Rock Legends - Toyah Special : Carlton TV - Friday 3rd January 2003
  

Noddy Holder: Our first female star in the ROCK LEGENDS - Hall Of Fame. We're talking about a middle-class girl from Brum who gained a cult following as a punk in the early '80s. She was a professional rebel who went onto huge chart success, and a big hit of stage and screen too. You've guessed it, I'm talking about the original Queen of Girl Power, my old mate, Toyah Willcox.

Mike Davies: (Former 'Melody Maker' journalist) She's important in giving a sense of identity to people who didn't have a voice, in that generation who found what she was saying, and the way she was able to say it, was important.

Robert Fripp: My little wife is, wonderfully shining bright person.

Bina Jaraij: (School Friend) She just knew that she was going to be famous. She always said that she was going to be famous. It just felt right, just like breathing.

Derek Goddard: (Friend & Hairdresser) She was wonderful. Very, very, very vivacious. Always has been. And very extrovert!

Noddy Holder: Toyah's image has never been tame. She was the original wild child of punk. But she was so much more than just the girl with the big pink hair. She had ruthless ambition, a huge ego and a violent temper, a lethal cocktail for the teenage Brummie. She came from an affluent family but she was determined to be a rebel.

Toyah: I think rebellion came easy. When most of my life, up until I was a teenager, I had to play a gender role. I didn't like being female, and I didn't want to be a boy either. I just wanted to be a person, and I was acutely aware of this from very early on in life. From about the age of four. I loathed dolls, loathed dresses, loathed little shoes, loathed little handbags. Everything to do with femininity I couldn't bear.

It was forced on me with such a passion and, well... force, that I thought 'If I don't fight this I'm gonna be stuck with it for the rest of my life'. I went to an all-girls school, which didn't suit me. I was always a tomboy, I was always very aggressive and very physical. Always in rough and tumble fights.

Derek Goddard: Toyah was a completely wayward teenager. From the first moment of meeting we just knew she was going to be a rebel. She was pretty outrageous. She got expelled from school for a start, which we all thought was wonderful. We hadn't heard of a public-school girl getting thrown out before. It was something quite new!

Toyah: My friends in Birmingham were very, very limited because my parents never let me socialise. So I had three friends; Bina and Gita, who were sisters who lived within a wonderful Indian family, who I adored. And Derek Goddard, who subsequently went out with both of them. Never went out with me, which broke my heart, but I was the ugly one. And those were my three friends. My whole life revolved around them. They educated me in music, in dress, in everything, because they were the taste and style king and queens of Birmingham.

Bina: What brought us together was that we liked the same bands. We liked Bowie, we liked T-Rex, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper.

Derek: Toyah, Bina and Gita used to be really inseperable. Very, very beautiful Asian girls, and Toyah always wanted to look like them.

Bina: She was different and I suppose we were different because we were the only Asians. She was different because, you know, she was just different!

Gita: (School Friend) She was mad.

Bina: She looked like a little..., she probably hates us for saying this, ...a little cave woman. Really straight, amazing, thick dark hair. When she would walk, it used to swing!

Noddy Holder: Toyah always wanted to project how she felt through her image, and she was determined to stand out.

Toyah: I always believed that as a young person, even as a teenager, and a young woman in my 20s, that you had to look different to be noticed. My name was different. My name would always open doors because people would go 'Toyah?, Toyah? What does that mean?' No one had heard of a Toyah in Birmingham. I just realised that I wasn't pretty enough, or special enough intellectually, to be noticed, unless I was different. And I used it as a passport.

Derek: Toyah was my hair model, basically because he had the most fantastic head of hair. And she would let you do anything! 

We'd start off with the pointed fringe, which literally went from the top of the forehead to the end of her nose. It went up in two triangles at either side. The back was shaved, and we stencilled a face onto the back of Toyah's head. She used to actually put her clothes on back-to-front and walk around backwards!

