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TOYAH INTERVIEW [2011]

HOW HAVE THE FIRST 'SHEEP FARMING TO ANTHEM' SHOWS GONE FOR YOU?

Incredibly well, I mean the Cavern was just amazing, although it wasn't technically the best show for me. The band were fantastic, but I'd already been up for 48 hours by the time we were performing there which was not an ideal situation, but the audience were so incredibly, heavily into it… and they were amazingly diverse, there were lots of students there and I wasn't expecting that.

Also I'd already had a fantastic afternoon because they'd presented me with the brick in The Cavern's Wall of Fame which just was thrilling. I really wasn't expecting it and it meant so much to me. And the venue itself is a really lovely, perfect venue for an intimate show with true fans. It was just rammed; it was rammed to the rafters. The vibe was fabulous, really good, and I think we genuinely surprised everyone with the set list, the right kind of surprise!

I SAW A COPY OF THE SETLIST ONLINE AND IT DID LOOK AMAZING. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT CHOOSING WHICH TRACKS YOU PLAYED FROM ALL THE SONGS ACROSS THOSE THREE ALBUMS?

Where did you see the set list online, which site?

I THINK IT WAS ON FACEBOOK, SOMEONE HAD TAKEN A PICTURE OF IT ON THE STAGE...

I wish they wouldn't do that. I think it spoils it for everyone you know? I don't see the point of doing that. I think the event needs to happen in the moment, not before you arrive. This isn't like a U2 concert where all the technology is rehearsed for months beforehand. This is something that's supposed to be a bit more spontaneous.

I SUPPOSE IT'S FRUSTRATING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE PERSON THAT GOES TO CONCERTS AS WELL. THE FIRST TIME I SAW YOU LIVE BACK IN THE 80S I CAN REMEMBER THE WEEKEND BEFORE THE CONCERT I PLAYED EVERY SINGLE TOYAH TRACK I HAD IN CASE YOU PLAYED THEM, JUST SO I WOULD BE ABLE TO RECOGNISE THEM INSTANTLY AND SING THE SONGS AND CONNECT WITH THEM. AT THAT TIME I HAD NO IDEA WHAT YOU'D PLAY, YOU'D PROBABLY DONE LOADS OF SHOWS ON THAT TOUR ALREADY BUT THERE WAS NO WAY OF ME ACCESSING THAT INFORMATION TO FIND OUT, WHICH MADE IT JUST REALLY EXCITING.

Yeah, that's exactly it!

I WAS GOING TO ASK IF THE SET LIST WOULD CHANGE AT ALL OR IF IT WAS FAIRLY STRUCTURED NOW?

No, it's going to change. We definitely will be making changes, and if people keep posting stuff online I'm going to keep changing it!

WE WENT OFF AT A BIT OF A TANGENT THERE. I WAS GOING TO ASK HOW ARE YOU CAME TO CHOOSE THE SONGS THAT MAKE THE SET LIST FROM THOSE THREE ALBUMS?

Well I think that first is what my ears like, listening to a song. If I instinctively like it then it's going to go high up on the list. Then obviously fans have favourite songs, like 'Bird in Flight' which just remains incredibly popular, which I probably wouldn't have chosen, but now we've played that in a bit I'm really enjoying performing it, because it is so different to the rest of the material. I think basically we've chosen from what we feel this particular band line-up can do and what we think dynamically works in the space of an hour and a half. We've tried to stay completely loyal to those first three albums and not step outside of that, so that kind of is the first priority. With songs like 'Victims of the Riddle' or 'Waiting', which are improvisations, it took a while for the band to actually click why those worked, but they now really love them.

My band are all highly-qualified technical musical people so to suddenly give them something with no logical content to it, it was a bit of a mindfuck for them really. So it was quite interesting, and with 'Blue Meaning', which has alternate four-bar, five-bar sections, they just love it, because very rarely in rock music do you get to play something that is quite that challenging or demanding. So that one went down really well.

YOU'RE NOT REALLY SOMEONE WHO PARTICULARLY LOOKS BACK AT THE PAST ARE YOU? WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO DO A TOUR LIKE THIS?

No, I'm not, but I mean, this is the thirtieth anniversary of 'Anthem', which just seems appropriate.

