"Sorry mate."

I was talking to Grant on the phone. Apparently the photos hadn't come out, it had been too dark and he hadn't used a flash bulb. A shame, but never mind. I had discovered a new purpose.

Meeting Toyah.

After all, how difficult could it be? I just needed to keep my ear to the airwaves listening out for any TV or radio appearances, plus there were the summer gigs coming up...

Back in 1982 no-one talked about "stalkers" but even if they had I'd have been shocked and insulted at any suggestion that I was turning into one. I was just going along to public places she'd be and saying hello. Maybe next time I'd actually remember to bring something along to be signed.

I discovered that I wasn't alone. The next opportunities to present themselves were the four (count 'em) sell out shows at the Hammersmith Odeon which would be recorded and turned into Warrior Rock, one of the later - and one of the finest - examples of that now lost art form, the Double Live Album. Turning up at the stage door with a carrier bag full of album sleeves and a borrowed camera, I was perturbed at the number of other people who'd obviously had the same idea as me. How dare they? This was my plan.

Any disappointment I might have felt was dispelled at the sight of a white VW Golf pulling up the access road beside the Odeon, a familiar pink haired figure in the passenger seat. My heartbeat increased, I got my camera ready.

She'd come down with laryngitis and was resting her voice in preparation for the show that evening, but this didn't seem to have brought her down at all. If anything she seemed in a more mischievous mood, clowning about and ignoring Tom's protestations that she go inside, instead making sure that everyone who wanted something autographed got it.

I wanted to hang around for her after the show as well. The access road was now crowded with fans who'd just experienced a huge and impressive live show; the night felt electric and exciting. Eventually the word got around (although whether this was true or misdirection I never found out) that Toyah had left by another exit. I made my way to Hammersmith station only to discover that the tubes had finished running for the night.

I hadn't heard of night buses and even if I had would have had no idea from where to catch one; besides, the network was probably a lot less comprehensive in those days. I was going to have to walk home.

I knew the general direction in which I wanted to go and set off down Hammersmith Road which eventually turned into Kensington High Street. Hyde Park came into view and I made my way along its southern border. At Hyde Park corner I made an error of judgement and rather than heading up to Marble Arch towards Oxford Street I took the route that took me past the walls of Buckingham Palace (where a policeman asked to look at my signed album sleeves) and eventually Parliament Square where the face of Big Ben beamed down like a vast, close moon. North to Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road, Tottenham Court Road across Euston Road and into Camden. Kentish Town, Tufnell Park and Archway.  Highgate.

I was on the home stretch. I could have taken a short cut through the woods, but considered that it might be a bit scary at this time of night. Instead I decided to walk along Muswell Hill Road and down Cranley Gardens to number 131 where we lived. Ironically this was the place I was in the most danger although I didn't realise it at the time. At 23 Cranley Gardens lived a certain serial killer named  Dennis Nilsen who at the time had already killed 13 young men whom he used to lure back to his place at night. Even as I walked past the house that night the dismembered corpse of his thirteenth victim was slowly decomposing within.

However, what you don't know can't scare you.  I was lucky and made it back home in one piece at around four in the morning having walked twelve miles.

This ordeal didn't put me off even remotely. I waited impatiently for my pictures to come back from the developers (can you believe we used to live like that?) and when they did come back they were mostly blurred. I didn't mind. There would be more opportunities.

I sent drawings into the fan club but never had anything printed. I sent off for an enamel badge bearing the Toyah logo. Classy. Next time I'd get someone to take a picture of me with her.

Next time turned out to be early September in front of BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place following an  appearance on Radio One's "Studio B15" show. When I arrived there were a handful of fans, but nowhere near as many as there had been at the Hammersmith Odeon.  I got chatting to a young boy who, despite his size and delicacy was acting like a bit of a tearaway. Nevertheless, he said he'd take a picture of me with his camera and post it to me.

The white VW Golf was parked outside.  I impressed people by telling them that this was Toyah's car. "I thought she'd have a Rolls Royce!" someone said.

"Do you fancy her?" a girl who seemed to be a friend of the boy I'd been talking to asked. I was confused; it seemed a bit of a non-sequitur. However, I assumed that as we'd been talking about Toyah that was who she meant. I told her yes.

