"MUSIC AND MEMORIES"
WCR 101.8 FM
PHILIP SOLOMON: We're ready to talk to my special guest tonight and it's Toyah Willcox. Toyah! How are you?
TOYAH: (on the phone) I'm really good! How are you?
PHILIP: Yeah, I'm really good. We tried to get through to you earlier on and we missed you but hey – you're coming into town. You're in Wolverhampton this week, Bilston.
TOYAH: Yeah, doing The Robin 2 in Bilston on Thursday and it's an acoustic show and you know you think acoustic, it's going to pretty laid back and cool but it's actually just as energetic as my band show. So I'm really looking forward to it.
PHILIP: It's a great album, I've been playing it in my car. My daughter Nadine likes listening to it, she's your biggest fan and I'm going to have to give that CD to Nadine but hey, I've been playing it in my car – some great stuff on there!
TOYAH: Thank you! I mean the thing is I always do my favourite stuff and always do what the audience want to hear, that's the whole reason I go out. I'm on the road playing to the audience that really love what I've done in the – can you believe it – 35 years!
PHILIP: Gosh! I honestly can't!
TOYAH: So it's one hell of a retrospective, it's 22 albums. So I get on stage and it's hit after hit after hit. But I also manage to include what I call the cult hits for the all time fans so I do things like “Bird In Flight” and “Jungles Of Jupiter” and there is a song “Danced” which I've been performing forever and a day.
Photo by Leigh Carter
PHILIP: Brilliant. You're a local girl as well, a lot of people forget that. Very much a local girl aren't you?
TOYAH: I was conceived and born in the same house in King's Heath, Birmingham. So I'm very local and I still live locally. I'm only 30 miles out of Birmingham.
PHILIP: Oh, right?
TOYAH: So I'm in Birmingham at least once a week and I absolutely love it! I think it's a vibrant, fabulous city! So I enjoy all my time up there, my husband loves it too and he's a Dorset man.
PHILIP: King Crimson guy, fantastic performer. Big performer. Are they still touring?
TOYAH: Yeah, they're going out in September. I think they're playing the Birmingham Symphony Hall for two nights.
PHILIP: Toyah, in the very early days and I know you don't mind me mentioning this because you're a sort of inspiration to a lot of people but you had what I would say a comfortable middle class life but you had terrible problems with that spine and different problems as a young lass that you've overcome but it must've been very difficult for you?
TOYAH: Well, you know, in retrospect I got through it so I'm cool about it. What happened, when I was born I was born with a twisted spine and my feet were clawed and today it's not a problem with today's science but back the conversations were about removing my right leg! And my mother absolutely fought to keep me kind of in one piece and to have a normal life.
So she took on my physio, I used to go to Birmingham children's hospital twice a year to be assessed and they'd teach my mother how to get me walking. And basically what I had corrected itself as I grew and OK, at 51 I had to have a hip replacement because I didn't have sockets in my hips but by the time I was 51, which is only 4 years ago, the science was absolutely remarkable. I went to see someone who's operating on people under the age of thirty who do too many marathons. I feel I'm in a very lucky place and born at the right time.
PHILIP: I remember reading, well, both of your books and I think you've been a big inspiration to a lot of people. You've had that sort of difficulty and even today people think “Oh, I can't do this!” You're a perfect example that you can do anything if you just go for it, can't you?
TOYAH: I think if the will is there and you've got to find the will and also you need people around you who bolster you and give you confidence. You know, I think a lot of us tend to project negatively and unintentionally onto people but my husband is so fantastic as a friend and encourages me because I'm permanently frustrated that here I am 22 albums later and I still can't play an instrument.
PHILIP: Can you not? Really?
TOYAH: No. At the moment I study piano, I study violin and guitar and I can do enough to write a song but I could never play on stage. My fellow musicians tread the day when I'll turn up and say I want to play on stage because I just won't be up to their standard! (laughs)
PHILIP: I could always play most instruments, my work has taken me round the world but I could always -
TOYAH: You do what work?
PHILIP: Well, I'm a quite a well known medium, you know …
TOYAH: Are you?! So did you have an inkling I would miss the phone call by an hour?
PHILIP: You know I did! (Toyah cackles) You're going to think … but honestly I did, I got my wife Kathy to ring to remind you but you weren't there!
TOYAH: I went out running! I've had such a hectic day! It's been crazy, my husband left for Mexico just as you were calling so I thought sod it, I'm going out for a run! I got and saw the phone flashing and I thought oh my God!
PHILIP: Oh, don't worry about it. But talking about – you're very interested in the spiritual side of it, you've done a few things on TV?
TOYAH: I've done a lot. A lot of documentaries have been made in my house because it's so active. But the area I live in is renown for being haunted as a general area.
