17 April, 2016


22 February, 2016



NEIL: Hello, I'm Neil McCormick – welcome to Needle Time. My guest this week is a star of the 80's, still going strong, acting, making music - it's been very hard to define who you are exactly -
TOYAH: Good!
NEIL: - But let's try and get to the bottom of the mystery of Toyah Willcox.
TOYAH: Bo boom!
NEIL: Bo boom!
TOYAH: Don't hear that often! (laughs) About five times a day! Don't worry!
NEIL: I'll strike out my puns. What you do is unusual because you are an actress, you are a musician – you probably do dozens of other things as well that we don't know about (Toyah laughs). But let's talk about the origins of that – why this need to express yourself kind of so robustly?
TOYAH: I was born in Birmingham 57 years ago, just never fitted in from the day I can remember. I just had a problem fitting in, with being told firstly I'm a woman and being defined my gender and secondly I was so severely dyslexic that really does kind of make you feel set apart from a culture that is based on a particular form. And much as we think we are free and we live in a free world we live by form. 
So I think part of it was that as I grew up I was definitely made eccentric. Was born eccentric and I never felt as though I fitted it. One of my biggest problems, as I kind of became aware of myself, was this thing with being female. I went to an all female school, I was made to act as people's perceptions of female. We have to add into the melting pot of this that I was born with a twisted spine, club feet and one leg two inches longer than the other. My nickname for most of my life was hoppalong or lurch. 
So I always had an identity crises going on. And I very quickly learned that I was going to get bullied a lot, secondly that mentally I wasn't very quick. I was always behind and this meant that I either had to be very quick with the puns and the jokes or very quick with aggression. I was actually a very very aggressive teenager. People were terrified of me and I was deliberately aggressive. I learned to grow out of that when my vocabulary became stronger and I could argue with people rather than just go aaarrgghh! against people. It was a tough upbringing even though I was in a wealthy family and I was middle class, it was a tough upbringing being squeezed into a mould that physically and mentally I just couldn't fit into.

NEIL: You describe your family as dysfunctional (Toyah laughs), maybe every family is but were you encouraged artistically within that environment?
TOYAH: I wasn't artistically encouraged at home. My mother was a dancer, a professional dancer from an incredibly young age during the Second World War. She didn't learn to write so she went straight into ballet school and from the age of twelve was getting reviews for variety theatre and she toured non-stop with a chaperone from the age of twelve to nineteen when she met my father and got married and started the family very quickly because she wanted stability. 
So I was not encouraged to be artistic because my mother probably hated every moment of that. She went through this whole audition system, she auditioned next to Elizabeth Taylor for “National Velvet”, her mother was a dresser for a Hollywood star at Pinewood. My mum wanted to get away from that. As soon I inherited that gene to be a performer it made her very very nervous. At school because I couldn't fit in because I was just so behind. I was physically being altered with surgery, I was losing time at school having joints removed, I was physio twice a day and also I had to go to hospital for specialist physio twice a year so I was always behind at school. 
And the only place I could excel was in art classes and then I ended up directing the school plays because I just had this natural genetic ability to understand performance. So I excelled at school in art. I excelled at putting the end of term shows on. And I was cripplingly bad at everything else. And eventually when I was about 14 we were very lucky, co-incidentally lucky, that a family friend was the artistic director of Pebble Mill, BBC. And he said to my parents “look, your daughter will not excel, she's being stifled if you do not realise that she has an exception in one area” and he made it possible for me to go to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre school. Then I found my place in the world and that was as an actress. 

NEIL: OK. So that's interesting and we'll continue with that but what about music? Was music a part of your teenage and young life?
TOYAH: Yes, it was. My school took in disabled children and part of rehabilitation into the world was to do ballet which I absolutely loved! I wasn't aware that I couldn't do it. I just threw myself into it. So I did ballet, ice skating, I studied opera and I studied music. And the only O-level I got was music theory and this is because I battled with my family that they must allow me to study music because I understood it. 
When I was nine I was chosen by a woman called Vy Thompson, who trained John Curry the ice skater into the Olympics, and she spotted me and she said “I can get Toyah into the Junior Championships if you let me have her day and night". And I was studying to become an ice skater from the age of about nine and I love it at Solihull (Ice Rink) in Birmingham. Then they started to reduce bones in my legs surgically and I could no longer get my feet into the skating boots. It was far too painful because I had metal rods in my feet and I had to give it up. At that time I was eleven and it wasn't terrible, it wasn't heartbreaking. It was just part of the process and it meant I didn't have to get up at six in the morning and train in figure of eight skating, which is the main way you control the body. 
Going back to school with the ballet – because I was doing ballet to music and lot of the time the teachers let me do free form dance because I realised that's how I was getting to use my body. And then I had a wonderful, wonderful opera teacher called Ms Cullum, who passed away from cancer when I was about thirteen, but she said “this girl has a voice. Let me have her.” I worked with her every lunch time. I studied German, Italian and just through listening and through sight and movement I was developing who I was through music. Not conventionally by any means at all but it was all in the body and it was all in the muscle movement.
NEIL: And not pop music?
TOYAH: No. Funnily enough I wasn't allowed to listen to pop music. I was brought up on Tommy Steele singing musicals like “Half A Sixpence”. My mother would take me to see all the musicals that came out on film which was many in the sixties. You had “Sound of Music”, “Half A Sixpence”, “Hello Dolly”. 
I saw them all and I identified with them all and I identified with these actresses singing. And mum slowly fed me pieces about her life, about how hard it was on on the road being a singer and dancer herself. But I just looked at these people and thought "well, that's what I want to do". And going back to your question about pop music - the first album I ever bought was “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Simon And Garfunkel and then I bought Marc Bolan “Ride A White Swan” because I fell in love with Marc Bolan. So probably hormones lead me into pop music. 

