JO GOOD: Now, fans of the 80's star Toyah Willcox are going to be very pleased to know that she is back with a UK tour next year. She's going to be playing the 02 in March featuring artists Paul Young, Martika, China Crises and before that I am so pleased to say, I've never met her before but I've been up close. She joins me here on the afternoon show. Welcome!
TOYAH: Thank you so much!
JO: Do you know what I love about you is – because you're going to be singing live and we came into the studio and we thought we'll set it up and everything but you were late because you were doing an other interview and you just came in and you just went “Oh, that's alright. Just give me a pair of headphones.” (Toyah laughs) And I guess Toyah, because you've done everything, haven't you? This is no big deal?
TOYAH: When you do the festivals, summer is festival season, you literally walk on stage and sing and you don't get a sound check and you just have to kind of land on your feet while running and it's absolutely fine. Most of the time, 99.99 % of the time it's OK.
JO: When you came in I said – first of all : you were the first to transfer from music into acting. No-one had done that – people do it all the time now. You get models acting and everything else. But it was a big deal when you did because everyone knew you for punk!
TOYAH: It was social no-no.
JO: Wasn't it!
TOYAH: Acting wouldn't accept music and vice versa.
JO: Exactly! And you did that but was it easy for you – to make that transition?
TOYAH: It was easy in that I said yes to everything. I never turned anything down. I love working, I define myself by my work and I'm quite lost if I'm not working. And the joy of what I do is these odd tangents just appear in my life. I mean at the moment I have a musical in London at The Scoop, “Crime And Punishment”, with 13 of my songs in.
And that was just an mail from a writer/director saying “I love your music. Can you write some stuff for this show and can I put your retrospective in as well?” And I said of course you can! And it's magnificent! So I never know where I'm going to go. When ever I've tried to hone my future it doesn't work so I just allow the future to reach to the present and pull me forward. And it's always been very very rewarding.
JO: Well, I remember – “Quadrophenia”, obviously … I always hear and remember and I said this to you – I was filming you with a local television crew when you were playing Peter Pan (below) at Chichester Festival Theatre -
TOYAH: I remember it. 1993.
JO: You were hanging. You were literally hanging from the rafters!
TOYAH: I flew from the back of the auditorium. First time it was done. It was so exciting. And I remember – I don't think you were there but one night they didn't slow the trajectory of the travel down the fly wire and I hit the back wall. And people would find it so funny when that happened because it looked deliberate but it could be terrifying because you're 60 foot (sic) up in the air.
JO: Flying over he audience?
TOYAH: Over the audience.
JO: Yeah, you're right. Never been done. For me it was “Trafford Tanzi” that really – so loads of people won't even know what we mean. Why have they never brought that back?
TOYAH: Well, I couldn't do it. I'm 58 and I just couldn't do that now. At the time, this was 1983 and it had been touring the provinces for quite a few years as a success with an actress called Julia North. And I was asked if I would take it to the The Mermaid (Theatre) at the same time when Debbie Harry opened it in New York. And they were opening round the world the same week.
And I was playing a female wrestler in London when a law applied that no woman could wrestle within a mile of London City. My trainer was Mitzy Mueller, a female European champion wrestler and we had to train outside London. She had to pretend not to train me when we were in London.
TOYAH: Yeah. It was astonishing.
JO: I didn't know any of that.
TOYAH: Here you had a play, a huge success, about a woman who fights her husband in the ring during the breakdown of her marriage. And we weren't legally allowed to wrestle in London, it could only happen in the play.
JO: How extraordinary – I had no idea! Then … now, did you ever read Laurence Olivier's (below with Toyah in "The Ebony Tower") autobiography where he mentions you?
TOYAH: No! Did he mention me?!
JO: Because you were at the National (Theatre) weren't you?
TOYAH: Yeah -
JO: And he said “I'm in my dressing room and" – someone voiced it on (BBC) Radio 4 - “and a window opened above me and someone is hanging out called Toyah doing a vocal warm up” and it was hysterical because now it means nothing but at the time it was the clash of two cultures, wasn't it?
TOYAH: I love the National Theatre! I've worked there three times, it's the best experience in the world. But when I first worked there I was 18 years old and I'd just moved to London especially to be part of the company in a play called “Tales From The Vienna Woods” and I was just so excited.
I was uncontrollable, I was hanging out of windows, I was stealing wheelchairs, racing around the corridors backstage in wheelchairs, I was hacking of John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier. I mean all of them were really hacked of with me. They had so much tolerance. Gielgud referred to me as The Monkey because I was always hanging out of windows.
JO: Isn't it, I mean for those people listening now because the National is … there are people switching to the music industry there but it was revolutionary you being there? It shook that place up! Backstage, they'd never seen anything like it. Now, before we go any further you have promised that you are going to perform live on this show. So this is not pre-recorded. This is Toyah singing live. Can we start with “I Want To Be Free”?
TOYAH: Yeah, go for it. I've not warmed up but let's see what happens!
JO: She's literally just out of the lift so here we go!
Toyah sings “I Want To Be Free”
JO: Oh my goodness! I am absolutely speechless! That was amazing!
