Tom Blyth joined The Toy Dolls fresh out of university back in 2005. Since then, Tom has been a solid member of The Toy Dolls who have stood the test of time, toured the world, released their new album (which was 7 years in the making) and are soon to embark on their 40th anniversary tour!
We caught up with Tom, The Toy Dolls bass player to talk about how he joined the band, funny stories, what it takes for a band to last so many years, their proudest moments, dodging gas bottles on the motorway (which nearly took their lives), flying above a hurricane to make it on-time to a gig in Tokyo, and why why punk is about being a “good old boy”…
Hi Tom, where are you in the world right now and how’s summer been for The Toy Dolls?
Right now I’m in South Germany, just back from a festival in Hungary. Was a good one and an eclectic line up. The weekend before we were in France playing a tattoo convention, took a day to get there because of the heat and warped train lines. Was fun though, the train stopped for a few hours and there was a party vibe going on. Apparently it was the hottest day on record in Rennes. The important thing was we made it in time for our concert and everyone had a good old knees up.
What do you like and dislike the most about France?
France is a great place to tour and also a wonderful tourist destination. We seem to have lots of people still coming to the gigs there and there’s always a great atmosphere at the gigs and festivals. The first ever time I went to France on tour with Goober Patrol in 1993 I was blown away with how friendly and enthusiastic they were about the music scene in general. They were not keen to let the band stop playing! Oh yeah, they love to ply the band with endless booze!(as do the Germans) The thing I dislike is that lots of places shut early there and Sundays everything is shut. However, it’s quite nice really, like it used to be in the UK, where everything is not accessible 24/7. More relaxed actually; so I’m not really disliking anything about France really.
A huge congratulations on The Toy Dolls 40th anniversary, that’s crazy! In your opinion, what has been the reason for your long-lived success?
Many thanks! I think the main reason for our longevity is that we never really became mega successful. We always stayed at one level more or less. In the 80’s (before I was in the band) there was the chart success with ‘Nellie the Elephant’ which lost a few fans in the UK, because of the ‘sell out’ claims and gained a few fans, but this was only a flash in the whole history of the band. We have toured all over the world and gone to many places lots of bands have not ventured. I think mainly the songs have stood the test of time. Our Olga, has a knack of finding a good melody and a catchy chorus. It still blows my mind that people sing the songs back to us in places like Uruguay or Romania, for instance. Really, it’s actually the people coming to the gigs and the festivals which has kept us current and able to continue what we love to do. Sounds like an absolute cliche, but it’s the truth. We have lots of pride in what we do and practice a lot and take it seriously.
You joined the band after liking what you watched on Top of The Pops as a youngster. How did you actually make contact with the band and join The Toy Dolls?
I remember watching ‘Nellie the Elephant’ on TOTP when I was quite young and thinking it was great. My parents were mocking the band and song, which, of course made me think the whole thing was even more fantastic! I basically met Olga, the singer, guitarist, main man, when he was playing bass for a LA band called The Dickies. I went on tour with them as a backline technician during a summer holiday from Uni and we got along very well. I gave him a Goober Patrol CD and then I got a call a few months later asking if I would like to audition for The Toy Dolls. So I practiced the songs I had to learn about a million times a day, went to London, played half of each song and then we went to the pub. I got the call saying I got the job more or less just as I finished Uni! So much for getting a proper job!
How long had you been working on your new album EPISODE XIII before its release?
The new album has been 7 years in the making more or less. There’s a couple of songs that are actually really, really old Toy Dolls songs that were never realised and there’s also a re-recording of an old song ‘She’s a Worky Ticket’ A great track with a killer bass line to play. This album (to me) sounds very much like early Toy Dolls and since I have had the actual release it’s all I’ve played, which sounds incredibly narcissistic, which I suppose it totally is…. but I’m very proud to be part of this release. Recording it was lots of fun; we recorded in London and the pressure was on, as time is money, so to speak. But altogether it was a great experience. Working with the producer and of course Olga and Duncan is a total pleasure and each time you learn more stuff.Many bands change their sound over the years often to experiment, maybe to win new fans, and some musicians even compromise on their sound because of money. What’s your opinion on bands that change their sound to please the masses?
Good question and tough one to answer. Many bands have different reasons for compromising their sound to fit in with a particular trend or genre, which would fit and then in essence become financially more beneficial. Currently the music industry is on hard times when it comes to sales of physical releases; in some cases vinyl is outselling CD’s, a full circle from when CD’s were introduced. It’s ridiculous how many plays you need on Spotify, for instance, to make any money at all. So, I guess some bands will change to fit a particular sound to get more people in and hopefully sell more merchandise, which is actually where the money is nowadays (as well as the bands’ fee). The best way to support a band is to buy merchandise directly from them at a gig or festival. When it comes to the band changing their sound to experiment, I say all power to them, total artistic licence in action. Sometimes it comes to the point when you don’t want to play the same kind of song over and over. Of course it’s a total gamble. But if it’s a financial matter to change the sound of a band dramatically, my honest opinion is that the audience can tell if you’re faking it or not. Good luck to all bands out there, it’s very rewarding, but like anything you get out what you put in.