NEIL: Was punk rock important to you?
TOYAH: (sharp intake of breath) Punk was heaven sent! I first saw The Sex Pistols play Bogart's in Birmingham on New Street around 1974 or 5, I'm not quite clear of year. But up until that point three years before that happened I was making my own clothing, I was dying my hair, I was a hair model for a huge department store in Birmingham. I was rebelling so … explosively against everything being forced on me and I thought was alone in the world. I thought I was the only person in the world who just couldn't wear anything of the peg and couldn't have natural hair colour and really didn't want to be a woman or a man – I wanted to be a person
Suddenly I walked into Bogart's, because a friend said “you should really go and see this band because I think you'll find there's a lot of people out there who are like you.” And I walked in on my own and the place full of three hundred people with different colour hair, who'd all made their own clothes and we're all looking at each other and it was “oh wow! There's a community! This is fantastic!.” It was fabulous, it gave me so much confidence.
I'm not a hugely political person and I know that The Sex Pistols were a part of a political movement, as were The Clash and many others within the punk movement but it made realise that people are allowed to change, people are allowed to be different and people are allowed to say no to a system. From that day on I just was uncontrollable because the message I got from being at that concert is even if you have a minimal language of music and you have something to say – there is a platform to say it on. It just gave me the courage and the encouragement to move out of Birmingham and go to London.
NEIL: So did you form a punk band?
TOYAH: Well, life was series of very extraordinary events from that moment onwards. Because I was so unusual looking for that time and I was walking through the streets of Birmingham, because I went to nightclubs, I would go to modelling assignments and stuff like that - a director actually asked to come and find me. He'd heard about me in London because I did walk-on roles in Pebble Mill in Birmingham for plays. 
And he'd heard about me but he couldn't find me and he went around establishments in Birmingham saying “have you seen this girl with yellow and green hair? We're trying to track her down.” And eventually the wardrobe department said "go to the drama school in Birmingham, you'll find her there". And unbeknownst to me he turned up there and the head of the school turned him away and said “no, if you come to see people at this school you see them all – you don't see one girl”. 
So he had to go through a whole process to get to me. He then asked me to audition with an actor called Phil Daniels for a play called ("Glitter" in the series of) “Second City First” (below) about a young girl who wanted to break into the Top Of The Pops studio and perform a song she'd written, in the studio at the dead of night and get caught. I got the role. I had to write my first two songs for a band called Bilbo Baggins and I got to work with Phil Daniels – who I've known ever since … 

NEIL: You wrote your first two songs?
TOYAH: Yeah.
NEIL: Can you remember them?
TOYAH: “Heartbreaker” and something like “Sky Brights”. I can't remember them. Firstly I remember I was an atrocious singer at pop because I'd learned opera. My timing was atrocious, my lyrics were winkydink cliché but the band I worked with – they were an absolute blessing. They saw terrified I was , they saw how enamoured I was of them and they nursed me through the whole process. And it really was an extraordinary experience for me even though when I look at it I think (laughs) how did anyone see any talent in that girl?
NEIL: Was that the point – did you, I mean there's a story ... you're a girl trying to break into Top Of The Pops -
TOYAH: Yeah!
NEIL: - Did that trigger a “I want to do music” moment or were you already -
TOYAH: I think I wanted at that point to do music because I wanted fame.
NEIL: Right.
TOYAH: And I was driven so much by hormones as young girls are. I wanted fame and I wanted to perform and I would do anything to be on that stage as a performer. If I had to learn about publishing and I had to learn about recording and I had to learn about writing I would learn on my feet.
NEIL: You starred in or appeared in – you weren't always in the main role - some very significant movies of that time, for punk rock movement, us young people getting excited about punk – you were in “Jubilee”, Derel Jarman's punk film. You had a part in “Quadrophenia”, again with Phil Daniels which was a very significant movie just after punk but very significant and in a kind of Derek Jarman's punky “The Tempest” so you had quite an impact. With “Quadrophenia” - didn't you audition for that with John Lydon?
TOYAH: Yes. I was approach by Franc Roddam the director long before principal shooting started and he said could I get John Lydon through a screen test for the lead role of “Quadrophenia”? So I screen tested for Lesley Ash's role and Lydon was Phil Daniels' role. And I had to go round to John Lydon's apartment off the King's Road and just run through everything with him. Tell him what it would be like, what the whole event would be like. It would be very repetitive, he had to learn his lines, he had to hold his character for the whole day and he was just absorbing this like a sponge. 
When I turned up at his apartment I seem to remember the whole of Splits, the band The Splits were unconscious on the floor – it was ten in morning and I was kind of walking over them and certain members of The Sex Pistols and John was making himself a tea in the kitchen. He was utterly delightful and I'd never had so much apprehension in my life because I didn't know what I was going to be working with. He learned the role, he was masterful at it, he worked hard, he rehearsed hard. We met at Shepperton (Studios) and we did the screen test and I thought he was glorious. A natural actor.

