05 May, 2019


Recorded at the Ravenshead Village Hall, Ravenshead, Nottingham

ALEX BELFIELD: Toyah Willcox, how are you?

TOYAH: I'm really good, thank you

ALEX: You look amazing and you sound better than ever. I just stood here for twenty minutes watching you soundcheck for a gig tonight and my God! What a voice! I mean it's operatic, isn't it?

TOYAH: Well, I trained in opera from about the age of 14 right through to 18. German opera. I keep catching myself talking German although my German isn't great. But that really helped me. And if anything it's hard to get it out of the voice because when I have to do the big notes at the end of songs that's when I kick the opera in

I have a real ambition to be in an opera one day and I never say never and I don't think doors close. I think one day it might happen. But if I did go into an opera it would have to be really modern and really extreme. Because I am a rock singer

ALEX: You're a singer, you're an actress, you're a personality, you're a star at heart. What do you want to be?

TOYAH: It's a really good question because I have to work - psychologically I have to work. If the phone isn't ringing or I'm not creating something I don't really exist. I just sit there … blank. So I always create projects and by creating projects other things come in. I mean last year I was playing Queen Elizabeth the First in the stage version of “Jubilee” which was a complete surprise. But also it featured my music. 

This year we've got “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen” coming out. It's gone beyond on what we thought would happen. In the pre-order chart it went number one across the board. It's out on April the 12th and fingers crossed we'll get a chart position with that. But it's just been great – in the last two days I've done 50 radio interviews and people are loving the music. 

So you ask what I am? This year I'm dominantly a singer but I'm also doing a movie. I've got a great movie coming up in June. So I just keep on filling that diary and see what happens! (Alex laughs) 

Tonight we're doing an acoustic show and I like to think that the acoustic is helping me to become a better musician and a singer because when you only have two guitars and three voices you've really got to be spot on. 

And it's taught me so much doing this show. We've done it now for five years. We go into lovely little places. This is a village hall near Nottingham, completely sold out. We could've done a week here but it will be magical. We know that because it's up close and it's very personal

ALEX: It seems like you were born to be on stage. When we look back to your childhood that's sort of in a congress in a way because you were so shy and so bullied and really to stand up on stage today must be a huge strain still or is it a second home?

TOYAH: The acoustic I love and I know it's going to be good. It's just a magical show. We even had a stage invasion in Otley last week (Alex laughs) There's just something about this show. I think people are so close they go a bit bonkers. 

Arenas – we do the festivals so we do experience the large audiences, you know, between 30 and 60 000 and I'm more frightened for those than I will be tonight. Part of it is that it's so special. You feel the energy. There is a definite change in atmosphere when you've got that amount people in front of you. I find it overwhelming. 

I did a guest appearance in Glastonbury three years ago and I felt as if my feet needed to be nailed to the ground. I just felt as if though I was levitating off the ground. There was quarter of a million people on site and it's just radically different to anything I've ever experienced. So I'm a little bit sensitive to the audience. I'd say I'm more scared in the arenas than I am at the acoustic

ALEX: You've got that great thing though like Cliff, Cilla and all these people - that you have a legendary status -

TOYAH: You think?

ALEX: That we only need your first name -

TOYAH: (laughs) I'm Toyah – yeah. I think it's very nice that people are saying that I have legendary status. I think it's because of my age (laughs)

ALEX: You've nothing to prove, you're working harder than you've ever worked. It must be thrilling and liberating in a way to know what we know what we're going to get. It's a guaranteed cheque when we come and see you - that you're going to deliver?

TOYAH: I do deliver because the audience comes first. I don't think I've gone beyond that point where I have nothing to prove. As an actress I've got everything to prove and I'm still learning. The new album I think is a beautiful album and it's so exclusively me that I think I want people to hear it and go “yes, Toyah's being Toyah” and that suits me down to the ground. 

But there's always something to prove. Time moves on. Nothing is fixed. And I think only your Hendrix and your Bowie and your John Lennons have that "nothing to prove" music that is their legacy. I'm not quite there yet. I'm trying my damnedest but I'm not quite there yet 

ALEX: I listened to this entire CD all the way through and there were two songs that stood out. And what's remarkable about this double album is that it's so eclectic and one minute we've got these beautiful ballads and the next minute we've got you at your height where you're doing these sort of outrageous songs and playing on the sort of big ballad stuff and the rock stuff.

