2010 - 2011
TOYAH TAKES A NEW
BAND ON THE ROAD
The lady in the thigh-high boots and flaming basque-cum-breastplate is unmistakably Toyah Willcox – the stack-heeled wench with her back to camera requires a tad more explanation.
“Ah yes,” says Toyah, “that’s John Wayne!
“He’s actually a transvestite who owns a nightclub in Stoke-on-Trent – I met him because he’s a Toyah impersonator and now he’s my PA.
“He was there when we were making our video and the director said ‘right John, get your gear on, we’re filming you’.”
Toyah (the surname has been superfluous since It’s A Mystery provided her breakthrough hit in 1981) supplies the information in a matter-of-fact tone which confirms that the bizarre is perfectly normal in her world.
But she becomes far more animated, genuinely excited, when she gets down to details about the ‘we’ in question – The Humans, latest project in her long, multifaceted and highly successful career.
The band, who kick off a three-date UK tour at Leamington’s Assembly on Monday, features Bill Rieflin – better known as REM’s drummer – Chris Wong and, temporarily, Robert Fripp, founder of King Crimson and, since 1986, Mr Wilcox.
And, naturally enough, they were formed as a treat for the president of Estonia.
To précis a long story: “The Estonian embassy was trying to get hold of my husband but I got in touch with them and said ‘look I could be out there with two international musicians in a couple of weeks – we can write all the material in Estonia and play exclusively for the president. And that’s exactly what happened – it went down a storm and we ended up selling out their biggest rock venues.
“I totally blagged my way in, but then a lot of my life is about blagging. If you’re a woman you have to have that ability.”
Despite its improbably impromptu genesis, the band fulfils a longstanding ambition for Toyah.
“I wanted to put together a band that could travel very easily and very spontaneously,” she says. “That’s difficult these days because the equipment is so bulky – you need lots of personnel, loads of rehearsals. In the past 10 years I’ve been playing arenas on the ’80s tours with audiences up to 60,000 but I wanted something that was portable and immediate.
“And this is so exciting because it involves three people that I really admire and enjoy working with.”
Fripp’s involvement in the current phase of The Humans’ development is a major bonus for a couple whose career commitments mean that they spend long periods apart, but Toyah stresses that he is a ‘guest star’.
“The idea is that we’ll have a different one for every tour,” she says. “Somebody doing something that they’re not known for.
“For instance we’re hoping to get Steve Vai – everybody knows that he’s a great guitarist but he also plays the harp. His wife is a harpist and he does all her arrangements so that would be fascinating.”
Artists can sometimes get decidedly sniffy if interviewers attempt to pin down their sound, but Toyah, fortunately, warms to the suggestion that there is a Brechtian feel to The Humans’ music.
“That’s a nice comparison,” she says. “It’s not 100 per cent because there’s a lot of energy and we’ll be playing some new stuff which is very Seattle grunge, but it is a listening experience rather than the ‘come on everybody sing along’ when I’m out there as Toyah. And, yes, it is a bit dark and bleak – the Humans’ world is permanently in winter!”
That being the case, long-term fans expecting a quick chorus of Thunder In The Mountains or Brave New World will be disappointed.
“We will be doing some hits, but they’re not Toyah hits,” she says. “That’s not a possibility because we are so peculiar – it’s not a band set-up – it’s two bass players and a guitar and vocals.”
At a time when every week seems to produce a new feisty female chart-topper, one wonders if Toyah sees herself as a pioneer of rock emancipation.
“Not really,” she says. “Take Florence & The Machine – we’ve got the same performance genes, perhaps, and I can totally identify with the whole thing where the emotion leads the vocal, but I don’t think I’ve influenced her.
“I think if I’ve influenced anyone you’ve got to look at artists who are deliberately 80s retro like La Roux. There might be a little influence there but I really think that these kids have just discovered themselves at a time when 80s is suddenly so hip.
“When I started, women weren’t running the industry like they are now. It was a real breakthrough time, exciting but really challenging because every woman – myself, Hazel O’Connor, Kim Wilde – were always being compared with each other because of the novelty value of being a woman.
“I was strident and bombastic at a time when England was very conservative, especially about women, so I definitely feel that I helped push the boundaries. But there are so many women out there today that we don’t need to compare them with each other.
“They’re being taken seriously now, not just as performers but as women. And that’s massively important because women were once treated as objects. The prime example is Madonna – if she had been overweight with a hairy face, she wouldn’t have been as successful as she was.
“There are exceptions. If you’ve got a truly unique voice I don’t think it matters what you look like, whichever sex you are, but most of the time it really does help if you look good.
“It is about sexuality, but to be taken seriously on top of that is a remarkable step forward.”
Now 51, Toyah has been completely open about the surgical help she has employed to maintain her glamorous image.
“Sexual attraction is part of the act – I went into showbusiness knowing that was the case so it’s never been any other way. That’s my choice because I know the powerful effect it has on my income.
“I’ve had some surgery because it’s a well-developed science now, regulated and relatively safe in this country, and I think I would have had it done even if I hadn’t gone into showbusiness.
“What’s interesting is that I work very hard to stay in shape and those around me who don’t are quite threatened by it – particularly men.
“My fellow band members are quite perplexed by my willpower which is a very interesting situation – it seems to eat at their confidence.
“My husband is very open and honest and sometimes he says to me ‘I can’t compete with what you do’.
“Which is great, because I can’t play guitar!”
TOYAH READY TO ROCK
Former pop punk star Toyah Willcox has chosen a Bishop’s Cleeve church to kick off her new tour.
St Michael’s and All Angels Church will be filled with fans of the singer, who shot to fame 30 years ago with hits such as It’s a Mystery.
Her new band The Humans will play a free, intimate gig at the church, which has a capacity of 200 people, on Saturday.
Joining the one-time princess of punk on stage will be REM drummer Bill Rieflin.