Then I heard nothing again for about six weeks and I contacted – well, I turned up at Franc Roddam's office, which was at Wembley on the ground floor and I turned up outside the window, a bit like a stalker. And I banged on the window and I shouted through the window “C'mon Roddam! I did this favour for you! See me for “Monkey!” “ because I knew “Monkey” hadn't been cast but everything else had. 
So he called me in and he had Phil Daniels (below with Toyah at a "Quadrophenia : The Immersive Experience" 11.2.2016) in the office. What Roddam didn't know was I knew Phil! And Roddam said “yeah, if you do the party scene here with Phil Daniels and you snog him - the part's yours”. Well, I'd learned the script, did the party scene with Phil, snogged him, no problem at all – he's an old friend and I got the part! I had to really pursue it because Franc didn't know who or what “Monkey” should be.  

NEIL: I wonder why he did not like Johnny Rotten for it?
TOYAH: Oh, this wasn't – everyone loved Lydon. Loved him! The insurers wouldn't insure the film if he was in it.
NEIL: Good grief!
TOYAH: Politics. Reputation.
NEIL: Sting was in that film as well …
TOYAH: Oh, what a gorgeous man! Sting was ascending like a rocket at the beginning of the principal filming. He was just so delightful and I had an experience with Sting in that he needed backing singers to do his first Old Grey Whistle Test appearance and he tried to teach me the harmonies to “Roxanne” and I only learned to sing harmonies really well about 10 to 15 years ago, I just couldn't do harmonies to save my life. Every night at the end of filming he would try to teach me (sings) “Roxanne” and I was like (sings poorly) “roorrxanne” and I just couldn't do it! And he never gave up and he was so patient and he was so wonderful. 
So he then, the day of filming, not only did he get backing singers he wanted, which was myself and another actress in the film, he went and sprayed hairspray in his eyes, like a glitter spray so when he did his first appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test he couldn't see. Poor boy! But yes, he was in “Quadrophenia”, we all mercilessly took the mickey out him because firstly he is just physically so beautiful, secondly mentally a genius and thirdly a really nice guy. So we just went out of our way to take the mick non-stop and he took it really well.
NEIL: Your pop carer started really well, you were immediately noticeable -
TOYAH: Yeah!
NEIL: – You had a strong image, you had big hair and you had a big hit with “Mystery”. Very theatrical vocal style -
TOYAH: Yeah. It's probably the opera training. It was also a little bit about not understanding the basics of four four timing because I only really started to feel rhythm properly about 8 years after that experience. I think the part of my theatrics was again this thing of "I've got to be different from everyone else, I've got to sound different from everyone else" which the doors that punk opened allowed me to be that way. 
And it was really very very useful at the beginning to be able to sing like that and to use the octave swoops and the range of voice that I had thanks to opera training. But it was also quite pocketed in it's time. It's something I really wanted to evolve out of by the time I was recording "The Changeling".
NEIL: You're still touring all the time. When you sing those songs now – you sing them in style -
TOYAH: I sing them really well now. Because I've really looked after my voice. I've re-trained my voice every three years which is a hugely technical thing to do. Now I can sing them in time, in tune with power and hit those notes that I could hit 35 years ago. So I'm actually a bit more proud of them now and I take a show out called “Acoustic : Up Close and Personal” and we do the hardest songs because I know the whole of front row is up and coming singers wanting to find out my technique. 

NEIL: Are people not waiting for you to go (sings “It's A Mystery” badly), you know she's singing it (like that), that's not right!
TOYAH: Well, actually because I can delivery really well now with passion and emotion and do that kind of characteristic I will only slot that in when I have a particularly frisky audience. And they just go “yeeeaah!” (laughs) and they just love it! But I don't really want to - I'm 57, I don't want to do that every day!
NEIL: Well, you ask a lot of big questions in the song, your first song asking all the questions of life which was obviously what was on your mind at the time. Have you solved those questions for yourself?
TOYAH: No, I don't think we do, life's a constant journey. If you go to India and you ask a guru, who bases his faith on singing, "when did you learn to sing?" and he's 83 years old and he says “I haven't and I never will.” So it's a constant journey. My body changes all the time, therefore my voice changes all the time therefore the questions will never be answered but I think the fun of it is just living and looking for it.
NEIL: Your next big hit really was “Thunder In The Mountains” wasn't it?
TOYAH: Well, “I Want To be Free”, Top Ten!
NEIL: “I Want To Be Free”, oh yes, I was going to talk about -
TOYAH: And then “Thunder”.
NEIL: OK. “I Want To Be Free”. Do you still think of that as a big anthem? Do you still want to be free?
NEIL: Have you been free? (laughs)
TOYAH: Well, we always start the – well, we do “I Want To Be Free” at the very end of the set and I always start it with "here I am, at this grand old age with a song started its written life at the age of 14 at a maths lesson because I was so bored". And here I am kind of still singing it 47 years later! “I don't want to go to school!” But everyone in that audience identifies with that song and they want to sing it so we do it as a collective. 
So yes, I am still singing it, I don't resent singing it but we're very clever how we do it, we do it in a way that very few people can actually copy me and it's to do with – we've changed the rhythm of the guitars and everything. (Sings) Da dada dadada so people are going "oh what's going on?" This isn't rock anymore, this is something that's kind of – the timing's different. So we always manage to fascinate them with how we do it.
NEIL: Do you still have to live with that you know "crawling down the alleyway being very loud"?
TOYAH: Well, I still feel like that!
NEIL: Still?
TOYAH: Yeah! God yeah! I mean in a culture in a western world where you can go through any newspaper online and some idiot is commenting that c'mon girls admit it, it's over when you're past thirty … I still feel like that song in that you have to make your mark and you have to say to other women out there, as well as men who feel they're going through manopause that we're credible in our existence. You know, don't buy this that when you hit fifty and all that's ahead of you is waiting for God. It's a lie. You're being sold a lie. So when I sing “I Want To Be Free” I very much connect with that message and the audience does as well. 
Also, recently I found out and why no-one told me this at the time – when “I Want To Be Free”came out it was one of my biggest international hits in Australia, South Africa, parts of America, South America ... and the reason for it was that is was adopted by prisoners and political prisoners and they apparently used to sing it through the bars to the jailers every morning and I didn't know this. And I found – I did a tour of prisons and I went to Maghaberry prison, which is political prison in Northern Ireland, where I met the most intelligent people in the world who are behind bars and they said "did you know this? This is a song that prisoner's adopt and it gets them up in the morning". And I thought you've got to respect that in a way.
NEIL: We were talking about “Thunder In The Mountains” mainly because of the hair (below) which must have – it's become almost symbolised, it may the most ridiculous - 