And then there's two songs which are wonderful which are “Heal Ourselves” and also “Sensational” - which is literally sensational. I don't think you've ever sounded better! Congratulations on this. It's so beautifully produced

TOYAH: Thank you. I write with my co-partner Simon Darlow. I've been writing with him since I was 18 and he was 17. He's worked on many of my big albums as well. We have a very psychic relationship. Put us in a room and things just happen. He picks up a guitar, he hits the piano and we come up with something like “Sensational” in two minutes. 

“Heal Ourselves” came about because at the time it was written we were really conscious about artist's responsibility towards being positive in the the world when the world is completely bloody crazy and we wanted to write something that really completely connected the artist to the audience so that became “Heal Ourselves"

ALEX: You were ahead of your time, weren't you? I mean I look at what you did as a child and you were an artist, let's face it when you walked through the streets of Birmingham. People had never seen anything like it. Was that some sort of divine intervention or was it you being you or was it influence because let's face it it's very easy to fit in the crowd – it's very difficult to deliberately stand out?

TOYAH: Well, at that time there was no social media, there were no mobile phones, no one could take pictures of me on the street so in a way that made it very easy to be a strange fish in a large pool. So I was a hair model for a very big department store from the age of 14 because I had remarkable hair and very quickly I started to dye my hair all colours under the rainbow and that gave me a very unique identity at the time. 

I didn't know about punk rock and this was about 1974/5 and then a friend said to me “you should really go and see the Sex Pistols” at Bogart's in Birmingham. That was '75 and I really thought up until that point I was the only punk in the village. I was in a room with 350 kids who were all dying their hair, all making their own clothes. And I thought “where were you?! I'm been so lonely so many years!” And here we all are – the tribe. 

It was a very lucky time for me. From about '75 into '76 right through to about '85 … everything fell in my lap. It was to do with this being unique and being quite strange and not fitting in to the mould. I ended up working with Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, John Mills, Diana Dors and I had three platinum albums. It was just remarkable, utterly remarkable

ALEX: And what a great time to be alive and working. I don't know if we started today we would have the same stories. There are those type of legends around you can speak of and people take in a breath

TOYAH: I think I would've found a way. If I was in the world today as a teenager I would've been on social media, I would've been on Youtube. I would've found a way. I was a pretty outrageous kid and I've always liked challenging taboos and there's still plenty of taboos to challenge. That's the biggest advice I give to anyone on Youtube. Look at the taboos and break them

ALEX: Help me with what it's like being a woman in 2019? Where are we at now? It must be very difficult because we've got #MeToo and all of that. What would you have thought of that if that was around in the 60's? Does it help or not help?

TOYAH: Oh! If we had #MeToo in the late 70's which is when I kicked in ... oh boy! It was unbelievable being a woman in very much a man's world. Especially doing Northern Working Men's Clubs, especially going even North of the border. I don't want to put these places down because they were great to play and the audiences were fantastic … but you were just groped. The whole time – left, right and centre. Just groped. I think there's even photographs out there where I'm being groped. 

At the time there was no #MeToo, there was no voice for how you felt. What #MeToo has done is given vulnerable women a voice and to point out when these situations have happened. I have felt no need to take part in #MeToo because to be quite honest I just used my fists and there's a few men out there who would happily use #MeToo on me (Alex laughs). I mean I just smashed them in the face. 

I had no qualms about that at all. And there are other singers who are renown for doing that too Today I think it's rather a fantastic time for women because I think women can be sexually very open. They can have multiple partners if they want multiple partners. It was quite hard to do that 30-40 years ago. 

They can be gay, they can be straight, they can choose their gender. I think that is all really healthy. What I would like to see is that that can happen without anyone batting an eyelid. Because really I think it's nobody's business what your sexuality is and what your gender is. I've always kind of fought being seen as a person and I think that is on its way and that's a good thing

ALEX: It is depressing in 2019 as I sit here shocked that you tell me that men would just come and grope you. It's incredible to me as a 39 year old man. I can't imagine a world where that existed but that was the case. 

Was that ever the case with management too and the record companies and the producers around you – did you experience that? Because that's what we're hearing about too that even when you'd left the club you'd still have to face it?

