Toxic Shock- Heff and Al

Do you remember 1984? It was the era of Frankie Goes To Hollywood; lavish production, clever music videos, giant words on huge T-Shirts and the start of club culture. The 1984 John Peel sessions were a right old mix: blokey goth – Alien Sex Fiend, Gene Loves Jezebel, Inca Babies, the indie charm of The Pastels and Everything But The Girl, industrial sounds like Tools You Can Trust and Cabaret Voltaire and a few big names Ivor Cutler, Billy Bragg, Julian Cope and Papa Levi. It was a confused time in music where you got the impression that ‘anything’ would do.

Into this melange was dropped a 6-track ‘pay no more than £2.50’ 12″ EP by Toxic Shock – a female duo playing saxophone and bass. Not your typical guitar punk band – more like sinister jazz. Why not? Anything goes in 1984.

Michael Johnson

Heather ‘Heff’ Joyce and Alice ‘Al’ Marsh formed the band in 1983. They were both part of the alternative women’s anti-nuclear protest culture from Greenham Common; both vegan, anti-establishment and feminist. They’d both been involved with music and performance previously – Heff in ‘Metro Youth’ / ‘Sanction’ – anarcho-punk bands from Exeter and Al as a playwright and songwriter in political band ‘Day Five’, who supported Poison Girls and Au Pairs

We’d love to talk with Heather and Alice to catch up with what’s happened since Toxic Shock, and to hear their reflections and memories of that time.

In his autobiographical book ‘How does it feel?: A Life of Musical Misadventures’, journalist/TV presenter Mark Kermode says a bit about Toxic Shock’s ‘unique sound’:

“They claim that before the band got serious they started out as a joke to play songs at a disco, and that the name had no real meaning behind it, until they decided to use it to describe the effect their performances had on the audience.” Mark Kermode

Kermode reports that their ideas were a ‘more extreme version’ of the later Riot Grrrl movement; they sometimes played for ‘all-girl audiences on purpose for better results’ and were ‘heavily influenced by Poison Girls’.

“Sexist men would sometimes get in their way, but the band kept their belief that women and men could live as equals. They didn’t hate men, and encouraged them to think through a feminist point of view.” Mark Kermode

All of these ideas are very interesting to punkgirldiaries, and we’d like to find out more. Please comment below if you’re in the know.

Toxic Shock released a song on Mortarhate Records’ compilation LP, ‘Who? What? Why? When? Where?’ along with Hagar the Womb, Icons of Filth, Anthrax and Poison Girls. This was followed by two 12″ EP releases on Vindaloo Records in 1984 and 1985. There’s little of this online and what there is seems to attract a proportion of anti-feminist hate messages. Toxic Shock played gigs including squats, benefits and as support to The Nightingales, Conflict, Omega Tribe and Poison Girls. Recording and releases on Poison Girls’ Xntrix label followed before the band split in 1985.

One of the best fan comments, we’ve found is this:

I saw Toxic Shock quite a few times (I even remember a very memorable gig at the 1 In 12 Club in Bradford, probably late 1984 or early 1985, where Heather or Alice hit a note and the sonic pitch caused a wine glass I was standing next to, to crack! Never seen that happen before or since, but it certainly imprinted on my memory circuits!”

Post-punk music can mean so many things. Musically, many of our favourites have little in common with The Ramones or the Pistols, but the punk message about creativity, fun, experimentation and the empowerment of girls to start bands has generated so many different sounds.

Toxic Shock, we salute you and look forward to hearing from you or your friends what you’re up to nowadays!

Michael Johnson

main photo: Ming De Nasty

6 thoughts on “Toxic Shock- Heff and Al

  1. One of the best bands I ever saw live, Can’t believe it’s nearly 40 years ago when I saw them at The Mermaid Birmingham but I can remember Toxic shock like I was at the gig yesterday, “Dunbious Deal” is a masterpiece.

  2. Hi Vim, really great to see this on Toxic Shock. I’m Ming (de Nasty) I hung out with Al & Heff back in the day and did many of their photos….. Thats one of mine you’ve used at the top of this piece. I have other live shots if you’d like to use any of them….be great if I could have a photo credit.
    Also check out ‘Other Girls like me’ Book by Stephanie Davis….Toxic Shock feature heavily in this book though….under a pseudonym.


    Ming X

    1. Hi Ming; we are happy to credit photos when we know who’s taken them. We will check out the book and would love to see more of your photos

  3. Great to see some details about the band. It’s seems a long time ago but I saw Toxic Shock perform at Wolverhampton Poly in 83/84 at an International Womens Day disco, organised by the Womens Group that I was a member of at the Poly. The event was somewhat contentious, being women only, but I remember it as being a brilliant, fun evening, free of the tensions of mixed events. Thanks to Heff and Al, Toxic Shock.

  4. Hello, do you have a contact for Heather as I was one of the guitarists in Metro Youth

    1. We have asked her to contact you!

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