TOYAH: It wasn't ridiculous! It was fantastic!(laughs)
NEIL: - In the whole history of pop. Not bad, there have been worse hair styles (Toyah laughs) -
TOYAH: At least it wasn't a mullet!
NEIL: It wasn't a mullet, yes! Many rock stars look really bad – that was a lot of hair and it was all standing -
TOYAH: I know! I think by that time the images were getting slightly out of control! I agree with you on that level. It is slightly strange where you see me pop up like a sunflower and you almost want to hear someone dub it (makes a funny noise), from "Bill and Ben" (The Flowerpot Men), it has a caricature nature about it. But I wanted to be remembered and I certainly think I got that right on that level! (laughs)
NEIL: These are things you see, you found a way to accommodate the songs of the past. Have you found a way to accommodate the hairdo's of your past?
TOYAH: Yes, I just don't feel it's age appropriate. I don't want to live like that. When you look at people who can carry it off like Sandra Rhodes, the fashion designer – she carries it off because she lives her designs. With me I feel that I'm a performer that needs to be able to wipe the canvas clean. 
So as long as my voice and my acting skills are honed I just don't want to defined by a hair style at this grand age. I want to be defined by a different form of talent and communication. So it's as simple as that. And funny enough people very very rarely expect to see that now – I think it's understood. Also, going back 37 years it was so outrageous to do that and now it's not. It's almost normal.
NEIL: So you had a very hot moment in the early 80's, a lot of hits and then you've kept making music. An extraordinary number of albums and you're always touring and you're always appearing in this and that and plays and films but it's not hit records like it was. Is that difficult to deal with? How do you deal with it and where do you draw your satisfaction?
TOYAH: It's difficult in that I had an album out five years ago called called “In The Court OF The Crimson Queen” which went to number two on the iTunes rock chart and the singles of it went into the Top 20 in the iTunes rock chart ... but people don't know about charts anymore so I'm not looking for that kind of satisfaction and I understand your question but it's a different world and I'm not signed to a major – no major is interested in me. But I do kind of have complete control of my life. 
So when I'm producing albums I take the record store on the road with me so we set up the record shop in the venue. So it works for me and that is very satisfying. Also, I'm playing to sold out venues. The acoustic show sells out, Toyah the electric band we play all over the place, we do the festivals and everything. It's phenomenally satisfying and in a way what's even more satisfying is I don't have an A&R man on my shoulder telling me to be something I'm not which I always found incredibly stressful. 
NEIL: What did they want you to be?
TOYAH: Pat Benatar. Kate Bush. Lene Lovich, you know anything but me! I found through the decades that A&R men don't know what they do or why they do it but they still want the name and the fee. So it took a long time to be brave enough to say no thanks to that.
NEIL: Do you write a lot?
TOYAH: Yes, I write all the time. I feel very blessed that the computer age came along when it did because Garage Band is an absolute saviour for me. I can understand it, I can see it, I don't see digital … if you're at a bank machine and everything is in green dots – I can't see that, I'm blind to that. So with computers I can actually see the format of Garage Band. 
So with “Extremis”, which a film I'm also in as an actress, but I'm performing and writing the outro song - I composed and built all of that on Garage Band. I then take it to one of my key writers and co-writers Simon Darlow, who wrote “Slave To The Rhythm” and he then – I've been writing with him for 37 years, (he) totally understands what I'm trying to do and he then puts it into a more logical format. 
NEIL: So how do you approach it? Do you sing melodies to him, do you play them - 
TOYAH: Yes. With Garage Band I can sing them directly into the computer anyway. I can play enough keyboards, guitar and a bit of violin to actually say "well, this is the key, this is the structure" – then I write the whole of the vocal. The lyric, the melody, everything. And that means my co-writers then have to harmonically build around that. 
So they build the bass harmonics, the keyboard harmonics and then the main guitar harmonics. And I have an MD, who's been with me for almost twenty years now, who has a sign language with me because on stage I can't always count. I know what numbers are but they don't go in the right order. So we have a sign language that he gives me which can queue me in with certain difficult things.
NEIL: You're married to Robert Fripp (below with Toyah in June 1988), one of the great guitarist's of this country - one of the most audacious and different guitarists. He's not your traditional lead guitar. Do you play music together or work on music together?
TOYAH: Well, funnily enough (laughs) I have to hide everything I do from him because it'll end up in his work (Neil laughs). The latest King Crimson tour he's taken the artwork from my band The Humans, Humans 4 (the 4th album) for next year and it's suddenly on the poster for this latest King Crimson tour. And I phoned him up and I said "I own that picture, it's my next album cover – why is it on your tour poster?" And he said “oh no, you don't own the copyright”. So I really have to be very careful what I show him because he doesn't filter things as belonging to other people. 
With “Extremis”, the outro song which is absolutely magnificent, it's one of the best things I've ever written – I could only play it to him after it had been copyrighted, it's down on celluloid and if he nicks it he's going to have a lawyer after him. So we don't actually play that much to each other because of this. And it may sound strange, it may even sound mean but I don't have the genius he has. He has an infinite knowledge of music so when I write something I really need what I've written. So our conversations and our lives together is probably – well, it couldn't be further away from music.
NEIL: But you did call your album “In The Court OF The Crimson Queen”? (laughs)
TOYAH: Yeah, to say foo to my husband! And this is what he said when I told him he'd nicked that painting the cyclops - he said “well, I didn't sue you for “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen”! So you picked up on that. 

