Toyah Reveals Her Secret Desires

"I'd like to have Bo Derek's body and someone else's brain..."

It wasn't until my third interview in nine weeks with Toyah that I felt confident enough to broach the subject of sex. As casually as I possibly could, I suggested to her that compared to other female artists ranging from Kim Wilde to Kate Bush to Souxsie, her image contains virtually no sex appeal, despite being a young, vivacious, attractive girl. 

"I think, supposedly onstage, there's much more sex appeal than in the photos" she counters. " But I couldn't do an Annabella (Lwin of Bow Wow Wow), I couldn't show parts of my body..." 

WHAAAT!! There's that infamous pic of you with one breast bared and daubed with painted circles which has appeared almost everywhere from Sounds and Punk's Not Dead to The Sun! 

"Oh the 'boob photo' that's the only one that exists, and no one knows why that was done" she offers matter of factly. 

Do you want to tell? 

"It was a complete joke, an absolute joke! It's not what Gary Bushell thinks atall!" she laughs. "It was done because Playboy asked me to do a spread and I said, 'Look, I'm not physically up to the standard of your girls so I just painted huge spots all over myself. This was in the days when I was quite outrageous and didn't feel any sort of commitment to someone - if I did something like that now it would hurt feelings. 

"So I did a picture that was not to look glamorous atall, it was kinky and quite outrageously disgusting in a way and I sent it to them saying 'piss off, this is not what you want!' It was taken during a promotional session and I asked the photographer to do a favour by taking this one shot, but he kept the negatives and sold them to everybody as soon as I got well known. What annoys me is not the photo itself, but that people think it was part of a seedy session. And yet the whole point of the photo was to fight against the image! 

"It's like the whole thing has back fired on me, my own diversity has been turned around and used as a weapon against me, whereas I was trying to use it as a weapon against pornography by being sort of decadent. It just didn't work, simple as that!" 

Do you regret that now? 

"I don't regret it - I want to kill the f***king photographer though! Because he's selling this picture making out he's done a dirty session with me and he certainly hasn't. But I don't regret it, no. 

"I regret it for my younger fans, because they don't understand it, they see it as what the papers have been saying about me and I regret that, because it's sad for them, it's like they've been betrayed. But they haven't been betrayed, so I don't regret the picture - I want to kill the people who have exploited it." 

So getting back to what we were originally talking about, is it a deliberate policy for Toyah not to have a sexual image, maybe because you've got young fans? 

"No, I mean...I just haven't got any sex appeal! What's the point of trying to put across something you just haven't got? All those other wild images are part of what's in my head, so I don't feel I'm wearing a mask, I'm just portraying another side of me. 

"But lounging around in sex kitten poses or young poses - because I'm not young anymore by a lot of standards - would be telling a blatant lie. I've got to be me." 

Have you seen the latest photo of Annabella? 

"Yes - someone has got to tell her that she's got enough talent and she's going to be enormous without having to do that. She doesn't have to do it through paedophilia or taking her clothes off - she's gorgeous, but she's got enough talent to avoid all that." 

This was a rare flash of Toyah's anger - contrasting sharply with her patient, witty, anecdote spilling interview manner - revealing the high esteem in which she holds Annabella of Bow Wow Wow. In a previous meeting she'd confided she admires her almost to the point of jealousy, "and so young!" she adds laughing. 

By the time I travelled up to Liverpool to see the Toyah band in action, the new LP 'The Changeling' had been released and I felt sorely disappointed. From the bubbling, almost evangelical enthusiasm with which Toyah had described the songs on it, I'd been expecting a vital, awesome masterpiece, but it's not. It's just another Toyah album. Quite good overall, brilliant in isolated songs, but also embarrassingly coy in parts too. 

The Liverpool show was also something of a disappointment as Toyah and guitarist/songwriter Joel are quick to point out. 

