doing Rock Pop and Musikladen and all these wonderful, wonderful live music shows (below). Italy, France. So we were really, really busy. It was exciting, but also you had to have clarity to be creative at the same time.

I lived in a warehouse. It was a British Rail warehouse that ran along the side of a railway siding. Queenstown Road in Battersea. It had no heating, it had one window, but we turned it into a venue. It had a stage. It was absolutely enormous. It was it was bigger than a tennis court. It was bigger than that. Probably twice the size of a tennis court, which meant Steve Strange would hire it for four days and have weekend long parties. Iggy Pop hired it with John Cale to rehearse “The Idiot”, “The Passenger”, all of that period.

I think Bowie sneaked in. I don't think I was there for that. Boy George would come along because obviously he was always with Steve Strange. A lot of people used the space. Hazel O'Connor formulated the music for “Breaking Glass” there. This was a wildly exciting time. And I think what attracted people to Mayhem (the warehouse) was my growing successes as a cult artist. So I was a cult actress and a cult singer. So people wanted to be in what was starting to look a little bit like an Andy Warhol art scene. 

In this period, we started to go to Holland, Germany, Copenhagen, France. And this was the first time I'd ever been to any of those places. For me it was quite challenging because people all spoke English, but they spoke it in the context of their home language and or their first language. So words were coming out mixed up or quite abrupt. And I spent the whole time trying to understand what people meant.

Our first time in Germany it was like ... we just don't know what you mean. Words were backwards. Things were very strident. And we were given orders and we were a punk band and we thought “are you ordering us around?” No, these people were just being perfectly polite. That's just how they use the language.

And then I was vegetarian and whenever we ordered vegetables it would arrive with bacon in and Joel was Jewish and it was like ... it was a struggle. We weren't sophisticated. It was a struggle and trying to get people to understand that we didn't want to eat any meat was a completely foreign experience. I don't think that's the right way to explain it, but I mean “why do you don't want to eat meat? We don't understand”.

It was both exciting and a huge learning curve. And I don't think that I was the best tourist they ever had on their hands in these studios, but we did work really hard. And we kept true to what we believed in. There was definite cultural differences from what they thought girls should be doing to how I was behaving. I think my power, my strength, and my brashness was quite a shock.

When we went into these countries, we definitely had a following. Rather, interestingly, going into Germany, we were playing to American forces and they were wild. We were warned. We turn up at the Air Force base and we were warned that it was going to be like nothing we've ever experienced. We weren't let down. I mean, those GI’s were just fabulous, fabulous, but terrifying. And there's so many of them, so drunk and just having the time of their lives. They really gave you every ounce of energy they had. They were just pogoing from beginning to end.

And on the other extreme, going into Finland, the fans were very respectful, very in love with me. I had one guy at the stage door in a loincloth and nothing else in winter and Finland (
NB Toyah has never played in Finland so this happened somewhere else). And I said “why are you dressed like that?” And he said “I'm Jesus. And I've come to inseminate you”. And I thought, okay, well, that's really, really kind of you. There were some wonderful experiences in this time. People were very eccentric and very individual and the different countries and how they responded was a learning curve.

Germany was great, but they tended to listen more whereas in England people would pogo wildly. We suddenly were going into Europe and we'd have an audience that respected us, they were actually listening to the playing and everything. And that kind of made me feel very exposed.

When I heard that “Blue Meaning” had entered the Top 40, which was pretty major for us, our second album, I was on tour. I believe I was in a hotel in Devon, and I just got a phone call saying that it had gone into the Top 40. Funny enough, my feeling about it was not as excitable as when “It’s A Mystery” went in the charts, probably because I realised that until we got a single in the Top 40 we weren't going to get the kind of attention that I was always ambitious about.

It was wonderful that the album “Blue Meaning” went into the Top 40, but we were on tour. We were flat out, we were working and I always, as a singer, was never able to really party that much. You're always preserving your voice. You're always needing voice rest before and after a show. So I remember thinking that this is the beginning of something, beginning of something that I want to be really great, but I think my reaction would have been quite measured to that.