How would you say The Toy Dolls have developed as a band along the years and what were the reasons for this?
Another good question! Anyone who has looked up the band online or followed us over the years, will see there have been a huge amount of members come and go over the last 40 years. However, this line up of myself, Olga and Duncan has been solid for the past 14 years. We have developed as any band should really, that the more you play together the better you play together; it’s as straight forward as that. Plus, as a touring band you spend a lot of time offstage together in close quarters and it’s vital that you get along. We are all friends and we all have a good laugh. We don’t take things too seriously and get on with it when it comes to stage time, even if you’ve literally travelled for 14 hours and have slept for 2. The audience doesn’t care about your bad back or if you can’t remember if you left the oven on at home or not. Throw yourself into it as if it’s the last gig you’ll play! (unless it actually is, then that’s it, bosh.)
Do you have any involvement in the writing of the music?
The last album before this one ‘The last album before the last one’ there was a song on their which I co-wrote in Goober Patrol, which is essentially a Goober Patrol song; also Duncan had a song on that album. This new album is all Olga. I am involved with the graphic and video side of things; for instance, I designed the last releases and I have made music videos for the band, the most recent one being ‘Richard Clayderman’s a Creep’ from the new album. It’s a mixed media, animation, live action and so on. There will be another promotional video to be released from the new album too. So, that degree did come in handy… in a way!
I read online that “Punk is chaos. The chaos becomes evident in everything that punks have to do with – in their clothing style, in their behaviours, in the aggressive attitudes.” Do you agree with this? What does the word “Punk” mean to you, and how do you represent being a punk?
There have been very chaotic, nihilistic times in my life when it comes to punk. That was years ago. To me, punk really means to be who and what you want to be and do what you want to do. It’s really about being a good old boy, which is really the total opposite of the aggressive ‘chaos’ image. To be able to look at yourself in the mirror without feeling bad is very important. It’s a very much do it yourself attitude, not so different to what you have done with the Student Pocket Guide from its inception. This chaotic image is mainly media hype from the ‘cash from chaos’ Sex Pistols era – if you look deeper into the punk ‘movement’ you will find there’s a whole lot of stuff concerning human and animal rights, ecological and environmental issues. The music is quite fast and aggressive, it’s quite cathartic and going to punk gigs in my youth was brilliant because there were other freaks like myself out there! I still love the energy and passion that comes from going to a gig nowadays and I get a mega buzz from playing and talking to people after the gig and hearing that they got a buzz from seeing us. So everyone is Buzzed! Hopefully. The cliche that punk bands can’t play is (mostly) rubbish, some are incredibly competent musicians. Nowadays though compared to some more extreme music genres, like death metal, or grindcore etc, Punk seems pretty tame!What’s the most chaotic thing you or The Toy Dolls have done?
There are two outstanding moments that I will never forget. One time whilst on tour in Switzerland, we were bouncing down the motorway when we heard big booming noises and the windows of the van started to shake. All of a sudden massive gas bottles were landing in the road ahead of us! It was like a disaster movie, but without the CGI! Basically, a gas bottle factory had gone up in flames and the gas bottles were firing up in the air like rockets, we were driving straight into it. The bottles were landing all around us on the motorway and we had to pull off as soon as we could. It was a near death experience for sure. We were so lucky to not get hit. Another time we were in Japan; we played Osaka and had to get the Bullet train to Tokyo. However, there was a massive hurricane and the Bullet train was cancelled. But, it was deemed possible that we could fly OVER the hurricane so that we could make the next performance in Tokyo. That was insane, the plane was literally dropping out of the sky every few minutes….suffice to say I was imbibing, I was not going to go down sober should we crash. It was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. We made it (obviously) but I think it took a few years off my already shortened life!
You’re currently in the middle of your massive tour performing in Austria, France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain and finish up in February 2020 in Poland. Huge! That’s one hell of a tour and a lot of time spent in the air! Do you all travel together (don’t you live in a different country from the other band members)?
I tend to travel quite a bit on my own (boo hoo) but it’s quite relaxing and I am totally used to it now. If I can travel by train I will always favour this option, even if it’s a longer route. For the environmental reason and also because you have less hassle with security and you’re herded about a lot less. Living in Germany I can get to European places quite easily. Sometimes we travel all together, if we go further overseas, like South America, North America, Canada etc. When it comes to practicing, I learn all my stuff well in advance and meet the lads in London for a few days and we bash through all the numbers, new and old. To be able to travel to all these places is incredible and honestly when I first ever joined a band, it was defiantly not to only play in Norwich, but to get out there and see the world if at all possible.
