In The Arms Of The Law

The increasingly extraordinary Adam Sweeting tackles the several personalities of the small but determined Toyah. 

I'd never met Toyah before, and I was wondering which one I might find. Would it be Miranda from "The Tempest", the fierce female wrestler from "Trafford Tanzi", the lisping TV presenter, or the aggressively padded pugilist from the sleeve of her new "Love Is The law" album? 

I was marched into a glacial conference room at her manager's office and didn't notice her for a moment. "And this is Toyah ..."Ah, there she was, lurking in the far corner with a shy smile. Good Lord, she is tiny isn't she? Just returned from two months in the wilds of France where she'd been filming "The Ebony Tower" alongside Sir Laurence Olivier, Toyah has not yet readjusted to the noisy pressures of London. "God, it is noisy isn't it?" she said, as a flock of police cars whizzed past down the King's Road, banshee-sirens wailing. "I was in France for two months of complete solitude, and it was wonderful." She giggled throatily. "I can't speak French -well, I can a bit now - so I was very alone and it was very nice," Funny, the lisp is now almost undetectable. 

I can't pretend to be much of a fan of Toyah's records, either her lyrics or her kind of futurist/Heavy Metal music, which always remind me somehow of Ultravox without the moustache. Hoping to skirt round the subject, I told Toyah I thought her music now seemed to be very much in second place to her acting career. A forthright 25-year old, Toyah was having none of this."No, not at all", she said firmly. "Where have you got that from?" Well, you know Toyah, "Trafford Tanzi", TV appearances... "The reason I do TV is to promote the music, and also I enjoy doing TV", she insisted."I like the medium, I prefer to be in front of a camera rather than being on a stage the whole time. When you're on a stage in front of an audience it's a rare electricity, it's a rare inspiration you get from your audience, but at the same time I feel I need different media to channel myself through. I get bored very easily, and boredom is very destructive. The reason I do TV is that more people can get to see you without having to pay phenomenal ticket prices. I'd say music and acting are 50-50. 

But after appearing in "The Tempest" and "Trafford Tanzi" and working on a new film based on a John Fowles novel, which are all fairly sophisticated projects, can you still take pop music seriously? Toyah didn't agree with this line of questioning at all. "I keep both careers very separate from each other. I keep them apart so that they in fact inspire each other. After I did 'Trafford Tanzi', it was like a holiday to go and make a film, because it got me away from a certain type of people. The only thing I will never take seriously is the people in the pop world, because they're all voyeurs and they're all pretentious in their own way". 

Hmm. Tell me about working with Sir Larry, then. Toyah chortled. "He was great, very impressive. He's just a lovely person. He's very intelligent, very entertaining, just a nice human being and very talented." Let's not be too hard on the old boy.Had he heard any of your records? "He hasn't", revealed Toyah, "but one of his daughters has. He has a great interest in computer systems and stuff, I spent a lot of time talking to him about Fairlights and the Jupiter programming system, and he really is into all that. He loves technology". 

I don't remember any of this being in Peter Hall's diaries. Anyway... "When we started the movie, he completely disbelieved what I was telling him about certain techniques but towards the end of the movie he was starting to buy things, like he had his own word-processor and a computer typewriter", Lawks! "Olivier Joins Depeche Mode", Had he seen your performance in Derek Jarman's movie of "The Tempest", Toyah?"No", she said. "I never tried to get any form of judgement from him, and I didn't try to study his acting at all. Because of his senior age I had a lot of respect for him, because I just like people of that age. He had a lot to say about his past career, and he had more to say about his technique of directing than he did about his technique of acting, and I just found him absolutely fascinating. 

"I'd tell him about my techniques within the pop world, and he'd then give me information about how he directs. We learned from each other in that way, but once we were on the set. We didn't communicate as personal people, we communicated as characters, because we had to hate each other in the film". 

In "The Ebony Tower" (directed by Robert Knight. who was responsible for the BBC2 series "The History Man"), Toyah was called upon to play a character called The Freak. "On the surface she looks like a freak but deep down inside she is the sanest of the four main characters", Toyah explained. "The most intriguing thing about the part is that I could relate to it because for ten years I had red hair, and people instantly judge your character and your personality by your outward appearance, while inside you can be completely the opposite. That is what The Freak is about." 

