I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan 7: World in Action

I didn't like what I was hearing.

I was speaking to fellow Angel and Demon Bob on a payphone in a corridor at The Portland pub in Portland Road, Hove in spring 1985. He'd just played me Toyah's new single down the phone.

I didn't like it.

It was the chorus that did it. It sounded too poppy, too commercial. Too major key. The verses were OK. But the chorus... It was the kind of chorus I could have imagined Cyndi Lauper having in one of her songs and that didn't sit well with me. Bob and I spoke in hushed tones, it felt like the end of the world.  Listening to us, anyone would have thought that somebody had just died.

Whilst a lot of this extreme reaction was due to the glossy production and "chart hit" nature of the song, I'm sure part of it was down to a change in my own taste as well. I was now coming up for two years at university, two years out on my own, and had been exposed to a vast range of diverse influences.  In those days Sussex University had not one but two music venues on campus. Aside from the Mandela Hall where the larger bands played, student union building Falmer House also contained The Crypt, a small nightclub where not only had I DJed a couple of times but also had I seen such acts as Porky the Poet and Attila the Stockbroker not to mention Captain Sensible putting in a cameo appearance when Dolly Mixture played. In town were the Zap Club (where amongst others I'd watched Bone Orchard, NON and Tools You Can Trust) and The Escape where I'd seen Flesh for Lulu.

Positive Punk was now Goth and I was probably becoming a bit of a musical snob. Nevertheless, Don't Fall In Love, as the single was called,  was extremely polished and commercial, probably the most blatantly poppy thing Toyah had ever done.

Well of course I still bought it. On both seven and twelve inch in vinyl, plus poster sleeve.  I drew solace from the fact that the extra track on the twelve inch, Kiss the Devil, sounded a bit more like the Toyah of old. The thing was despite that fact that on the whole most of our little group weren't at all keen on this single, we were still loyal fans and fully prepared to support her in whatever endeavours she got involved in. Besides, this was the first single she'd released for nearly eighteen months. We all bought it and decided that we'd definitely still be turning up to say hello where we could at any TV shows she might appear on to promote it.

I'd taken it quite personally that she hadn't been on Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas back in December. Quite apart the charity single's important and historic purpose it had almost seemed like a party for all those early eighties bands with almost everyone who was anyone taking part. Why hadn't Bob Geldof asked Toyah to join in?

I didn't know it at the time, but apparently he had asked her and furthermore she'd been keen to take part. However, for reasons known only to themselves her management at the time had made a monumental error of judgement and said that they didn't want her involved in charity work.

The album Minx that followed Don't Fall in Love also felt like a bit of an error of judgement. Eddie called to say that he'd managed to get hold of an advance copy at  the Record and Tape Exchange in Notting Hill; needless to say me and a couple of others piled round to his place in double quick time to listen to it.

"It could have been worse."

Eddie's opinion reflected what some of us were feeling. Whilst containing some examples of what we thought were yet more glossy commodity-pop songs (including an ill advised cover of School's Out), the album was more than just a collection of Don't Fall In Love clones. Nevertheless, it didn't quite feel like Toyah. It seemed to me like some Major Label Suit's idea of Toyah, punk woman as business asset. The large number of cover versions included seemed to indicate a shift in attitude towards the albums, moving away from the idea of them as entities in themselves, individual works of art from the mind of Willcox, and towards the idea of them as marketable product.

Looking back I was somehow managing to be simultaneously naive and cynical. All record companies (indie cachet notwithstanding) operated like that and just because I didn't like the album, it didn't necessarily follow that it was all an Evil Plan masterminded by Major Label Man.

We were devoted fans though and so kept the faith.  I was still in correspondence with Toyah even if I was (probably) sending her far more letters than she had time to reply to.  For some reason I'd got the idea into my head that I wanted to be a comic book artist and decided that my first attempt would be The New Adventures of Toyah; her career re-imagined as that of a 21st century superhero in the year 2085...

Finally there was news of something she was appearing at that we could go along to. Pebble Mill at One. It was in Birmingham which was a fair old distance, but even so I hoped to make it on time.  As it turned out I was a little late and ended up being absent from something important. I knew I was probably going to miss the recording of the show itself, that much was clear. However, we hadn't been expecting to get in anyway and whilst it might have been nice to see Toyah arrive, getting from Brighton to Birmingham New Street in time for noon just wasn't going to happen on my temporal budget.

I rolled up at Pebble Mill just in time to see Toyah emerge from the studios. When she saw me her jaw dropped and she looked shocked.