Toyah, who has had 13 top 40 singles, recorded 20 albums and toured the world, said: “We have a strong association with Bishop’s Cleeve artist PJ Crook.
“And a long-standing relationship with Cheltenham.”
Toyah and her husband, guitarist Robert Fripp, are patrons of Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum and she said her mother, who was a touring dancer, worked in a theatre in Cheltenham before she was born.
This will be her first gig in Cleeve, but Robert has already played at the church twice.
“I am so excited about it,” said Toyah.
“The gig will be a public rehearsal. Rather than do a rehearsal privately we thought it would be really good to do it in front of an audience.”
The Rev Mike Holloway, team vicar at Bishop’s Cleeve, said: “It’s a great opportunity to see them before the tour.
“There is a collection for the church, but the audience is being given the chance to see a great band for nowt.”
The Humans, which was started by Toyah in 2007, is made up of Bill Rieflin, who turns his hand to the bass guitar, bassist Chris Wong and occasional special guest Robert.
She describes the experimental music as “deconstructed pop songs” where the rhythm and vocals take the lead.
“It is like story telling. I wanted it to sound like European film noir,” she said.
“It is emotional and dark.”
The band’s debut album, We Are The Humans, includes a 21st Century version of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.
Toyah said: “We also have Purple Haze on the set list, but these songs will sound very different to their originals.”
She said she would rather perform in unusual venues such as churches, instead of traditional gig venues.
“Churches have naturally powerful acoustics so you don’t need very much PA. Any Norman Foster building would be my ideal venue,” she added.
The auditorium of Darlington Civic Theatre was packed to the rafters for the first of two sellout performances of Steve Steinman’s cult classic, Vampires Rock.
Set in New York in 2030, the undead are among us and livelier than ever.
A young girl named Pandora (Emily Clark) has skipped school to attend an audition to be the resident rock singer at the Live and Let Die Club.
There she encounters Baron Von Rockula (Steinman), who instantly falls in love with her and is determined that she should become his new bride Shame he didn’t bother to consult his current Devil Queen (Toyah Willcox, pictured), who is none too impressed with the idea.
Ostensibly, Vampires Rock is The Rocky Horror Show for hot-blooded heterosexual hairy bikers and heavy metal heads.
More vamp than camp, more gothy than frothy, the show uses its storyline – which is as translucent as a vampire’s skin in the midday sun – to string together some of the greatest rock anthems of all time.
They’re all there, from Killer Queen to Total Eclipse of the Heart, The Final Countdown to Bat out of Hell.
Steinman, Willcox and Clark, who delivered stunning vocal performances, were backed by a five-piece band, whose acoustics almost lifted the roof right off the grand old theatre, they really whipped the crowd up into a frenzy.
The shortcomings of the storyline are compensated by the energy and enthusiasm that the cast put into the show which, ultimately, is what makes Vampires Rock a great night out.
The Northern Echo
The flame-haired priestess of punk looks back on 30 years of fame.
Few artistes have moved so effortlessly between mediums as Toyah Willcox. As an actor she appeared in some of the most important pop-culture films of the 1970s, playing 'Mad' in Derek Jarman's controversial Jubilee and 'Monkey' in the seminal mod-revivalist Quadrophenia, but also performing in works as diverse as Jarman's adaption of The Tempest and the final instalment of the Quatermass saga for ITV.
At the same time, she released a slew of records that moved from the ferocity of her early post-punk albums, Sheep Farming In Barnet and The Blue Meaning, through the peak of her commercial appeal, with the It's A Mystery led Four From Toyah EP, and her image-defining LP Anthem, hitting numbers four and two in their respective charts...
Let’s go back. You were already making a name for yourself as an actress when you released your first single, Victims Of The Riddle…
All the early stuff was slighly dictated by my lack of being an actual musician. I’m always very instinctive; I know what I want to hear. With Victims Of The Riddle, I sang the vocals before any instrumentation was put down, and then (Blood Donor keyboardist) Keith Hale created the tune and the sequences around the vocal. I love the whole accident of working that way; it creates the emotional intentions before you get the musical honing.
You were being labelled ‘High Priestess of Punk’ in ‘79, ‘80. Did you feel connected to that scene?
I remember it as being very exciting but also incredibly frustrating, because I didn’t fit the mould. It’s hard to say that I felt a part of punk, or new wave, because I never did. When Victims Of The Riddle was number one in the indie charts I was making Jubilee, I was making The Tempest, I was in Quadrophenia, I was appearing at the ICA with Anthony Sher. I was doing incredible things. So I think people found me either fake, or couldn’t put me in a compartment.
But listening to things like Sheep Farming In Barnet, you transcended punk. Tracks like Neon Womb were almost ‘Cyberpunk’!
Oh yeah! All those songs were well-practiced in front of large audiences.
They started in Sunday rehearsals and sound checks and then we’d play them asencores, so they were created in a heightened experience. Songs like Neon Womb, Waiting, Ieya, Victims Of The Riddle, even if I say so myself, are absolute classics because they were created with the audience. They were very shamanistic and our concerts used to just accelerate out there to the point where I used to look out and think, ‘God, we’re like Masai warriors dancing until we’re no longer aware of who we are.’
Anthem was huge, and very commercial, but its follow-up, Changeling, is dark.
Changeling was a reaction because I wasn’t ready to write. I wanted to work with Steve Lillywhite but the relationship just didn’t work because I should have had another six or twelve months to address the album. It was all written in the studio. I think it’s a good album, it says something very powerful. But it was a painful album and a very painful period in my life where I just had to move back into acting, which was Trafford Tanzi.
WHERE THERE'S A
If Toyah Willcox made a new year resolution in 2009 to be a queen she got her wish granted – twice
And she begins next year as she finishes this one, beneath a brash crown as the Wicked Queen in Sheffield's biggest panto, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
"I love it. I haven't stopped laughing. My voice is tired from laughing," says the '80s pop-star- turned-actress of her regal role.