Toyah: By this time I had blue and black hair, pink and black hair. I just looked like something off another planet, and I was very, very lonely. No one would come near me. Buses wouldn't pick me up, taxis wouldn't take me home, boys wouldn't come near me.

Derek: If you walked into her in a dark passageway you'd have the fright of your life.

Toyah: I had an obsession at the time with aliens, and especially the term 'Stranger In A Strange Land', because I just felt so alienated. I couldn't fit in with anything. I didn't like being a female. I didn't like gender roles. I loathed suburbia, I loathed the idea of getting married and having kids. I just thought 'Where the hell do I belong?'

When Bowie's 'Starman' came along, and Ziggy Stardust, it was like, 'ah, okay, you don't have to fit in, this is brainwashing'. So I really identified with that.

Noddy Holder: It was the late '70s in Birmingham and the punk movement was really taking off.

Toyah: When punk started I think it was very much about socialism. It was very much about the Labour Party, the rights of the workers, the rights to be heard. I saw it on as lightly different level, and that was that absolutely everyone, no matter who you are, if you had an idea, then you could be part of the punk movement. If you knew your three chords you could write a song, you could write an album. I was slightly more simplistic in how I viewed it. It was kind of an emotional rebellion rather than a cultural rebellion.

I'm not saying I was a "fashion" punk because I was a punk 24 hours a day, and I paid the price that many punks paid. And that was you were a social outcast as far as anyone else was concerned, other than a punk. But I didn't fully understand the politics, I was slow to learn on that level. My friend Derek suggested that I should see a band called the Sex Pistols because everyone was talking about them, they're the new thing, etc., etc.

It wasn't that I saw the Sex Pistols and thought 'oooh, you've changed my life!'. I saw them and thought 'I could do better'. I mean it's such arrogance. It was still historically brilliant because from then on I knew I didn't have to behave in a social norm, because I wasn't alone. I just thought 'Great, I'm going to London. Fuck this, I ain't coming back', and it was just a huge turning point for me.

Noddy Holder: But it wasn't long before her wild looks were getting her noticed by film directors.

Toyah: I got the part in Jubilee because I was working at the National Theatre and I was the only punk there, and a wonderful actor, Ian Charleston, who was in Chariots Of Fire, took me to meet Derek Jarman, the director. Derek just threw me the script across the room and said 'Pick a part', so I leafed through it and I picked the part with most lines. It later emerged that Derek had to cut that part because there wasn't enough money for this character. I absolutely flipped and was broken hearted, so Derek gave up his fee so that I could play Mad.

Noddy Holder: It was the chance to work alongside another rising star, Prince Charming himself, Adam Ant. But there was to be no fairy tale ending to this partnership.

Toyah: I had a massive fight with Adam on that film. We'd created a band called The Maneaters, which was myself, Adam's secret wife Eve, a girl called Stephanie, and a girl called Ann Marie. We were going to carry on writing after the film was finished and do gigs and concerts. Adam just couldn't bear my ego. It was like, 'I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that, we're gonna do that!'. It was like world domination, that was all I could think about, so he had me thrown out of the band. He happened to do it on the last day of filming of Jubilee, which meant we had to be in the same room as each other. I just flew at him all fists blazing!

Noddy Holder: Toyah decided that it was time to get back together with her friend, and music partner, Joel Bogen, and to carry on writing music. But Toyah heard about a movie being made by the then cult mod band The Who. Quadrophenia was to become one of the biggest rock movies of the decade, starring some of the biggest names around. And Toyah wasn't going to be left out.

Toyah: When I was doing Quadrophenia I was getting an awful lot of press because the band were doing so well. We were having 2000 people turn up to every venue to see us, and we hadn't been signed at a time when everyone was being signed by the big majors.

We did a showcase for a company called Safari Records and they just signed us on the spot, which amazed me as I'm a live performer, I need my audience, I need that interaction. We were performing in a tiny little rehearsal studio that smelt of beer and piss! It just worked, they signed us and it felt great. It meant I could go back to Quadrophenia the next day and go, to Sting, 'I've just been signed!'.

