BBC RADIO OXFORD
WITH KAT ORMAN
KAT ORMAN: It all started at school - somewhere, Toyah told me, in the pre-fab dressing room area behind the stage at Cropedy, she wasn't really very happy.
TOYAH: I didn't enjoy school at all. I didn't fit into the system. Partly dyslexia and a few other things. I actually used to spend every day just looking out of the window wishing it was over. And it's kind of sad really because you know, those young years are so formative. I often think that if I went to drama school and had music lessons it would've been a much better time. I wasn't interested in the three R's whatsoever.
KAT: And what about your parents? Obviously they recognised that you had this talent so – I know you went to drama school, you went to Birmingham Rep eventually … but did they not sort of encourage you to act and sing?
TOYAH: The only encouragement came because I was relentless about it and wouldn't give the dream up. I wasn't really encouraged to do anything. I came from a background where the encouragement just wasn't there. It was … I think partly it's the humour of where I come from is that the humour is slightly derogatory.
So when you had a dream and you had an idea and you had an ambition you were laughed back down to the ground. So I don't feel I was supported at all but I knew that in a way because of that I had fight even harder and I did. We had a family friend who ran Pebble Mill where the BBC was based and he sponsored me into the Birmingham Old Rep theatre school. And even though I wasn't great there and really had a long way to go, it gave me a platform and gave me somewhere I felt I belonged and that was the beginning.
And then I started rebelling I suppose around the age of a about 14 when my mother took me to a very large department store to have my hair done in the hair salon there and I clicked with the hair dresser and became his hair model. And I've known this boy – he's a man now! I've known him for – let me work this out … 40 years. He's been doing my hair for 43 years and I ended up doing shows with him and he ended up dying my hair all colours under the rainbow.
This really made me feel special. It got into a lot of trouble at school and into a lot of trouble at drama school but I got spotted on the streets of Birmingham by two directors, the Peacap brothers who write together and I ended up starring in a play at Pebble Mill for BBC2 in 1976.
KAT: Some of those looks, if I think about those pictures of you in the 80's, the strong hair cut, the different colours in your hair, the really strong 80's make-up as well ... I mean was that all born out of your love of outer space and aliens as well?
TOYAH: I didn't want to be “normal”. I was very very interested in the paranormal and the extra terrestrial, you know – otherworldliness. It's a fascinating subject and I think also many many people I know don't feel that this is it. We feel connected in a greater way and so I was always exploring that and I felt back then if that's how I felt on the inside, that's how I should look on the outside. Therefore I wasn't scared about expressing myself.
And I think today it's a very different society, people can express themselves any way they want and it is a form of tribalism I like to think. Tribalism can be very healthy. And back then it was establishing this tribalism – I was the tribe of Toyah, I wanted to be completely different, act differently, almost wanted to be genderless and never ever wanted my natural hair colour to ever come back!
KAT: And you were really honest with your audience from the very start because in 1981 the two Top 10's “I Want To Be Free”, “It's A Mystery” as well – you were declaring who you were!
TOYAH: Oh God, yeah! Absolutely! It was a time for strong women. And the fascinating thing about the beginning of the 80's is that there were very few women in music. I mean you can count them on both hands. There's Siouxie Sioux, Hazel O'Connor, Kate Bush, Kim Wilde, Suzie Quatro was still going but it was a rarity still back then and we had to be strong. Otherwise we were just invisible.
KAT: Well, you're not certainly invisible and 13 Top 40 singles, 20 albums, 2 books, 40 stage plays, the list goes on, 15 feature films and many appearances in some very very diverse television as well. But here we are Toyah, sat in a field in Oxfordshire, in Cropedy at Fairports's Cropedy Convention but you're no stranger to Oxfordshire because I know that you peruse old bookshops in Oxford city?
TOYAH: Oh yeah, my husband is a mad bibliophile, he loves books. Every morning you can't disturb him until midday because he is reading a book so we often kind of gravitate towards Oxford because he likes his academic books, I like the more unusual books. We very rarely are looking for stuff that is in the top selling 100, we want something a bit more extreme so Oxford is the place to go.
KAT: So you're also starring in a film which premieres next week called “Ahhhh!”
TOYAH: Yeah, that's it : A h h h h as in screaming. The tag line on the poster to it is “we are not men”. I think it's an incredibly clever film. It's going to divide people, it's going to upset people, it's unbelievably violent and overtly sexual. But it's funny. It's written and directed by Steve Oram who had a huge hit with a cult film called “Sightseers” and he's in films like “World's End” with Simon Pegg, he's part of that team.
And in “Ahhh!” you've got Julian Barrat, you've got myself, you've got Noel Fielding. It's all that group of comedians. There's no language in it, we communicate by screaming and grunting at each other. But you understand what we're portraying. And it's about the alpha male or the lack of the alpha male and the fact that is there an alpha male? So it's all the animal in us and the structures we try to build to protect ourselves.
KAT: Very different to Teletubbies!
TOYAH: Couldn't be further away!
KAT: So you're just about to of course get ready to get on that Cropedy stage (below) a little bit later on – are you just going to take us straight back to the 80's?
TOYAH: Well yeah, obviously I've got a 37 year career to tap into. We don't do everything from the 80's. I obviously do all the singles but my last single was out about five years ago and that went to number 2 on the iTunes chart so we're spanning quite a few decades. We also do a few covers, for the audience out there who don't know who I am. It's nice to involve them with a cover and kind of get them up and dancing and having a good time.
KAT: Is this what you like to be a part of, Toyah, this kind of festival atmosphere?
TOYAH: Yeah, I think festivals are absolutely fantastic, they … it's like film making – you get together for a brief amount of time and you have to make friends very quickly and you work with the audience very quickly. It's really very magical and as long as it's not raining it's absolutely fine.
KAT: I'm so glad, it's been wonderful to sit down with you, I'm so glad we could and it's been an honour – because I wanted to be you Toyah! Back in the 80's!
TOYAH: Well, I hope you've grown out of that!
Photo by Kev Toa