HOST: Toyah Willcox shot to fame as a teenage performer. In a performance career spanning nearly 30 years, Toyah has had 13 Top 40 singles, appeared in over 20 stage plays and made 15 solo albums

TOYAH: Music is definitely a spiritual experience, yes. Music is a heightened awareness. I think music is a language we should learn and be aware of. I think it’s criminal if a child is denied the knowledge of music because yes, it does bring you closer to a universal consciousness

Even though I was a punk rocker other punks didn’t really accept me as being a pure punk. The New Romantics never accepted me. If one could hold up the basic review of your life from an an art critic it is "this woman does not fit in"

HOST: Toyah’s rebellion started young. When she needed the lyrics for a backing track she found them in an old school exercise book

TOYAH: The lyrics I’d already pre-written 13 years earlier fitted and I put it down and went to the studio and I said "listen to this, boys, I’ve never sung anything like this and I feel a little ashamed"

I don't want to go to school
Don't want to be nobody's fool
I want to be free
I want to be me (laughs)

And the look on Nick Tauber’s (the producer) face was fantastic. He said “I don’t want to tell you this, Toyah, but it’s a hit! “(laughs)

SONG: I Want To Be Free

TOYAH: I felt a little bit ashamed because it was so cashing in on my new youth audience but there are genuine ethical points of view in there, in the middle eight
and that's quite a nice epic to have

Tear down the wallpaper
Turf out the cat
Tear up the carpet
And get rid of that

I was born in Birmingham in 1958, went to a public school and education was firmly based on dance and music

HOST: At school Toyah discovered her own disabilities, including dyslexia

TOYAH: It was then that I realised that slowly I was a bit different from the others. I had a very bad speech impediment due to an incredibly high roof of the mouth and I had a twisted spine so I was quite a twisted child. I had one leg longer than other so I had to wear a raised shoe. These aren’t remarkable disabilities, I kind of nicknamed them invisible disabilities because I look and can behave like an able bodied person. As I grew older I couldn’t grow into the mould, I was growing out of the mould

It became a very frustrating time for me. I could never have a heart-to-heart with my mum, she wasn’t that kind of mother. There was strictness and a lot of discipline in our relationship. The rebellion was more about me rebelling against my gender than anything else because she fought to make me wear dresses and to wear nicely girly things

When birthdays came along and I understood what a birthday was, she wanted to buy me a doll and I wanted a gun. She just could not accept the fact that I would fight tooth and nail anything that defined me as being a woman

I wouldn’t say I bought into the punk ethos, I’d say I was born a punk. When I was living in Birmingham there was no-one around like me. I felt very alone. Then at the age of about 17 I went to see the Sex Pistols and the room was full of 300 kids, who were very similar to me and I’d never met any of them before. It was a wonderful moment because suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore

Punk was incredibly accepting of everything and everyone. I didn’t worry about my dyslexia, I didn’t worry about my limp and that gave me confidence to go on. It gave me the confidence to leave Birmingham, it gave me the encouragement to be different

HOST: Toyah was different. At 17 she was offered an acting role in London. At the same time she got a band together and started writing

TOYAH: In 1978 when I wrote “Neon Womb”, which is the first lyric I wrote having moved to London - I was actually in Victoria tube station about 6 o’clock in the morning and it was incredibly warm. I remember just sitting there thinking “oh, this must be what a womb feels like”. My mind was actually whirring and I thought “it’s like a neon womb” and I love the imagery

SONG: Neon Womb

I felt that I was cocooned in my own world and I think every teenager lives in their own world. The world revolves around them. I moved to London and it was quite a scary thing to do because I knew nothing about London. I just knew if was going to succeed or break into acting, London was the place it happened

HOST: Film maker Derek Jarman spotted her potential and approached Toyah for a part in his planned punk film "Jubilee"

TOYAH: I did what I always did in those days and flicked through the script and saw which character had the most lines. I said “can I play "Mad?” and he said “why do you want to play her?” and I think I actually said “because she’s got a lot to do in it.” So Derek said yes and then three weeks later I got a phone call and he said “I’ve had to cut a character because the budget isn’t big enough for all these roles. I’m very sorry, it’s "Mad”"

I fell apart because the whole of my existence and my need and that desperate thing to be wanted and be part of something ... When you’re sitting alone in your bedsit thinking "what am I going to be doing next?" I wanted to be doing this film

I absolutely fell apart, put the phone down. So I had three very bleak weeks just thinking “what am I going to do next? I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just feel like topping myself “ and suicide was always in my mind those days so I called Derek and Derek said “oh thank God you’ve got hold of me, we’ve put "Mad" back in the film. We start next week and we want you to work with Adam Ant and write a song and all of that"