TOYAH: I'm cool about it, it's absolutely fine. But I don't feel what goes in the house is necessarily a conscious force. I think it's memory, I think there is a parallel world that we bounce between. I believe my parents are there now and you bounce backwards and forwards from these different time zones of parallel existence. And I think sometimes that veil thins and sometimes things get though. So what goes on in this house doesn't surprise me at all.
PHILIP: This is the thing we hear from so many people and I've never been in your company but seen you on TV and I've thought and I've said to a lot of people I think that lady has a mediumistic gift and a very alien gift as well. I think your alien gift might be channeling in other ways. We're about rock'n'roll tonight and we're having a chat about spiritual things! (laughs)
TOYAH: It's fascinating! It's such an incredible area.
PHILIP: It is. I've been very lucky in my career.
TOYAH: Do you go and do public shows?
PHILIP: Yeah, a few theatres – you used to work in The Alex didn't you?
PHILIP: I've done The Alex and The Grand a few other theatres over the years.
TOYAH: Do you ever get evenings where it just doesn't happen?
PHILIP: I've worked with a lot of famous mediums who've said they've had nights when it just doesn't come through to be honest Toyah, touch wood, I've never had that happen. I've always just walked on there and had the belief to get on with the job and whether it's been working for Elvis' family or doing readings for a local person. I've always believed it works and it comes through and if you didn't, I would say "I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, I can't do it tonight" and that's what I would do.
TOYAH: Yeah, yeah.
PHILIP: I don't think you could do otherwise.
TOYAH: It's a very brave thing to do. Sometimes when I'm singing I see a light above somebody's head and I get that more when I'm acting in a play.
Photo by Dean Stockins
TOYAH: You look out into the audience and there is a light above someone's head.
PHILIP: That's what we see, that's exactly what mediums see.
PHILIP: Honestly! Toyah, I'm going to pull this back to what we were talking about because we're going to be talking about – (Toyah laughs) You had a problem with the dyslexia as well and you stood up to it at a very fiery Prime Minister (when you were) very young?
TOYAH: What, Margaret Thatcher?
PHILIP: That's the one!
TOYAH: I've actually stood up to a quite a few Prime Minsters! (they both laugh) I left the all girl's public school in Birmingham and Margaret Thatcher in '72 was the minster of education and she came an visited the school and I set alarm clocks off under the stage during her speech. Everyone knew it was me because I was the worst behaved person in school so I didn't get away with it. But one of the funniest relationships I've ever had was with Edward Heath.
TOYAH: I used to live in Salisbury and went along to interview Edward for a documentary. He very rarely allowed women to interview him, he preferred men. And we hit it off! And then from then on I used to go over to him for Sunday lunch and host the lunch for him and he'd have dignitaries coming from around the world.
The thing is Edward Heath had narcolepsy. You had let everyone understand that if he fell asleep at the table he would wake up and join the conversation as if nothing had happened. So I hosted lunches for him for Sting and Andrew Lloyd Webber. There was a time when I was hosting a lunch while he was on the phone to Gaddafi for three hours. I've always ended up in these very kind of strange situations!
PHILIP: What a career you've had! You've had a fantastic career you really have! But coming back to that dyslexia, that must've been very difficult for you. I mean obviously you're very intelligent as most dyslexic lasses are but you left school with not a great deal of qualifications?
TOYAH: I just had music theory. I took 9 O Levels and did not really try to pass any of them. I just gave up on the system really. But the thing is I'm still dyslexic today and it's still incredibly frustrating because I have all these ideas flying around in my head without the technique to be able to formulate them. That sort of having written well over 200 songs in my career but I can't sit down and play a piano.
And it's the same with writing and reading, I have to guess an awful lot of what I'm spelling and stuff like that. I think when you look at really great artists they have great technique and as a dyslexic where I'm really weak is technique and it's frustrating now so I'm always battling it and trying to deal with it and I'm slightly driven by it as well.
PHILIP: You wouldn't have such challenges if you weren't such a special person …
TOYAH: It really kind of you to say that -
PHILIP: It's true.
TOYAH: I won't be special if I don't kind of sit down and get my act together. And the thing is I live in public so what really focuses me is the fact that on Thursday I will be performing in front of an audience at The Robin and that will absolutely focus me and that's when my creativity really kicks in. I don't think I'd be where I am today without the audience because they're people that make me, as a dyslexic, get my act together.
PHILIP: When you're on stage and I've seen you perform several times – the minute you walk on stage I think you're someone who completely changes. Do you?