NEIL: You're not temped (to ask him) - "I just need a lead solo on this?"
TOYAH: No, because as soon as you do that with Robert it's Robert's project. Wherever it's released in the world it becomes his project. He guested on Humans 2 (second album) “Sugar Rush” - guested ... and wherever we turned up to play it said “Robert Fripp, Humans, Sugar Rush”. You know you just can't do it, it's disproportionate and it's unfair to everyone who works so hard on these projects. So now, he probably won't work on anything I do again. And that's not a judgement on his talent. I just need to be seen as Toyah Willcox, not Mrs Fripp.
NEIL: You work hard, you know you're out there playing all the time so why? You probably don't need to? In the sense of financially -
TOYAH: Actually I think I do. No, well … one thing I'm absolutely brilliant in is business. Outside the industry.
NEIL: So what is it?
TOYAH: I'm only interested in myself as a performer and also you constantly develop. There's nothing in my history that has made the mark I want to make and it's a simple as that. And I think I will keep going until the body says goodbye. I can't think of anything in my life that I would actually leave the planet now and think (it) defines who I am. And that's probably why I keep going. I also need to put this in perspective – I manage everything. I manage the band, I manage my acting, my manage my music career. I also manage a property empire, I'm incredibly good at stocks and shares. On that level I do not need to work but I define myself by the performances I give and because of that I need to work.
NEIL: Is it the performances, is that the most important part – the actual performance?
TOYAH: I actually I think as human beings we're creative beings, that's what sets as apart from absolutely everything else on this planet. We are creative. And you have to remain creative. Now for me, being creative doesn't depend on success so you ask where's my satisfaction? Well, funnily enough the audience applause, the standing ovations four times a week are absolutely lovely and I appreciate it but I don't define myself by that. I define myself by the creative process and that is probably why I just have to stay plugged in with it.
NEIL: Why do you think you are so determined or have that need to -
TOYAH: Well, I think because I don't feel I've done anything I want to do yet or -
NEIL: But you've done a lot!
TOYAH: I've done a lot. It's only in the last year I've given acting performances that I thought … “Ahhhhhhhh!”, Steve Oram's film which is out this year which is me, Julian Barrat, Noel Fielding. Good performances, a good performance! In “Extremis”, which is only a cameo, I blew myself a way with my performance. I was given a private screening of it because I was doing the music at the end and I could've stood up and cheered because I'm only just getting there. 
And part of it is this constant learning about movement. Five years ago my legs were made the same length so I had to learn to walk again. I see myself and I see a disability. And for the first time this year I've seen myself and not seen a disability and that's fabulous. But also, it's like I feel I'm only arriving in my body now and I look at myself on celluloid and I've stopped hating myself and that is a really important step and I want to feel the same about singing as well.
NEIL: Well, I feel like we're just getting to the beginning of this and we're coming to the end.
TOYAH: I'm sorry!
NEIL: Don't worry! So Toyah, thank you for coming on. The best is yet to come then!
TOYAH: Oh, I hope so! (they both laugh) I mean let's talk in a few years time and boy, the only thing that would disappoint me if that is not to come true, I'd be disappointed in myself.
NEILL: OK. It's been Toyah Willcox on Needle Time.

20 February, 2016


SUE: Any woman who's presented TV programmes ranging from "The Good Sex Guide Late" to "Songs Of Praise" is a woman who likes a bit of variety in her career I'm thinking. And that's definitely the case with our next guest Toyah Willcox. As well as writing books and appearing in feature films Toyah of course used to live here in Wiltshire. 