I said “oh, thank you, thank you” and he said “we can’t pay you much, it will £300” and I said “I don’t care, I don’t care” and he said “we will feed you.” And apparently Derek had cut his fee as director to put me back in because he realised that I had to play that role or die

During the beginning of the 1980s the video kind of era kicked in and it almost became more important what the video was like rather than what the song sounded like

SONG: Thunder In The Mountains

“Thunder In The Mountains” I said to Godley & Creme, who made that video, I would either like to ride a Sherman tank down Oxford Street and be blowing up the shops, which obviously wasn’t possible and we’d have to pay to have Oxford Street re-tarmacked

I said "I’d like a chariot" and they went away and had a think. They came back and they said “we’ve made you a chariot.” I didn’t realise it was going to be a front of a car with a pony on it!

They’d done this on an airfield and they said “there you go, ride it off .” Oh my goodness it was unbelievably difficult. I can not tell you how hard it was. This mirror was just like bashing into my stomach, I was bleeding by the end of the day. It cut through my costume, everything. But this little pony, this spirited little pony was just off and there’s me going “oh no, oh no, oh no, oh God!” Just me and them really, having great fun

The age of 18 right up until I was about 24, I had the most extraordinary luck. I don’t know where it came from. Because I don’t think I was extraordinarily talented, I was just very very unusual

HOST: By 1980 Toyah was on a roll, stardom beckoned. But then her band broke up

TOYAH: I though it was end of my music career. I was standing on the side of Finchley Central tube station one morning and I was looking at the rails thinking how easy it would be just to fall in there and just end all this incredible pain. Because I did find living quite painful and full on endless conflict

And a man came up to me and he said (chirpily) “good morning!” It was a little Jewish man with the hat on and everything and I said “hi” and I thought “oh, here we go” because I looked so punky I did get propositioned an awful lot at tube stations

He said “don’t do it, everything’s going to be fine tomorrow.” And I thought “oh God, that’s really weird, that’s such a weird thing to say” and when the tube came I thought “no, I’m going to be nice to this man” because I wasn’t very nice, I just went (blows a raspberry and waves hand) and I thought I should thank him for saying that and I turned around and there was no-one on the platform

I went to work, recorded “It’s A Mystery” and he was right, the next day my life completely changed. It was decided that it was going to be the single, record company were going to invest in it and “It’s A Mystery” was my first hit song

SONG: It’s A Mystery

I think in many ways music and music venues for a lot of people are their churches, it’s where they go to experience that heightened awareness. There are moments in a set and in a song where you know you’re going to feel something, the hair is just going to go right up on the back of your neck

“Danced” is one of them because as soon as you hit the end of the long intro and I go “and then we daaaaaaa---aaaaanced”, which in itself is queuing the audience up a certain way to behave but then the guitar goes dan dan dan dada dan dan dada dan. That comes from folk, that comes from punk, that comes from rock. That is telling the audience actually subconsciously to dance

SONG: Danced

Calling it “Danced” is actually provoking the audience to dance so of course they go bonkers, absolutely bonkers. It weird that no-one seems to click that it’s about the second coming

As I’m growing older and I’m a bit more confident in my body, than I certainly was in my 20s. My costumes are quite outrageous, they’re almost self exploitative but they’re certainly provocative. I show more flesh than a woman of my age should show, but that is provocation because I think if women of my age don’t stand up and say “hey! We’re not invisible” then we will remain invisible

HOST: Toyah’s far from invisible. Yet her performances are as much about self protection as putting herself on display

TOYAH: So I’ve created this character that I don’t think no-one else can replicate. But it’s still a character, it’s still a mask. Everything about my life ironically is about not showing who I am. I put up deliberate barriers. Derek Jarman once said to me “you know Toyah, you are not a singer, you an actress”

This was at the hight of my singing fame and I said “what do you mean?” and he said “I know you. I’ve seen you at your most vulnerable and that’s not what you’re giving on stage. You’ve created a character.” And in many ways he was dead right. I never really show of who and what I truly am

HOST: Even Toyah’s costumes are designed as theatrical protection

TOYAH: I have an outfit that I’ve been wearing for the last 3 years. Because it’s made out of copper, it’s not only beautiful to look at but it’s untouchable. It's impenetrable and that is very much me. You only get so far, I just don’t let anything in any further

SONG: Rebel Run

HOST: "Rebel Run" typified Toyah’s vulnerability encased in armour

TOYAH: I thought let’s do it on roller skates. I’ve never roller skated before but I can learn.
I kind of access the anger in me which is an incredible revenue of energy. It really really does motivate you. It’s quite fabulous

