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Going To Be Me: The Life Of A Toyah Super Fan

Going To Be Me: The Life Of A Toyah Super Fan

Going To Be Me: The Life Of A Toyah Super Fan

It is 1981. I am seeing Toyah play live. For the first time I am actually in the same room as her, albeit a very large room. There she is, over there. I can see her with my eyes.

It is 1991. I am putting together the latest issue of the Toyah Fan Club magazine Tellurian, a cut and paste concoction of photocopied articles as well as a handwritten letter to the fans from Toyah herself. I am typing up the lyrics for her new album Ophelia’s Shadow to include in it; once finished I’ll then take it to a print shop in Store Street WC1 to get a few hundred copies run off.

It is 2001. I am in a recording studio in Nuneaton where Toyah is recording guest vocals on a track by the band Chester with whom I currently play bass. The track will eventually be put out under the band name Family of Noise.

It is 2011. I am putting the finishing touches to the manuscript for my memoir I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan which grew out of a series of blog posts I’d written about my experiences some thirty years previously. I am about to self-publish this as both a paperback and an ebook.

It is 2021. I am writing this blog entry about Toyah and the impression she’s made on my life over the past 40 plus years.

I’ve often heard it said that every cell in the human body is replaced in a seven year cycle which means that none of the versions of me at the ten year intervals above are the same person at all. And yet there is a continuity of experience there, and for the purposes of this piece there is one aspect in particular that has endured – the impression Toyah Willcox made on me which crystallised who I now am and have been for decades now, from the acne-faced impressionable teenager forty years ago to an adult now nearing pensionable age.

I didn’t really think about the experience in depth at the time but it’s interesting to realise now that Toyah was simultaneously both my first teenage crush and my role model. As time went on it was the latter aspect that became the significant one that shaped who I went on to become.

One of the things about her that interested me in the first place was the way that she seemed to be interested in many of the same strange and otherworldly things that I was – from the science fiction songs about racing through space and lost cities of Mars to the mysterious and uncanny trappings of seventies hauntology familiar to any child who’d collected paperbacks of Aden Chambers’s ghost stories or the Unexplained magazine with free Zener cards to test your own ESP…

Yes, I thought, this was clearly a person who was on the same wavelength as me and as such I was open to any other ideas she came out with either within or alongside her captivating music. The way her make-up range was marketed at “girls and boys” was an important early realisation for me and the stunning series of out there looks she fostered helped me realise that I too could create my own persona, that I could appear however I wanted and use that image to communicate how I really felt inside. I didn’t realise the full significance of this until much later when I was diagnosed with autism as a middle aged adult. Without realising it, the narratives and imagery Toyah expressed through her work helped me make sense of the world. In retrospect it all falls into place.

Well, of course I wanted to meet her.

 Toyah outside the BBC 1982. Photo by Chris Limb.
As detailed in I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan I managed this by turning up at TV studios as well as both before and after gigs. I wasn’t alone either; a number of like minded young people clearly felt the same way I did and I got to know some of them by face and eventually by name.

Toyah herself got to know the more persistent of us as well. She always made time for the fans and – even though I had nothing to compare this to – I somehow knew it was out of the ordinary. She cared far more than most. Many of us used to write to her and she used to write back. I can still remember the thrill of an envelope coming through the front door and it being in that handwriting, a highly distinctive longhand instantly familiar to me even to this day.

Toyah may have been the focus, but during this time I was also getting into music in general. Seeking out the strange and unusual that resonated with me, attracted to the musical genres of alternative and indie and drawn into the then still relatively young goth subculture. Some people felt that because of her now commercial success Toyah was too mainstream for them but I always kept the faith — she had been the person who’d opened the gates into these strange new worlds for me and I wasn’t going to turn my back on her now, no way.

Some were concerned about being considered what they called credible, but I was happy to remain incredible, despite the attitude of some of the snobbier music fans I encountered now I was at university – some of the wannabe Peels who hosted shows before or after me on the student radio station. Toyah was a big part of who I was and I wasn’t going to deny it and besides, there was a lot more depth and imagination to her work than many realised. Problem was they couldn’t see past the surface – their surface.

Even though fashion and fad often plays a big part in the music industry, the core significance — what’s really important — is how the music makes you feel and how it speaks to your inner self. My inner self already had a lot of Toyah in it, so naturally most of her music was always going to feel right to me. No matter how many serious raincoat-clad young men with floppy fringes looked down their noses at me.

