I strode into Bridge Street Records, Walsall aged seventeen looked under the letter T and sure enough there it was, Proud, Loud and Heard: The Best Of Toyah. Five pounds I think it was. The cover showed the singer in full Eighties get up, huge orange hair, bright blue eye shadow and a ghostly white face. I had seen this woman do a PA at The Nightingale Club in Birmingham a few days before. The performance was rapturous, dynamic and heart felt. I had never heard any of her songs before that night, I found myself oddly transfixed and drawn to this tiny figure making this incredibly powerful sound in front of me.
Naturally I began research immediately and downloaded what I could, this was 2004, long before torrents, this was when you had to download each track individually and it would take all day, such sweet rewards when they finally finished though. I decided I needed a physical thing, a CD. Hence the trip to the record shop. I took the CD to the counter and the man did a lisp ridden rendition of It’s a Mystery. I didn’t get the joke.
I regaled/bored my parents with my admiration for this painted beauty, they referred me to Siouxsie as a cooler more credible alternative. But I wouldn’t be swayed, for me Toyah represented the complete package, great vocalist, interesting and ever changing visuals as well as finely crafted new wave songs. I bought a batch of her 7’ singles of eBay for ninety nine pence so I could get a better look at the sleeves and her makeup and costumes.
Her looks were austere, elaborate and artificial, evidently a child of Bowie, I was particularly in love with The Brave New World sleeve where she appears sporting a neon pink wig and has birds flying amongst clouds painted on her face. The 1981 single Thunder In The Mountains also had great artwork, alabaster skin, yellow forehead, red lips and massive tangerine hair stuck up on end. This was all about projecting an image, looking loud and making a statement. I was lucky to discover a figure such as this in my formative years, when I too was beginning to hone a look. I have never seen anything even remotely close to being this interesting on MTV.
I went to see her play live with a full band in late 2004 for the first time, I had been playing her records non stop in the mean time so I was now fully versed in all the lyrics. The words were strange and empowering, just what I needed as a struggling seventeen year old poof. The performance was again an exercise in drama, unleashing operatic vocals whilst hurtling round the stage and looking borderline drag. I was not disappointed.
I have since discovered Toyah’s acting work and sampled the rest of her discography. Anyone with an interest in New Wave or Punk music really should own Sheep Farming in Barnet, this album really is a tour de force. The vocals are extremely expressive and the music bombastic. Crucially it is just a really weird record.
What I really admire about Toyah is her massive will to keep writing and performing. She has this animal energy to do, to make. She is not on some nostalgia trip either; she continues to create new and interesting music today, releasing material with her new band The Humans. This drive and sustained non-commercial output is very inspiring in a music industry infested with boil in the bag formulaic acts.