TOYAH: There's some extreme, very one off, on their own things happened … My band really looked after me. I remember getting to Leeds, sometime in 1979, to a club and it was height of the fear of the Yorkshire Ripper. And firstly I arrived at this club and my wonderful lighting man said to me “do not stay here alone. The club owner thinks he has a right to sleep with you. Do not go anywhere – not even the ladies (room) - without one of us escorting you." 

So that was cool. This is what my band did – they looked after me. Then I tried to walk to the B&B and a police car picked me up and they said “you can't be alone” - because of the Yorkshire Ripper, so you know, all of that. So we lived through that. My generation lived through that because no one knew who and what and where the next strike was going to happen. 

As for the casting couch – one very remarkable one was - actually I feel quite proud of - because this director was legendary and it was Russ Meyer of "Valley Of The Vixens" and I was actually sent to an audition for one of his films in the late '70's. 

No idea what I was in for! I arrived at the audition and I was asked to take my top off and I just put two and two together and I said “this ain't for me” and I walked. But that happened in those days! It did happen. In a way I'm really glad I met Russ Meyer because that age – that kind of “Boogie Nights” age of movie making is no more. And I was almost a part of it 

ALEX: How incredible. I wonder where you got that tenacity and confidence from? Was it your parents, was it your family? Where did you did find that from within you where other girls may have felt forced to do what ever he wanted of them - you had the tenacity to stand up and walk out. Most people wouldn't be that brave …

TOYAH: No, it was just no problem walking out on that one! It was just -

ALEX: That's extraordinary. Some women may not have made that choice which they could've regretted forever. You had that within you. I wonder where that comes from?

TOYAH: Well, some women would've wanted that job. I just didn't want that job. It wasn't hard to walk out on that one. For me I think knowing that I was not tall, not particularly feminine – that I had to just be individualistic and I knew that was how I was going to survive. Which kind of made me very bombastic and full of bravado. 

I just knew I haven't got the feminine card to play. If I could go back into the heavens when I was being conceived and I could choose the body – believe me I would've chosen a supermodel body because I think they have an easier life. I got this body and I just decided that I had to be very tomboyish – which I am – but I knew that was my way of surviving

ALEX: I don't think you can see you as the rest of the world sees you. A) you are a sex symbol – my father for instance (Toyah cracks up laughing) thinks you're delicious. I mean as you sit here you look stunning and beautiful. 

I don't know why you constantly in interviews always say that you were fat and ugly as a child and not pretty and all of that. You know you are now, right? I mean what have you got to prove today?

TOYAH: Back then I was three stone heavier. You know, today there is nothing wrong with that – back then in the movie industry and the music industry … as soon as I signed on a label I had to loose that weigh. I was complicit. It was absolutely fine, I didn't mind at all. 

I kind of lost it when filming “Quadrophenia” because we were on so many amphetamines to get through that film! (they both laugh) All of us were popping pills like … aarrghh! It was a fabulous experience! But … back then it was expected of you. I had a dietician, he weighed me weekly. I was weighed before I did Top Of The Pops. 

I was complicit, it was absolutely fine. It was the every day and what you've got to remember is I had songs to write, I had scripts to learn, I had venues to get to. We were permanently in front of the cameras. On one day I could do a photo session, five interviews and a two and half hour show. It was just full on. The creativity meant more to me back then and there was no sense back then of eating clean, eating healthy. You were going to live for ever. 

Everyone felt they were going to live forever. If you told someone that you needed to eat clean to have longevity you'd go “nah, that's just rubbish” so we were just eating what ever we could get our hands on and it wasn't much in those days. Vegetarianism was a hard thing to follow in those days. I can remember getting to Manchester on a Sunday and finding nowhere to eat.  You could just about get a bag of chips and that was it. 

So those kind of things back then you didn't consider. All you considered was the speed and the competitiveness of getting an album finished, getting the best tour on the road and then starting all over again 

ALEX: You've achieved so much in your career. I mean when I read down the list of 24 albums and 40 shows you've appeared in, over 30 films. I mean it's a remarkable legacy you're leaving for the world to enjoy. 

Has it been fun? It seems to me you've had one of the most blessed careers. You've always been in work, you've always been relevant and it's always been good stuff and that's the trickiest thing, isn't it? We can all work but is it good stuff?

