CHRIS: I catch up now with musician, actress, TV presenter and film director Toyah Willcox in a career spanning 40 years. She’s had 8 Top 40 singles, released over 20 albums, written two books, appeared in over 40 stage plays and ten feature films not even to mention all the TV shows she’s presented.

Cherry Red Records have remastered her 1980 album The Blue Meaning which includes a really early version of It’s A Mystery. Toyah! Hello!

TOYAH: Hello! Are how are you?

CHRIS: I’m really well. You’re looking fabulous!

TOYAH: Since lockdown I’ve created a whole new life online and I’m permanently on camera!

CHRIS: I’m really enjoying these kind of Sunday sessions with you and Robert – they’ve been amazing!

TOYAH: I hope you enjoy them as much as much
as we do (laughs)

CHRIS: I love the fact that a recent one I saw was Scorpions "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" and wow! Such choreography going on - right into the camera!

TOYAH: (laughs) Well, you know I’m very hungry for the camera. It’s what my job entails me to be

CHRIS: But what I love about you is you just go for it! You’re going to go for the full make-up, costumes, they’re all there, you guys are on it

TOYAH: Well, we realise the kitchen is the star of the show, we’d be absolutely misdirected if we thought it was us. The kitchen is the star. I think with so many people in lockdown stuck in their kitchens it’s a pretty great place to do what we do normally on stage and to bring it into the context that here we are

We’re in the same place as you and let’s have some rock. As there is such an eternity of great rock songs! I like to think that we can keep going on forever! Show me a camera and I’ll find it. I just work with cameras so it’s a joy. I absolutely love it

I love the irony of what we do and especially with the Scorpions because the lyrics was one of the most outrageous lyrics I’ve ever sung especially when you take it out of context from when it was originally written and put it into today. And I have utter respect for these acts but it is very interesting how culturally we are changing so quickly. You re-visit lyrics and you think hmm ...

CHRIS: Do you let a song go or do you continue it with a knowledge that we’re in a different place?

I think with me I treat the generations that knew me forty years ago with the truth of who I was and what I wrote forty years ago. I keep to that truth. I don’t think there’s anything offensive in my lyrics … I mean with "The Blue Meaning" that’s coming out it’s very much part of kind of cultural presence of forty years ago. You can’t disguise that, you accept it

I know some artists where the lyrics have been idolising women of a certain type and they’ve changed the lyrics and I encourage them to change the lyrics because I just think it’s totally unacceptable to value and idolise women on one level only, purely as a physical body

With me my writing was very very aggressive as a punk rocker. It was beyond feminism. It was confrontational. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and I’ve decided to stay with it. When we’re performing it on stage it’s just saying this is who I was forty years ago, it’s certainly not who I am today

CHRIS: It’s almost like a time capsule in a way because we obviously all grew up with the music so for us it’s a part of our shared memory

TOYAH: Absolutely. My first album "Sheep Farming In Barnet" is an absolute joy and I actually think today it’s so present in the zeitgeist of today. "The Blue Meaning", which critics are very kindly saying is the kind of embryonic beginnings of goth, I think really firmly belongs in 1980. Where as "Anthem" (1981) which is coming out at Christmas, being reissued, I think again will sit well today

And it’s just to do with what I, as a woman, was up against forty year ago. I was the only female on the team, we were touring a country that was a terror with the Yorkshire Ripper, I wasn’t allowed to walk alone anywhere on any street around the UK and you know - that affects you creatively. When I listen to "The Blue Meaning" and hear and see something that is groundbreaking but also I just think people need to know that belongs forty years ago

CHRIS: The album as you mentioned, "The Blue Meaning", out on the 28th of May and of course on there "It’s A Mystery", an original version. Is that right - it was with Blood Donor?

TOYAH: Yes! Wonderful wonderful experimental synthesiser band Blood Donor and Keith Hale, who is the key creator of Blood Donor, also was one of the producers with Steve James on "Sheep Farming In Barnet". Steve James produced "The Blue Meaning" with a pink vinyl (the 2021 reissue) and Keith Hale submitted a song called "It’s A Mystery" which the record company liked

But "It’s A Mystery" at that time was something like a twelve minute intro vocal and then another twelve minute instrumental. So Keith and I rearranged it into an actual song and I wrote the lyrics for the second verse. And that of course went onto "Anthem" and became a massive hit

Incredible. I’ve enjoyed having you in the studio with us for the Kent Sessions (May 2019) and it’s been really great having you perform and I know with our friend Chris Wong, your guitarist, just a lovely experience. It was such an intimate space, wasn’t it? It almost felt, when we brought some of the team down - when we could actually have a group of people in the same room … It was just chill out session it felt -