"The show's different every night," exclaims Toyah, "and you saw a more theatrical show tonight, because there was no way I was going anywhere near the bloody pit!" she laughs, referring to a huge orchestra pit at the front of the stage which all too effectively created a gaping chasm between the band and audience. 

"So the only way I could convey anything was through those mime-like movements, but you should have been at Newcastle, that was brilliant!" 

"The show changes from venue to venue," adds Joel, "It has to, otherwise everyone would get bored - we want to keep it fresh", he concludes eyeing me with suspicion, trying to work out what my angle is. It's only afterwards that I discover that he'd looked in my note book in which I'd scrawled observations like "her band aren't good enough for Toyah" and "audience's blind adoration". 

So Joel and I spar for a while, sizing each other up, certainly wary, possibly distrustful, but both preferring to let Toyah dominate the conversation. 

You don't normally do interviews, Joel, why not? 

"Who me? Don't like doing them." 

Why not? 

"Journalists frighten me!" 

"No one frightens you." laughs Toyah. 

"No, I don't like doing interviews...normally. I've always wanted to keep in the background - what I enjoy doing is playing, recording and writing songs." 

Isn't there any ego clash? 

"No." 

What, you're not jealous of Toyah? 

"No, never ever - If I was jealous of Toyah, we wouldn't have stayed together for so long, for five years now. That's not in my nature atall. As far as I'm concerned we're both part of the same thing." 

"And anyway," interrupts Toyah, "I've noticed on this tour that we when we introduce the individual members of the band, they've all got their own fans, which is great! In Manchester, Joel seems to get all the girls screaming at him." 

But at the same time, it's only you on the record sleeves! 

"Ah, there's a conscious change about to happen there! We've just gone through a year with a management which exploited that, they wanted me to be the front person - and that's why the individual face shots started appearing on covers - but we're forming a solid band." 

"And because we've not had a solid line up" adds Joel, "It's very difficult to get band photographs."

"And with just my photo on the cover, I take the blame the whole time from the critics. I'd rather the whole band got the blame!" she says screaming with laughter at both Joel and I, despite her hoarse voice caused by a recent bout of laryngitis, which had prevented me from being allowed to observe the band "on the road", thus making me wonder if they had something to hide. 

For all her irresistible personality - I really do like her - Toyah certainly has something to hide. For instance, there are no love songs! 

"'Brave New World'", hisses Toyah incredulously. 

But that's only a love song in an abstract sense, I protest. 

"Yeah, but I'm a pervert! I don't know, you cute little thing!" she teases. "But I look on 'Danced' as being a love song." 

"If you want out and out love songs, go and see Roxy Music," advises Joel sarcastically. 

"But to me, a love song would be really raunchy, raw and really filthy" Toyah clarifies. 

But you don't do any! 

"I'd be too embarrassed, but 'Brave New World', to me, is a sad love song, because I wrote most of it in Bristol last year after a tremendous row with my boyfriend. But I could never do a love song true to myself, because that's being selfish. I prefer what I call open lyrics, so that the kids can fit their own feelings to them. 

"And so 'Brave New World' is a love song, because I think everyone goes through the phase when they think no one in the world knows how hurt they are - experiencing a loneliness that no one knows, but everyone knows it!" 

Before I can follow this up, Joel advises me that Toyah "really should rest her voice", so we agree to adjourn until a few weeks later, after I've seen the band play a much more exciting, exacting show at Hammersmith Odeon... I'm getting to like Toyah's music too! 

So we all meet up again at the office of Toyah's publicist, Judy Totton, who stresses that her star can spare only half an hour, causing said star to react in amazement, locking the door so we can't be interrupted and telling me to take as long as I want. 

So let's talk about love songs again... 

"But I don't understand what a love song is." she wails "A song I love singing is a love song to me!" 

But isn't a love song a song about love? 

"Well, I'd say that I think all our songs have passion in them, and passion is love. But I could never imagine singing about something that I call 'soppy'." 