Since finishing the movie, Toyah has dyed her hair black so she can go shopping and drop in to the Pizza Express without having people recognising her all the time. "Having red hair you're living in a false reality, you can't go out because you're instantly recognisable, so you're permanently being treated like a star " 

But surely you set yourself up for that by being who you are? 

"I did by having red hair," Toyah qualified. "Now, only the people who buy my records and follow my career know who I am. I used to get very annoyed with people who'd come up in restaurants and slobber all over you when they'd never even bought one of your records or supported you, They're just all over you because you're a pop star to them. 

"If I see someone famous in the street I generally walk the other way, because the reason they're walking down the street is that they've got something to do. It's very nice, I like being recognised, but just for a few months while I'm getting ready to write the next album I've decided to be a little incognito". 

I quoted a couple of lines from her new album at her. "Everything and everyone I ever loved has been taken from me" ("Remember"). Are you in love, Toyah? Toyah shrieked and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh dear! No one's ever asked me that. I'm glad you've asked that! The whole of that album is inspired by punters I met while I was doing 'Trafford Tanzi' When I arrived at the theatre I'd talk to the punters outside, and I'd talk to them in the intervals and I'd talk to them at the end. For the first time in four years I travelled alone without any security which meant I could talk to the audience without people going "come on you've got to go in now" and ordering my life about. I really got to know these kids and I got to like them a lot, and I got to see little groups of them fall in love with each other and their relationships grow and then fall apart, because they were all young teenagers. I was an observer, and I learned so much from them that I'd forgotten." 

"I'd go home after 'Trafford Tanzi' feeling either very happy or very angry - they could make you very angry some days because a lot of them were there every day for five months, so we got to a point in our relationship where they could really annoy me or make me very happy." 

Meanwhile, Toyah was working on the "Love Is The law" LP. Guitarist Joel Bogen and keyboards man Simon Darlow had moved into Toyah's house so she wouldn't have to go tramping off to a studio after a hard night's wrestling, and during the day 

"They'd work on arrangements and backing tracks. The way I worked on the lyrics was I'd get home at about 11 and start drinking", Toyah confessed. "I've stopped drinking now but I'd deliberately drink heavily to relax me a lot. Then Simon would set up a microphone and stuff and we'd sit down and I would improvise a lot of the lyrics as the backing track ran through the headphones. "'Remember' came about after a particular argument with one of the punters who got so drunk she tried to hit me, and so I was sort of pent up, and 'Remember' came out of that. The album is all experiences like that, and a lot of it was improvised. 'Rebel Of Love' was really totally off the top of my head, it really has no song structure at all. It's more like a poem. Rather than pre write songs and let them go stale, I did them on the spur of the moment."

Did you find it easy to work that way? "It was at the time, because 'Trafford Tanzi' left me on such a natural high and a natural power-emotion ...doing that play and winning an enormous fight every night really does make you feel very good, so it was a natural way to come down, to let my mind run riot to the backing tracks. It was very positive." 

Your lyrics do seem very constructed though, Toyah, rather than coming from inside yourself. I get the impression you find it hard to talk about yourself on an intimate level in your lyrics. 

"For the first time on this album I've tried to be more intimate than I've ever been before", she pondered. "I've tried to avoid diversities and go for raw emotions, so in a way allowing the punters to get very close to me and trigger my emotions was a very important source of inspiration for that album. It was a one-off, I'll never do it again because it was exhausting. I don't willingly talk about myself that openly because you're laying yourself open to be knocked down." 

Well anyway, are you in love? You never answered that one. "Oh God ...well, I have a permanent companion who I've lived with for four years, and I can't foresee any parting happening there and I love him very much. But I have what I call three different loves. "There's a love which is a great friendship where I feel great bonds with people, I think that's still a form of love. There's the love I feel for my old man where nothing can step in, because I don't believe in promiscuity of any type, I think it's a weakness. So there's unsexual love and there's sexual love, and I believe you can only have sexual love for one person. I feel great love for people around me at the same time, but I wouldn't want to have an affair with them. I think that's sordid, it's horrible, I hate people who do that." 

That's very moral. 

"Um... I don't think it's so much moral, I really think if you go round having affairs left right and centre you're damned weak and you don't understand who you are. You're searching for something you'll never find. And it's not so much moral, I think it's sensible, and with all the new plagues going about..." She laughed. "I think it's the only way people will survive." 