Around October 1980 I was finishing off a documentary for ITV called “Toyah! Toyah! Toyah!” and it was a huge project. It covered my acting, camera crews were following me around the rehearsals for “Sugar And Spice“ (play) at the Royal Court Theatre. They'd been following me around for the filming of "Jekyll and Hyde” and also following the band. And we recorded the live album “Toyah! Toyah! Toyah!” for that project in Wolverhampton.

So it had been a wonderful, wonderful year. I mean, it's such a heightened year, but I think we sat down for a meeting with our then manager Howard Abrahams and I just think the money wasn't adding up. We were on £30 a week. We were having success. We were definitely having huge live success.

And I think Charlie wanted a better deal. Steve wanted a better deal. And everyone felt that I was getting all the focus and heartbreakingly at this meeting Charlie said, “well, I'm leaving”. And then Steve said “I'm leaving” and Peter did too. And I don't know whether that was to force the hand of the management or what, but it left Joel and I without a band from October 1980.

And I remember I went into “Sugar and Spice” (below) in the Royal Court in Chelsea, Sloane Square, and fans were just crying outside after hearing that the band had broken up, they were so upset and I didn't know what to say to them because I was working flat out on everything.

And I think what happened is that Nick Tauber came on board for the sessions at the end of 1980 into 81’ as did Keith Hale and we pulled everything together. Nick Tauber put musicians together, such Nigel Glockler, Adrian Lee, Phil Spalding came in for sessions and slowly everything started to come back, but it was a very, very precarious time.

When Charlie Francis, Pete Bush and Steve Bray left I kind of thought, well, is this the move that forces my hand to become exclusively an actress and nothing else? And I had to say the few years I had with the Toyah band as was, was really tough. It was laborfull, you’re just laboring every day, kind of feeding creativity into the mouths of a record company that was insatiable. You could never satiate or fulfill what they wanted.

So it was pretty relentless. It was exciting. It was rewarding, but it was relentless. So when the band broke up and I went into “Sugar and Spice” written by Nigel Williams, directed by Bill Alexander, I mean these are superstars of the theatre. And I was just thinking ... is my hand being forced to turn me into an actress a hundred percent. It was a very, very hard time.

And suddenly I think Safari realised that if we'd gone into the Top 40 with “Blue Meaning” they could turn this around. They could just get a producer on board. Did the band breaking up sour the memory for me? When I was doing “Sugar and Spice” I was heartbroken because I absolutely loved Charlie Francis. He was a remarkable charismatic cult figure.

And that shook me to the core that they left. But I think I was just so exhausted. I had no fight left in me. The play was not well received critically at the Royal Court. And quite honestly, at that point, I was probably thinking that everything was coming to an end. “Quadrophenia” was out, “Blue Meaning” had gone into the Top 40. My feeling was is that it? Is that it, you know, do I just let go of it?

It didn't sour the memory of the album because the album is so utterly remarkable. “IEYA” is remarkable. There's other tracks on it that are just really groundbreaking. And I think once we got the band together for “Anthem” that just flew and went through to the stratosphere, there was no looking back for quite a while after that point.

Everyone was up in arms about Hugh Cornwell (lead singer of The Stranglers) being sent to prison (after admitting to five charges of possessing drugs after getting stopped at a routine police traffic check) It affected the band, it affected their fans and we all felt that it was just not fair. So everyone stepped in, so The Stranglers could keep working and they had this show at the Rainbow (below).

Everyone was involved. Absolutely everyone. The Skids, Hazel O’Connor, Ian Dury, myself, my husband Robert Fripp was there, but I didn't meet him there at all because the whole of the backstage of the Rainbow was just completely amuck with artists' friends and family. You could hardly move. Also Keith Hale of Blood Donor was there and Keith Hale and I had this history of working together. We did some demos together during this period with me singing with Blood Donor, which was stunning. And then he came on to work with “It’s A Mystery” and other arrangements of songs.

So that was really good. I went on stage. I did “Rinaphobia” with Blood Donor who were opening for The Stranglers. And then I went back on and did “Peaches” with Ian Dury and Hazel O'Connor. And I did one other song, which I can't remember, but it was a very, very wild and exciting show. The audience were phenomenal.

