SOMER VALLEY 97.5 FM
DOM CHAMBERS: The Great British Alternative Music Festival is taking place in Butlins in Minehead this weekend and I'm joined on the line by Toyah! Hello Toyah!
TOYAH (on the phone): Hi! How are you doing?
DOM: I'm very well. Looking forward to seeing you in the West Country. There's an amazing billing. It sums up a generation! Buzzcocks, Damned, Cockney Rejects, From The Jam, Bad Manners, taking us back to the late 70's early 80's! What can the audience expect from Toyah?
TOYAH: Well, as you can probably guess it's a bit of a punky weekend. It's going to be high energy, high octane. I'm concentrating – because I'm on tour all year but I'm touring new stuff at the moment but for this we're going to back to first three albums which “Sheep Farming In Barnet”, “Blue Meaning” and “Anthem”. All platinum albums for me.
But the weekend I think it's going to be very lively. Minehead Butlins has become a bit of mecca for cult artists - Iggy Pop's played there, Nick Cave's played there so I think it's going to be absolutely heaving!
Photo collage by David Fleming of toyah.net
DOM: I want to ask you about your new material but let's dwell on the principal kind of look of this weekend. How's the audience changed for you - because I imagine the kids who were with you back in those very early years are now kind of in the middle years, got kids of their own. How's the audience changed?
TOYAH: Well, it's an interesting one because we tend to get generations there rather than one age group. The fans that we had originally – some come back to be inquisitive, to kind of re-visit the music, some have always been there – they've been with us for 30 years and come to every show. But nostalgia and vintage is such a big thing at the moment that we're getting a really young audience.
My album sales have picked up considerably in the last 10 years thanks to young students wanting vintage material and re-invention – resurfacing of vinyl. People want vinyl in their hands now and manufacturers are making record players again. It's incredibly exciting time for live music.
And when I look over an audience I see 16 years olds, 18 years olds, I see 40 years olds, I even see 60 years olds. There seems to be no boundaries. The age groups don't seem be putting boundaries and bubbles around themselves. They're all out there together. And it's great! It's a great time for live music.
DOM: Well, one of the things I do when I'm doing these live interviews is I put a notice up about them and I got a question from - which is relevant to what you've just been saying - from Martin Piper who asked me to ask you is to whether you still have a turntable at home and whether you play vinyl yourself or if you've moved to a kind of more electronic generation of playout?
TOYAH: My vinyl is all up in the attic. I am praying it hasn't warped and it's all in good shape. I haven't even looked at it in about 25 years. So I have my collection. It's a good collection. I've got some fabulous first edition prints there from The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones … but I have to say that I don't have a turntable.
I listen to everything on my laptop, I'm probably not a purist when it comes to music. I'm more a kind of inquisitive pleasure seeker. And I kind of trawl through Youtube looking for new stuff. But I'm not sure I would get a turntable. I don't like stuff – I'm not a collector. I kind of like my home to be incredibly neat with as little in it as possible.
DOM: So what is in your attic can actually be contained in something the size of mobile phone or less?
TOYAH: Yeah - I know! It's incredible!
DOM: Yeah. Thinking about the sort of the album years one of things I miss - I'm totally not a luddite like yourself - kind of remember albums with nostalgia, quite happy to access these things in what ever more convenient things there are but the lamentable thing is that the album genre - if you like - came with artwork didn't it? Now I've got a great memory of that live album – was it “Toyah! Toyah! Toyah!”?
TOYAH: Yeah -
DOM: Which came out in the early 1980's with a fantastic painting on it. Tell me about that?
TOYAH: That painting was done by an artist called Dexter Brown who normally paints racing cars and he was a good friend and he'd done the painting for Capital Radio. That painting (above) used to hang at the entrance in Capital Radio in London. And we used it for the artwork.
But I think what's so incredible about this painting is that he really caught the energy of how I am as a performer. And he used to come to the live shows and paint, he'd be on the side of the stage and quickly sketching away in pastels. And they were just astonishing! The energy that comes out of his work ... I don't know were that painting is now – I think it's still in my original record company's office. But they're big paintings.
DOM: Let's think about what the younger generation are being informed as they're creating music, as they're appreciating music from the previous ones and here at Sommer Valley we're very multi-generational. I was fascinated by what the generation below me are listening to. What do you think the youngsters are getting out of your generation – the punk going into New Wave and the sort vibrancy and energy that I remember from that era. Why are they interested in that do you think, why are they coming to see you?
