The Bewildered Squirrel

Mick Mercer experiences masochistic delights, peanuts and octopus with Toyah Willcox

Black leather to the left and right of me. Knees investigating my buttocks and hands all over my lapels. A horde of sweaty punks competing for the elusive frontal position. 

Some of them aspired to temporary greatness only to be removed by bouncers. Some climbed physically onto neighbours shoulders only to disappear when the dancing started. Many were never seen again. The more enterprising souls spent the evening actually bouncing chaotically over the heads of the crowd. 

It's Toyah time again. 

Of course in 1977 your humble scribe felt severely disappointed to emerge from a gig anything less than saturated; sweat in your clothing, sweat in your hair, claustrophobia. Magic! 

Experiencing masochistic delights in the confines of Leicester University along with a thousand others I couldn't help but notice the peaceful atmosphere, something as rare in London town as an Elvis Costello interview. 

With a sell out tour and a new EP all set to wreak havoc in our loveable charts Toyah has attained this state of glory with little help from the music press, relying instead on massive television exposure and it certainly hasn't done her any harm. 

Throughout this performance I couldn't help but notice the overall improvement since I last saw them tread the boards. Veritable sparks fly, giving the sound an added dynamism that energizes Toyah into spontaneous enthusiasm rather than the more rehearsed madness of old. 

Apres gig, the autograph retinue forms, including an addled hippy with a home-made raygun (and half a beard), local punk luminaries Wayne and Shaun who thrashed me mercilessly at pool and 20 Russian students with 4 KGB overseers. What more could you ask? 

Funnier still were the local security men who still hadn't recovered from having their duties relinquished in favour of Toyah's own team who did a superb, unobtrusive job. 

When we finally arrived back at the hotel I grabbed a quick chat with Toyah who now looked like a bewildered squirrel. 

What about the new band then Toyah? 

A fistful of peanuts disappears down her throat as she speaks. 

"Well, apart from the fact that they're older and they've all had god previous experience I'm just glad they've all developed their own identities as people. If I did a major film they could all go off and do something rather than sit at home moaning 'cos I'm doing a film, which is wonderful. They're all so into what me and Joel are doing, they'll be prepared to drop anything and come and work with us again. I think it's important at this stage to find musicians with real egos rather than trying to be street level and all that old hat." 

Is this tour like a realisation of all you've wanted then? 

"I'm not that easily contented. We're capturing an audience. What I want to do is take it a step further and fascinate them. I want to bring in the visuals I've promised for the last two years, even though as band we can sufficiently create enough atmosphere, I just wanna build into something even more special. The kids pay a lot of money to see us and I think we should give them everything we got to offer." 

Has the national coverage you've received acted as a creative stimulus? 

"All I can say about the national coverage is, a lot of people say it does me damage. My comment to that is that by doing it reminds me of a lot of things ~I forget about. You know my mind, it goes off in so many different directions. One day I say one thing, the next I'm contradicting it. If it wasn't for journalists I'd probably be totally na-na by now." 

Not quite what I meant. Does the tv coverage actually give you a boost? 

"Kids can still afford to watch tv, not all of 'em can afford to go to the cinema. Cinema in Britain, from what I've seen, is dying slowly. Really dying. It's overpriced and it's not that exciting. (Okay, television can be pretty dull at times but if you get the right viewing and you're in with the right people you can show so much. My idea with tv is to get a pirate station together, but that takes a few million to do successfully. That in a way is an ultimate ambition." 

How do you reckon you came off in the documentary on you then? 

"It worked better than I thought. I thought it would be wet, total self and no guts whatsoever. My only complaint is it had too much guts. I was going, "I want this, slam, slam, slam'. There was humour too, but they kept that out. I thought it was god for ITV." 

What did they leave out then? 

"They left out me having a fight with a tramp. I go round filming characters of London. The only way we could do this was to plonk me in a soup kitchen full of winos. I wasn't happy at all, but I was prepared to do it. Went in there and got beaten up!" 

They should have shown it. 

"I think it was the language that did it." 

What about 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning'. You looked, er, nervous. 

"Well, Chris Biggins was great, a natural person, but when Steve Strange came on...I asked really simple questions purely 'cos I was trying to make people understand what he was about, but I couldn't achieve much in eight minutes. I didn't want them to laugh at him. Not only that but he was wetting himself, panicking, shaking like a leaf, and was being very aggressive through his own nerves. And that happened with Viv Stanshall and Derek Jarman." 