"Playing the Queen means that no matter what mood I'm in, whether I decide to play her sweetly, play her nastily, or predictably, it works because the audience knows she's bad which means no matter what I give them they will see me as a bad person."
While being in panto right up until Christmas Eve meant a mad dash back to her home in Worcestershire to be with family, Toyah is enjoying working in one of the country's most "remarkable, versatile, quickly- changing cities."
Her character is in stark contrast to some of her previous roles in the likes of British comedy film The Power Of Three and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, in which she played Billie Piper's mother.
When Snow White concludes at The Lyceum Theatre on January 10 she will return to her Devil Queen spot in the touring theatre musical Vampires Rock.
Toyah is still making and performing music of her own, under her name and with her band The Humans, which features Bill Rieflin from REM and her husband Robert Fripp, formerly of the iconic band King Crimson. They released an album late summer while Toyah's put out In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Fripp's album In The Court Of The Crimson King.
In Snow White the singer, who made her name with 15 top 40 singles and gold and platinum albums led by iconic hits such as It's A Mystery, joins a cast that includes Sheffield comedian / radio presenter Toby Foster and top dame Damian Williams.
"I really believe people who do panto should only do it because they respect the genre, otherwise you're watching something very cynical," she says.
"Panto is about family, it's about the fight between good and evil, it's about representing to children not only the power of theatre and the magic of live performance but also what family and Christmas is about.
"Christmas should be about encompassing every culture but the values are in the family unit. Not everyone has children but we have parents, grandparents and all of that. When I look out there and see the audience I see groups of elderly people who are coming to watch something that makes them remember their childhood; I see three generations of a family. Panto is about embracing this wonderful season of positiveness that celebrates birth, so for me it's something I take incredibly seriously."
Not to mention the responsibility of lifting audiences after the Boxing Day lull.
"Luckily I have never been in a cynical panto which is 'grab the money and run'. I really respect theatres who don't just do it as some horrible commercial thing to promote another product.
It is a genre that is utterly special and only in this country."
Of course, it is a far cry from Toyah's pop music heyday, although she is still in demand in that guise.
"I never thought when I did Top Of The Pops that when I was 51 I would be doing panto. Then I never expected I'd be opening a festival to 30,000 people or be an award-nominated Shakespearean actress.
"When I was doing TOTP that's all that existed for me. I never thought beyond the age of 30, so everything I have done since has been a total surprise. My life is very colourful and very diverse.
"You have other dreams but you learn to let go of them, but if you let go of your childhood dreams they come back to you eventually but also other unique things can come in. If you live with these youthful ambitions they eat you alive. They're right to get you started but then you need to let go of it to let other extraordinary things happen.
"When I was 20 I wanted world domination, I wanted only to play arenas, to win an Oscar.
"That will only happen by some happy accident or because I'm willing enough to try new things. If all you think about is winning the Oscar you're not going to get there because you've got to find different paths to your destination all the time. So I'm one of these people that will take a tangent at a drop of a pin. Very little of what I do is planned."
As well as touring her music alongside other '80s artists around the nation's castles, arenas and stately homes, she has presented a Tonight programme about insomnia, appeared on Mastermind, penned two books and appeared in 10 feature films and 30 stage plays.
One thing Toyah is clear about is where her acting ambitions lie. "I have no intention to play a goody unless they pay me a lot of money," she laughs. "They really are dull and I don't do it convincingly."
TOYAH CAN'T WAIT TO BE
A DIVA FOR THE DAY
In the early 80s, Toyah reigned supreme as the British queen of punk and new wave.
Roll on 30 years and she's about to add a new string to her bow - that of dance princess!
Yesterday saw the release of her first ever dance single, Fallen, and it's predicted to make the top ten.
No one is more surprised than Toyah herself.
She says she was contacted by DJ Paul Masterson, aka Yomanda, who said he had a backing track and asked if she would be interested in writing a vocal to it.
'It was very casual with no plans,' she adds.
'About six weeks later he set up a studio with The Prodigy's engineer. We went in and did the vocal in one take. Within two hours we had done it all. Within a week he got back to me and said he'd played it to big industry people who had just gone, "Yes, we'll take it".
'It has grown in a really organic way. The chemistry was there and everything just worked. This is a song going to an audience who have no idea who I am and they are liking the song and I think that is incredibly important, that the music is speaking above everything else, and I think it gives it a lease of life.
'It's so exciting and it's lovely that this is happening, especially around this time. It's very special.
'I know nothing about dance. I'm a rock singer and I write classical rock lyrics. I'm very good at the weird and wonderful and anthemic bravado.'
Now 53, Toyah is as busy as she was in her 80s heyday. In fact, it is 30 years since the release of her greatest success, the album Anthem, which spawned the hits It's A Mystery and I Want To Be Free. She's hitting the road in celebration of that milestone with a succession of gigs around the country, and she will be wearing the original costumes.
There are no northern dates at present but the likelihood is some could be added in the new year.
She will, though, be in the North on October 1, headlining at Cumbria Pride.
'I've got a really great gay following.' she tells me, 'You are playing to an audience who have experienced sometimes being outside of society and having to fight for their rights.
'I wouldn't say they are hugely political, but they are people who want to be together and share something together. There is a huge feeling of camaraderie and they tend to love their divas, as it were.
'I don't really think I'm a diva! But you are embraced totally on the day. I'll be doing Fallen and all the hits.
Toyah will appear on the main stage at about 9pm, then will perform at Outrageous in English Street, Carlisle at about 12.30am.
Paul Masterson talks Toyah and 'Fallen' on The Phil Marriott Show.
Phil Marriott: It's a very exciting time for you, because you're about to unleash this big beast called 'Fallen', which of course is your collaboration with Toyah.
