❉ First released in 1979, Cherry Red’s expanded edition of Toyah’s debut album is a must-have.
Sheep Farming in Barnet was the debut studio mini-album by the band Toyah, fronted by Toyah Willcox. It was originally released in 1979 as a 6-track extended EP, dubbed an ‘Alternate Play’ record by Safari Records, and was later expanded into full-album status the following year, thus marking a significant anniversary this year in 2020.
In 1990, the album was later reissued on CD, cassette and white vinyl by Great Expectations, and again in 2002 on CD by Safari themselves, digitally remastered and coupled with the band’s second album, The Blue Meaning. It is now being re-issued by Cherry Red as a 2CD/DVD or white vinyl format as a package containing a brand new introductory note from Toyah, a must-have DVD, plus unseen images including the album cover shoot from RAF Fylingdales Early Warning site in Yorkshire.
Beautifully presented in a gatefold digipak, this much-anticipated expanded and remastered re-issue marks the fortieth anniversary of the album, which originally reached Number 1 on the UK indie chart in February 1980. It contains thirty bonus tracks including previously unreleased/demos and the DVD features rare TV footage, new interviews and an acoustic session accompanied by a 24 page booklet with unseen imagery of Toyah, the band.
Lead singer Toyah Willcox was heavily reliant on her visual image, which was one of the strongest looks of the early part of the 1980s. Her clever use of aesthetics led her to produce her own range of make-up, enabling her young fans to embrace her strong Boadicea-like projected image, thus providing a positive, strong role model for her female fans. Toyah, along with peers such as Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry’s Blondie and Chrissie Hynde gave out hopeful messages to impressionable teens that were buying their records that women do matter, encouraging fans both male and female to embrace themselves and do whatever the hell you would like to do, regardless of the stereotype gender roles which dominated the previous decade, and which they had grown up with.
The album opens on side one (the ‘Heaven’ side) with the song Neon Womb, starting with a prog rock edge and ending as pure punk rock. As the album progresses through Indecision, Waiting and Computer it’s a fusion of joyful punk-style screeching and a melodic cacophony between voice, guitars and drums, the latter provided by Toyah band members Mark Henry (bass), Joel Bogan (guitar) and Steve Bray (drums).
With Pete Bush on keyboards, the Toyah sound is complete. The ‘Hell’ Side starts with Our Movie and progresses through Danced and Last Goodbye until we reach the Vivisection Mix of Victims of the Riddle with the poignant lyrics “Is there a heaven, Is there a Hell, Do both exist? Who can tell?”
Among the twenty previously unreleased tracks over the two CDs, are the versions of songs originally recorded for the new wave-flavoured BBC detective drama Shoestring starring Trevor Eve (Toyah guest-starred in the episode “Find The Lady” performing Neon Womb, Waiting and Danced) as well as the original voice improvisation that became 1979’s Victims of the Riddle and the band’s first ever pre-signing 1978 demos.
The sleeve notes in the full colour booklet which accompanies the package, are compiled by Toyah’s archivist Craig Astley and was researched with input from Joe Bogan, giving an authentic version of events through the band’s history. The region free DVD contains new features with Toyah Willcox, an interview about the album and period it came out and a track by track interview chronicling the recording origins for the first time, as well as rare performance clips for What’s On (1979) and The Old Grey Whistle Test (1980) making the DVD alone, a fan ‘must have’.
Disc 2, as is usually the case with Cherry Red reissues, contains unreleased, demos, instrumentals and remixes of the original songs from the album, thus giving the listener an insight to the recording process and the development of the final songs. The disc is split into four sections; Spaceward Studios May 1978, and Dec 1978 followed by Chappell Studios May-June 1979 and finally Rollerball Studios 1979, each recording offers the unproduced versions of 21 disparate songs giving the listener a true insight to the raw sounds of each song, often flawless in their delivery despite their lack of added production.
This is truly a well-considered re-issue package that will appeal to both fans and lovers of Toyah’s unique brand of post-punk rock.
❉ ‘Toyah: Sheep Farming In Barnet’ is released by Cherry Red Records, 11 December 2020. 2CD/1DVD Deluxe Edition digipak with a fully illustrated 24-page booklet RRP £20.99. Limited Edition Coloured Vinyl LP RRP £19.99.
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.
Header image: Toyah Willcox, 1980. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images)