BBC RADIO TEES
BBC RADIO TEES
DAVE LLEWELLYN: Following a highly acclaimed run of spring dates, which has seen sold out shows, cracking five star reviews - Toyah Willcox is resurrecting her platinum album "The Changeling" for the final time with a string of 12 UK dates to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Changeling" and "Warrior Rock".
The tours opens on September the 19th in Middlesbrough Theatre and I caught up with her couple of weeks ago for a chat and told her how lovely it was to have her back!
TOYAH: (on the phone) Yeah, it’s good to be back. Mind you I’m there quite often, I did the Gay Pride this year as well. I was a surprise quest, I stood in for someone who’d hurt their back. So I was only up there a couple of weeks ago and I had a lovely time.
DAVE: It’s not a bad part of the world is it?
TOYAH: It’s fantastic! I absolutely adore England. I think it has so much to offer. And I often go on long weekend breaks to places because I love seeing English cities.
DAVE: What’s your favourite?
TOYAH: Well, (laughs) I say I like English cities, I particularly like Glasgow!
DAVE: You like Glasgow?
TOYAH: (still laughing) But my favourite – one of my big big favourites is the cluster of York, Durham – I absolutely adore!
DAVE: Durham’s beautiful isn’t it?
TOYAH: Oh, Durham is just amazing! I’ve been there twice this year and it’s so friendly and it just absolutely blows me away! My husband loves it too. And I like Newcastle and I like Middlesbrough!
DAVE: I think I prefer Durham to Middlesbrough if I’m being totally honest. I mean no doubt there are people who will hang me and go "Durham’s the best!" but there is something - I think there is something quite magical about Durham.
Especially if you go for a walk down by the side of the cathedral. And from there down towards the river. I don’t know if it’s there – there used to be, it’s obviously a folly, it’s man made because it’s the "Last Supper", but it’s carved out of trees (below) and you don’t see it until you sit in the chair at the end of the table and everything just goes snap! into focus.
TOYAH: Oh no – I haven’t seen that!
DAVE: It’s great, it’s absolutely brilliant.
TOYAH: I’m going to take my husband and not tell him and see if he goes "oh, my goodness!"
DAVE: I think he’ll probably like that a lot!
TOYAH: He would.
DAVE: I saw you back in 1983 at the Town Hall in Middlesbrough –
TOYAH: Alright, OK-
DAVE: Probably touring "The Changeling" at the time I would’ve thought, I think Simon Darlow just started playing keys for you.
TOYAH: Then that would’ve been the kind of Changeling era, yes.
DAVE: It was cracking! Where have you been since? What have you been doing?
TOYAH: What – since 1983?! (Dave laughs) Are you kidding?! How do I fill that in?! I mean I’ve done about ten feature films, 40 stage plays and God knows how many albums!
DAVE: You don’t sit still, do you, at all?
TOYAH: No. I’m very busy and I seem to be getting busier. I don’t know why, I don’t know whether it’s because the young uns’ don’t do as many live shows as us old ones do but the phone just never stops and I’m not complain because it’s fantastic. I’m 54 but it’s busy, really really busy!
DAVE: My daughter had real problem with that, with your age, by the way.
DAVE: Coz she’s five, she has no concept of time whatsoever but you’ve reached new and dizzy heights because you’ve made it onto her iPod along with Republica, Ozzy Osbourne and Abba and White Lies. And she loves you!
DAVE: I asked her why and she said "it’s because she makes it sound so exciting, daddy!"
TOYAH: That’s really excellent!
DAVE: Which I thought – "actually when you think about - she does doesn’t she?" So I got out my copy of "Anthem" and listened to that again and I just thought yeah, yeah you do make it sound exciting!
TOYAH: How did your daughter discover me then?
DAVE: She heard "I Want To Be Free" on the radio and she went "oh, daddy have you got any of that?"
DAVE: Which I thought was brilliant!
TOYAH: Well, so do I! I need more of that! (they both laugh) I need a whole nation of that!
DAVE: So she thinks you sound really exciting - do you still get excited about doing what you do?
TOYAH: Well – yes I do! I’m still in love with it. It’s what I do and I always want to achieve more and that feeling of wanting to achieve, wanting to develop and do more has never left me. So it’s kind of an ongoing process as long as I can sing, as long as my voice is still there I can keep doing it. So I’m still very much in love with the whole process.
DAVE: When you were sat in the studio 30 odd years ago listening to the final mixes of "The Changeling", did you for one moment think you’d be gigging it 30 years on?
TOYAH: No, I thought I’d kind of go more into acting, certainly more into writing. But there’s a kind of strange journey that’s gone full circle on this. Firstly when made "The Changeling" it wasn’t the happiest time in my life, I was finding life at that level incredibly difficult, it’s an incredibly difficult place to be when you have to be creative.