Paul Masterson: Yeah, indeed, absolutely. Well I've been an absolutely massive fan. I remember buying Toyah's records when I was still living in Belfast, like '81, '82, '83, and it was one of those artists I've always had my eye on to write a song with, and a few months ago I sent her an instrumental piece and she absolutely loved it, and then we got together in the studio about a month or so ago and we recorded the vocals. I've just spent a few weeks mixing it, and it's all finished and ready to go, pretty much.
Phil: It's amazing. I heard it for the first time yesterday and I was very excited about it. So much so that I wanted to play it last night but I knew that you were coming on tonight. This must be quite a surreal thing for you, obviously I'm a massive fan of hers as well and you have been working with her. Was that quite daunting for you, because it's a big thing isn't it?
Paul: Absolutely yeah. As I say we hadn't actually met until the day of recording the vocals. We spoke on email and we recorded the vocals down at Dave Pemberton's studio in Essex. It was a great day. Very, very relaxed. It was a bit nervous at first, obviously meeting Toyah but it was a very good day. It took about three hours and all done, pretty much, in one take. Great day all round really.
Phil: She's one of the loveliest women as well. I've been lucky enough to meet her quite a few times and she's been on this show a few times. She's such a good laugh too.
Paul: So, so down to earth. You maybe think you know how are people going to be. Are they going to be a little reserved? But she was so, so reserved, so down to earth. I was very pleased about that.
Phil: I have to say this new track. It seems like the perfect combination as well. It’s not the first time she's experimented with dance, obviously she had the album 'Dreamchild' which came out in the 90's. Also she worked with Tim from Utah Saints. Did this seem like a natural thing to you, to get Toyah's vocal on it? I think it really suits the music.
Paul: Sure. It started out as an instrumental piece, slightly more poppy, trancey sound. I thought that was a really good benchmark for her to write a vocal, and when we recorded the vocals it just gelled really, really well. It was just a very natural progression in total.
Phil: It sounds like you both had similar views on how the track should sound?
Paul: Exactly, yeah. We wanted to make it slightly different, and maybe not like your average dance track. So what we've put into the track, it still stands out in clubland today but, hopefully, has got a little bit of an edge that'll make it stand out amongst other tracks.
Phil: I spoke to Craig who works alongside Toyah and I said the first time I heard it, I love the fact that it sounds slightly different. It's not kind of verse, chorus, verse, it's very unusual for a dance track.
Paul: Yeah, well, that's the thing. I think it's always good to maybe try and do something that isn't your normal, average way of working, because then I think you don't really get bunched in with everybody else. It's always just good to try something a little bit different but still within the realms of club music, which hopefully everyone will still be able to play.
Phil: Yeah. Definitely! Before you introduce it, thank you very much for coming on the show. Hopefully it won't be the last time. Maybe you could come in to Gaydar Towers?
Paul: I'd love to come in. Absolutely. Any time Phil.
Phil: So the best bit, Paul. Where I ask you to introduce your track with Toyah, if you could do the honours.
Paul: Here is the first, and exclusive play, of the new single from Yomanda, and it's featuring Toyah Willcox, and the track's called 'Fallen'.
Phil: Brilliant, thanks a lot Paul.
Paul: Thanks very much Phil. All the best now.
The Phil Marriott Show
Q & A: Toyah Willcox
From Punk to Panto
It’s that time of year already! Pantomime returns to The Marlowe Theatre this winter with a new production of Sleeping Beauty. Alongside former Pop Idol Gareth Gates, pop stalwart Toyah Willcox stars as the Wicked Fairy. Toyah has had a long-running musical career; her first album was released back in 1979 and she still tours with her band today. Having performed in numerous theatre, television and film productions she is also a panto veteran. Toyah tells Emma Featherstone why she is looking forward to hitting the Canterbury stage.
You’ve worked in panto since 1993. What makes you return to it?
I’ve learnt to love pantomime as a form of theatre, which is more successful than any other. In the last 20 years it has been completely reinvented, mainly by one man, Kevin Wood (one of Britain’s top pantomime producers). His daughter Emily produces Sleeping Beauty.
Do you enjoy playing the baddie?Pantomime is about audience participation and the baddie is the one they retaliate against. Even if you’re really nice to the audience, they’re going to boo you!
What do you think of Canterbury?I really love it; I have an apartment there. I do all my Christmas shopping in Canterbury and I like the buzzy high street. You can walk down it and hear Dutch, French, and Belgian. My husband (the guitarist Robert Fripp) and I are into the history of the church. So, for me, Canterbury is a leading city in Great Britain.
Does performing in pantomime get you into the Christmas spirit?It does, especially when you’re in a town that still celebrates the true meaning of Christmas. You always hear carols being sung in Canterbury.
Toyah promises Stortford audience
new twists on her classic tracks
For original 80s wild child Toyah Willcox, growing old gracefully was never on the cards. At the age of 53, the gloriously extravagant and punk-inspired New Wave singer remains every bit as keen to strap on an outrageous outfit and strut into the spotlight.
Best known for 1981 hit single It’s A Mystery, Toyah – who is the star attraction at Bishop’s Stortford’s week-long Stortfest Crawl – has also enjoyed a career as an actress and voiceover artist.
But it’s her musical ventures that give her the most satisfaction – and when she comes to Rhodes on May 5, fans can expect plenty of surprises and fresh twists on classic tracks.
Asked if she still felt comfortable hitting the stage in her trademark costumes, she told the Observer: “It’s what I do and what I’ve always done, so it’s absolutely second nature to me.
“I started out in an age of video, so everything in those early days was about being visual – it had to be. You couldn’t release a single without a video to go with it.
“I’m enjoy [the costumes] immensely, and the reaction it gets – well, the audience just love it because you can always surprise people.
“This particular show is about an album called The Changeling, which is quite a dark one and quite adult for me, so we’ve created a particular look for those songs.
“But I also have looks for other songs – I always have pink hair for It’s A Mystery, for example. It’s all incredibly well thought-out and addressed.”