She's had 13, I think, Top 40 singles but her appearance at the Trowbridge Arts Festival will a little bit different as it promises you'll get “Up Close And Personal” with the singer. So she joined me earlier. It's Toyah Willcox! (the studio team applauds)

TOYAH: (on the phone) Thank you for a wonderful introduction!

SUE: They love it really. They just love clapping. Now, I know you're on the road most of the time but what makes the acoustic shows quite sort of special? Apart from less gear to carry I'm thinking!

TOYAH: Well, of course! It's the harmonics for me because we're not competing with the volume of drums and it's obviously not competing with the kind of surreal volume of a huge PA. There's three of us one stage. Two guitarists and myself and we all sing and it means that the songs can breathe and the storytelling within the songs because I always, as a lyricist I'm a storyteller. 

It comes to the front and it's fabulous. I absolutely love it! There's more subtlety and when I'm not actually singing I can tell stories to the audience and it's just intimate. People really love it. It's a warm, cosy environment and people just enjoy the written word as well as the spoken word I suppose.

SUE: It's quite interesting how the songs sound different but the same within an acoustic variation. We're going to hear “It's A Mystery” the acoustic version in a minute but that sounds brilliant as an acoustic version?

TOYAH: Well, yes. I think also it's still the same songs, they still have the same history, they have the same notes, they have the same key changes but it's totally different and I think it's totally magical and I think it allows people to discover the song again. People think they know the song but we're giving them a different harmonic relationship and they discover something new about that particular song. 

 Photo by John Weston

SUE: As well as hearing the songs you say you talk about your career as well and that strong image you've always had. That was kind of really useful because didn't that get you noticed in the first place with an acting job?

TOYAH: Yeah, when I started in the business 37 seven years ago, might actually be 40 years ago next year – women very much had to be kind of idolised image of women. Very feminine, very well dressed, covered up and when I came along I came long on the crest of punk and I wanted to be known for my image. I didn't feel conventionally beautiful, I didn't feel at all feminine so I created my own image and it was a game changer because it said that we need to be seen as individuals not as a small minority and image was very important for me. 

And I do talk about that but my show is slightly tongue in cheek and irreverent. I don't go out there and kind of say how wonderful I am – I go out there and say how it is  ... which is a tough competitive business, you never give up, it's a way of life and it's not about success, even though success is wonderful. It's about commitment and living the life. 

And that's what I say to the audience and I tell them very kind of wicked stories about things that happened behind the scenes. The fact that you may see this brilliant award winning video on TV that we all risked our lives to make it because there was no health and safety back then. So it's a very open performance.

SUE: How did your hair survive the 1980's?

TOYAH: I have exceptionally good hair (Sue laughs). It's very very thick and very very strong and I'm still dying it now and I'm 57. I'm not sure how much longer it can take it but I still have exceptionally good hair.

SUE: If anything always bring exceptionally good hair to a pop career, that's what we always say.

TOYAH: It helps.

SUE: Your mum was a performer which I didn't realise and you didn't kind of realise the extent of that until after she died. Is that right?

TOYAH: Yes. My mother was a dancer. She started incredibly young, at the age of 12 and she was taught in the drama school. She only learned dance and acting. When she died we were clearing her cottage and we found her reviews and they started when she was 12 years old. Fabulous reviews in newspapers about her eloquence and delivery of lines and things like that. 

When my father saw her for the first time she was in a dance troupe opening for Max Wall in vaudeville theatres and she kind of brushed that aside to become a full time wife. I think she found the business very tough and wanted the security of family life. I think the frustration was there all along, definitely as a mother just totally frustrated with the confinement of it all. And I definitely inherited a free spirit which she had suppressed to be a mother.

SUE: The show means a return to Wiltshire because you used to live at Broadshore, didn't you, for a about decade?

TOYAH: 12 years.

SUE: Yeah. So what are your memories of being a bit of a moonraker with us?

TOYAH: I love it. It was very special. I adored Salisbury, it's a fabulous place with incredible culture. And I come back regularly back to the area with the acoustic shows so it's always a lovely walk down memory lane. I think the exceptional geography, the nature, the beauty of the landscape, the soft rolling hills and the wonderful theatre that you get in the area. I have very fond memories.

SUE: We're delighted to welcome you back to Wiltshire this weekend and I imagine wherever you go you get recognised. I did read a story though that you once got recognised on your holiday in the Maldives? And it wasn't quite as nice and showbizzy as people might think?

TOYAH: The only thing I can remember about that holiday was that it was my last holiday and it was in 2001. There was a very drunken neighbour in the next hut, I don't know if this is the story you read because I don't often talk about - 

SUE: It is yeah!

TOYAH: - You go to the Maldives to be anonymous and not be seen and we had a very drunken couple in the next hut who kept shouting “it's a mystery!” at us and we literally had to run out of the hut and hide on the other side of the island to avoid these complete drunks who wanted me to sing “It's A Mystery” for a week. So it just goes to show – don't go to the Maldives if you want a quiet time.

SUE: The Maldives tourist board are devastated to hear this news! But we're delighted! It's going to be a cracking evening. Toyah Willcox, thank you very much for joining us!

TOYAH: Thank you very much! I look forward to it.