My confusion was forgotten when Toyah appeared. The pink hair had been replaced by orange. There were too many people around to say more than just hello, but I managed get in shot a couple of times for the boy to take a couple of pictures.  It was all over so quickly though and before I knew it the VW Golf was pulling away into the West End traffic. There was a little more excitement in the crowd when Kid Jensen emerged, but I couldn't see the appeal myself. I didn't like Toyah just cause she'd been on the telly. It was more than that.

It took a couple of weeks for my photos to arrive accompanied by a terse note signed "Maria". Ah. I see. Oops.

A chance remark by a teacher whilst I'd been at primary school had led to the expectation that I'd "make Oxbridge one day" so against my will I returned to school for one last term in September 1982. It was marginally more bearable now that a lot of the Fuckers had departed.  I'd like to think that they ended up as dustmen but knowing my luck some of them are probably the CEOs of multinationals by now.

Well of course I didn't get into Cambridge.  The very idea.  Despite some of the teachers' delusional belief that I was clever, years of expert mental and physical abuse from the Fuckers and their colleagues the Wankers and the Cunts had left me unable to concentrate on anything at school.  I wasn't even remotely interested in Biology. It remains a mystery to me how I got offered places at both York and Sussex.

I didn't turn up to school on the last day. What were they going to do about it? Instead I got the tube into Central London.  Toyah was doing  a gig at the Lyceum; I hadn't bought a ticket, but that didn't stop me turning up to say hello.  Maybe get my photo taken with her again.  It felt like the perfect way of celebrating not having to go back to that place any more. Ever.

Since I'd last met her there'd been a new single out, "Be Proud Be Loud Be Heard" in the photos for which her hair had been styled in an interesting multi-bunched do. One of the first things I saw when I arrived at the stage door in Burleigh Street was a girl sporting an imitation of that look, one of a handful of people loitering.  Buoyed up by the happiness I still felt at not having to go to school any more I plucked up the courage to ask this girl whether Toyah had arrived yet, and we fell into conversation.

Her name was Hayley, and we seemed to hit it off straight away. Our enthusiasm for Toyah and all things Willcoxian was closely matched and seemed to offer an instant bond - a shortcut to friendship. She had a camera and said she'd take a couple of pictures of me with Toyah if I reciprocated. I was happy to agree and we exchanged addresses. Hayley was surprised that I wasn't actually going to the gig, but I told her I was going to the one  about a week later at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Toyah arrived with Tom. Hayley and I got our photos taken (Tom telling me to "keep your hands to yourself" - as if I'd have dared do anything else) and chatted briefly with Toyah. Our time was curtailed somewhat by her abrupt disappearance thanks to a creepy older man with a satchel who started trying to tell about the poems he'd written about her and about how he was sure he'd known her in a past life. If I was her I'd have disappeared too.

I really wanted to go to the gig, but I couldn't.  A week later when I turned up at the Shaftesbury it was very crowded and by the time I'd arrived Toyah was already inside. Still, the gig was fantastic and I was right at the front, elbows on the stage.  Afterwards the atmosphere in the alleyway outside the stage door was intoxicating, a light-hearted riot with more audacious fans climbing the fire escape ladder and tapping on the dressing room window.  I felt as if I was part of something new, bold and exciting.

Shame the gig got such a slating in the music press.  Even Smash Hits seemed to have turned against her by now. Perhaps it was the end of an era but even though I didn't know it at the time an even more exciting era was about to begin.

As 1982 ended I had no idea that 1983 would change everything forever...


3 comments

  1. Sulci Collective  

    Wonderful post Chris!

    I came to Toyah after seeing her and the band perform as part of the plot of a TV detective show - I think it was "Shoestring" and they performed "Danced" - of course Toyah was both actress as well as musician.

    I scratched my first copy of "Sheep Farming" quite soon after purchase and went out and bought it again. Not many albums I'd have done that for. But I haven't heard her stuff for years and don't have her on digital.

    marc nash

  2. Chris  

    Marc - thanks, glad you enjoyed it so much.

    If you have a look at part one of this memoir you'll see we both discovered Toyah at the same time (Shoestring). Worth revisiting Sheep Farming by investing in a CD in my humble opinion, plus checking this out: http://bit.ly/toyah (single my band recorded with her in 2001)

    cheers
    Chris

  3. Sulci Collective  

    you got to record with a hero of yours? How good is that?

Post a Comment