As many an artist has discovered, there’s a fine line between keeping your old fans happy while appealing to a new generation – and an ever-present risk of trying and failing to relive former glories.
However, Toyah said: “I’m not just reviving [the songs] but reinventing them as well - I don’t go out on stage pretending to be 22!
“My audience is surprisingly young and I think a lot of the ‘freshness’ comes from them – mostly thanks to bands like Florence and the Machine naming me as influences.”
Much like fellow female icons Kate Bush, Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux, Toyah’s success was built on firm musical foundations and a strong-willed, independent stance rather than her willingness to show flesh.
But while she agrees women artists are becoming more sexualised, she said responsibility lay far beyond just the music industry.
With a laugh, Toyah said: “From my point of view, there’s no way I’m going to do anything like that. At my age, I’m so past my sell-by date that I won’t even wear a swimming costume in public!
“You can’t blame the music industry here – the way the internet has gone and the way everything has gone… I mean, children are sexualised in their teens now and that’s not just come from music, but across the board.
“Only legislation could stop that happening, and that’s not going to happen in our society; we don’t tend to censor things and have a very open culture.
“I just think if young people decide to be as sexualised as they are, it’s their decision. The education is the most important thing, to make sure they don’t come to any harm. You’re not going to stop children behaving like adults unless you’re incredibly stern and strict, and we just don’t live in that kind of society.
“I do think music is quite shockingly sexualised in a way that it’s never been before, but people are accepting it. As long as people keep accepting it, it isn’t going to change.”
Despite the growing popularity of reality TV, and with it an alarming hunger for instant fame among today’s youngsters, Toyah believes there’ll always be a place in the spotlight for those who deserve it.
She said: “We have a very different industry now, but I think it’s still possible to have a fantastic career in music. The memorable stuff is done by people with genuine talent.
“When you look at people like Coldplay or Florence and the Machine, there’s some really great talent out there and I think they’ll always survive, although not on the level The Beatles or the Rolling Stones did.
“[But] you only survive in this business if you put in the hours and work really hard; it’s not just about being treated like a five-star human being. People like Jennifer Lopez or Madonna work harder than you can possibly imagine and are totally on top of what they do.
“The survivors are the toughest ones and I don’t think young people realise that. A lot of them are taken in by all that surface glamour.
“I often say to kids that if you don’t want to be famous, you’ll have a long career in showbusiness. You can work in the industry for your whole life if you narrow down your expectations – being famous is just the tip of the iceberg!”
Herts & Essex Observer
It's A Mystery
How did Toyah Willcox transform herself from the original Punk Princess to Proud Resident of Pershore? Deirdre Shields finds out.
There is something very endearing about Toyah Willcox. She is one in a long tradition of creative – sometimes downright cussed – free spirits, who mellow into a kind of national treasure with the passing years. Say what you like about Toyah, you could never pigeon-hole her. She is the original wild child Punk Princess, credited with starting the Goth movement, who voiced Teletubbies, champions the National Trust, and is a staunch supporter of her local community in Pershore.
Being Toyah, she challenges the word ‘mellow’. ‘I don’t think I’m mellowing,’ she says, ‘though I do find things that freaked me out in the past don’t bother me anymore. I’m working harder than ever.’ She certainly is. She is about to embark on a spring tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her albums The Changeling, and Warrior Rock. The tour is billed as a treat for ‘Toyah diehards, 1980’s fans, and Goth’rock lovers.’
‘It’s incredibly hectic at the moment,’ says Toyah. ‘We’ve been doing the costumes, the sound, and everyone wants my time. I love the buzz of it all, though.’ Toyah’s audience has evolved over the years, as a new wave of youngsters discover her music. Quite aside from the satisfaction this gives her, Toyah is a clear-eyed businesswoman who keeps a close eye on her property portfolio, runs her own website and Tweets, and does ‘all the quality control’, and she recognises the importance of this. ‘Students are just so valuable,’ she says, ’because they keep the word of mouth going about the albums.’
‘I have a new audience every year,’ she says. ‘It’s very interesting, because 80smusic is brand newto these people. They don’t know the politics; they don’t know Margaret Thatcher; they don’t know mobile phones were the size of shoe boxes – they just like the music, and they’re hearing it with new ears. Their opinions are so refreshing, because they’re hearing it without a history. I find it very intriguing.’
Toyah Willcox @ Cherry Reds Café,
Kings Heath, July 16th
Punk pop teen terror, Toyah Willcox, exploded into the limelight as ‘Mad’ – the anarchic redhead in Derek Jaman’s 1978 “film about Punk”, ‘Jubilee’.
She went on to release over 20 studio albums, 13 Top 40 singles, appear in over 40 stage plays and 10 feature films – in a career spanning over three decades. Oh yeah, she’s written two books as well.
Now also the first luminary to be honored on Kings Heath’s ‘Walk of Fame’, Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista went to see what else (if there’s any room left) does Toyah have in her head.
BReview: “Congratulations on your star in the Kings Heath ‘Walk of Fame’. How does it feel to be awarded this accolade?”
Toyah: “It’s wonderful. It’s such an honour, and so good for people to remember me in this way. I lived in Birmingham for 18 years, until I left for London and got my career going. I was born and conceived here. I used to shop on the high street everyday with my mother.
It’s very kind of the business people of Kings Heath, to include me in the names of those associated with the suburb. Amazing people have played here, like Led Zeppelin and Jerry lee Lewis (at the Ritz Ballroom, now Cash Convertors, on York Rd). I think I am the only other woman apart from Helen Shapiro; it’s an absolute honour.”
BReview: “You’ve had such a significant career, and hold a prolific music back catalogue. Is it difficult to decide what you will and won’t include, song wise, when organising a set or a tour?”