A constant thing in my life has been not only an inner anger but probably what’s more appropriate to say it’s frustration because I have grander thoughts than this little 5 footer is suppose to be dealing with

HOST: Christmas Eve live "Whistle Test" had become an annual tradition. In 1983 (it was 1981, Ed.) it was offered to Toyah (below)

TOYAH: It was so prestigious to get that gig because it was traditional the big latest artist always got to get it and I was the one that got it. Duran Duran didn’t get, Spandau Ballet didn’t get it, I got it. It meant I was playing in front of 12 million people that night. It was a fabulous honour because to know you’re playing to that many people made you kind of want to open the chakras and give a bit more out

SONG: War Boys

TOYAH: Both exhilarating and utterly terrifying knowing I had that gig. When the gig ended it was as if a chapter of my life closed. Because I knew that gig onwards I really wouldn’t be able to repeat that again. It was very powerful and poignant

I had an army of fans. Whereever I went 5000 people would turn up. I could control them, I could make them move as one, I could make them sing as one and it became quite sexual. Because that whole of that rhythm thing, that whole thing moving as one and seeing 5000 people moving as one you knew it wasn’t an intellectual instinctive thing. This was tribal.
“IEYA” is what the band calls the riot song. It just evoked bad behaviour


TOYAH: I just started to explore syllable sounds and “IEYA” sounded like a war cry. Much of my lyrics are about good and evil and are about a Christian theme. So I wanted to write about the inevitability of man going against their God. And it’s about man, the beast, meeting God, the higher being

With my audience, all physical boundaries are really down, even though the mask is on, it’s just this great pile of conflict. Because they do try to molest, they do try to drag me in, they do kind of touch inappropriately sometimes and I feel very warm and responsible towards them

But once I’m off stage . . . whoosh, whoosh, (makes sweeping movements with hand) I’m whisked away. I don’t call the people that camp outside your house, that break into your house, that give you death threats - they’re not fans, they’re mentally ill. So you never talk about those and you never hear about them until they do some harm to their idol. But that is the flip side of fame

HOST: Toyah has found a place where she feels secure and can be alone. It’s back in the West Midlands where she started out

TOYAH: It is my spiritual home. It’s bang on the town on the High Street but it’s not isolated in the country and I know it’s the house I will be in forever, come what may. Ironically by moving into a strong, rather large community we’ve protected ourselves

Once I walk off stage the person I am just wants to be alone. I know people who phone me up after not having seen me for 7 days emerge from house, say “are you still alive? Don’t you miss people?” and I go “no

I almost need solitude to kind of formulate and get everything in order and to creatively take the next journey. I don’t think I could do with a group of people around me

Do I get lonely? Very very rarely. The way I view it is if someone goes into the stock room, knocks all the stock off the shelves, that’s when I’m with people for a long long time. I then have to go away, be alone and put everything back in the place it should be in. I just feel completely mentally unravelled if I can’t be alone

HOST: One reason solitude is necessary for Toyah is that she has always crafted her performances to give as much as possible to her audience

Back then you were one with the audience. It was absolutely phenomenal how it happened. We had certain songs that we deliberately placed in the hour and half, 2 hours performance, knowing that we could pull the audience to another level. “Obsolete” is one of them. It’s about this incredible sexual beat

SONG: Obsolete

TOYAH: All through my life I’ve absolutely loved religious music, whatever religion it’s from. It’s inspired music, it’s music that taps into the soul. I’m not great on fundamentalism, I’m not great on dogmatism and I certainly hate elitism in religion

But what is extraordinary about religious music is its longevity and its timelessness and it does come from the soul. Because of that I’ve always had incredible passion for it. That in many ways has influenced what I went on to become. Even as a punk singer I could say all my work is based on Christian belief

SONG: The Vow

“The Vow” for me is a very powerful song, so powerful I don’t do it live. I can’t just quite handle it. It’s about how mankind is so self-destructive. We have incredible ability to show love and we also have this incredible ability to take it away

If we could see how vulnerable we are in within this universe and how unnecessary we are within this universe then perhaps we would learn how to behave and stop being so selfish

So “The Vow” is actually about this incredible power of love and to also foresee that we are destructive people as well. So out of love we kill and out of love we give birth. It’s one of these amazing contradictions about the human race

HOST: Toyah’s rebellion continues. Her songs reflect her inner anger and promote the sexuality of older women

SONG: I Explode

TOYAH: I was forming a writing partnership with a wonderful writer called Tim Elsenburg, who is 20 years younger than me, possibly 27 years younger than me! I said “Tim, I have this real problem about being a woman and being 47 - at the time -  and slowly becoming invisible. I want to write music about the fact that I believe that women become more sexualised as they get older and they need to make their mark”

