Toyah: ‘The Blue Meaning’

❉ The Blue Meaning reflects a busy and transitional period for the young and ambitious Toyah…

“Cherry Red’s second re-release of Toyah’s early output, The Blue Meaning is full of lyrics that reflect her interest in sci fi, occultism and Nostradamus… Self-admittedly pretentious in a good way, Toyah’s lyrics and singing style often also seem to be influenced by Broken English-era Marianne Faithful and Patti Smith.”

1980 was a busy year for Toyah. Working as both an actress and a musician she was only 22 but had already appeared in films such as Quadrophenia, Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and The Tempest and George Cukor’s remake of The Corn Is Green with Katherine Hepburn and Patricia Hayes. As well as television work in Shoestring, Second City Firsts and the TV remake of Quatermass, Toyah had also already acted in productions at the National Theatre.

In this short one-year period Toyah starred in a Royal Court production of the controversial Nigel Williams play Sugar and Spice, filmed over the course of three months for an hour-long ATV documentary, appeared in the TV series A Question of Guilt and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and guest-hosted the talk show Friday Night, Saturday Morning in which she interviewed (and played Space Invaders with!) Steve Strange, Derek Jarman and Vivian Stanshall. The year was also the prelude to her chart success of 1981, which occasioned hit singles It’s A Mystery, I Want To Be Free and Thunder in the mountains and numerous Smash Hits and Look-In covers.

From this pivotal year, Cherry Red’s remastered and comprehensively extended new edition of the first full length album The Blue Meaning is the label’s second release of Toyah’s early output.  Appearing originally on the Safari label the re-release Includes the original running order as well as live tracks, session takes and demos. It also includes extra tracks and a 24-page booklet. Originally produced by Steve James and now remastered by Nick Watson, the line up for The Blue Meaning was Toyah on vocals, Joel Bogen on guitar, Steve Bray on drums, Charlie Francis on bass and Pete Bush on keyboards and trumpet – a line up that broke up shortly after the album was made reportedly due to resentment about Toyah’s acting ambitions.

The album opens with the fantastic live favourite Ieya – at eight minutes long it’s a song that was originally created from a live jam during an encore at a NF-disrupted live concert. The lyrics were supposedly inspired by childhood nightmares and H.R. Giger images from the Necronomicon. The haunting song ends with screeching and expectoration sounds from Toyah and the re-release also includes the shorter single version and a live rendition.

The next track Spaced Walking may be the only song in pop history recorded after inhaling helium! Over a  synthesiser theme Toyah sings “empty cobbled houses, old men… funny trousers” and giggles. On the alternative takes The Helium Song and Spaced Walking (Helium acapella) you can hear her actually go into hysterics. It’s great fun.

The album is full of lyrics that reflect Toyah’s interest in sci fi, occultism and Nostradamus, in songs like Vision, Insects and Love Me where Toyah enunciates the words like an actress over early ‘80s synthesisers. Self-admittedly pretentious in a good way, Toyah’s lyrics and singing style often also seem to be influenced by Broken English-era Marianne Faithful and Patti Smith. Insects also reflects the inappropriate behaviour of male audience members at her live shows of the time and her reaction to this.

Standout tracks on the double album rerelease are Blue Meanings (which in the ATV documentary Toyah was shot at Battersea Power station), She and Angels and Demons from the second disc, which is strong enough to have been released as a single.

Previously released tracks also appear in different formats. Last Goodbye which is a session version is an entertaining mixture of Bowie influenced Baal-style Kurt Weill and Patti Smith and there is also a great session version of Danced. The Cockney/Brummie ditty Cotton Vest is also great fun.

The Blue Meaning reflects a busy and transitional period for the young and ambitious Toyah and sounds a bit inconsistent for that reason, but it is a fascinating collection typically well presented by Cherry Red.  Paul Morley wrote in the NME at the time that the original album sounded like “Toyah in Wonderland”. The Blue Meaning reflects an interesting time also for music and image generally – the very beginning of the ‘80s when artists with punk credentials started becoming pop icons and the sky really was the limit!

Toyah: ‘The Blue Meaning’ Expanded Deluxe Edition 2CD/1DVD (Safari Records CDTRED831) is released 28 May, 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £20.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.

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