ABSOLUTELY, I MEAN 'ANTHEM' WAS BASICALLY THE ALBUM THAT PUT YOU WHERE YOU ARE TODAY WASN'T IT?

Well, yes, although I think with the die-hards, with the earlier punky army of fans, it was 'Sheep Farming in Barnet' and 'The Blue Meaning' so that's why we included all three together because I think that's a very defined time frame. It wasn't just ‘Anthem’; I think it was those three albums.

WAS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO ADJUST FROM BEING A CULT ARTIST TO SUDDENLY BEING RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MAINSTREAM?

No, I didn't have any difficulty at all. I mean I wanted mainstream. Everyone, all my contemporaries - Adam Ant, Siouxsie Banshee, X-ray Spex - they were all, not so much mainstream but they were accepted by the establishment for what they were, and that's what I wanted as well.

I MEAN THIS IN A GOOD WAY, BUT THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS - 'SHEEP FARMING IN BARNET' AND 'THE BLUE MEANING' - ARE BOTH PRETTY STRANGE ALBUMS AREN'T THEY, MUSICALLY SPEAKING?

They are very strange, they're slightly naïve, because at the time it was a backlash against conforming to femininity and I think we were all doing it; Poly Styrene, The Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees… we were all fighting that conservative conformity. So for me, my way in was being as weird as possible. Listening back to those albums now I think 'Oh god, oh no'. They're all about fear of death, about feeling alienated, and I would never write something like that now. But the energy and the musicality and the melody are still really, really good I think, and really stand up incredibly well today.

I wouldn't write like that today though and to a certain extent I'm terribly embarrassed by certain lyrics I've written, you know? 'Bird in Flight' embarrasses me, 'Race Through Space' embarrasses me, but, it doesn't mean they should never be performed again.

I SUPPOSE IT'S A BIT LIKE THAT EXPERIENCE OF LOOKING AT OLD PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOURSELF OR READING POEMS YOU WROTE A LONG TIME AGO?

Yeah, I'm totally different today. I mean that's time, that's experience, but also you are influenced by what culture and fashion is today, and even though I think the set we're doing on this particular tour has a relevance - especially with young indie bands and what they're doing - but if I released it now I don't think it would make a mark, even though back then it was culturally right.

WHEN YOU WERE GETTING EVERYTHING READY FOR THIS TOUR, PLANNING THE SETLIST AND THE MUSIC AND THINGS, DID YOU BRING INTO THE LOOP THE 'TOYAH, TOYAH, TOYAH' LIVE ALBUM TO REFERENCE HOW YOU PERFORMED BACK THEN?

Yeah, we referenced a section of 'Toyah, Toyah, Toyah' and we referenced 'Bird In Flight' even though actually it's wrong on 'Toyah, Toyah, Toyah', I came in eight bars too early! But yeah, we did reference it from there. 'Victims' we had to reference from there too, because I had to choose which improvisation worked.

IT'S MAYBE AN ODD THING TO SAY, BECAUSE YOU WERE KIND OF VERY MUCH TIED UP IN THE WHOLE PUNK THING IN THE LATE 70'S, THERE'S QUITE A LOT OF JAZZY STUFF ISN'T THERE, WITHIN THOSE FIRST TWO RECORDS?

Yeah, that's Joel Bogen's influence, I think. Joel loved jazz rock!

IT'S KIND OF NOT WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT FROM A BAND COMING OUT OF THAT SCENE, BUT I THINK THAT'S KIND OF WHAT MADE THOSE RECORDS QUITE EXCITING AND SPECIAL AND DIFFERENT...

Well, everyone back then was working with three chords! We were a little bit more, I suppose middle class about it, for want of a better word. We often got criticised for the fact that what we wrote was verging on a kind of American rock. I remember a lot of critics would have preferred it if we didn't use so many structures. I think that the punk pocket that I sat in was not about that type of music so we were standing a little bit outside of the zone, as it were.