Toyah: “We are kind of lucky, because starting last year we had 3 major 30th Anniversaries. Last year was ‘Anthem’, this year is ‘The Changeling’ and next year is ‘Love is the Law”. These were all platinum albums, so we can tour them. What we do after is a different matter, but for the next year we’re kind of covered.”
BReview: “So what can we expect at tonight’s gig?”
Toyah: “Today, at the Hare and Hounds, we’re going to do a 32 year retrospective; covering 18 – 22 albums. That has been hard, as we can only fit 22 songs into the length of time we have. It’s going to be a real ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ night.”
BReview: “Do you ever feel the need to put a modern twist on some of your earlier works when performing live?”
Toyah: “Interestingly, people don’t seem to want that. They want the original 1980’s take on things. But to contemporise is never a problem; with technology, the way you arrange things, when and where drum fills and guitar solos in etc.
The designs for the costumes do have quite a contemporary take on what I was wearing 30 years ago. But funnily enough, people want the songs exactly as they were back then, they want the nostalgia.”
BReview: “The 2nd part of your ‘Changeling Resurrection’ tour starts in September, with you returning to play at the Birmingham Ballroom on October 31st. Will you have any Halloween surprises for us?”
Toyah: “It’s going to be a fancy dress theme. ‘The Changeling’ was a gothic album so it will be a Goth themed night. There will be all sorts of events happening; competitions, DJs and a club night after the gig.
BReview: “Moving on to ‘The Humans’ (a 3 piece ensemble Toyah formed in 2007) can you explain how this collaboration came about, and how it is to work with Chris Wong and Bill Reiflin?”
Toyah: “Well, Chris Wong was working as my Musical Director and also played guitar for my solo project, ‘Toyah’. In 2007 my husband was asked to play for the President of Estonia. However, he wasn’t available, so I contacted the embassy and asked if they would like myself and my band to do it instead.
At the time Bill Rieflin was drumming for R.E.M, but he had a window; so together with Chris we wrote 45 minutes of music which became the first ‘Humans’ album. We went to Estonia and played for the president and it went down incredibly well. It was fantastic. We are now on out 3rd album, which we record in September.”
BReview: “So a significant career, one that’s still evolving into new projects. What advice, if any, do you have for people pursuing a career in the industry today?”
Toyah: “It isn’t about the ‘X-Factor’. It takes genuine hard work, not instant gratification. My advice would be to learn an instrument, learn how to write, learn about the law and get clued up about what publishing is about and what a record company is about.
Try and launch yourself on the Internet; on things such as Facebook, Twitter etc, as today that is where it is at.”
BReview: “And as a strong female in the music industry, how do you feel the role of women in the industry has changed?”
Toyah: “When I started out, there were people like Kim Wilde, Kate Bush and Patti Smith leading the way for females; but doing so in a strong way and in control, even back then.
Today there are some really great female songwriters who not only look great but are headlining stadiums; which back when I started didn’t happen.
I began at a time when your career would be mainly playing the pub circuits, so now it’s clear there is a lot of control by women in the industry.”
BReview: “So who would you consider strong and influential female figures in the industry today?”
Toyah: “Songwriters and acts such as P.J Harvey, Florence & the Machine, Marina & the Diamonds and Pink – who has reinvented herself over a diverse career. It hasn’t all been about Madonna.”
Toyah Willcox: Five things I can't live without
Every morning I pull just one card from my deck of tarot cards to help shape my day. I am rather impetuous so I use my daily card to curb my natural impulses.
Some people believe tarot cards are a form of black magic or senseless new age mysticism but for me they are a practical way of talking directly to the universe.
I am currently using a beautiful deck of cards called Kat Black’s Golden Tarot which Robert bought me. It depicts female saints using Renaissance art work. The cards don’t just guide me they are beautiful too.
2. BEST FRIENDS
For 10 years I was completely absorbed with looking after my ailing parents and losing them both left a huge void in my life.
My dad Beric died in 2009 and my mum Barbara passed away two years later. Since then I have been busily reconnecting with my best friends. Robert and I don’t have children so our closest friends are very important to us.
I love the US and experience an amazing sense of freedom whenever I visit.
My favourite city of all has to be Seattle as it seems to
encapsulate everything that is great about both Britain and America.
It is densely wooded like the UK and the people are very liberal and forward thinking and there is this sense that anything is possible.
I have written three albums in Seattle and for some reason it seems to inspire my deepest creativity, which is why I am now looking to buy an apartment there.
I am a very spiritual person and I can really connect with certain places.
My other favourite getaway is the French town of Menton on the Italian border where I have a small flat. Like most of the French Riviera the sun always seems to be shining and the scenery is quite magical. My balcony overlooks a wonderful market square where you can watch elegant French and Italian pensioners relaxing.
4. PET RABBIT
When I was 11 I had a beautiful white rabbit called Snowy whom I loved with a slavish devotion.
Ever since then I have had a strange obsession with white rabbits and we now have one called Willy Fred.
He is named after our friend, the drummer in rock band REM Bill Berry, whose real name is William.
Willy Fred is a really beautiful little soul and Robert and I adore him. He loves to play and he is very affectionate and we both find his joyfulness uplifting.
5. AQUAMARINE RING
My birthstone is emerald but because my mother was superstitious about the colour green I was never allowed to wear it. Instead I developed a love of aquamarine, which in my opinion is a far prettier and more soothing gem.
In May this year we celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary and Robert presented me with a 22-carat gold and aquamarine ring.
He’d had it specially made for me and I wear it every day.
It is a stunning piece of jewellery and every time I look at its liquid blue intricacies I am reminded of my lovely husband and all the happiness we have shared.
The Daily Express
Toyah Willcox's Travelling Life
Toyah Willcox, the singer and actress, has fond memories of Estonia and the remotest regions of Belize, but hates to travel with Ryanair
Your earliest memory of travelling?