"Oh no! Chris! Where were you? You missed it!"

It turned out that she'd recorded a special video for Don't Fall In Love outside Pebble Mill and had asked for the Angels and Demons to be included in it where they'd taken pride of place in the end sequence. I was gutted. This was the second time I'd seriously missed out (the first being the Love is the Law backing vocals two years previously). I think my disappointment must have showed on my face as Toyah did pay me a lot of attention in the few minutes before she had to depart. I'd brought along a copy of the initial pages of my comic which I gave to her. A small consolation prize was the fact that a photographer covering her appearance for the local paper used a snap which featured me prominently to illustrate the short item.

The academic year over, I was temporarily back in London for the summer and planning to go and visit Bob to watch Live Aid on TV. When I spoke to him on the phone a week or so before he had some exciting news. Apparently Toyah's old record label Safari had released an album of old material from the vaults, Mayhem. Bob sounded excited, I certainly was. It was  dream come true, the kind of thing we'd fantasised about, the fabled old days within our reach once more.

Needless to say, the first thing I wanted to do when I got to Bob's house was listen to it.

"What?" he seemed surprised," You didn't fall for that did you? I was joking. Come on, as if that was ever going to happen..."

I didn't know what to say and felt a crushing disappointment. We watched TV in silence for ten minutes, but I couldn't really concentrate on what was on the screen. Bob jumped up.

"Come on, do you want to listen to Mayhem then?"

Ah, a double bluff. I had indeed fallen for it. Luckily I was too excited to be annoyed.

My presence in London for a couple of months meant that at least I'd be more conveniently placed should Toyah make any more appearances to promote Minx and the singles that followed. One thing I'd noticed was that Tom no longer seemed to be in attendance when she did - a lot of the time she seemed to turn up only accompanied by Kate.  Perhaps they felt she no longer needed a bodyguard per se and that it was easier for E'G Management to pay for a driver.  So it was when I met Toyah by accident one afternoon in the West End.

I was also into Marc Almond whose solo career was now taking off after the demise of Soft Cell, and sometimes used to hang out with some of his fans - there was a little bit of crossover between the Angels and Demons and Marc's fans the Gutterhearts, even if the latter were more numerous. One afternoon one of them - Sam I think his name was - said that he'd heard that Morrissey was appearing on Radio One that evening and did we want to go up there and meet him?

I certainly did.  I thought the recently released Meat is Murder was fantastic and it had probably been instrumental in my recent conversion to vegetarianism. So it was that Sam, another boy and myself trouped up Regent Street to Portland Place to wait outside BBC Broadcasting House.

There didn't seem to be that many Smiths fans around, just two girls. Unusually we were permitted to wait inside reception and it was whilst sitting there that I spied Toyah and Kate emerge from the interior of the building.

"What are you doing here?" I asked as I jumped up and scurried over to them. Toyah looked round.

"What are you doing here?" she replied. I explained about Morrissey, and she revealed that she shared my admiration for Meat is Murder.

"I think they're going to be the biggest band in the world," she said, "Tell him I love the album, even though he'll probably just say piss off..." Sam and the others got Toyah's autograph and took a couple of pictures before she left.

"Why have you got such a big grin on your face?" one of the girls asked me.

Morrissey didn't show up.

I was to return to Broadcasting House again later that year in the company of the Angels and Demons as Toyah made a couple of appearances on Roundtable.  On one of these occasions whilst waiting outside I spotted a couple of my friends in the distance as they rounded All Soul's Church. I waved at them.  I hadn't seen Paul Gambaccini between me and them, but for some reason he thought I was waving at him and waved back. I felt obscurely embarrassed. I'm not sure why. I knew I was waving at my friends. He thought I was waving at him and seemed happy with that. Where's the embarrassment there? Nowhere as far as I can tell. However, I've always had a uneasy relationship with embarrassment and as a result have never forgiven Gambo for it.

1985 moved on into autumn and I returned to university for my final year, moving into a flat in Goldstone Road, Hove.  Toyah didn't seem to be around much. The third single from Minx had failed to dent the Top 40, and the tour we'd all been looking forward to didn't materialise.

One morning in a newsagent the cover of The Sun newspaper caught my eye. It was the headline that did it.

Toyah jilts her lover Tom.

Next time...

1986: In the final installment of this memoir, the Toyah universe changes shape...


Popular posts from this blog

Talking shit

The Invisible Sign

Which Universe Are We In Again?