Now more at large in the world, the new more flamboyant me hitchhiked to see bands and ended up running the lighting rig and selling merchandise for some of them. I even put together fanzines and the like. Despite its reputation, the mid-eighties was a very exciting time in music if you knew where to look, there was a lot more going on in the alternative scene than just The Smiths. And throughout this time a core group of us stayed connected with Toyah, making an effort to see her every so often and fill her in on what we’d been up to.

Then one day, just after I’d left university, I received another letter addressed in that familiar hand. Toyah asked me to run her fan club. This was in many ways a dream come true.

This was of course where the memoir I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan ended. For a start I wasn’t a teenager any more and while I was still a fan in many senses of the word it was different now. I was able to contribute and give something back to someone who’d given so much to me and been so instrumental in shaping my soul. I used my encyclopedic knowledge of the minutiae of her career and autistic attention to detail to put all my energy into this.

To be honest I sometimes slipped up and the newsletters didn’t come out as frequently as they should but after a couple of years I got into my stride and found my groove – after a flirtation with a glossier booklet I discovered that the whole thing just worked better in a traditional fanzine format, A4 pages printed both sides and stapled at the corner. That was the Toyah fan club I’d first got to know in the early eighties and it was the format in which I carried it forward into the next decade.

What was even better was when Toyah started touring frequently again in the early nineties.

With a new young band and a stripped back to the basics sound, this tour felt like it would go on for ever. As the fan club person I was along for the ride selling merchandise – and furthermore merchandise I’d designed. Toyah aways liked to encourage creativity and it still gives me a frisson of pleasure to this day when I see someone wearing one of those t-shirts (a little threadbare after nearly thirty years) at one of her present day gigs. I meant that in some way I’d played a small part in this captivating creative story.

One tradition that started around this time was that I’d send Toyah novels that I’d recently enjoyed and which as a voracious reader she devoured. I was always very happy to hear when she’d been particularly taken by a specific book and that it had captured her imagination – that same imagination which had inspired me so much over the years.

Every so often over the years I’d get people asking me when I was going to grow out of all this, when I was going to stop going to gigs, dying my hair and dressing in an unconventional manner.

In other words when I was going to stop being me.

 One of the more important things my association with Toyah had taught me was to embrace who I really was, a process which continues to this day. How I appear outwardly isn’t necessarily the central component of this – as the old saying goes it’s what’s inside that counts – but as I mentioned earlier, my outward appearance is the expression of my inner self so it’s no surprise that I became unhappy when attempting to reverse engineer this in a doomed attempt to fit into societal norms. I was happiest when I learned to ignore the social pressure. It was OK for me to carry on being me, there was nothing wrong with it.

Everything changes and after a while I even started playing in bands myself. Quite apart from the Chester collaboration with Toyah mentioned above, the band I was in most recently – Das Flüff – supported Toyah on a number of occasions during some of her tours during the twenty teens. It was a big thrill when – during the first time this happened – I happened to glance over to the wings mid song and saw her standing there watching us play. Another time I staggered offstage at the end of the set and she was waiting to tell us how much she’d enjoyed our set

The pandemic has taken us all by surprise, an unexpected finger slapped down on the pause button of life. However, Toyah has taken the opportunity to reach out to the world online, embracing diversity and expanding her digital horizons. This was a big help to me – I live alone so Toyah at Home on Saturday morning has been a lifesaver during lockdown. Not only is there someone I can relate to out there making contact, but it’s Toyah herself.

 As significant to me now as she has ever been.

Chris Limb is a writer and designer based in Brighton, UK.

After many years hovering on the periphery of the music industry — originally just going to gigs but eventually graduating to selling t-shirts and badges plus operating the lighting rig for bands, running fan clubs and eventually playing in bands — in 2011 they self published I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan.

A number of Chris’s short stories have been published over the past few years — most recently in the anthologies Suspended in Dusk, Beachfront Starter Home Good Bones and Kneel Downe’s Stolen Indie as well as in Daily Science Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Theme of Absence online magazines. These are collected in The Demon Face.

Chris’s debut novel Comeback – an urban fantasy set in and around the music business – was published by Unbound in 2021.

Web: chrislimb.com

Twitter: @catmachine

Comeback: mybook.to/Comeback

The Demon Face: mybook.to/DemonFace

I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan: mybook.to/ToyahFan