19 February, 2016


IAN: A woman who's career has spanned over 30 years not only with the music but also as an actress on stage and screen, as a presenter on both TV and radio with 8 Top 40 singles, released over 20 albums, the writer of two books, appeared in over 40 stage plays and 10 feature films. The one and only Toyah Willcox! Hello Toyah!

TOYAH: Hello! How are you doing?

IAN: I'm very good, how are you?

TOYAH: I'm really good. I have to say that list has gone up considerably -

IAN: Has it?

TOYAH: - From whenever it was written. It's probably my fault it's not been updated. I think I'm on my 33rd album -

IAN: Are you?

TOYAH: - And I'm on my 15th feature film, possibly a few more than that.

IAN: Oh dear. See that's my … whatchamacallit it -

TOYAH: No, don't worry -

IAN: Research!

TOYAH: - There's so much written about me you can't keep up with it! It's just like chasing a tail sometimes, trying to keep everything updated. 

IAN: OK. So the first lot of questions I'm going to ask you I'd like to do in the style of the old Smash Hits magazine -

TOYAH: Oh lovely!

IAN: - Cos I know that a lady of the 80's, boy of the 80's, used to love Smash Hits so these questions – the first answer that comes into your head. What time did you get up this morning?

TOYAH: Potatoes. (They both laugh)

IAN: What time did you go to bed last night?

TOYAH: Carrots.

IAN: What was the last thing you watched on TV?

TOYAH: I am absolutely transfixed by Big Brother at the moment, I hate to say it – Celebrity Big Brother -

IAN: Oh, I like that too, it's good. What's your favourite meal to cook?

TOYAH: My husband and I we only eat fresh vegetables and fish - I mean it's predictable so that's it. That's what I cook.

IAN: So your ... I won't bother asking -

TOYAH: Go on, ask!

IAN: Cooked breakfast or cereal?

TOYAH: Cereal.

IAN: Favourite animal?

TOYAH: I have a very beautiful white rabbit (below with husband Robert Fripp and Toyah) that's nine years old who lives with us in the house -

IAN: And his name is?

TOYAH: WillyFred.

IAN: WillyFred?

TOYAH: After the drummer in my band The Humans who is William Frederick – better known as Bill. WillFred the rabbit is probably going to be joining people in heaven soon because he is three years older than he should be! (laughs) I mean the only reason I laugh is because he just keeps going! He's the eternal rabbit! (they both laugh) 

IAN: Newspaper or book?

TOYAH: Both.

IAN: Coronation Street or Eastenders?

TOYAH: Neither.

IAN: Rice or pasta? We know the answer to that.

TOYAH: Neither.

IAN: Favourite film?

TOYAH: Oh God you're going to have me here all day! That's a really difficult one because I love really great acting and I like films that make me talk a lot the next day. So where do you want me to start!? I'm a film buff.

IAN: OK. We'll say that's the answer. There's too many.

TOYAH: Yeah, I just love film.

IAN: OK. Shower or bath?

TOYAH: Bath.

IAN: Morning person or night owl?

TOYAH: Morning.

IAN: And finally on my radio show we do a thing called “The Great British Cake Scoff” where basically I eat cake. So do you have a favourite cake to scoff?

TOYAH: I do have a favourite cake but I'm sugar free for life now but my favourite cake would be carrot cake with oodles of cream cheese and honey topping.

IAN: But you'll be depriving your rabbit of the carrots?

TOYAH: The rabbit is not deprived of anything. He's like an emperor.

IAN: He's like an emperor?


IAN: I have seen a picture of him actually, you put it in your blog just before Xmas I think -

TOYAH: Yeah. He gets more hits than I do.

IAN: Now some more serious questions. Your singing career and your acting career have developed hand in hand but what do your prefer?

TOYAH: Well, it's a question that goes with your age I suppose. When I was in my twenties I could only sing. It's what I wanted to do and I wanted to be established at. As I get older singing for me isn't about showing off anymore and it isn't about gleaning attention in that way when you're in your twenties. Singing is something I'm born to do and it's much more of a kind of meditative experience. You know it's got to come out – whether I have an audience or not. 

I'm 58 this year and I would have to say that I'm thinking more about acting but I still write music and I still write songs but increasingly for other projects. I'm a performer and I always will be a performer but with each decade as you get older you have to be realistic of what you do. And I certainly do not want to sing every day of the week because I protect my vocals cords with a passion. 

So I try to sing only 3 to 4 times a week. After that I have to tell my agents really … you know, don't destroy a good thing. And my notation is still really good, my tone is OK so at the moment I'm very much acting and singing but I think … give it another ten years it will be acting. 

IAN: So as a younger Toyah who inspired you to act?

TOYAH: That's a very good question. My inspirations were quite bizarre. My mother took me to see "The Sound of Music" seven times in a row and I actually fell in love with the camera. It's the way the camera had the freedom to capture emotion and peoples movement like Julie Andrews running up the hill in the opening sequence. I fell in love with that. I fell in love with the emotion of that. So everything I do is connected to conveying an emotion. So my inspirations were probably great camera men.

IAN: OK. When was in your eyes the defining moment when you thought to yourself “you know, I can make a living out of doing what I'm doing”?