Noddy Holder: Toyah's new band consisted of Joel Bogen, Pete Bush on keyboards, Windy Miller on bass and Steve Bray on drums.

Toyah: Once I was signed I really loved every moment of what happened. We were made to demo virtually once a month. We had to continually produce music, and that was great because it gave the band focus, it made us feel really good. We were put on a retainer of 30 quid a week, so we felt as though we were employed. It was fab because at last we had the back-up to break us. We were given press. We could say 'I want this press, I want this press, I want this clothes designer', and suddenly the snowball started to grow. It was a very good time. It felt brilliant.

Toyah: When I first heard 'It's A Mystery' I just felt it wasn't for me. It was written by a friend, Keith Hale, for a band called Blood Donor. The record company wanted me to cover it, so I did a demo of it in the studio and I just hated it. I just sat there singing it thinking, 'This is the end of my career, it's the end of four brilliant years work as a credible rock artist out the window'. I'd worked from '77 up to 1980, and I had an army of followers. I just knew this song wasn't for them.

Noddy Holder: Little did she know but the single would storm the charts, making Toyah an international name and a pop superstar. The song she hated so much opened the door to pop fame and fortune.

1981 - 'It's A Mystery' was the first of two massive, back-to-back, hits for Toyah, and it lead to her first appearance on Top Of The Pops.

Toyah: Doing Top Of The Pops was just everything I ever dreamed of. Those nights I used to get up at three in the morning and watch the sunrise, that was the prayer answered. It was fantastic when it was released as a single, it just was massive. My record company admits that in 1981 I alone sold more units than the whole of the Warner Bros. roster that year. It was massive, absolutely massive. You can't knock that!

Mike Davies: The girls liked her because she embodied a rebellious spirit. She was an outsider. Girls who felt they didn't fit in could identify with Toyah. She got the boys because of that elfin sexuality she projected. Certainly worked for me.

Toyah: In 1981 I released 'It's A Mystery' around February, and that was just a massive hit. In May I released 'I Want To Be Free', and it resonated how I felt about school years, which was still very strongly with me, even when I was 22!

I enjoyed making videos, full stop. We knew they were so powerful and that they were gonna be the crux of how you sold the product.

Toyah: With 'Thunder In The Mountains' I wanted to be Boadicea, but set in the future. As a woman breaking free, which I think everything I did that year was on the concept of breaking free, breaking out.

That was my closest to number one that I got, again number four. It sold hundreds of thousands. It really was a big seller.

Derek Goddard: That video was absolutely incredible. Definitely ahead of its time really. It was bit like Thunderdome, which was a movie way after that video. I think it is one of her best.

Mike Davies: I thought the image was great. It was coming off the back of punk, so she had that rebellious look to her, in terms of the way she dressed, the make-up. But it was edging into the New Romantic movement as well, so there was that element of flamboyance. She had the colour of Adam And The Ants but I think she also had the seriousness of Siouxsie And The Banshees, but unlike Siouxsie, she also projected a sense of fun.

Noddy Holder: On Christmas Eve Toyah and the band performed a special concert for the cult rock show, Old Grey Whistle Test.

Toyah: Drury Lane was the icing on the cake. We were knackered because we'd been on a European tour. We played to 12 million.

Noddy Holder: Four hit singles had given Toyah the fame and success that she had always dreamed of.

Toyah: '81 was the kind of year where your feet never touched the ground. Your whole artistic integrity ran away with you because you were doing 14 interviews a day. A photo session a day. And you were always in the wrong country. You'd fly out to a different country a day. It was mad!

Noddy Holder: The following year came the ultimate accolade. The industry finally crowned their "Punk Princess", when she won 'Best Female Singer' at the Rock & Pop Awards. Toyah polled more votes than Kim Wilde and Sheena Easton put together.