Stanshall seemed quite stroppy. 

"Oh, he was a real bastard. I mean, whatever question I gave him he wouldn't give an answer, so I filled the eight minutes with him being stroppy. I can't day I didn't enjoy it though."

hat was the audience reaction to this like because very little came over? 

"For Chris the reaction was great, but as soon as Steve Strange came on the audience was stunned because 10 other Blitz kids came on with him. The audience didn't understand from then on, and they hated Viv Stanshall, There was a part at the end that they didn't show when they all came on and played Space Invaders, and the audience was booing him. They didn't like him at all. Whatever happened it was still a compliment to be offered the show And it was still a laugh to watch even if I did fail." 

Okay, back to the new band. You seemed happier onstage. 

"Feel-wise and playing-wise it's 100 per cent better. I'm also pleased with them as individuals. They put up more of a show. Phil the bass player tries to upstage me which is great. It's an incentive. With the old band I was quite content to sit back because I knew they couldn't upstage me. Now I've been given that extra punch that had died away in the last year. Things like the old band splitting up kills you a bit inside and now I've got that drive back. I've got so much to give. I feel as if I've been born again. 

The new EP sounds great. Can we have a rundown on the new material? 

"Well, 'Warboys' is about boredom. It's about kids waiting for action. I call 'em warboys 'cos they're so aggressive, cos they're angry and they're proud." 

I like 'Mystery' best. 

"Oh, I'm really pleased. It was written by the guy who wrote 'Victims Of The Riddle', Keith Hale. It's commercial. I find it embarrassing to sing cos you can't quite dance to it, it's too slaw top dance to and too fast to sway to. We did it cos the DJs said they'd play it. We've got to the stage where we need something to happen. 'Warboys' is more true to our fans' tastes than anything. 'Angels And Demons' is a ballad. We thought we'd try a slow number. 'Blue Meaning'; worked on the documentary cos it was put with the images I saw when I wrote it. 'Revelations' is a sort of funky number about my sense of humour. I relate all nursery rhymes tom things yet to come. Like Jack & Jill and ring a ring of roses are about the plague in 1066, whenever it was." 

That was the Norman invasion. 

"Sorry! Well, that's what 'revelations'; is about. It relates to 1999 as well, when I think there'll be a different plague brought by Haley's Comet. Totally incurable but the survivors will become animalistic like the cover of 'Diamond Dogs', yet a saviour will come down and take these mutations back with him as survivors of planet Earth." 

You're really putting yourself up for knocking. 

"Oh the whole thing will be knocked, even 'It's A Mystery', but the papers are SO predictable. So I expect it anyway. I don't give a damn anymore. There was time when they really hurt me with their words but now I think they're a load of crap." 

You're lucky though, you're in a position like Adam Ant. 

"Yeah, that's why I don't give a damn anymore cos we're selling out the whole time. We're strong, we're an army, we're a family. I don't like using that word as it's Adam's but it's what's happening. I mean, the biggest contradiction in the music papers where one minute they're calling Adam a load of shit, the next minute he's a genius. I've known him since 'Jubilee'. I'm really pleased he's made it because he's worked harder than anyone...even though I'm not his best friend, and I don't want to be." 

Just think. You might soon have Peter Powell praising you. 

"Yeah, just makes me wanna laugh. One moment they're saying, 'she'll never survive she's an actress not a singer', and they don't believe you. The next minute they're going, 'you're the next big thing' and you're supposed to take them seriously." 

What's the next acting extravaganza? 

"It's me introducing 'Tales Of The Unexpected' to America. While I'm doing this we'll do the next album. By May the album will be out and we'll be on tour again. At the end of May I do Derek Jarman's next movie, then we got off on a world tour." 

I hear you like eating octopus? 

"Oh I love eating octopus. tastes like muscles and cockles. I love squid too. You can chew on it for hours. It's like chewing an old tyre." 

You make it sound tremendous. 

"It's great fun" 

Well, what a damn convenient ending, because so are Toyah and there's a good deal of tread left on them. Definitely a major contribution to road safety. Keeps you off the street. 

Go now.

Record Mirror
14th February 1981
Thanks to Mick Mercer