As a young child, my family holidays were always in Rock, Cornwall, with my parents, older brother Kim and sister Nicola. We hired a bungalow on the grounds of a hotel, but there were only two bedrooms. Mum and Dad stayed in one while Kim and Nicola shared the other. They used to put me to sleep in the living room by pushing two armchairs together. We lived in Birmingham at the time, so it took what seemed like 10 hours to get there, pootling along the single-track roads and country lanes.
How often do you travel now?
I travel every week within Britain – one day I can be in Scotland and Plymouth the next. But I travel abroad once a month, usually to my holiday home in Menton on the Côte d’Azur.
I bought my first place there in 2009, which had an incredible 67 steps to climb to reach the front door. I sold it along with my home in Nice to buy this seafront apartment facing the Jean Cocteau museum where you can get everything you need – food, British newspapers – within two minutes. And our favourite hotel for evenings out, the Royal Westminster, is just a short walk away.
Place that inspires your songwriting?
Menton’s a top choice, but also Seattle. I go there twice a year. My best friend Bill Rieflin, who was the drummer for R.E.M, lives there and I have a band there. It’s where I feel most creative and where I’ve written my most successful songs. The people are great. They have a very relaxed work-play balance and are very unpretentious, unlike Los Angeles which I’ve always fancied but in reality I wouldn’t be able to deal with all of the schmoozing and fakeness there.
Most memorable recording location?
Estonia in 1992. I also toured there and fell in love with its capital, Tallinn. It’s remained very unchanged and there is an interesting mix of people. I returned in 2007 after forming another band the Humans (which included my husband, Robert Fripp, and Bill) to play for the president’s birthday. We performed in a tiny wooden theatre in the middle of the forest – it was a modern-day Hansel and Gretel.
Best travel experience?
Watching Madame Butterfly at the Tallinn Opera House in 1992. Money was pretty scarce then and all of the costumes were borrowed. So when Madame Butterfly was committing suicide, her costume fell off. But the performance was so beautiful and she delivered it with such technical brilliance while holding up her costume. I’ll never forget it – it was both moving and representative of Estonia at the time.
Most adventurous travel experience?
In 1993, when my band and I were guests of the RAF in Belize before their base was shut. They took us on a helicopter ride and we were taken to the most remote Mayan ruins. It was mind-blowing because the butterflies there were nearly the size of our heads. Our hotel was on a tiny 30ft by 30ft island an hour and a half away. There was nothing on the island but four palm trees, a pelican, the band, myself and a hamper – very Robinson Crusoe.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
A digital detox. If I need a bit of R & R, I’d go to the Maldives because technology can’t reach you. I live a pretty healthy lifestyle – I don’t drink or smoke – but my stress levels are what’s going to kill me. I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do next, so I like to have a proper relaxing holiday.
The Inn at the Market in Seattle is exceptional. It’s next to the big Pike Place Market with great coffee shops on Pine Street. It doesn’t have a restaurant, but I recommend the nearby Indonesian place, the Tamarind Tree.
I don’t like putting places down but Travelodges have been the worst. I did 67 dates this year, up and down the country, and only two were decent, including the one at Hatfield. The staff was fantastic – they were pulling their hair out, trying to provide good service in terrible conditions. But broken things weren’t fixed or replaced, and it was tatty.
I always fly British Airways. I find them to be the most dependable and I need to be on time when I’m travelling for gigs.
Ryanair. I flew with them to Ireland for a television appearance and was on crutches at the time, eating a sandwich while checking in. But I was told I had to either leave my sandwich or my crutch behind as they’d be counted as hand luggage.
Best piece of travel advice?
Travel light, but be sure to always carry a travel adaptor, phone charger, great book and some nibbles.
What do you hate about holidays?
Drunk people. On a trip once to the Maldives, we stayed on a beautiful island in a fantastic hotel. But every time we left our hut, the drunk couple next door wanted us to do a song. We ended up leaving our hut through the bathroom window and climbing over the wall just to avoid them.
I love being in the United States because I feel so energised there. I’d love to visit the deserts of Utah but it might take wild horses to get Robert there, as he doesn’t like remote places or anywhere incredibly hot.
The Daily Telegraph
Love is still the Law for 80s singer Toyah: We chat to Toyah ahead of her gig at Legends
Entertainment Editor Gordon Barr chats to Toyah, who is at Legends in Newcastle on Friday
Three decades on, 80s pop princess Toyah still recalls 1983 as one of her favourite years. Little wonder then she is bringing her album release of that year back out on the road.
Love Is The Law was critically acclaimed at the time and Toyah will be performing about six tracks from it, as well as a host of her numerous other hits, when she takes to the stage of Legends in Newcastle on Friday.
“This is my favourite album, it has very happy memories for me,” she tells me. “It was released in 1983 and I made it at a time when I was also appearing as Trafford Tanzi in the West End and it had to be written and recorded at the same time.
“But it was just glorious. I don’t have one bad memory of that year at all.”
I always wanted to be a singer and an actress and I always wanted to do both separately. I never wanted to do them under the same production, under the same umbrella. I wanted to be totally free to explore both mediums. This was the most perfect year for that.
“I got Trafford Tanzi, which was just a joy from beginning to end – imagine a role where you are a woman playing a female wrestler who beats up her husband. It was just the most empoweering role and it was a massive critical success, and it kept the Mermaid theatre open another year, as it just sold out. It was a real buzz.
“On top of that we needed the follow-up album to The Changeling, which was critically successful. The only way we could do that was for the band and recording studio to move into my house.
“When I got up in the morning we would go straight into the studio and write, and we would do that until about 4pm and then I would go and sleep and then a car would take me to the theatre at 6pm. I just found the whole rollercoaster of it completely exhilarating rather than a pressure and I had so much to write about as the stage play was so inspiring.
