|TIME & PLACE: My Staging Post With The
Toyah Willcox spent 1978 in a warehouse where
David Bowie and Boy George were among the many visitors, she tells Louise
n 1978, I lived in a huge British Rail warehouse
in Battersea, in south London, with an arts community. It was a hotbed
for bright young writers and a rehearsal room for Iggy Pop, David Bowie
and John Cale.
Back then it was called Mayhem, and it’s bang
opposite Queenstown Road railway station. Steve Strange and Boy George
had weekend parties there because it held anything up to 500 people. The
parties were so chaotic that I’d let them in on a Friday night and come
back on Monday morning, and they never knew I’d left.
I shared with Adam Ant’s wife, Eve (they had broken
up), an actor called Keith Hodges, the guitarist from Adam Ant’s band,
Kevin Mooney, and a writer (I’ve forgotten his name). It cost £60
a week for five of us and I lived there for two years.
It was on the first floor above a repainting garage,
which was phenomenally fumey and dirty. When we first got it, all that
was in there were huge acid tanks with armour-plated glass — I have no
We took them apart and used the glass, which was
almost an inch-and-a-half thick, as flooring. We put our bedrooms in on
stilts. I split my bedroom into two floors because I’m very short, just
under 5ft. My rooms were full of books and painting materials. It was very
eclectic because I had lots of possessions. I was into anything to do with
art, anything visual. It was where I was forming all my ideas.
Eve was a designer, so her bedroom was white,
like a cube, and spacious. I think she had a workshop that she went to
in the daytime. Some of the boys had an unpainted space of chipboard. We
had no money, so everything was just thrown together, but it didn’t matter
because it was full of expression. Opposite us was a place where they built
coffins and at night we’d go over the wall and take the wood that they
stored outside; virtually everything in our place was made from this wood.
We had one toilet and no bathroom. The caretaker,
who lived across the way, let us use his bath every other day or we’d go
down the road to the public baths. We didn’t have a kitchen but I think
we had a toaster and a camping grill in the communal space.
We never cooked — we’d make toast or go out and
get fish and chips or a kebab. We painted the inside black and kept the
main part as a stage and rehearsal room. Iggy Pop was the main one. There
was one window that we boarded up because we had to do something about
the noise, as Iggy Pop’s band was just so big — you could hear it through
a nuclear bomb shelter, it was that loud.
My band also rehearsed there. We were having success
on the London circuit, pulling 2,000 people a night, playing venues like
the Lyceum. It was wonderful. I would have been about 19.
We didn’t have a television, but we had a record
player in the communal area, which was just a boxed-in lounge. Back then,
we listened to the Velvet Underground, the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop and David
Bowie. At that time, Bowie was producing Iggy Pop so he would have come
over to check the band.
On the whole it was quiet during the daytime and
lively in the evening. We all worked in our separate spaces, or I was out
making movies or touring.
It was a very busy time for me. In those two years,
I made seven feature films and two albums. I started to make films like
Quadrophenia and The Corn is Green. I was amassing tens of thousands of
pounds so I ended up paying for everything. Increasingly, I was there less
often because I started touring with the band. It got to the point where
I became the money bag and it was like, well, why should I be paying? I
needed to get out because I was starting to get well-known and I needed
privacy. My life was so hectic and so full of turmoil that I wanted a base
that was a little more welcoming. Actually, I think I was on the road for
five or six years.
Even to this day, more than 20 years on, people
occasionally come up to me and say: “I met you at the warehouse.”