I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan 6: The Space Between The Sounds

Ironically 1984 would see less Toyah than I'd ever had for a very long time. I was hoping that her release from the five year contract with erstwhile record label Safari and signing to Portrait Records would result in more music quite soon - after all she'd been releasing albums at a rate of one or two a year since 1979, surely any record label worth its salt would be keen to take their new signing for a spin around the charts? If nothing else I felt it was high time that the music journalists gave her another chance; by the close of play in 1983 virtually everyone in the music press had their knives out for her, even Smash Hits.

This was a problem. As self-styled arbiters of coolness, the music papers often dictated what people "should" like, meaning that in an attempt to appear with-it people would stop liking whatever it was that the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds had decided was on the way out at the moment, whatever its merits. If enough people stopped liking it, the popularity would fall in real terms and the music papers would congratulate themselves on having the foresight to predict such falls from grace whereas in fact a lot of the time they'd caused them. Sometimes bands managed to achieve longevity by exploiting the rivalry between the publications (were you an NME band or a Melody Maker band?) but even so music journalists wielded a lot of power back in those days. Or so it seemed to me at the time.

Perhaps a new album from Toyah on a new label would help the magazines and weeklies see past their what's hot and what's not attitude? Unfortunately, as it turned out, aside from the K-Tel compilation LP, there'd be no music from Toyah at all in 1984. Quite what her new record label was playing at I had no idea, but in the meantime I'd have to find something else to listen to.

I was in the right place for it. I was a first year undergraduate at a university where they still put numerous bands on and where there was a flourishing student radio station which I got involved with straight away, although it should be noted that I didn't just bore my listeners with two hours of non-stop Toyah. For a little while now my tastes had been drifting away from what was in the Top 40 and I'd been experimenting with alternative bands and their records. Liking Soft Cell had certainly helped - their unconventional approach, dark themes and artistic side projects had exposed me to such bands as their labelmates The The and Foetus.

The bands playing at the university - from Killing Joke to Spear of Destiny via China Crisis and Amazulu - helped broaden my horizons, as did the musical tastes of my neighbours in York House hall of residence. I taped my copy of The The's Soul Mining for them and they reciprocated with stuff like Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division and the original incarnation of Ultravox.

And there was new music coming along all the time as well. One band we all started to get excited about were The Smiths. They'd been on Top of the Pops in recent months; their lead singer was fascinating - a bizarre bequiffed gangling geek in NHS specs who was a million miles from both the recently departed New Romantic icons and the dull blue denim pop stars who'd taken their place. Me and my fellow York Housers all bought tickets for their gig down the road at Brighton Polytechnic. The band's debut album came out only a week beforehand, so we all had to spend hours listening to it in order to familiarise ourselves with the songs (even so they threw a couple of unfamiliar numbers into the mix including one rather amusingly called Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now).The gig itself was great. At the end the people running the Polytechnic told the band that they had to stop playing as their allotted time was up. The band refused and came back on for several more encores even though the house lights were now up. Remembering my regrets at not documenting the Toyah gigs the previous autumn, I'd borrowed a camera and took some pictures. A few of them even came out.

I was surprised but very pleased when Toyah wrote to me again at university - this time out of the blue and not in response to anything I'd sent her. I bought a wonderful crystal ball the other day, she wrote, it weighs a ton. Some of the girls have started following the Eurythmics a lot thank god, it gives me some peace and quiet for a change!

It was true. In the absence of Toyah gigs or even any appearances at TV or Radio studios outside which we could wait some of the girls - mainly Linda, Alison and Abi and occasionally Hayley had taken to going to as many dates on the Touch tour as they could manage and getting to know Annie Lennox into the bargain. I had yet to find a full time distraction to occupy me during Toyah's sabbatical. The Smiths were good but gave off a bit of an aloof aura, and besides they were all men. In my mind a band could only really be interesting if there were women involved in some way.

It wasn't long before I found another band to like. The previous December The Tube had screened a Hull music special. A filmed segment had presenter Jools Holland using a public urinal whilst uttering the cryptic words "...maybe I'll be lucky enough to see Indians in Moscow?" What did this mean? Was it an expression meaning something very unlikely?