YOU SAID THAT SOME OF THE LISTENING BACK WASN'T NECESSARILY VERY COMFORTABLE FOR YOU AND YOU FELT THAT SOME OF IT IS NAÏVE, BUT WERE THERE ANY OF THOSE SONGS FROM THOSE FIRST TWO OR THREE ALBUMS THAT ACTUALLY YOU DON'T FEEL THAT ABOUT, THAT YOU FEEL ARE GREAT SONGS THAT YOU'RE STILL REALLY PROUD OF?

Yes there is, 'Blue Meanings' I think is astonishing, I just think 'My god, it's so dark', and my band play it like a kind of Kurt Weill Berlin night club number. I love the way they are playing it, they put a kind of swing in it that I never noticed before, and it really is astonishing; your hair stands up on end. 'Pop Star' is another one I think is absolutely wonderful. It's still totally relevant to today and technology in that you can have a song about being accessible and yet you know no one and you're stranded in a situation you can't change. I just think it's still so relevant to today.

SO FAR WE'VE REALLY TALKED ABOUT JUST THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS, WE HAVEN'T REALLY TOUCHED ON 'ANTHEM' UNTIL NOW. THE TRANSITION BETWEEN 'BLUE MEANING' AND THEN THE 'ANTHEM' PROJECT WAS QUITE STARTLING, WHAT WAS IT THAT CREATED THAT SHIFT?

Let me think… I think it was probably the band change. For 'Blue Meaning' I had the original line up of Pete Bush, Steve Bray, Charlie Francis and then the band completely changed, only Joel and I stayed and Nick Tauber put a new band together for the 'Anthem' album. So I think those influences greatly changed and affected the writing. Adrian Lee came in, Nigel Glockler on drums and Phil Spalding on bass – they all brought their influences in and that probably changed it a bit, and then of course I put 'It's a Mystery' on it, which was written by a man called Keith Hale from a band called Blood Donor, so I think influences changed radically because it was a completely new band.

I DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS TRUE OR IF IT'S JUST MY SORT OF READING OF IT, BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE 'ANTHEM' WAS VERY MUCH MORE THE SAME VOICE RUNNING THROUGH ALL THE SONGS, IT SEEMS MORE THEMED SOMEHOW?

Yeah, it definitely was themed. Everything was written in the same two weeks so I think that gave it a certain continuity, and I had to record it the same day as writing it. I think there was also a maturity because of my experiences, and there was confidence as well because we were writing 'Anthem' while having the hit with 'It's A Mystery' so it was a really, really exciting time. And having confidence and having success really changes who and what you are, it gives you a larger stature, and I think with 'Anthem' all the hard work was paying off. Does that make sense?

YES, IT DOES. THERE WAS ALSO THE IMAGERY THAT SURROUNDED 'ANTHEM' AND THE IMAGES THAT YOU CREATED AT THAT TIME THAT WERE INCREDIBLY STRONG, VERY INFLUENTIAL. ARE YOU DRAWING ON ANY OF THOSE IMAGES FOR THIS TOUR? PULLING OUT OLD COSTUMES AND ACCESSORIES AND THINGS LIKE THAT?

At the moment we're not, because the tour's about music and I'm not going to dress up as in the past. I've been asked to but I think it's completely wrong. I'm 52 and actually think there would be something deeply wrong with doing it, and deeply sad, but I might find a linking image – something that works for my age now, you know, take an image from '81 and progress it into today? But this show isn't about replicating 1981, it's about presenting the songs from that period. I think if I went on stage dressed in an old costume, I just think the headlines about being very sad would be justified. I just don't think it's right, personally.

DO YOU SEE THIS TOUR AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO KIND OF REWORK SOME OF THOSE SONGS IN A WAY THAT MAKES YOU MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THEM TODAY?

We have to address the keys the songs are in as my voice is lower now, but we're not doing new arrangements. I think that actually it's wrong to do new arrangements. We're not doing complete copies of the originals either because the band set up is different, but we're honouring the originals. In some cases, like 'Bird in Flight' the key is lower, and stuff like that. We want people to recognise what they like.

IN BETWEEN THE 'SHEEP FARMING TO ANTHEM' SHOWS YOU'RE DOING ALL SORTS OF OTHER SHOWS THIS YEAR TOO, INCLUDING A LOT OF FESTIVALS. HOW DIFFERENT DOES IT FEEL PLAYING FESTIVALS OPPOSED TO PLAYING YOUR OWN SHOWS?