TOYAH: I think because there is a very healthy interested in vintage. Vintage is not a dirty word among the young generation. They are picking up on themes and trends that interest them and they're re-inventing it. They're recycling an awful lot of stuff over the last three decades. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing because they are doing with re-invention.
And I think they're coming to see bands that play their instruments well, that wrote songs particularly well and they're learning a lot from what we're doing. I think they come along and see a masterclass to be honest because we've all been the road for 30 odd years so we know what we're doing and we're not painting by numbers.
So I think they get a lot from how the lyrics are written, how the songs are written and how we perform. And I think they like to see it in the flesh rather than just on Youtube.
DOM: You mentioned – you're obviously still very active as a writer – how do you go about writing new material and how do you go about presenting that to an audience who is very familiar with your past work?
Photo by Dean Stockings
TOYAH: Well, I charted three weeks ago with my American band The Humans (live in London 2001, above) so I don't even pretend to say this is Toyah material. I mean the fact that we're called The Humans means it's not about a lead singer.
The way I write for The Humans I start on Garage Band, which is a basic programme on my computer. I put the bars together, I put the basic bass, drums and keyboards together and then I present it to the band and then we re-arrange it and re-write it. So that's how the nucleus starts with there.
In England, that band is based in Seattle, when I'm writing in England with my writing partner Simon Darlow we go in the studio and I arrive with either a lyric or arrive with a vocal melody and we just piece it together. Writing is incredibly organic and very fluid. I don't have any set method. It's whatever you feel like doing what's going to infuse you and kind of give you energy and you like the sound of it.
But when you are being creative – whether I'm writing a book, I'm writing a short story or a song or a TV project - because I write projects about TV documentaries and present them to TV companies – you've got to start somewhere.
You don't sit and look at a blank page, even if I write a shopping list down it's a starting point that gives you a critical point of view, something you can analyze and you can move on from there – but you never look at a blank page.
DOM: You mentioned your work in TV and of course those of us with long memories will remember a previous West Country excursion for you - appearing on “Shoestring” (below) which is a detective fiction based in Bristol wasn't it?
TOYAH: Yeah, with Trevor Eve. It completely changed my life because they used the “Sheep Farming In Barnet” EP and they used 4 songs off it which worked incredibly well. We shot around Weston-super-Mare and parts of Bristol and it charted the next week. It was just incredible. One of the best things I've ever done!
DOM: Let's get a good memory from you – from that early era. There was a vibrancy, there was real excitement, a sense of innovation going on in music – even if punk came about as a kind of shambolic accident – it had a really strong affect on what was going on in the world of the music companies and also the listeners. What memory from that era sort of sums it up for you?
TOYAH: Well, it divided people incredibly. It was a massive shock in a very conservative country. People didn't understand it and your use of the word shambolic I think was part of its cleverness because it wasn't shambolic at all. It was us all learning on our feet in the middle of the marathon.
I think it was actually a beautiful movement that allowed people who felt completely dispossessed – they couldn't see a future, they couldn't find anything that they related to - it gave them a place to kind of stand and look around them across the landscape that seemed so alien to them. And see other people striving to do things differently.
I think it was of the most important movements in the history of mankind personally because it shifted how we looked at disability, it shifted how we looked the diversity of gayness and sexuality, it shifted how we looked at women in the workplace. It was a fantastic period!
DOM: So you would say that world is a better place for it?
DOM: This is is an incredible line up – I've got on screen in front of me – that you're going to be with over weekend. Buzzcocks, Damned, Cockney Rejects, what have we got here – Blockheads and the great John Otway, lots of people. Who are you most looking forward to seeing and catching up with?
TOYAH: All of them. I've just recently acted on The Blockheads new video (above) which was great fun. I think it's called “Boys Will Be Boys” and you can actually view it on my website toyahwillcox.com, it's very funny and it's a great song. I'm friends with all of them, I know The Damned, I know Bad Manners, I know The Blockheads. It's going to be a fabulous weekend.
DOM: I'm thinking of coming along – what would you say to me?
TOYAH: Hehe! Get ready to pogo!
DOM: (laughs) It's been fantastic talking to you today Toyah, have a great weekend and also good luck with your wider touring.
TOYAH: That's fabulous, thank you!