TOYAH: It's the only life I know. I couldn't be any other way and I don't feel I've actually arrived yet. I can only put this is perspective and this is a direct quote from Lulu on Radio 2. Someone asked her a similar question and she said “I'm hoping to be discovered” and you know that's what it feels like! (Alex laughs) I totally agree! 

I don't feel I've arrived yet, I'm not known as a film star. I have lovely cameo roles in films and I work in films. I also help co-produce and finance for films which I love. I'm very passionate about all of that. 

Funny enough – you ask me … that you know, everyone knows who I am and I'm legendary … I only feel now, and about to turn 61, that I'm arriving. And I think that's thanks to my writing partnership with Simon Darlow because I think “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen” - if it was my swan song I am very happy with it. 

There's songs on there I'm just so proud of like “Dance In The Hurricane”, “Heal Ourselves”, “Legacy”, “21st Century Super Sister”. I am really really proud of those songs so I think I'm only arriving now. And it's kinda good because I'm not sure how long I can keep doing it for!

ALEX: Are we going to sit down in another ten years at 71 and you're going to say the same thing? I mean at what point are you going to give yourself a break and look down on your CV? Just Wikipedia yourself? I mean there's a lot going on there, you must be at least proud even if you don't think you've arrived?

TOYAH: I'm very proud of surviving (Alex laughs) I am definitely a survivor and I've survived with very very little support. I've done virtually all of this myself with my musicians. I manage myself because I can't find a manager, I cant find a PA. No one wants the lifestyle I have!

And let me put this in perspective – it's in the office from 8 in the morning til about 4 in the afternoon, drive to the venue, do a gig, drive home, back in the office til 4 in the morning. That's the schedule. No one wants to be a part of that. I kind of have to find people with an equal amount of insomnia that I have. It's hard … it's hard. But it's wonderful 

ALEX: People forget that show business – and you have to run a business to make it a show. I mean that's what you've done all of your career, haven't you? You've had to be the person fighting forward because if not you're quickly forgotten

TOYAH: Yeah, I agree with everything you've just said. Also I think a lot of artists don't realise that if you're not on top of the business side that's when problems come in. It's as easy as that. You just have to keep an eye on everything and I do admit that most business people are slightly scared of me because I pick things up very quickly (Alex laughs) “Excuse me, what's that in the contract? Excuse me!” 

ALEX: Are you less feisty now than you were in 1975 for example?

TOYAH: I'm more intelligent than I was in 1975 –

ALEX: More diplomatic you mean? (laughs)

TOYAH: I don't fly off the handle as quickly as I used to and I'm really good at negotiating. I even have other agents and other artists phone me up and say “could you negotiate this?” And I go “C'mon! Grow a pair!” (Alex laughs)

ALEX: It is a tough world to survive. I wonder – turning 60 … what did that mean to you? I mean was it personally thrilling that you made it to sixty (Toyah laughs) and you look the way you do? Was it professionally – did it matter to you? Was it a big sort of date last year?

TOYAH: Yeah. I tell you the biggest surprise – and it's been twelve months of surprises – on my 60th birthday my audience downloaded me to number one in the charts and that's what's kicked off all of this. 

That led to Demon Music signing us on a contract, which is the first time I've been signed to a label in about 40 years. And then it's lead to adding the five new songs on “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen” and it's going at the speed of light! So sixty so far – and I've only got one month left being sixty – has been one of the best years of my life

ALEX: I asked Ken Dodd if he'd ever retire when he was 89 and he said “well, what's the point? You only retire to stop doing what you don't want to do - to do what you do want to do and I'm doing what I want to do - if you know what I'm trying to say?” Are you doing what you want to do?

TOYAH: Yes. I am doing what I want to do. Did you know that Ken Dodd had a clause in all his contracts that he couldn't go on beyond midnight?

ALEX: Well, he never listened to it though. He paid the fine!

TOYAH: He used to go on til six in the morning! (Alex laughs) That's more energy than I've got!

ALEX: It's inspiring though – that old school ethic. He wanted to put on a show and he wouldn't get off stage until he felt he'd done that

TOYAH: It's absolutely remarkable – that dedication to his audience. They knew they were in for the night. I think they used to bring pillows and picnic hampers

ALEX: It was great! Of all the people you've worked with – give me a couple that were a thrill for you?