Working with Blood Donor was a very mature experience. Every member of Blood Donor was just the most phenomenal musician and they were great computer programmers for the keyboards. So the sounds that they created were groundbreaking and to be in the studio with them helped pull me up to their level. It helped tighten me up as a singer. It was the most comfortable recording I ever did.

I kind of arrived in the studio on those sessions and we did Keith Hale's songs and then we did the first demos of “It’s A Mystery”. Because it was just me and Keith the experience was quite relaxing. I felt safe in Keith's hands. Keith could guide me if I was making any kind of technical mistakes, he could guide me out of those mistakes. He gave me confidence. Those were very happy sessions.

And then I think Nick Tauber just brought in the other musicians, because Blood Donor didn't want to take me on as a front woman. They knew they'd no longer be a Blood Donor. And I think that was the plan that I joined them. But the way the press behaved towards me, it would have become a Toyah band. So Nick Tauber, the producer, was forced to put another band together, but we took with us “It’s A Mystery”

With the late seventies, with the chart success of ”Blue Meaning” and also my success as an actress and getting relatively good reviews as a live singer I think we were going along with whatever we could get that just took us step by step into a higher visibility. And by that I mean the major TV channels.

So I ended up as a guest presenter on Friday Night, Saturday Morning, which for me was quietly terrifying. But up until that point I'd been a presenter on a Pebble Mill program called Look! Here! so I had some experience in front of the camera as a presenter. But with Friday Night, Saturday Morning, it was complex. The guests were quite difficult. I had Viv Stanshall who just would not answer any questions and I didn't have the confidence to be a great improviser. And this was a live show.

And then I had Steve Strange (below with Toyah), who was super cool, but wasn't kind of forthcoming with the dialogue. Derek Jarman came on and kind of saved the day and talks a lot. I did on that show, with a new band lineup, I did “Mummies” and another song possibly “Ghosts”. (NB It was "Danced") It wasn't a successful show. It had a lot of kind of eggy moments in it.

But for some reason people still look to that show as a pivotal turning point in my career. And it was a difficult experience. It was one hell of a privilege to do it and to be asked to do it, but people don't see it as a nail in the coffin. They see it as exactly the opposite, which is fascinating. So for that particular show, there was a different band lineup. It was me, Joel Bogen, I believe Keith Hale and two other musicians. So it was a transitional period

“Blue Meaning” I find a really strange album when you listen to it as a whole album. It’s really, really angry. The imagery is exploring things that I only learned when I came to London, for example on “Vision” I talk about genocide and it was because I only learned about the Holocaust when I came to London.

I was at the National Theatre, an actress called Kate Nelligan gave me a book is something like “Beyond The Darkness”, which is about the Holocaust and that's the first time I ever knew about it. I felt betrayed by my education for not telling me. And I wondered why the world never talked about this. And of course at the beginning of punk, certain bands who were wearing swastikas, which we never did because Joel was Jewish and I understood you just didn't do that.

But I was still learning what had happened to that community less than 30, 40 years ago. So I used a lot of that imagery and explored how I felt about my own mortality. So “Visions”, “She” “Blue Meaning”, “Ghosts”. It's all that youthful obsession with your own mortality. And I think you fear death more when you're young than you do at the age I am now.

And I just think that's what it's about. It's an angry young album feeling betrayed by not being given knowledge or having things hidden from you or people just treating you in certain ways. And it's astonishing in its imagery, it's boundless in its imagery and almost unfathomable.

I think “Blue Meaning” was intended as the pinnacle of our punk career. It was unapologetically aggressive, angry, violent in its imagery. And it just pushed out all the boundaries of everything we'd ever experienced and wanted to write about. It's an incredibly expressive piece of punk music that went way into the new wave and way into the gothic movement.

“IEYA” is the Toyah song. It's the one that I'll be remembered for. It is just everything that Toyah was meant to be. It started as a jam in soundchecks in 79’. And we got to the point where we were getting so many encores at gigs, we'd be up to the fourth encore and which start to have to repeat the set. So one night it was Bath, something like Bath Halls and I remember looking at Joel and Joel and I had an incredible kind of ESP.