How about heroes or idols? Got any? 

"Oh God, yes. My idol of all time is James Dean but he's gone and snuffed it. I love Marilyn Monroe because she just shone. I love people with that charisma. I love Bowie. He's my biggest hero ever, I got into him when I was about 12 and I've never thought differently of him, whereas Marc Bolan I liked when I was 12 and didn't like when I was 17 and then started liking him again just before he died." What's so special about Bowie? 

"It's a persona. I've never met him and I never want to meet him, because he means too much to me. If he goes and blows everything I think he is, then I'll have no more heroes left. I think you've gotta have a hero, you've got to have someone you really admire. I think once you get to know someone too well you can't admire them any more, because you naturally see weaknesses and I don't like seeing that." 

Aha! What weaknesses will you admit to then, Toyah?"I've got hundreds. I overeat, I'm lazy if I don't push myself, I'm stubborn, I'm a terribly jealous and possessive person. But all those things keep you going. I think my ambition is fed through jealousy and possessiveness, 'I want, I want, I want'. I'm a megalomaniac, mentally and physically. 

"But it's controlling those feelings that strengthens you in a way. I believe you can channel different energies, like when I'm angry, if I keep that anger in me I'll have a burst of energy and be able to do lots of things. But if I blow it by throwing things about and having a screaming tantrum I'll exhaust myself. One thing I've learned to do over the last five years is channel energies. Before I go onstage I deliberately won't move, I'll stay in the same spot for two hours. Then suddenly I'll explode when I come onstage. It's like you've gotta destroy to create sometimes. When I'm nervous I naturally want to move about, so I keep it inside me." 

What's the worst thing you've ever done to somebody? "Oh, I don't think I've ever done anything bad to people," said Toyah, aghast. "I could never hurt anyone. I've been in fights but I've managed to control that now. I've been in real punch-ups, but that's because I get too drunk and I enjoy a good punch up. Ha! The only thing that gets hurt through jealousy is yourself, you can't hurt other people through your own jealousy because it's a paranoia that goes on inside your own head. That's why I've tried to channel it into something more positive." 

It will probably come as no great surprise to you to learn, then, that Toyah doesn't like other women much and even forgets she is one sometimes. "I don't like yer typical woman," she asserted . "I think it's a waste of life. By that I mean women who need a man to lean on or aren't emotionally strong enough to survive independently. I just get on better with men. They're more physical , they're more strenuous in what they do, and that's how I like it to be." 

"There's women I really like, but because I want to keep liking them I stay away from them. I can't talk about women's things. I really try, but I just can't - my head turns off after about an hour." 

What about feminism then? Is it irrelevant? 

"I think it's a bit dated now," said Toyah. "The kids I've met who will be the future, they just have no paranoias like that, they're just not insecure in that way. They know that the only way that they're gonna get on is through their individuality and care of appearance, but not through being extra-masculine or extra-feminine. It's with their own intelligence and hard work, they know that they're trying to get somewhere, and if they're weak it's their own fault. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman - I know men who can't get jobs because they're pathetic. It's the same as women who can't get jobs because they're feeble." 

"Feminism has its extremes -I just don't understand women who hate men so much. It's very strange. It's as bad as gays who want to beat up women. There's a balance to everything, and feminism is a little too far over, for me anyway." 

Crikey .You lay down the law about people and things a lot, Toyah, but do you have a romantic side? "Oh I'm very romantic but I keep that in my head. My fantasies are where my lyrics come from. The people I work with aren't romantic at all, but my fans are romantic - I get flowers and romantic letters from my fans. I have my romantic ideals, but I have to keep them in my head because I think it takes two to be romantic. Within my career all of us are fighting really hard to keep the ball rolling, we're really tense and hyper-active. To survive you have to let your idealisms go in your head and nowhere else. I'm romantic when I'm alone, I suppose." 

But in public, it's full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. "What really counts is the people who still want to see you," asserted Toyah defiantly. "I think if you listen to people who are trying to be destructive towards you then you're stupid. You really are stupid." 

The publicist was beginning to flap by now, so we wrapped it up. Toyah went off to continue fasting on cottage cheese and black coffee, and I lurched off in search of a typewriter.

Melody Maker
5th November 1983