Is it non-stop or do you guys get to relax and see the sites when visiting different countries?
Usually when we play festivals, we get in a day early. This is in case of any travel complications and we are there well in time. Sometimes we do get a chance to have a look around, but other times it’s literally in and out. Last year we played in Canada, at Montebello Rock Festival and that was a fly in and out job. A pity, as from what I did see it was beautiful there. Usually we have sound-check very early in the morning and then we play very late at night. There can be an opportunity here and there to have a look, but it’s pertinent to rest up and have all the energy for the show, we are not getting any younger!
What kind of show is this tour going to be? Can you give us an idea as to what people can expect?
The 40th Anniversary shows will have a different theme to our last club gigs, can’t say too much as there’s a few surprises…. but anyone who’s seen us before will know there will be some props, some new songs, some new old songs and lots of fun! I can say that no one will be riding a white tiger onstage like The Darkness did; but, I’d really like to do a bass solo in my pants suspended above the audience like Pink!. One can dream…. But then again, who needs a bass solo and most importantly who needs to see me in my pants? I think I answered my own questions there. TAXI!
Proudest moment whilst being with The Toy Dolls?
Getting to play Coachella festival in the States a few years ago was quite a big moment for me. It was surreal / bizarre to come off stage and then see Lana Del Ray go onstage. Being on MTV in Brazil was smart, that’s a top memory for sure. Bands who I have looked up to and have been friends with over the years who have complimented me for being in the band is a total buzz. Getting to play with The Specials was pretty, erm, special. The Offspring came backstage to get photos with us was very surreal. Having Mani from Primal Scream compliment us on our set was smart; his Man accent is just like on the telly. Actually, having my parent’s say they are proud of me for doing what I do makes me happy, regardless of the fact I did it on my own. After we played the other night in Catalonia, this excited bloke came up to me and said ‘that was better than drugs!’ I felt REALLY proud about that.
Other than music, what are your top 3 hobbies?
My life is mostly filled with music, I play in a couple of other bands and this keeps me pretty busy. Being a parent is the best thing in the world, which isn’t exactly a hobby…I like animating stuff, making videos, although this is more of a freelance avenue, so again, not really a hobby. I got obsessed with time-lapse photography for a while, so I did that a lot. I DJ sometimes, but again, for money, so not really a hobby. Err…swimming and walking? But if I’m 100% honest, I like to drink down the pub, that’s my favourite number 1 hobby. My number 2 hobby would be drinking at home and number 3 would be drinking at a gig.
What’s the bands biggest motivational driver?
Our singer and mentor, Olga is the man that motivates us all with plans and schemes to keep us going. He’s quite some example of someone who has made it through the music business relatively unscathed. A sober man who is dedicated to his craft and thoughtful about his band, crew and audience. We all have fun and of course it is our livelihood. To do something where you have this much fun, see the world and make people happy whilst being able to pay the rent is priceless.
Can you tell us a funny true story about The Toy Dolls?
What goes on on tour stays on tour…….. but….. here’s a couple from Japan a few years ago: Referencing the above anecdote about flying over a hurricane, I took it upon myself to be the steward on that flight; a fair indication of the level of intoxication. Also on the plane were many other bands from the ‘Punkspring’ festival and I was serving a selection of wine, beer and spirits to all the band mates in between the insane turbulence. Upon arrival in Tokyo and eventually at the hotel, the party continued with the band ✶✶✶✶✶✶✶✶✶✶✶✶ in their rooms. I was ‘advised’ by a member of The Toy Dolls crew to not join the revelry and to go to bed, which I did, because I am really sensible like that. The next day at show-time, this band were literally too drunk to play, having drunk through the whole night and had to cut their set in half. That night after the festival, another band-mate from ✶✶✶✶ invited me to a party which was actually a S+M show in a weird S+M club. On the way there I shared a cab with one guy on E and a world champion fighter person, who actually wanted to fight me, no idea why; but then he mellowed out; lucky, as he could’ve broken my neck with his little finger! Anyway the night in the club was a total eye opener and I don’t think I have been the same since! Can’t really say much more than that! How rock’n’roll is that?
Thanks Ben and all at the SPG! Cheers!
‘Episode XIII’ is release September 13th on Secret Records UK: https://www.secretrecordslimited.com
Randale Records Germany: https://www.randaleshop.de
Maldito Records Spain: http://www.malditorecords.net
Interview by Ben Farrin