The whole of the reality of life has left you, you're just living in this bubble of fame which is completely artificial. So I wasn’t terribly happy when I made that album and at the beginning of this year when we decided to tour it again, because it’s the 30th anniversary, and let’s face it – it’s a platinum album, it was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who’s produced most of U2’s albums, we had to kind of give it some
DAVE: It’s big isn’t it - when you think about it, like platinum albums – I don’t know what you have to sell to get a platinum album these days but I know in those days you had to sell a lot of copies, what was it? Was it a million copies?
TOYAH: No, it’s not as many as that but we sold a lot more albums back then than people tend to sell today. And I wasn’t hugely happy about going back to doing this album and I re-learned the stuff and we did the first show in Brighton and it wasn’t until I got on stage and started singing it that I thought "oh, this really is OK! It’s good!" And we’ve done five dates this year of this album and it’s just been utterly phenomenal.
DAVE: Has it really?
TOYAH: People have – it’s gone through the roof! People love this album. They’ve cited it as the beginning of the Gothic movement. But I think they like it because there’s a kind of narrative that runs through it that people identify with - about being slightly out of the normal and not feeling in place. And it’s just been sublime!
And also my voice is now ready to sing it. It’s a complex thing, there’s quite a high octave range, it uses three octaves so I’ve only booked two or three shows in a week so I can keep my notes really pure. I don’t want to go on stage with that tired touring voice. It’s made it much more enjoyable but I’ve had to re-train, had to go back and have singing lessons to get those notes back in my range.
TOYAH: So it really is quite a phenomenal tour in that way. People are loving it.
DAVE: You were saying you do maximum of two or three shows a week so every audience gets a 110%?
TOYAH: That’s the idea, yeah.
DAVE: Well, I’ve got to see it, it’s absolutely wonderful and it doesn’t resonate with the money grabbing side of the industry –
TOYAH: Problem is, tours are booked so you don’t loose money on petrol and hotels, it’s as simple as that. And then the singer really suffers coz you’ve got five shows in a row and you go and see these shows and the singer is really struggling to get the notes out and it’s not pleasant to watch.
So I’ve just bit the bullet and said right, this is the going to be the cost – we go home after the second show and you know I will front the trouble because I want to go on stage and really really sing the best I have ever sung in my 35 years of career. And that’s the way I’ve insisted it is and everyone is quite happy about it.
DAVE: Why are you still doing it – where is the drive coming from? Is it to go on stage and be the best you can possibly be?
TOYAH: Absolutely! I’m not critically acclaimed the way certain singers of my genre are hugely critically acclaimed. I mean look at Kate Bush and even Siouxsie Sioux because what I wrote was slightly off the wall, oddball and humorous. So it’s incredibly important to me to go out there and give a performance that’s equal to Celine Dion!
Not quite there but I want people to see me and go "wow! I didn’t know she was technically capable of that!" And that’s what I’m achieving because I’m not going to sing forever and I want people to remember me having a really really good voice. So I’m just planning it that way.
DAVE: I think this is amazingly self-effacing – as far as I’m concerned you’ve got nothing to prove at all! Alright, I was a big fan in the day and I look back at the albums and in all fairness I don’t really get involved in all the latest stuff but I shall go back and re-discover it –
TOYAH: Oh, you’ve got to listen to "In The Court Of The Crimson Queen" which I wrote with Simon Darlow. It’s fabulous!
DAVE: He’s the keyboard player, I like his playing, I like Adrian Lee’s playing as well. But I like very keyboard oriented kind of thing which is why I probably enjoyed "Minx" so much because that was very keyboard –
TOYAH: Oh, that’s interesting because I made that for CBS and a new label called the Portrait label and it really doesn’t sit in with everything else I did so that’s really interesting.
DAVE: Yeah, I mean it just had a poppier feeling in places, I don’t know if that was the result of the time, songs like “Don’t Fall In Love”, “I’ll Serve You Well”, I mean the message behind that … absolutely –
TOYAH: Which I did with Simon Darlow –
DAVE: Wehey! So I do need to get "In The Court Of The Crimson Queen".
TOYAH: Oh, you’ll love it! It’s such a good album!
DAVE: You’ve never been shy of a big chorus line – let’s be honest!
TOYAH: (laughs) No - I am the anthem girl.
DAVE: Yeah absolutely! There’s nothing wrong with that.
TOYAH: I like audiences singing along. I find it part of the show and part of being out there live is that you share the music with the audience and I absolutely adore the audience singing along. I have another band project called The Humans with Bill Rieflin who has been drumming with R.E.M for the last ten years.