Toyah: My life changed. It went on another level from that moment. The paparazzi were down on me. It was like, 'Oi you, look at this camera. Oi you, look at this camera!'. From what had been a really lovely day of celebration and the awards, suddenly became a day about me being something someone had to have. It was the first time I'd come across how aggressive people were when you were that successful. I'd been protected up to that point. I had security, I had the band. I was never the victim of it, and that was the first night. So, really bittersweet in many ways.

Bina: For a lot of people who didn't believe she was going to be famous it was really good, because she proved a point.

Gita: She proved everybody wrong.

Toyah: The 1980s music scene evolved into New Age Rock. I was very commercially successful in 1981, and I had to escape the image. People expected a new image every time you did something, so I just moved into this New Wave Rock thing in 1982. I just moved on, it was starting to leave punk behind.

Noddy Holder: Toyah then met a man who would change her life forever. King Crimson guitarist, Robert Fripp.

Toyah: I met Robert at a time where I needed to change radically in order to survive. On every level, personally and work wise. He's a sage of a man, he is a wise man, and I had had a particularly difficult five years, personally. He was very much a saviour I have to say. I just knew that this was the man for me.

After I was married my musical direction had to change because I just wasn't surviving the fact that I was so hugely successful in 1981. No one could forgive me that huge commercial success. It was almost like I was the "teen idol" of the time. I just thought the only way to deal with this, because people are always going to harp back to the success of 1981, is to just trash it and start again, and change completely. So I started to do solo albums that were radically different. The first one I did was called 'Prostitute'. It was about my anger at how I was perceived at being a married woman, ironically.

Mike Davies:  'Ophelia's Shadow' and 'Prostitute', probably some of the best stuff she's ever done. She was exploring the idea of identity, and masks within that. A lot of it was coming out from herself that she'd never really explored, her inner self. She'd projected a lot of rage, a lot of issues that I don't think she'd ever really examined herself, as a woman, as a spiritual person, and the place of women within society. I think a lot of those later albums, 'Prostitute' especially, in terms of the music biz and what she'd experienced in that, were very deep albums. Probably the most moving stuff she's ever written.
 

Noddy Holder: Toyah and Robert decided to form their own band, called Sunday All Over The World.

Robert: We were married on my 40th birthday, May 16th 1986, and Sunday All Over The World was a bopping little rock group!

Toyah: I'm a performer. I'm at my best when I'm onstage. I do very little rock music, even though I'm gigging and I am releasing material, but I'm not earning a living from that. I earn my living from acting, and being onstage.

Noddy Holder: Today Toyah is in the middle of a 10 month stage tour of Calamity Jane. But she still gets time to write and perform her own music, including 'Little Tears Of Love'.

Robert: My wife is a wonderful, bright,  little spark!

Derek Goddard: I think Toyah will be remembered as the Punk Princess. She was an original.

Bina: A great British institution, dare I say it? Not that she's old, but...!

Robert: It's constantly a surprise for me to look at her and see that she is so tiny, because her presence is so large.

Toyah: I just think that we've all got to look at our lives from beginning to end. You can't just look at it from the teens. You've got to look at it from birth to when you die, hopefully in your late hundreds! It's a journey, it's an adventure. It's not about buying the house, settling down, retiring, it's just NOT about that. It's a spiritual journey. It's about evolving, and I think if I've got anything right, it's my attitude.

Noddy Holder: What a performer. And what a lady. There's still no stopping her, is there? Well done Toyah!

Toyah - 'Rock Legends' Soundtrack:

I Want To Be Free - Toyah
We Are (Live at Drury Lane) -Toyah 
Be Proud Be Loud (Be Heard) - Toyah
Starman - David Bowie
Brave New World - Toyah
God Save The Queen - Sex Pistols
Kings Of The Wild Frontier - Adam & The Ants
It's A Mystery - Toyah
I Want To Be Free - Toyah
Thunder In The Mountains - Toyah
We Are (Live at Drury Lane) - Toyah
Good Morning Universe - Toyah
Don't Fall In Love (I Said) - Toyah
Little Tears Of Love - Toyah

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