At festivals it's literally to do with time. At a festival they only want you on stage for about forty-minutes to an hour, so you really have to cherry pick what you're going to play. With the Rebellion Festival that's coming up we're going to play all the hard punk stuff because that is the audience, that audience knows 'Sheep Farming' and 'Blue Meaning' so it will be that kind of show.

With the Here And Now festivals all they want is the hits, and it's the same with the Clumber Park festival, they want a kind of sing along nostalgia show. So it's not that difficult really to choose. I really enjoy festivals because you're kind of in your own bubble with a massive audience; it's very, very nice.

With the Toyah shows we're doing very small venues - so far we've been having slight problems with the audience being louder than the band - but you know, that's what the audience wants and it's obviously much more intimate. I mean in a festival you can be talking to the audience but you can never quite feel that you're talking directly to anyone out there, whereas in a club you can actually hear people and answer back and stuff like that.

FUNNILY ENOUGH, I ASKED THE SAME QUESTION OF HAZEL O'CONNOR AND SHE TALKED ABOUT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF IT. SHE SAID IF YOU PLAY YOUR OWN SHOW THEN IT ALL REVOLVES AROUND YOU AND THE RESPONSIBILITY IS ALL ON YOUR SHOULDERS, BUT AT A FESTIVAL THERE'S WHOLE LINE-UP OF OTHER PEOPLE AND THE RESPONSIBILITY IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...

Oh, I totally agree! I mean at a festival you go on and you do your allotted slot and there's far less pressure, whereas at your own concert you find people always want what you don't give them... you give them two hours of old stuff and they go 'well why didn't you play any new stuff?' which, I think, puts more weight on your shoulders. I am tougher about it these days though. I believe in what I'm giving them, I stretch myself to give them that, and that's what they're get. But I totally agree it's a very different responsibility.

I KNOW THAT YOU ALWAYS HAVE SO MANY PROJECTS ON THE GO THAT I CAN NEVER COVER THEM ALL IN AN INTERVIEW, BUT I DID WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE NEXT ALBUM FROM THE HUMANS, 'SUGAR RUSH', WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH THAT AT THE MOMENT?

Well, we've got the record label set in America and we're going to be touring America either later in the year or early next year. In this country we're probably only going to release it on app. and then have vinyl available at the shows.

FINALLY, THE FIRST TIME I EVER SPOKE TO YOU WAS IN 1985 ON THE PETER POWELL SHOW ON RADIO ONE WHEN I PHONED IN TO ASK YOU A QUESTION, AND I WANT TO ASK YOU THAT QUESTION AGAIN NOW, JUST FOR MY OWN INDULGENCE. THE QUESTION I ASKED YOU BACK THEN WAS 'WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE?'...

Well, I think those change hugely! For me now, I need a certain kind of privacy and solitude to be a creative person. For me to write a song I have to do that in a solitary state. I can't write songs if people keep pestering me, stuff like that, so, because I am so busy at the moment I'm finding that that solitary state is increasingly difficult, that's not a complaint, it's an observation. So, finding the right time and the right place and defining those has become even more important to me now than ever before.

The three most important things… having an audience is incredibly important, you can daydream and live in your own fantasy world 'til your last breath but if you don't have an audience, then for me it's almost a wasted exercise. My husband doesn't believe he needs an audience; his theory is that if he's happy with what he's written, that's all that counts. But I do believe you have to have an audience.

I'd say the third thing is having respect. This is partly about age, because I think, increasingly, as you get older, you feel there's a lack of respect in your life, and that goes for everyone. I think we're a society which doesn't honour age enough. But also being respected within the field you work is vastly, vastly important. It's soul destroying if there's no respect. So I'd say those three things. What did I say in 1985?

YOU CHOSE THE FANS, TV - FROM A MEDIA PERSPECTIVE, AS A PLATFORM FOR YOUR WORK, RATHER THAN BECAUSE YOU WATCHED IT A LOT! - AND YOUR COLLECTIONS OF BOOKS AND BUDDHAS, ALTHOUGH YOU DID SAY THAT MATERIAL THINGS WEREN'T REALLY IMPORTANT!

APRIL 2011

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