We said, “let's do “IEYA”” and we had done it in the soundcheck. It had no form. We used to do it by shouting. “We'll go to the B section! We'll go to the A section, we'll do this!”. We just used to shout at each other where we would go to next. And Pete Bush created that dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, that's his creation. And we'd done four encores in Bath and the audience was just warming up.

They were getting really, really wild and we'd have trouble during the set because the National Front in those days used to come to venues and they'd just pick on the smallest people, the loners. They'd find the loners and try and get them to join the National Front and if they didn't want to do it, they'd beat the shit out of them. So many times we used to have stop shows, but at Bath in particular, Charlie Francis put his bass down and was going in and Joel put his guitar down, he was going in and I said "come on let's do “IEYA”!". We knew as soon as we started it, we had a riot song.

The whole room changed. The audience changed. And it was like, everything is like dah, dah, dah, they were caught in this energy of this song. 36 minutes later, they could still have taken another 36 minutes. And in this time someone called the police and the police were at the side of the stage saying “we've got to get you out of here!”. And we were led off stage through the gents (toilet), which was at the side of the stage. I was pulled out of the gents window and thrown onto a police bus. And they got us away from the venue. It was madness. 

Within “IEYA” it's about man versus God and the reversals. So if you stop believing in God, does God stop existing? And if man believes in themselves more than they do in God, do they become immortal? So it's about all of that kind of changing of roles, summoning, facing up. But it's also about the power of the vowel. “IEYA” means nothing, but it's the most perfect chant. I E Y A - you give something out to the world by just saying it. And this is what we found as soon as we started using this phrase.

So I started to use syllables as a form of emotional context. And that's what I did within this song. "Zion suberon. Necronomicon." The Necronomicon is a famous book of the dead. But again, I was using things that Giger had had used and picking up on those.

So it was a very much a performance piece where the voice was emotional content and the actual words I used were imagery words “I'm the beast. I'm the shiny beast” meaning that I'm just getting light out and I'm becoming God. So it was all of that. I just love the idea of God. I love the idea of the binary system of good and bad. It's such an easy thing to write with.

The one thing we did as a band brilliantly was intensity. We did light and shade brilliantly. We were always working with dynamics, building something, or taking it down, then building it up. So in the studio building those kinds of dynamics, you just do it through repetition and layering. That actually happened very, very easily. It was a very organic process to get that backing track down.

On “IEYA” to get the backing track down it was fine because just Pete Bushe's keyboards - it’s intense. If you look at the music to “Jaws”, if you look at the music to the film “Halloween”, it only takes three or four notes. I mean, “Jaws” is three notes, “Halloween” it extends it more, but you create tension by using less and repetitiveness and it just worked. It really worked.

And then you give Steve Bray a drum kit, and he's going to come up with drama. So it was relatively easy to build the sonic picture. It was finishing it off that was really hard. So we'd get so far and then I had to just kind deal with writer's block because I felt so pressurised of being in the studio, but it did eventually happen.

Also if people look after me, I go soft and this is why I'm always alone. I travel alone. I'm at gigs alone. If I go soft, there'll be no creativity. And here we are in this wonderful residential recording studio, where people were feeding us, shopping for us, doing everything for us. I went soft! So it needed some tension to happen. And we all went bonkers on that session.

I can’t fully fathom why “IEYA” has such a connection with the fans because it's one of those songs that appeared from nowhere. Sometimes songs appear from … you just cannot explain where they came from and this is one of those songs. And it has such an effect on people. Again, you can't explain why. There's so much emotional power in performing it and playing it that I think that transcends into the audience experience. That we have to go somewhere, like a marathon runner to perform it I think transcends the song into the other body.

So it's just utterly bizarre. I suppose it's a song of victory and exuberance. It's a song of not giving up. It's a relentless chant. It's a song of empowerment. It's a song that says that you can try to hold me down all you want, but with my belief and my will I am going to transcend into something better. I just think it's possibly that.