You think love is soppy? 

"No, but I can't stand watching people kissing in films, it's like invading someone's privacy - and when I feel the same, I just don't want to hear it, I don't need that. I've got a very strong relationship with a man that I live with and so I don't feel I need to listen to that sort of thing. And to write a love song, that would be weird, I can't imagine doing it. I've never felt the need to write one!" 

Is that partly so that you can keep your private and public lives apart? 

"That helps, yeah. I just don't think I have those conventional sort of feelings, so I find it very hard to write a conventional love song because it would be like a virgin writing about sex! And I'm not saying I'm a virgin, but I just don't have those conventional feelings. 

"I've tried to write a conventional love song and it just comes out the biggest load of crap you've ever laughed at. It was just boring pap, with no natural adrenalin in the lyrics." 

It's a shame that this lack of "love" in Toyah might only reinforce the cynical view of the frigid child-woman who still speaks with a (childish) lisp, can't have an orgasm and sings twee musical ditties. 

In fact, not only is Toyah's lisp barely noticeable, but I feel she has the talent and vision to become a hugely successful and respected artist if only she wouldn't let her romantic idealism and dreams of druids, devils and angels get in the way. But for a moment, I'll indulge her fantasies and allow her to metamorphose into anyone/thing she wants. What's your choice? 

"Oh, let's see...(pauses) 

...David Bowie's pillow! No I dunno...it seems so sad to wish you were someone else, so I always try to hide those sort of feelings anyway. I'd like to have Bo Derek's body with someone else's brain - maybe David Bowie." 

It's odd that you should mention Bowie, because I've come to believe - through talking to you, and listening to your music - that you could be as effectively brilliant as him, if only... 

"But I'd never dream of trying to be like Bowie, because he's the greatest, do you know what I mean? I don't want a comparison like that, that would frighten me...because there was one female singer who was trying to be the female Bowie" (although she doesn't name her, I'd guess she means Hazel O'Connor), "and she failed miserably - and she's a very talented young lady. But I think trying to be someone who's gone before is so dangerous." 

I didn't mean as a replica, but on that level! You see, when you tell me how brilliant your music is, I believe you. I'm convinced by your enthusiasm, but when I go away and listen to it... 

"You don't hear what I talk about," she concludes in anticipation and resignation. 

"But maybe I ruin the record for you by giving you my own interpretation when the whole point of our music is for people to make their own opinions." 

Maybe, but I'm not convinced. In my defence I summon the first minute of a song called "Angel And Me" on the new album, which to an accompaniment of just a melancholy piano and a hint of synth, Toyah sings some of the best, most personal lines I've heard all year: 

"Why do you always cry when you come to see me? 

I always die to see you smile." 

But the mood of reflective sadness is broken as soon as the band enter the song and turn it into just another celebratory Toyah romp, all too flash and superficial for me. I wonder who the song is about though? 

"In my personal life you mean? The person she's talking to is her mum, when I was in hospital and my mum visited me, she'd always start crying, so it comes from that." 

Are you close to your mother? 

"I am now, I didn't use to be. I always loved her very much, but she had a weird way of loving me back. I can never remember kissing and cuddling mummy and daddy when I was small. But I love them both, my father is one of my heroes." 

At that stage, there's a banging on the locked door and a muffled voice announces that my time's up again. One day I'm determined to spend hours with Toyah just trying to find what motivates her, to see how I can get past her preoccupation with her land of make believe that seems to cast her as Cinderella when I want her to be Lady Macbeth! 

Pausing to admit "We're still learning about production and techniques" and that "maybe we should have worked the new songs in on tour before recording them, so that 'The Changeling' would have a more natural flow." Toyah grabs Joel by the arm and skips off down the corridor, gleefully mocking the whole world and herself with a camp, cruel parody chorus of "It'th a mith-ta-wee, it'th a mith-ta-wee..."

By Johnny Waller

Sounds
14 August 1982