TOYAH: OK. It's another good question but I never cared about making a living. And I think when you're younger you would do anything and sign any contract to get yourself out there. And I certainly didn't make a living until I started managing myself in the 1990's. But I was very very famous up until that point. 

So I probably thought I could make a living out of this very early on. I joined the National Theatre when I was 18 years old and that's when I formed the band so that was 1970 … 76-77. And I was making enough money to rent a flat and eat so I thought I was making a living.

IAN: Fair enough. Nowadays you have the Toyah band and also The Humans. Is this something completely to separate yourself from the Toyah image?


IAN: Or do they run hand in hand?

TOYAH: Well, they don't hand in hand. The Humans (below with Bill Rieflin and Chris Wong) is very much art rock and it's got a very limited audience even though we believe it could have a world wide audience. The Humans is based on two bass players and me and it's very vocal and bass heavy as you can guess. But each album we keep developing with more instrumentation. So strings have been added, sax has been added. 

The next album will be very vocal based as a homage to the creative abilities of Brian Wilson. So it's going to morph even more into a very different kind of sound. And we've done three albums so far and each album is radically different from the other. But there's three key members. 
IAN: When you're writing your songs – do you always have the idea in your head what you want a song to be or do you need an inspirational moment for you to write a song about that certain -

TOYAH: Inspiration is very very fluid. There's artists who give me inspiration but not plagiarism - thank goodness. But also voices come into my head and I have to write down what they're doing. They're lyrics – lyrics just fly into my head. I construct my ideas on a very simple programme called Garage Band and then I take it to the band members and they kind of laugh it off and completely re-write it. 

But if I didn't do that process would be so slow because we're working sonically with two bass players and it's not the ideal way to create a song. So we create the song through what I do on Garage Band and strip it right down and build the the harmonics and sonic structure round the two bases. Which is why it's such a weird thing to be doing. 

IAN: I read on your blog that you're planning on doing a lot of travelling this year?

TOYAH: I'm in a different country … every week.

IAN: Where are looking forward to going most?

TOYAH: I always love going to Seattle. So I'm in Seattle in March now and then the whole of December. Next week I'm in France and then after that Antigua. So I'm doing a lot of writing. There's a project that I'm embarking on which I'm not telling anyone about at the moment -

IAN: Oooh! Go on - could be scoop for SkyHigh Radio!

TOYAH: Actually I will let the reviewers expose what it is -


TOYAH: In the summer.

IAN: OK, fair enough. If a film was to be made of your life, who would you like to play you?

TOYAH: I often think about this because my life is so fractured and it's so disjointed by the fact that I do so many different things. I think I would like an actress who understood why I've done that. And I'm not very tall in stature and I'm not aware of many actresses who are as small as me. The great Hollywood actresses tend to be always teetering above 5'11. So who could play me?

IAN: Don't know. Don't know small actresses …

TOYAH: Bette Midler is probably older than me so that's not quite right. Er, there's a wonderful actress called Amanda Root but I don't know if she can sing. She's my same height. My favourite actress ...er, Judi Dench would just never get a chance to play me. Perhaps she could be the older me looking back. No idea!

IAN: Fair enough. Looking back what advice would you give to a young Toyah Willcox just starting out in the entertainment business?

TOYAH: Oh, there's so much advice I would give me. Is do your learning when you're young. Because while you're young it sticks. And I wasn't fortunate enough at school to be given instrument lessons but I was given voice lessons. Very good voice lessons – I studied opera and I also studied ballet. But if someone taught me keyboards and guitar back then I'd be a very different artist today.

IAN: Very good. What can't you leave your house without?

TOYAH: My clothes (Ian laughs).

IAN: You're the second person to say that! I think Paul Daniels said the same so there we go.

TOYAH: I don't know what to think about that!

IAN: (laughs) Which three people would you invite round to your house for dinner?

TOYAH: Er, can they alive or can they be dead?

IAN: Which ever you like.

TOYAH: Davie Bowie, Joan of Arc and Alice Cooper.

IAN: Why Joan of Arc?

TOYAH: I've always thought of any woman that can her life for a cause is a very special woman.

IAN: Good point well put. Any plans for new CD's or tours in the near future?

TOYAH: Yeah, we've got quite a lot going on. I'm in the studio with another co-writer Simon Darlow (below with Toyah) and our album's going to be launched in the PR Rest tent in Glastonbury this year so we're finishing that and The Humans start Humans 4 so it's a busy year and I'm also writing another project for a venue in London in the summer. 

IAN: Oh, very good. And finally – if you could be anybody else, who would it be and why?

TOYAH: Oh my God!

IAN: That's my deep question.

TOYAH: It's a very difficult question because whoever I say critics will accuse me of trying to be and I'm very happy being myself. I would just like not to be dyslexic at times and be able to get my ideas into the world in a simpler way than the long way round that dyslexics have to take. So I'm happy being me. I could never say I want to be someone else. I think that denies me by credibility.

IAN: See, I think that's a good answer. It's a trick question really because I like people to say "I don't want to be anybody else!" and you just said that.


IAN: So there we go. I'd like to thank you very much for joining us on SkyHigh Radio and I wish you all the best for your plans for 2016!

TOYAH: Thank you and the same to you!

IAN: Thank you very much! 

You can watch the interview on Youtube (below)

Toyah also performed three songs during the interview 


Thunder In The Mountains

It's A Mystery