And when he did his first concert with me, with The Humans, in the UK, he was in a state of shock afterwards because he’d never realised that the audience would even sing along with the strangest most oddball songs! (laughs) And he came off stage and he said "they sang every word!"
DAVE: Enthusiastic! They go for it!
TOYAH: Very enthusiastic! But I mean the concept of just sitting there and listening quietly to one my songs doesn’t quite reach my audience!
DAVE: Good! Let’s hope that continues! The Humans have been described as "the musical equivalent of a drive through a part of town you’ve never seen before." I think that’s absolutely brilliant! What a brilliant way to describe something!
TOYAH: It’s wonderful. The Humans is my passion!
DAVE: How did it come about?
TOYAH: It came about because my husband and I are friends of the president of Estonia and when he had a birthday four years ago, might be five years ago and he told my husband who is Robert Fripp of King Crimson – and asked Robert if he’d play for his birthday in Estonia and Robert said "no" which – I don’t mean to make Robert sound rude but Robert says no to everything and everyone, he just doesn’t go out there and do anything in the live front.
So I phoned up the Estonian embassy and I said "look, I will put a band together, exclusively write the material for an exclusive show for the president of his birthday" and they said "yes!"
And then I had a budget of 5 p and I had to find the musicians and I adore Bill Rieflin, he’s just the most magnificent human being. So I phoned him up, he was in Ireland recording "Accelerate" with R.E.M and I said "Bill, would you come to Estonia with me and play for the president" and he said "oh, yeah".
I said "there’s one thing – we can only afford three musicians and we're going to write all the material in Estonia." And he went very quiet and he said "o-kaay", so we did it! We went out there, we played for the president, we wrote 45 minutes of music and it went down so well we’ve been working together ever since. And every now and then we go back to Estonia and play for the president.
DAVE: As you do! (Toyah laughs) "What are you doing this week? Oh, I’m just doing stuff for the president" –
TOYAH: Well, one of the funniest moments of my life was – we had supper with the president three years ago before going on stage. We were in a place called Tartu which is the music university of Estonia and no one knew the president was in town. They knew we were playing and we were playing what’s called a closed concert at midnight. Only especially invited guests were going.
So Bill, Robert Fripp - my husband, myself and my MD, we had dinner with the president before the show in this hotel and we were eating and I looked up at the roof which was like a conservatory roof and I saw all these men in black talking down their kind of wrist bands.
And they were obviously the presidents protection team and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen because here we were eating kind of quail and roast vegetables with all these men on the roof protecting the president. We then went over to the hallway where we were playing - where we knew as a band the president would come in before we started playing.
And the audience went mad because they didn’t know he was going to be there and they suddenly realised why they were there and they were invited guests and it was just phenomenal. We played till' one in the morning, perhaps a bit later, we played for the president and these 400 invited people. It’s things like that just make my career so exciting!
DAVE: So random isn’t it! It’s a far cry from King’s Heath as well isn’t it?
TOYAH: Very far cry from King’s Heath! (both laugh)
DAVE: Although … I understand that something very very important happened at King’s Heath quite recently?
TOYAH: Yeah, it was lovely. The businesses of King’s Heath voted to give me a star of fame (below) outside the Ritz Ballroom where the Beatles played, Led Zeppelin played, so it was really lovely. I got star in a Walk Of Fame somewhere on the planet.
DAVE: That’s brilliant though and also I understand it’s in a town that your grandad put an awful lot of effort into?
TOYAH: My grandfather, my father told me and I do believe him although my father was a great raconteur – er, he walked from Lincoln where he was born with a wheelbarrow full of tools trying to find work. This was before the First World War and I said to my father "well where did he sleep, where did he eat?" and he said he turned up at farmhouses and people just let him sleep at the barn.
And eventually he walked all the way to Birmingham, to what was a countryside village called King’s Heath, where he met wife, they got married, they had 13 children out of which only 3 survived, my father being the youngest. And my grandfather formed a construction company and built Kings Heath. So Kings Heath as it is today - which is a really bustling suburb town of Birmingham - was built by my grandfather.
DAVE: You let the audience choose the set list in the concert to celebrate the Walk Of Fame star?
TOYAH: Yeah, we did a concert in a pub called The Hare & Hounds which is really important music venue in the Birmingham area and the way we wanted to make it different and special for this occasion, because we called it The Walk Of Fame Concert, the audience voted for the songs. But of course the audience knowing songs that I dread doing chose all the songs I dread doing!
DAVE: Are those the songs off the first two albums by any chance?
TOYAH: Yeah, it was very funny, "we know she always gets this wrong – let’s choose this one!" But it was a fantastic evening and we got everything right that night!
DAVE: Will you be doing something similar on the autumn tour? Will the audience choose?