TOYAH: Thank you so much!
JO: To be in your presence to do that! I never thought that was going to happen! I just thought how are we going to do this because we had no time to rehearse. I came in here thinking I'll have it all set up and you just ran in and I said "oyah you're only my height, that mike is ever so high!" "No no it's fine" and then you just do that! For me your voice is as good if not better than it ever has been you know and a lot of people, forgive me for saying this, who've been in the industry as long as you, often it's damaged and it's spent -
TOYAH: It's lifestyle. I'm very very tough about my lifestyle. For example I had a meeting in a restaurant last night and it was too loud so I left.
JO: Good girl!
TOYAH: Because I will not damage this gift and I'm happier in my body now and I'm happier singing than I was 30 years ago. I'm more confident. And I am aware if I'm not careful I can do a lot of damage. So I really only sing 4 times a week throughout the year.
Tonight I'm at the 02 Islington which is going to be a punk/gothic show, it's a big sing. A big sing. All the early punk stuff. So it's kind of nice doing this with you now Jo, because I'm warming up for that. You've given me the chance. But I will not go near smokers, I will not drink, I will not shout above volume, I really need to protect this voice.
JO: Is that because punk by it's sheer nature broke all the rules, you know people were screaming including yourself but hearing that I know you could go three times – you could open that window and London would hear you, you didn't need a microphone. Do you know what I mean?
TOYAH: That was me turned up to two.
JO: Yes so you are really holding back. Were you trained then to sing or did you have training after you started?
TOYAH: I've had training three times in my life. I went to a school that taught opera and ballet so my musical training was German opera which really helped build the voice. Then when I went to the National Theatre they were very concerned about my lisp and I had wonderful voice training with Kate Fleming who trained everyone from Ian Mckellen right through to me.
And about seven years ago I decided to re-train the voice because it wasn't sounding right and it didn't feel right when I was singing so re-trained at Stratford with the RSC's (The Royal Shakespeare Company) voice trainer Penny and she completely got me back on track and taught me techniques that I now pass on to other singers when they tell me their voice is uncomfortable. I say “well, just try this because it's revolutionary."
JO: You can hear the strength in your voice is there, my goodness. Right, questions that are coming in and you know, just tell me – so many emailing, we haven't got time for all of these so … This is from Andrew who asks about somewhere you live, so you don't have to answer! (Toyah laughs) “Can you please ask Toyah what it was like living in -” Do you mind me – famous person's house?
TOYAH: Yeah, go for it.
JO: “What it was like living in Cecil Beaton's grand old house? Was there anything left of his time there?”
TOYAH: There was plenty left. When we bought the house, which was is Salisbury, Reddish House, the curtains were original, the carpets were original. They were made in Wilton which was only six miles away. And this was a house where Princess Margaret announced her engagement apparently before the Queen knew. She went straight to Cecil Beaton. Mick Jagger took Bianca Jagger there. It was a fabulous house. So atmospheric and beautiful.
JO: So there you go, that's your answer Andrew. This is from Paul. He says “Jo, gosh, you have real punk royalty live on your show. I grew up listening to Toyah and Adam and The Ants and The Clash. What amazing memories. What is her favourite memory from that era?”
TOYAH: I think my toughest memory which is also my favourite memory - I played Drury Lane on Xmas eve 1981 (below) and it was televised. I was the guest of The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was the ultimate accolade to be asked to do that. And we had 12 million viewers. I remember the terror but also remember the ecstasy. It was a fantastic show.
I wished that I'd had a week off before doing it but I had been doing matinees that week, concert matinees for my younger audience so by the time we were on air, I think ten o'clock on Xmas Eve, I was pretty spent but knowing you were going out live across Europe kind of lifted you. And that for me was one of my greatest memories.
JO: So there will be loads of our listeners who would've watched that go out live. Bob Harris (one of the hosts of The Old Grey whistle Test) was actually on the show a couple of weeks ago. Right, let me give details of the tour … I was told you might sing “It's A Mystery”?
TOYAH: Of course!
TOYAH: You've got to remember the 80's Invasion though. This is March and we're playing the 02 Indigo.
JO: And also with The Scoop we need to push. Right, 80's Invasion Tour 2017 as I say. It is in March. 2nd to the 19th of March. The London date Thursday the 16th of March. Tonight's gig – is it sold out?
TOYAH: I don't know but it's the Islington 02 and please come along because it's going to be rocking.
JO: Now I can't believe this – we're going have another track and this is “It's A Mystery”! Are you ready?
TOYAH: You bet!
Toyah sings “It's A Mystery”
JO: Right! That's Toyah. This is from Karen “Wow! She's singing my favourite ever song, “It's A Mystery”. She is a legend!” This is from Margaret who says “please tell Toyah I have really fond memories of her when she was in the Panto at the St Alban Arena. She was excellent! Absolutely love your show!” Robert says “she is still the grooviest chick in town!” There you go. Toyah, thank you so much!
TOYAH: Thank you Jo, that was great! Thank you to everyone.
JO: What a treat on a Friday! Fantastic!
For tickets and more information on the 80's Invasion Tour 2017 visit toyahwillcox.com