“Outside the theatre was a camp of about 300 fans, they called themselves The Angels and Demons, and they were there for about three months and as soon as I arrived, I’d stop and speak with them, have pictures taken, get their daily stories, do the show, in the interval go back out to the camp and speak to the fans again and after the show I’d go back to the studio and record what we had written that morning. I had about a month of 24-hour living. It was a total adrenalin rush.”
Hearing Toyah talk it’s easy to see why she’s looking forward to performing Love is the Law live again. I was just so happy. Sometimes you get periods in your life where you just never want something to end and that probably was the most perfect example of that feeling.
“Out of that I got a lead role in the film The Ebony Tower with Laurence Olivier. The whole year for me was the most perfect year.”
Of Friday’s gig, she adds: “We are very aware of the songs that bring the house down and I want the whole evening to do that. We are doing six songs from Love Is The Law, enough to represent an album.”
Newcastle Chronicle Live
Toyah Willcox flaunts her fabulous figure in pink swimwear as she joins Splash!
In official pictures taken for the actress’ appearance on the ITV1 reality show, she shows off her incredible figure in a hot pink low-cut swimming costume whilst posing by the pool.
However, despite looking so good it seems that the thought of wearing swimwear in public is scaring Toyah more than the fact that she has to dive off of a three metre board this Saturday.
Describing her thoughts on her figure, the actress and singer, who has admitted to having a facelift, admitted that she doesn’t “do beach holidays”.
"I’m very short, naturally muscular and I’m 55," she said. "The only thing that’s going to make me look like Cher is the amount of surgery she’s had and I’m not going to do that.
"I’m far happier diving off a high board than I am doing that run in front of the audience in my swimming costume. That’s what I’m having nightmares about."
She continued: "I’m feeling, ‘Oh my God!’ I’ve got a large hurdle because I’ve never been seen in public in a bikini before and I feel rather disturbed about the prospect. I don’t do beach holidays and I’m not confident in a bikini.
Joining Toyah on the diving board is 57-year-old TV and radio presenter Paul Ross, Boyzone singer Keith Duffy, 39, and 47-year-old former rugby player Martin Offiah.
The Daily Express
Interviews With Heat 2 Celebrities:
Q: What inspired you to participate in this year’s Splash!?
A: Since I was a teenager, I have fantasised about high diving. It’s always been a dream of mine. I was very lucky that at school I learned how to dive, but I haven’t done it since. The only problem is that I have probably left it about 40 years too late! Diving at the age of 55 is a radically different experience. But I will be hurling myself off a three metre board on live television because I want to prove that just because you hit 50, it doesn’t mean you should slow down. All in all, working on this show has been exhilarating.
Q: How have you found it working with Tom Daley?
A: He is a consummate gentleman. He is a wonderful teacher. He’s amazingly patient – he sees nobody’s age or gender or ability. He’s very easy on the eye, and he has none of that usual teenage angst. He’s very calm, and I think that may come from the inherent danger of what he does. You can’t do it if you’ve just had a night on the tiles. If you are feeling distracted when you dive, you’ll simply hurt yourself. Tom is a fantastic role model and a superb asset for the show.
Q: Which board have you dived off already?
A: I’ve gone off the three metre board twice. It was an incredible experience. Beforehand, you don’t realise just how fast you travel into the water. Afterwards I was elated. It felt like a massive step forward and a huge achievement.
Q: Did Tom help you prepare for it?
A: Yes, he was brilliant. He told us to take it slowly. You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically – you don’t just climb the ladder and dive in. You need to take a moment beforehand to get your mind and body exactly right. Diving is the art of falling forward and entering the water correctly. So preparation is vital. It’s very easy to be off the mark. That’s why we’re doing so much training, so we won’t be distracted by the cameras and the huge audience when it comes to the live shows.
Q: What do you think about doing the live shows?
A: I’m feeling, “Oh my God!” I’ve got a large hurdle because I’ve never been seen in public in a bikini before, and I feel rather disturbed about the prospect. I don’t do beach holidays , and I’m not confident in a bikini. It’s cruel that Linda Barker set the bar so high last year in the way she looked! Even as a teenager, I never looked as good as Linda! But I just have to get on with it. After all, this isn’t a bikini competition.
Q: Does your background as a performer help?
A: Yes. With my band I’m on stage three times a week – I do more than 100 shows a year. When you’re on stage, you learn to get on with it; you just work through any distractions or worries. If you have a costume malfunction, you don’t stop the show. So in a strange way, I’m looking forward to the live shows in Splash!
ITV Press Centre:
Splash! Heat 2 Interviews
How Toyah can make a style Splash! Proof you CAN find a swimsuit to flatter every figure
As a 55-year-old woman with short legs, scars across my stomach from childhood surgery and a bosom so generous it can make me look dumpy, I never drea
med that one day I’d be parading around in a swimming costume on national television.
Yet as a contestant on ITV’s reality diving show Splash!, I’m doing just that – and couldn’t be more terrified. Ever since I agreed to be in the show, I’ve been petrified at the thought of exposing my physique in a swimming costume.
Yes, I try to keep fit and I’m a size ten, but I’m only 5ft 1in, and my body confidence is so low that I never go on beach holidays. The thought of walking down the sands showing off so much skin makes me feel ill with nerves. I haven’t worn a bikini since I was a teen – and even the swimming costume I wear to the local pool has a skirt attached to cover my legs up.
Despite this, I’m a devoted swimmer, and have always wanted to improve my diving, so I couldn’t turn down the chance to appear on the show.
But how to cope with revealing my body to five million viewers? Well, a flattering swimming costume to replace my usual baggy old pink-skirted one was a good start.
With this in mind, I enlisted swimwear designer Melissa Odabash — whose beachwear is worn by stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss — to help me find the figure-fixing swimsuits that could make even a flawed fifty-something like me look utterly fabulous.
If you’re thinking of escaping for some winter sun, there could be a costume for you — and, best of all, there’s not an itsy-bitsy bikini in sight!
The Daily Mail