“Spaced Walking” was me, Steve James, Keith Hale in the studio with a canister of helium gas. We were definitely on the wacky backy. I think we were in the Marquee Studios. We were crying with laughter all night. And I think it came from my boyfriend at the time Jem Howard had a balloon and he was breathing it in and he was talking (does a helium voice) “like that, really high voice”. And I said, “Oooh! Can I try that for singing?” So we did the balloon and we just didn't have enough helium. So we ordered in a tank of helium, not knowing that it could kill me working that way.

We would just … it was like light relief after recording most of “Blue Meaning”. And they put me in the vocal booth with the canister of helium. And I think it was Jem or Keith had a spanner and they kept opening the canister. And I’d just go (makes a sucking noise) and just improvising the lyric. It was just so stupid and so out there and very “Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy”, which definitely was running at the time, that we thought we'd use it. We'd keep it. A bit of light relief on a very heavy album.

“Floating down the Orinoco” … I was thinking of absolutely everything that was silly and I improvised it on the spot. So I had to kind of come up with very quick rhyming couplets. So it is very nursery rhyme, but nursery rhymes are so powerful. They're such evil things. They reflect really evil times. “Ring a Ring o' Roses” is dying from the Great Plague. Everything about a nursery rhyme has a really bad beginning. So I think to use that kind of couplet technique is very powerful.

(“Ghost” plays) It’s a fun song. It's a song that came late in the “Blue Meaning” sessions and it was a joy to hear this riff and to hear Joel's work and it was just light relief. After the really heavy experience of recording “She”, “Blue Meaning” and “IEYA” … “Ghost” for me was very much about the experience of walking into a room of London elite.

And when I started working with Derek Jarman I was an unknown and I was put straight into the London punk elite and I'd end up in a room with The Clash, with Adam Ant, with The Slits. I think Siouxise Sioux would have been around. There'd be Andrew Logan. And I was nobody. And it was like being a ghost. No one knew what to say to me. No one knew who I was or how to kind of converse with me. And I often felt that I was invisible in these environments.

So “Ghosts” is very much (sings) “we three here we are, two as one walk into a room as ghosts” … You're just not there. You can do anything you want. Nobody's going to see you. So it was that kind of commentary on not being viable within that kind of elite structure, but also it's a bloody great fun piece to write because it was light relief. It was up. It's a very poppy tune. It's a very clever tune from Joel and the team. And it was a joy to do after having quite heavy sessions on everything else.

When we were doing the sessions, we actually felt it might've been a bit too pop. I think we were a little self-conscious about “Ghosts” just being too accessible. So Pete Bush created these church organs. Now, Pete Bush comes from a Christian family, he played church organs. So he put the church organ down and it was absolutely wonderful.

And then Steve James and I started to want to experiment with backward vocals, which we tried on “IEYA”, which probably made the recording of “IEYA” torturous because we couldn't get anything to fit but at the end of “Ghost” it was fine. I actually tried it speaking backwards. So that is actually me having recorded it the right way, turning the tape round, playing it backwards, and me learning to say it (babbless backwards) So that was me actually saying it in real time. And it was funny. It was just lovely. Steve James allowed us to do all of these things.

“Victims Of The Riddle” didn’t cover the mummies of Guanajuato. All it covered was that I used one of the mummies on the cover of “Victims Of The Riddle”. So it caused a stir as to why I was using dead bodies in artwork. And I think the mummies of Guanajuato is kind of me referencing where it came from. I wasn't kind of exploiting someone's death. So this is quite a rare book. "Mummies of Guanajuato" with a story by Ray Bradbury, phenomenal science fiction writer.

So I got this book in ‘78 and it fascinated me because it's not only the writing of Ray Bradbury, but it's also about a museum in Mexico, in Guanajuato where gangs ... I mean, you're talking about the late 1700’s, which is murdering families and putting them on stakes on the boundary line of the town to keep away bandits, other kinds of thieves, criminals, competitors, business competitors.