TOYAH: Yes, I remember, you had ten people in the room that sounded like 200 (Chris laughs) They were working very hard indeed. What’s lovely, with any song, if it works acoustically you know it’s a good song


TOYAH: And songs do tend to hold out acoustically really well and for me it’s a great way of learning even more about the song. It really informs me as a performer

CHRIS: You mentioned "The Blue Meaning" – that’s (on the cover of the album) Wykehurst Place in Sussex, isn’t it? So gothic

TOYAH: Very gothic and very unusual at the time to use it in a photo shoot. I’m tied to the opening gates and my band are all in the windows. Then this (the back cover, below) is an iconic shot by Gered Mankowitz. I absolutely adore it. Gered photographs everyone from Freddie Mercury to Mick Jagger right through to Blondie, Patti Smith

And this is, as you say, coming out and it’s coming out on pink vinyl in celebration of my hair which I think is wonderful. Everyone loves vinyl. It’s tactile, it’s artistic, it allows people to feel that they own the music. They own the moment. Vinyl is incredibly popular 

CHRIS: Toyah, one of the loves I know looking back at certain parts of the career and a stones throw away from where I’m speaking to you now is Derek Jarman’s cottage, Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. What kind of impact as a film maker did he have with you?

With me it was huge. I did my first ever movie with Derek Jarman and was "Jubilee" (below). At the moment there’s a movie being made about about The Sex Pistols where Jordan, who was a part manager of The Sex Pistols and Adam And The Ants - she features heavily in this movie. Jordan was the star of Jubilee alongside me, Jenny Runacre, Little Nell from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

Derek Jarman was someone that never compromised and he was always struggling for money. I remember with "Jubilee" it was made for £360 000 which is extraordinary because I made a cult hit (the film "Aaaaaaaah!") four years ago with Steve Oram for £20 000 and I’ve just shot and directed ten videos for my new album "Posh Pop" for £5000 ... so technology is shrinking budgets in a good way

But Derek made "Jubilee" for £360 000 and it was a struggle. I remember we lived of sandwiches and water but he was a wonderful wonderful man to work with and what I loved about him he never compromised the picture for anything. John Marbury was the set builder, it was an astonishing artistic experience and then I went onto make "The Tempest" with Heathcote Williams playing Prospero and I was playing Miranda

And again just saw Derek grow. Each movie he grew as an artist. And he was a visual artist as well as a physical artist. He designed sets for Ken Russel, he did the sets for the movie called "The Devils". He was a hands-on artist who influenced me incredibly

CHRIS: I walked into his cottage the first time when the art creative of Folkestone (Creative Folkestone) had got hold of the property and walking into that space, which I’d never been in because as a local I’d always seen it and as a kid we used to do art sitting in that space and you know I never got the chance and I know sometimes people talk about this but you felt that the sprit of Derek was there in the walls, in the floor, in the seats -

TOYAH: In the garden -

CHRIS: In the garden, obviously, so it was kind of an amazing experience and I know you’re talking about - Danny Boyle has been doing lots of filming locally, Folkestone and in the area to bring that together as well. You talked about a new album and the last 48 hours I guess you’ve been putting that together before chatting to me?

TOYAH: Yes, I started the album in lockdown, it involved myself, my co-writer and producer Simon Darlow and my husband regularly testing so we could all be together. We finished recording the album a month ago, all the artwork’s being done, I’ve directed and shot ten videos that will be released alongside the album and that was all done in lockdown but you wouldn’t guess. We finished the mixing probably an hour ago. It’s a deliciously beautiful album called "Posh Pop"

And because of the experience we all had in lockdown and the increased communication with humanity and compassion towards humanity in this exceptional past 12 months I think this is one of my most connecting albums I have ever done in my entire career

CHRIS: Wow! When do you think it will be out?

TOYAH: The first single "Levitate" comes out on the 26th of June. We will be releasing singles every two weeks. The album is available on the 27th of August and that will be available in vinyl and in CD format and then just before Christmas you can buy all three of those formats along with the DVD of all the videos

CHRIS: Toyah, it’s always brilliant talking to you. Thanks so much for being with me on the show tonight and reconnecting with all the music that you’re making and such great videos! People should go and watch you and Robert together! Brilliant!

TOYAH: And I will be in your area gigging. I’m doing Let’s Rock Kent … I believe (laughs) … There’s so much going on! And I’m in St Mary’s (Magdalene Church) in Cobham (2.12.2021) so we are coming down to your area to play

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You can watch a part of the interview on facebook here

Watch Toyah and Robert's Sunday Lunch videos here

Order Toyah & Robert T-shirts here

See all upcoming Toyah gigs here


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