No, it meant this. Indians in Moscow were a synth-punk band fronted by Adele, a crazy looking girl with tangled blond hair and a line in darkly humorous lyrics. Pete and Stuart provided the synthesised accompaniment and even the drums bashed by Rich were electronic.

I liked the video and had already bought the single when one afternoon in early 1984 I popped into the student radio station only to find a poster and a couple of records on the table. It turned out the band had been there only ten minutes before hoping to drum up an audience for their show that evening at The Ship in Lewes Road. That was just down the road (almost opposite where I'd seen The Smiths) so I popped down there on the bus.

It was a great show, all of the other songs just as memorable and quirky as Naughty Miranda. I was pleased to hear that they were going to be playing the following night as well at The Old Vic in town. The next day when I turned up, one of the first people I saw was singer Adele sitting at the bar. Despite my natural shyness I struck up a conversation with her and we spent the whole of the rest of the evening talking (aside from the time she was actually performing onstage).

My adventures with Indians in Moscow are worthy of a whole memoir themselves, despite the fact that they lasted barely eight months - the band split up at the end of August. I came out of this time with more exposure to travelling around the country to see a band play (this time hitch-hiking a lot of the way), further insight into the machinations of the music industry and (perhaps most important of all in retrospect) the experience running the band's fan club. I also knew some of my fellow Angels and Demons a lot better, as Bob, Lee and Kev had all joined me in following the band around the country and almost all of the rest of the ensemble had been to at least one of the London gigs at some point. I'd also settled on one of my signature "looks" during the time, having gone from the awkward-schoolboy-with-clumsily-dyed-black hair to the spiky peroxide Billy Idol-ish "do". I felt a lot better for it.

Finally Toyah reappeared on our radar. She was appearing on Pop Quiz at the BBC Television Centre, so we duly trouped along to White City and hung around outside the gates. Eventually she turned up in a car with Tom and Kate... and with blue hair. This was a first. We didn't have tickets for the show this time so had to watch it on TV. Amongst her co-stars on this occasion were Paul Young, Drummie Zeb and Gary Glitter.

It was good to see her again, albeit briefly. Despite my dalliance with other bands she still held pride of place in my mind.

1984 rumbled on and the pop charts quaked at the onslaught of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. My own two tribes of University friends plus Angels and Demons collided on one memorable occasion when the latter came down to stay with me for one night. Rosie, the girl in the room next to mine in York House, never spoke to me again.

My second university year began in October 1984 when I moved out of halls and into shared flat in Portland Road in Hove, my flatmates four girls. This meant that my Toyah posters drew sharp criticism from the various associated boyfriends who frequented the flat over the year flexing their cool, but I seem to remember quite a crowd in front of the TV when The Ebony Tower was finally broadcast.

Christmas came and with it another appearance on Pop Quiz, on this occasion held at the TV Theatre in Shepherds Bush Green. We had tickets now so after seeing Toyah on arrival (her hair now in short orange spikes) we all watched the show from seats somewhere near the back. This time Toyah shared the show with such luminaries as Meatloaf, Noddy Holder, Nasher from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Roger Taylor from Queen and Green Gartside. It was all rather cheesy to be honest, but afterwards we all gathered in the alleyway to say hi to Toyah.

It felt a long way from the previous Christmas at the Marquee - the Eighties had so much more time in them than modern decades. Toyah seemed genuinely pleased to see us and stayed chatting for a while despite the cold. I'd entered a proto-goth phase, my short spiky hair now black, and I'd acquired a second hand leather jacket. It was obviously a look that worked at the time, because as she left, Toyah remarked, "Doesn't Chris Limb look hunky!"

Perhaps the word "hunky" wasn't the one I'd have chosen but even so - it was a marvellous Christmas present.

Next time...

"Tomorrow's a memory we finally receive". Toyah finally returns to the fray with a new album that isn't entirely to everyone's taste...


Popular posts from this blog

Talking shit

The Invisible Sign

The Most Effectual Top Cat