TOYAH: It's funny … I don't know whether I change but I'm possessed by something that I'm not possessed by in the dressing room. So I walk on stage and what I need is instantly there. So whether that comes from me – I always feel very heightened consciously on stage. I've never walked on stage and felt “urgh, don't want to do this!” I walk on stage and suddenly the light of life turns on and something happens. I'm just addicted to it.
PHILIP: It often goes with great performers, they would be terrified to go on stage and they went on there and the light went on and something would switch -
TOYAH: I don't feel nerves as much as I used to, I feel much more at home on stage now. I get nervous before TV or something like that but now I think, because with the acoustic show especially, I'm tapping on 35 years in the business and there's some great stories there so I know that there is a very full of wealth of material to tap into.
So it's absolutely fine and on stage I've got my main guitarist from the Toyah band Chris Wong and I've got Colin Hines from China Crisis and they play, although it's acoustic, they're playing like shred guitarists and they're singing as well so we're creating a really joyous full sound.
PHILIP: That's fantastic. You're going to be doing some of the old favourites in the acoustic show?
TOYAH: Oh yeah! We do all the hits. It's basically a kind of high energy dancey evening. We do it in two halves – the first half is story telling and I show some videos behind me and how rock videos are made and how scenes are done and stuff like that and then the second half is like a concert and it's a song after song after song.
PHILIP: That sounds really interesting. I was going to ask you about the songs and the presentation. It's a special show, it's not necessarily what we would always expect after having seen so many of your shows over the years -
TOYAH: Oh no, it's a complete departure.
PHILIP: It's very different isn't it?
TOYAH: Yeah, it's very different. But also I think it's surprising at the same time as well and that's because of how the songs are arranged and how they work acoustically. Because all of my lyrics are story telling lyrics and the stories really come out acoustically. You haven't got this loud rock drum drowning out certain key words. So it just works really nicely.
PHILIP: Toyah, you've done so many things, you mentioned 35 years, it's a life's career isn't it – you've done so many things successfully, films, gosh, you were a big star in “Quadrophenia” back in the day. You've been on television programs, you've worked with some famous actors and actresses. You've got this fantastic musical gift but there's got to be some new things that are coming from you. Where do you see yourself going in the next few years?
TOYAH: Well, I have another project I'm taking out in April called The Humans which is really important to me. The key member in that band is Bill Rieflin who was in REM for the last seven years and he also played for Nine Inch Nails and (The) Ministry so he produces (The) Black Swans. So we're out in April with The Humans. I think the nearest we get to Birmingham is Gloucester I'm afraid, the City Hall. That's quite a large commitment to me because we're based in Seattle – we record and write in Seattle and we don't tour a huge amount but when we do we want it to be really special.
So I've got that. Also this year - I've just finished a movie with the comedian Steve Oram, who did a cult classic called “Sightseers” about two or three years ago and this is his follow up movie so that's myself, Noel Fielding, Julian Barrat, Julian Rind. Really great actors! And it's a really surreal horror film. There's no language in it and my husband's done the music for it. That starts previewing in the next month. So it's a busy year really.
PHILIP: Sounds fantastic. We've had you at The Robin before – everybody loves playing at The Robin, don't they?
TOYAH: Well, yeah. I think the thing about The Robin (Toyah performing there 5.2.2015 below, photo by PAC Photography) is you arrive there and it's really quite out of the way and then people turn up and it's busy and buzzy and it's a perfect venue for rock music. It's great.
PHILIP: One thing I'm going to ask you before I let you go that I haven't asked in any interview – how did the name Toyah come about? Is that a stage name or is that your real name?
TOYAH: It's my real name. My mother chose it and she said she had no memory of where she got it from. She said it might've been a name of a character in a book she read as a child but Toyah's got many different meanings round the world. In Germany it's “expensive”, in Japan it's “dear”. In Italy it means “your mother is a bitch pig” (Philip laughs) It's got very varied meanings but also there is a tribe, a native red Indian tribe in North America called the Toyah tribe and it means water.
PHILIP: I'm amazed by that! A message for the fans then, Toyah?
TOYAH: Come along! Enjoy the evening! It's up close and personal, literally. It's very revealing and I tend to tell stories you won't hear anywhere else.
PHILIP: Sounds like a great night. Get down there on Thursday. In the meanwhile here's one from the album. It's been great speaking to you Toyah!
TOYAH: Thank you very much! Good speaking to you, Philip!
PHILIP: This is a great song from the album. “Thunder In The Mountains”. And we've got to just key that up there because it's sticking! Always difficult when you play a CD -
TOYAH: Well, Mercury is in retrograde so what do you expect?
PHILIP: You know you'll do for me, you really will! But this time the CD will go into the machine and it will play and it will be “Thunder In The Mountains”. Great speaking to you Toyah! Bye!