So the "Mummies" (of Guanajuato) is actually one of my many songs that favours giving life rather than taking life. And the perspective of this song is we need to be heard. Our stories need to be heard. “We are the mummies, we're in glass cages. You watch us, you look at us, you travel the world to see us. Now hear us.” So it's one of those songs about trying to give justice to what happened to them. It's not that political as "justice for the mummies", but it is talking about the nature of their death, which were violent deaths and them still having a story to tell.

In ‘79 ,‘80, there was so much going on in London about dehumanizing the London population. Huge high rises were going up to deal with people needing homes and all of that. But these were blocks. These were not comfortable looking places. I think they're now heritage places, but at the time there was a lot of anger about humans being huddled into a tight space and “Blue Meaning” is partly my reflection on the industrial revolution, which is very strongly reflected in J R R Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings”. Mordor is about the industrial revolution within Wallsal, the Black Country, all of that.

So I'm a Birmingham girl so I've grown up knowing in my very, very tender years what smog is like. And I think “Blue Meaning” for me is just about the industrialization of the human race. Using the images of factories of mass production, of kind of grime, dirt, of the flesh is a product rather than an individual person with a right. The human has become a product within the “Blue Meaning”

I would say that “Blue Meaning” has absolutely no influences other than writers. I was heavily heavily into J R R Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Asimov, I just adored science fiction. So it's a very wordy song at a time where songs weren't wordy. So if anyone influenced it, it might've been Marianne Faithfull from “Broken English”, which she recorded the vocals (for) over a period of 48 hours and they’re very complex vocals on that album so she would have influenced me. We were bound to be managed by the same manager. I think that "Blue Meaning” is a storytelling song and there was no other real influences from the punk movement for that song at all. It was just me telling a very bleak story

With “Tiger Tiger” I wanted to write something that was uplifting and I use the image of the tiger because it's a rare animal that kills. That's all it can do, it's just made to kill and its rarity makes it precious and it is going to be killed. So I love William Blake. I love the poem and I just wanted to use something really rhythmic that I could perform on stage and “Blue Meaning” was very much an album that was written knowing we were going to have to perform it live on stage. 

So (sings) “tiger, tiger, burning bright” … this gorgeous drum from Steve Bray and the most stunning bass playing from Charlie Francis. I just wanted something that was relentless. And for me it was about feeling powerless as fame was coming on, fame was taking over. I was becoming a persona and no longer being a person.

And I was having to come up with things that fed the fame and “Tiger Tiger” was very much about here is an indigenous and dangered species who needs to experience life to be what it is. And ironically my fame was taking me away from what I needed to be inspired by. So (sings) “tiger, tiger, burning bright”. It was like I'm still a killer. Let me do what I'm born to do. It's a wonderful, wonderful song. And I loved recording it. And that came later in the sessions and it was just such a joy when the band came up with this riff, I thought, yeah, it frees me from the confines of all the darkness of “Blue Meaning” which was just so dark.

We very rarely performed it live. It was a great track to perform live but it kind of was so drum heavy and my vocals, I think, are better if they skip over it. I think we started to do it less and less and I've even tried it in recent days to do, but it's definitely a song I could re-visit.

“Visions” is very much about discovering the truth of the Holocaust and just wondering how any one human being could ever feel they had the power to govern so many people to do what they did to another race. It's a song of extreme anger. It's also a pop song. It goes into really great pop feels. And my feeling was that to put such heavy lyrics and heavy imagery into the pop sections of this song really made the impact of the message harder.

So it's a song about learning about things that have happened to mankind that are so disgusting and so wrong that how could the world allow it to happen? It's just for me a real punk song. It really does say if we are going to be revolutionaries and change the world that will never happen again. And of course it is everywhere. It's going on more now than ever. So it is a song that underlines history. It says this has happened. That's happened. Is it right for an individual to think that way? Is it right for an individual to tell you to think that way? It is about a dystopian future and the potential for a dystopian future. 

With the punk movement we felt and I definitely felt as a punk rocker that I could tread a territory I do not want to go near today. There was no political correctness within punk, other than you did not wear swastikas. That political correctness grew. We policed each other over that by education. And all of that stopped pretty quickly.