TOYAH: Yeah, we decided on the autumn tour - because that (Hare & Hounds) was so popular - that we’re going to invite the audience beforehand to vote for songs they want to hear. We’ll specify what the albums are because if they go and choose an obscure B-side we’re not going to have time to learn it. But we’re asking the audience to vote for their songs.
DAVE: I think it’s brilliant. It’s a really kind of interactive thing and music, er, obviously music for you - because you’re a performer - I know before you said that you thought by now you would’ve done more acting and perhaps less music – that’s where you saw yourself 30 years ago … I mean I think the lines are quite blurred between singing and acting anyway. A lot of what you do lends itself as much to acting as it does singing. I guess it’s that whole performance thing isn’t it really?
TOYAH: Yeah, I’m not just a stand-there-and-sing person –
TOYAH: I find when you watch programmes like The X Factor where people have just learned to stand there and sing I think fair enough but I can’t stand still to save my life! So I very much act out a song when I perform it. So I think the acting has kind of found its way into my singing effortlessly.
DAVE: I tell you what – I got the shock of my life - I obviously knew that you and Robert have been married –
TOYAH: 26 years.
DAVE: This is it you see! I thought been married a few years and I look back – 1986 you got hitched, is that right?
TOYAH: Yeah. We’ve just done a documentary about it which goes out on BBC 4 on the 26th of September (EDIT: The episode will air Tuesday 2nd October) called “Love And Marriage” where they’re featuring our relationship in this series.
DAVE: How do you feel about that?
TOYAH: It was actually interesting … funny enough Robert surpassed expectations – he remembered more about the wedding day than I do and has more sort of specific beliefs about marriage. Well, I’m not saying I don’t have beliefs about marriage but he was so good in the interview and so kind of definite and refined about what he believes.
I was very impressed because you often think that the other half is the less interested party. But he was superb in this. And there was me kind of thinking band contracts and concerts thinking "I can’t remember my wedding day!" But it’s a really nice piece so that’s coming out on the 26th September (EDIT: The episode will air 2.10.2012).
DAVE: Is music something that binds you and Robert together?
TOYAH: Funny enough, no. This is because Robert doesn’t enjoy the industry at all and he says he’s retired now. He won’t tour live again. So when at home and when we’re together what binds us most of all is friendship. We’re best friends and we’re top of the priority list when there’s something to go out and do. We want to be with each other.
But I think we’re bound together by home, food, friendship and love. Funny enough music, no. We’ve always had separate careers. My husband listens to an awful lot of classical music and I tend to listen to contemporary music. So no, that’s probably the one equation in our relationship that isn’t there.
DAVE: How strange again, you know two names like Robert Fripp and Toyah Willcox - for music …
DAVE: For music not to really be the thing that got you together and keeps you together!
TOYAH: Well, the funny thing is that Robert is a musician, he’s not into singers as such. He loves Whitney Houston and Celine Dion on a romantic level – he adores what they do but he’s a musician, he listens to instruments. So I can understand why he doesn’t quite acquaint or he doesn’t see me as a musician. I am singer therefore I’m a different breed.
DAVE: I saw Robert with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani –
TOYAH: Oh, was he being booed?
DAVE: Well, I wasn’t booing him, no - I’ve got to say the vast portion of the audience was still in the bar at this point. I was having this conversation with one of my mates the other day - who’s a phenomenal guitarist I hasten to add and I said it was a little unfair because the people who were there I think were there to see the likes of Joe Satriani and likes of Steve Vai do all the really fast wiggly wiggly stuff and they weren’t interested in the textural stuff that Robert does.
TOYAH: Well, I was on the road with Robert for that and that tour is the reason Robert retired. He affected him really badly. I side both with Robert and the fans. Firstly if my husband decides to go on stage and play in the dark what does he expect? People have paid to see him. And secondly if he goes on a tour where it’s about virtuoso playing and he’s doing sustained notes – what does he expect?
So throughout that tour I got him to play more because he can burn anyone off the stage. And I also got him to have a bit more light on the stage but it was not right - he should’ve not done "Soundscapes" on that tour. I’m afraid that’s the reason he retired.
DAVE: I feel guilty now for even mentioning it!
TOYAH: No, don’t! I mean he’s now at home, I see more of him, it’s fantastic!
DAVE: (laughs) Have you got a list of jobs for him to do like my wife has for me?
TOYAH: He’s always mending my computer because he’s always blowing it up!
DAVE: Ah, I see! Do you know – this has been absolutely magnificent, I could literally talk to you for days!
TOYAH: I must say you are fantastic to talk to because you know the business as well!
DAVE: Oh, thank you very much!
TOYAH: It’s been – I’ve really enjoyed it!
DAVE: I’ve really enjoyed it as well!
TOYAH: Well, thank you!