I came in with these lyrics “Nothing pricks like a little death, taste the salt upon my breast, little tears of love and pain, tumble down to my lap again” and Tim said “well, that sounds like your talking to a child” and I said “no I’m not, I’m talking about something utterly pornographic! We worked on all this imagery of how to sexualise an older woman and “Little Tears Of Love” is about the maturity and confidence an older woman has in the sexual place

SONG: Little Tears Of Love

HOST: Sexual confidence may come with maturity but Toyah denies her decision to have a facelift reflects a personal need to look younger

TOYAH: I did not have surgery to be sexy, I had surgery to look well. There’s this whole thing about maintenance. Everyone else around me does it, they just don’t talk about it so that when someone puts their hand up and says “well, actually I have had surgery because I live in a hypocritical world where I know if I have surgery I’m going to get more work.” Therefore I’ve had it but I’m going to talk about it. For me it’s maintenance, really, and it’s not about looking sexier

HOST: In 1986 Toyah found love. Or love found her in the shape of Robert Fripp, the enigmatic guitarist with King Crimson

TOYAH: Robert (above with Toyah on their wedding day 16.5.1986) apparently fell instantly in love with me because he loved my imperfections. I can remember the first time he saw my feet and I don’t let anyone see my feet because they’ve been operated on, they’ve been manipulated (laughs) and they don’t really look like feet

When he saw my feet the first thing he did was kiss them. He just kissed my feet and said “I love your feet.” That was the first intimacy I ever had with him. I just knew I was going to be with this man for the rest of life at that point

He’s always been adorable because he’s not a testosterone fuelled man, he’s like me, he likes to escape his gender. So he was very gentle and very in touch with his feminine side and his masculine side. I’d never known anyone like that and I instantly trusted that and felt very at home and almost rescued at being in his company

It was like aaah (sighs). At last I’m with someone who doesn’t try to bully me or kind of pressurise me into something. Within five days he said “look I know you’re my wife, will you marry me?” And I said "can I have a think about this, please!?” So nine months later we got married

HOST: Not only has the marriage worked for 20 years, Toyah and Fripp have worked together forming the band Sunday All Over The World. But married life brought repercussions for Toyah

TOYAH: I was angry. I was angry that because when we got married I was suppose live in my husband’s shadow, and this was going on on many levels. Bank managers were wanting to talk to my husband about my bank accounts, I felt I’d lost my identity

I felt that I could no longer work from intuition. (The 1988 album) "Prostitute" came from that. I was venting my anger on the record industry, who perceived me as getting married and was going to settle down and have children and I really felt prostituted. So it was a very angry album

HOST: Gender is a central issue in Toyah’s life to the point where she questions the validity of being a woman

TOYAH: I actually loathe being a woman. I always have done. It doesn’t mean I’m not gay and I’m not anti-feminism. I just hate being defined by a gender. I hate it with a passion. If I could phone up the body factory now and order the perfect body it would be 6”2, it would very muscular and it would probably be male

SONG: Brand New World

If a song sums up Toyah’s anger and conflict it’s “Brave New World”. The hymn from a wild woman that never fitted in

TOYAH: The whole thing about “Brave New World” is the feeling of being a changeling within another world and just not fitting in and feeling different. I said
“I want to be seen coming out of the sea and I want to have this beautiful white horse around Battersea Power Station" I got it

But what I also got was the fact that we had to shoot this video in 24 hours and for that I had to be on Hastings beach at four in the morning for the sun rise so it was absolutely freezing. They had to make me up from about midnight untill six in the morning, put me in the sea, I had to go into the sea backwards so they could reverse the film, me coming out the sea looking perfect

I was so cold I can’t tell you and to warm me up they cave me a bottle of brandy. Which is just a huge mistake because our next shoot was at Battersea Power Station on a white horse (above). I was drunk, I’d had a bottle of brandy and I was cold to the core

And I’m actually on this horse pulling at the reigns going “stop you little (bleep)!” and it’s all in slow motion (laughs). So in the slow motion sequence of “Brave New World” where I'm on this beautiful white charger screaming, I’m actually shouting “get me off this (bleep) horse!”. It looks so dramatic, it’s looks fantastic and I’m really loosing it (laughs)

HOST: Toyah’s work schedule is as demanding as ever, searching for the perfect performance

TOYAH: I feel that there’s a lot of acting, there’s a lot of singing, there’s a lot of writing that I still want to achieve. I haven’t achieved it yet. I haven’t found what that moment is. And that drives me because I don’t want to let my God down. I do believe we all do have a purpose and we have something that we are here for. I’m optimistic that that’s still yet to come

You can listen to the audio from the programme HERE


Post a Comment

<< Home