So as a writer, in those moments, I still wanted shock effects. So I was writing things for the kind of influence of shock. To shock people, to shock people who weren't punk rockers, shock the middle-class, the upper classes, shock the teachers, just shock them but I just wouldn't work that way today. Having looked at the lyrics recently I'm pretty uncomfortable about them. And I have to own up and say, well, I wrote this because I was saying this just should never happen.

“Insects” was a very important song to me as a woman to write as my fame grew. And we were playing relatively small venues without crash barriers and low stages. I was being touched inappropriately quite a lot by the front row. The hands were firmly on my breasts and some were between my legs and the audience did start to police themselves over that, especially when hands went between my legs and that slowly started to iron itself out.

But as I started to become voted as the “sexiest woman in pop” and all these polls started to happen and my kind of stature as a sex symbol was growing, the groping got worse and worse and I didn't have security with me in the early days. And “Insects” kind of came out of this relentless groping.

I love my fans and had respect for them and they were following me everywhere and I would not be who and what I am today without those fans and certainly not back then, but the groping I just didn't understand. It went beyond the pale. It was what you'd expect from a one-on-one relationship with a new lover in your life. I had hundreds of people doing it to me live on the stage while I was singing. So “Insects” is very much about being taken over the way an ant or ants would take over another insect and just bully it into submission. So it was that was kind of the subject matter

Well, Steve James, and I had great fun on “Blue Meaning” creating sounds and loops. We just loved doing it. So that (makes a biting sound) became a loop and “bite”!, just the word “bite”, just layered and layered. And we had something called a space machine, which was a loop. And if you kept looping it, we just kept keep recording track on track on track until it started to feed back on itself.

So the word “Bite! Bite!”, going along with the drums, which were just so powerful, we could create this kind of fantasy of sound. I think “Blue Meaning” is particularly inventive in that way. We just loved creating the drama within the song. So the songs are all really storytelling on this album. They're very, very descriptive and they are about images.

I think with “Love Me” where I was coming from at that exact moment in time was deliberately being contradictory and ironic. So I wanted the audience's love. I desperately wanted the respect that other artists were getting but at the same time I just wanted distance as well. So it's all contradictory. But I think it's about that thing of becoming so accessible and so needed by your audience that you're not only loved - you are obsessed about and at what point does that love become obsession? And what point does that love become abusive?

And we were in many environments where everything just went over the mark of respect. So “Love Me” was me being provocative with the audience and contradictory and contrary with the audience. But I think above all it was deep irony that here I was wanting your love, wanting you there, needing you there, but at the same time, trying to control it which was impossible. When you're on the brink of that level of fame, you can't control anything.

With “She” I can definitely reference Marianne Faithfull's “Broken English” with a song written by Heathcote Williams called “Why Did You Do It?” And I was able to talk to Heathcote about this song he wrote and it was his girlfriend's perspective on him being unfaithful to her. It’s an incredibly brilliant song and for Marianne to perform it absolutely knocked me flat with admiration.

It's a stunning song and it opened a window of perception for me and I read the "Story of O” which I found a little bit boring, but it's a story of S & M and being submissive. And “She” is very much a kind of colligation of my upbringing where I was told everything about being a woman was dirty and wrong. Every choice I made was wrong. I didn't have the right to make that choice where even starting to have periods was wrong and unclean.

I think “She” is a mass confusion of femininity about who and what is being a woman? If a woman is a secondary creature to a man, if a woman is unclean because she has periods. If a woman is considered a termagant if she has strong opinions. Everything about women back then was wrong unless they were silent, pretty and sexual.

So I think it's a very, very strong gothic song, brilliantly played and created by the band about femininity and all its contradictions, how the world just throws the shit at women. The lyrics are just spitting it out! Everything! It's all domination, it’s all about shame. It's all about making someone feel diminished. And it just all came out. That is probably one of the angriest songs I have ever written.

Record Reviews
The album in Official Toyah
Stream the album on Spotify
The album in her words in 2000
See alternative versions of the album in Discogs


Post a Comment

<< Home