Album Review

Toyah – Toyah! Toyah! Toyah!: Album Review

Third installment in Cherry Red’s deluxe reissue series of Toyah’s Safari Records catalogue

Release Date:  13th May 2022

Label: Cherry Red Records

Formats: CD + DVD, Limited edition neon yellow vinyl

So – here we are again. Just about a year ago, we were pleased to review the deluxe reissue of Toyah’s second album, The Blue Meaning, and now, here comes installment number three in Cherry Red Records’ Toyah reissue series – a CD/DVD reassessment of the seminal 1980 live album, Toyah! Toyah! Toyah!  And, as usual, it’s a cracking package.  The CD-half of the package comprises, for the first time, the entire concert – complete with encores – from Toyah’s show on 17 June 1980 at Wolverhampton’s legendary Club Lafayette.  The CD is accompanied by a DVD of the 1980 ATV documentary film ‘Toyah’ – a splendid period piece that captures Toyah at home, at work and at play, just as she reached the very cusp of her major commercial breakthrough.  As usual, the package comes complete with an informative booklet, this time with detailed sleevenotes from Craig Astley, Toyah’s official archivist, and an introductory reminiscence from Toyah herself.

The gig at the Club Lafayette was added, for the benefit of the ATV camera crew, to the itinerary of Toyah’s 1980 Ieya Tour to provide some live footage for inclusion in the documentary that was in the process of being compiled.  The band played a slightly shorter set than was normal for the time, with material drawn exclusively from the debut album Sheep Farming In Barnet and the (then) new release The Blue Meaning and the resulting live album, Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! was a triumph.  Toyah is on top form as she shrieks, squeaks, groans and howls her way through a dramatic performance.  The recording captures the enclosed atmosphere of the packed club wonderfully – in the way that the best live albums always seem to manage – and the setlist is inspired.  Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! Reached number three in the indie chart and stayed in that chart for over a year and was Toyah’s first album to creep into the national album chart, peaking at number 22.  Big things were just around the corner, and that impending breakthrough seems to ooze from the very grooves of this album.

The band lineup for the Wolverhampton show was the one that had just released The Blue Meaning – Joel Bogen on guitar, Pete Bush on keyboards, Steve Bray on drums, Charlie Francis on bass and, of course, Toyah Wilcox on vocal noises, and they’re tight, punchy and cooking – a fact that hits the listener right away on set opener Victims Of The Riddle.  Producer Nick Watson has done a great job in remastering these tracks; the typically 1980s synth-heavy sound is retained, but the drums have been given a new depth and crispness and the excitement of the live event has been emphasized.

Toyah’s anecdotes are an enjoyable feature of her present-day shows and I found it striking that on Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! the dialogue between band and audience was kept to a minimum and I suspect that, even back in 1980, it was with reluctance that the gregarious Toyah limited her audience interaction to an occasional “Thankyou” and short announcements of the song titles.  Nevertheless, the band is on fire as they surge through a set that includes a sizzling version of the punchy Indecision, an emotional take on Love Me, an epic Vision, a stompy, heavy run through Danced and a creepy, yet somehow alluring delivery of Insects, Toyah’s riposte to the members of her audience who believed that their entrance fee entitled them to grope her whenever she came within touching distance.

Elsewhere, there’s a scary, fatalistic version of Race Through Space, in which Toyah delivers her vocals like a demented siren, before the usual set-closer, Ieya, which builds and builds until it sighs to a grateful climax and Toyah offers the crowd a plaintiff “G’bye, Thankyou.”

And there it was that the original album ended.  Now, thankfully, the four-song encore has been added to the tracklisting.  First encore, Ghosts, had previously featured as one of two tracks on the B-side of the live single, Danced.  A great song, of course, and not without a dose of humour, and the band’s enjoyment in playing it is evident here.  A curtailed version of Neon Womb was also included on that B-side and now it’s included in its entirety, in its rightful sequential place in the live set.  It’s rocky and exciting, particularly as the band gets faster and faster in an instrumental coda that, strangely, reminded me of Lynyrd Skynrd and Freebird!

The energy expended on Neon Womb has clearly exhausted Toyah, but she’s still game for more as she introduces the final two encores, the sinister She and a reprise of Danced.  She entreats the audience to give it everything, as she says “I wanna see you all knackered after Danced!”  For She, a number from The Blue Meaning, Toyah is at her dramatic best, as she takes a fiendish delight in singing the sado-masochistic lyrics with a relish that is, in equal parts, uncomfortable and alluring.  The reprised version of Danced is, perhaps, rougher than the version played earlier in the set, but the excitement in the venue comes over loud and clear.  This year at At The Barrier, we’re focusing on great live albums; we’ve already suggested a number of classics that bring the excitement of a great gig into your living room and, with Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! I think we’ve got another classic to add to our list!

But this deluxe reissue doesn’t end there – oh no!  The accompanying DVD, imaginatively titled “Toyah” was originally screened by ATV, a regional television channel that served London and the Midlands, on 17 November 1980.  It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the documentary film played a significant role in lifting Toyah’s public profile and in paving the way for the phenomenal success that was to come in 1981. 

Along with copious shots of British Rail and London Underground trains, the film includes lots of footage of Toyah going about her business of in-store record signings, television appearances, drama rehearsals, band rehearsals, recording sessions and some fascinating scenes of Toyah at home in the Battersea warehouse she christened “Mayhem.”  I particularly enjoyed the clip when she appeared on the television chat show, Straight Talk, and held her own as she was quizzed by a panel of unbelieving establishment figures.  The  concert footage of Danced, Insects and Ieya from the Wolverhampton concert that provided the material for Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! is wonderful and the film also includes promotional videos for New Womb and Blue Meanings but, perhaps the most enjoyable features of the film are the quotes that Toyah fires out with such amazing reassurance.  It’s through these quotes that we get a real insight into the way that Toyah’s mind was working back then – “I am not part of the old movement called punk.  I’m part of the future,” “I think like a man, because I work with men, and I don’t like being beaten,” “I’m not a punk.  I’m a modern woman,” “Cilla Black and Lulu have both done what I have done” and “I would like to become a commercial cult figure… the sort of audience I’m looking for is an obsessed audience,” are just five examples that leave the viewer in no doubt of the strength of Toyah’s resolve.

So what happened next?  The Toyah band split up just a couple of months after that memorable show at the Lafayette Club.  Toyah was distraught but soldiered on and, in February 1981, the EP Four From Toyah, featuring lead track It’s A Mystery was released.  It stormed the charts, hitting the number one spot in the indie chart and peaking at number four on the national singles chart, and things were never the same again.  In Toyah’s own words “I became the biggest thing in England since sliced bread.”

Cherry Red has done a great job with this repackage of Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! and there’s surely more to come in the pipeline.  Here at At The Barrier, we’re keeping a sharp lookout for the next albums in this series; let’s hope that Anthem (1981), The Changeling (1982) and Warrior Rock (1982) are not too far away from receiving deluxe treatments of their own!

Watch Toyah perform Neon Womb – a track from the album – on the German TV show Rockpop in 1980 here:

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