TOYAH: I've ran away from David Bowie twice because I just couldn't handle his presence. The first time was when he was appearing at the Milton Keynes Bowl. I think that was about 1983 and Phil Daniels and I – Phil Daniels of “Quadrophenia” - were backstage and we sneaked on stage and we were sitting on the runway going up to the stage and Bowie walked off stage and came and sat right next to us and Phil was going (mouths silently) and I was going “oh my God, oh my God!” (Alex laughs) and we ran! We ran! 

And the next time was Bowie approached my husband Robert Fripp and I at an event at the hotel Intercontinental on Park Lane, about 1986 and Bowie came up and asked Robert to join Tin Machine. And I stood there and I just “... ah ...” (looks lovesick) and just backed out of the room. I just couldn't take it! The guy was just … his ego not his ego, his aura was so immense it just went into yours! It was breathtaking

ALEX: Have you put your finger on what that is – what do these people do that I don't do?

TOYAH: I don't know but there's some very special people out there. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are a little like that as well

ALEX: Or is it just your mind putting onto them what your thinking about them? Are they doing anything?

TOYAH: No, some people have incredible power. Laurence Olivier (above with Toyah) had that and Katherine Hepburn had that. Sting in a way has it but when we made “Quadrophenia” with him we were all in his hotel room learning the harmonies to “Roxanne”. He was incredibly encompassing, he was very kind good man. 

But some people just have this aura that just blows you away! I had to sit with Zack Efron for an interview once. Gorgeous boy! Absolutely gorgeous but I could just feel the aura pushing me out of the picture … (Alex laughs)

ALEX: And then of course when we look back on all the work you've done and the beautiful stuff you've done on stage. Is there anything like that pin focus still? Can recording a CD compare with standing on stage performing it live?

TOYAH: Every time I do a recording I expect it to be the best thing I've ever done. And every time I walk on stage I expect it to be the best show I've ever done. That has never changed. Do the do compare? Yes. Recording a CD you always think about the connections it's going to create. Therefore you're thinking and hoping and expecting that that is going to connect you to a future. It's always been the same, its never been any different

ALEX: You're a remarkable talent, you've got a stunning voice and audiences never cease to be amazed by you. I love the new album. “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen” is just wonderful and as I say “Sensational” is truly one of the greatest songs I've heard in a very very long time. Your voice is so precious. Be less hard on yourself. 

You seem to judge yourself more harshly than we do. We think your delicious (Toyah laughs) and we think you're incredibly talented and we think you've done quite enough. Nothing to achieve, it's already great. Stop pushing!

TOYAH: Ooh! I don't know about that. You have to push to a certain extent to do certain things. Especially to get in the big movies. You'd be amazed how hard you have to push to do that. I don't think I'll never give up hope on all of these ambitions

ALEX: You know you're an inspiration, especially to young women. I mean if you look at what you've done and how you've done it – against all the odds really … If you look at your background and your beginning and your own perception of yourself. It's an extraordinary achievement. You know that, right?

TOYAH: I am very conscious how important it is to give young women and even just young people – a positive message. My generation did have it easy in comparison to today. We could buy houses, we could buy cars. I feel very very responsible and conscious of the fact that we have to give people hope. 

And that's kind of a big message within “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen”, especially within “Sensational”. That the world is yours, it just needs to be slightly reorganised and you're going to be the people to do it 

ALEX: Shall we bother talking about Brexit?

TOYAH: It's a mess that can't be solved! It just can't be solved! (Alex laughs) You know who ever gets that chalice is going to be poisoned. It just can't -

ALEX: If there is one woman who can sort it out it's you!

TOYAH: No, really … I'm clueless! I'm clueless! (Alex laughs) I don't know how they're going to do it -

ALEX: What about a Prime Minister? You'd make 
a marvellous job ...

TOYAH: No, I wouldn't. Really. I don't have that knowledge (Alex laughs) And I'm not good at being criticised and having negativity thrown at you 24 hours a day -

ALEX: You can't win either way at this point, can you?

TOYAH: You can't win either way. No.

ALEX: Toyah, thank you so much for your time. You're such a legend and a star. Have a wonderful evening. Thank you for your time

TOYAH: Thank you Alex, good to meet you

You can watch the interview here


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