HUGH: What did a young Toyah Willcox want to do when she left school?

TOYAH: The young Toyah Willcox wanted to dominate the world and be like Julie Andrews and then punk came along and I very happily became a punk rocker. I always wanted to act and sing but I never wanted to do them together. I wasn’t interested in stage musicals, even though I have ended up doing those.

I wanted to keep them separate, I wanted two very solid but diverse careers and I've managed to have about five diverse careers. But I did want world domination. But the glory about growing older as you get more experienced, you become more enriched as an artist and you get little more realistic about your ambitions.

HUGH: Tell us how you came into the punk mode then? How did you fall into punk music? Was it was a band at school or …?

TOYAH: No, I left school when I was 17 and I moved to London to be the youngest member of the Royal Theatre Company when I was about 18. And that happened because I got spotted on the streets of Birmingham and I ended up in a BBC2 play with another actor called Phil Daniels, who about four years later I made “Quadrophenia” with. Punk kind of embraced me, I was an oddball from Birmingham. I didn’t really fit into any of the compartments women were supposed to fit into. I wasn't very ladylike, I was very tomboyish. I was small, dumpy, I just didn't fit the Farrah Fawcett-Majors kind of mould.

And punk came along and made way for women like me and it also embraced women like me who are articulate but not necessarily academic. So I was very, very grateful for punk rock. And then I ended up in Derek Jarman's movie “Jubilee”, which was a punk rock movie. Ian Charleson, the actor from "Chariots Of Fire" introduced me to Derek Jarman and Derek was very, very open about his casting technique. He threw me script over a cup of tea and said “choose whichever part you want” and that's how I got the role.

And Derek kind of fell in love with me for a bit and cast me as Miranda in “The Tempest” (below) which was an award winning film of Shakespeare's “The Tempest” and that was really it for me. That kind of set me off around the world.

We'll talk about the musical you're touring with in a moment, “Vampire’s Rock” but in that you've got a lot of heavy stage make-up. The punk era was like that as well. In fact, I have to tell you as a teenager I found you scary . . .

TOYAH: I'm glad you found me scary! I've always wanted to be sightly provocative. Not a hate figure, but definitely provocative and definitely questioning that whole thing of see the person, not the age, not the gender. It's always been incredibly important to me and I've always been provocative of that issue.

HUGH: And the whole punk thing obviously had a limited life span and it would come to a natural end -

TOYAH: Noooo …

HUGH: Is it coming back again?

TOYAH: I played, about five years ago, Wasted Festival (below), which is a punk festival that plays around the world. 20,000 punk rockers of all age groups. What I'd say is that I've moved on with my natural age. I've never stayed a punk rocker. I've always moved on with each decade, but there's plenty of punks out there and there's plenty of people out there that want their punk music.

Do you think women in music are treated any better or worse than men in music? Because if you think again of the punk era - that was very male dominated ...

TOYAH: Ooh no no … I've got to tell it from my point of view. It's a very good question, a really superb question. Thank you. When I came into the music business, as a punk rocker, it was male dominated. The music industry now thanks to punk rock, new wave and New Romanticism is probably today run by 80% women. The executives are women and that is thanks to punk rock.

But when I started, yeah, it was male dominated but it allowed women like me who were very voicy and very opinionated to come into the business and to change it. And I think music now is still 80% about women, but you have still got sexism and you still got ageism. And I think again it's down to people like me who have been around for 32 years or longer to say, well, actually we're still creative. We still got something to say. We're still pushing out the boundaries and we're not going to go away. And that's how we fight our revolution.

HUGH: You mentioned “Quadrophenia”. It's an iconic film, still very highly regarded even all these years later. Was that a turning point for you and your career? Do you look back on that and think I'm glad I did that?

TOYAH: (I'm) Very glad I did “Quadrophenia”, but when it came out it was critically panned. And I don't know why it was panned because as far as I can see it was always great movie. I don't think it was released too early or too late. It was released at the right time but people really attacked Franc Roddam (the director), they attacked The Who, they attacked the script writer, they attacked the cast and it was really odd. I don't know why.

And then the audience voted with its feet. Which is the best way to have a hit. And every generation has rediscovered that film and made it their own. So I'm more than glad I did that movie and yes, it has done very well for me. Probably not as well as having hit singles in the 80’s and being part of the 80’s musical genre, but I'm certainly very, very proud of having done it.

HUGH: Can we look for a second at your music because thinking of your 13 Top 40 singles and umpteen albums, songs like “It’s A Mystery”. They were unique. It was so different I think even at that time, which was, as we've mentioned, dominated a lot by punk rock, although I think towards the end of the 70’s almost anything went and we look at the Top 40, it was so eclectic -

TOYAH: It was a revolution, we needed revolution. The young people of the late 1970’s had to find a voice. We were politically in quite a bad place. There was a lot of unemployment. There was a lot of the "Winter of Discontent" going on. There were riots and England breeds phenomenal people - let me resay that - the UK breeds phenomenal people.

With great history, great culture, great attitudes, fantastic ideas and there was no outlet in the late 70’s and punk came along and let the stop valve go. We let off steam but also we recreated the culture of the youth because nothing had been happening since the 1960’s. And I think you know this is what young people do, and they do it so well, they create their own islands by which to stand on and go na na na to the rest of the world. And thank goodness it happened.

HUGH: The big breakthrough single is “It's A Mystery.” Tell us about it?

Well, “It's A Mystery.” written by Keith Hale and it was mainly an instrumental for a band called Blood Donor and it was written in about 1979. An my record company heard it and asked if I’d buy demo it so myself and (producer) Nick Tauber rearranged it and I wrote the second verse and we made it into a song. So we demoed it. I wasn't particularly fond of it because I felt it was too feminine for what I wanted to stand for.

I was very bombastic and wanted my music to be very kind very out there and very powerful. Ironically Girl Power about 20 years before Girl Power came along. But “It's A Mystery” … was massive. Absolutely massive. It sold 75,000 units a week, I think even a day on some days, it was selling that many. I remember the vinyl printing factories had to stay open 24 hours a day to reach demand, which was incredible when you think some people get to n:o1 today, in the present climate, selling 2000 units a week. So “It's A Mystery” sold and sold and sold.

HUGH: I was in a very well known record shop in the High Street the other day, and Cliff and The Shadows are back together and made an album and there was the CD single and a 7 inch vinyl single -

TOYAH: Yeah. Vinyl is coming back. I think that's good news. People want for their money, they want something they can have a relationship with, something in their hand. It's a collectors piece. And I think what people forget about vinyl is people collected it. It wasn't just about the quality of the song, the quality of the album cover and the artist, it was actually about having a collection. And I think vinyl will come back.

HUGH: The 80’s, is funny how things, you know, what "goes around comes around" because you yourself have been involved in some some 80’s revival tours and things with other artists, and they seem to be huge. The Rick Astley's, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, they’re all back and back in fashion again. Do you think that's because music just goes in circles and comes back again?

TOYAH: I think there's an element of we’re still alive, and I say that with respect, because I do think that because of the way media is at the moment, when someone passes away, there is incredible media about it and I've noticed since Michael Jackson's passed away that people of far nicer to me than they ever have been. (whispers) Thank you Michael! There is that element there, that Spndau are still alive and to put that into perspective about the size of audiences were getting ...

The week Oasis disbanded in Paris, on that night they were playing to 30,000 people. I opened the Rewind festival ... 30,000 people. We're getting the same amount of people as the current acts, and that never gets featured. No one ever puts their hand up and say "OK, you’re old rockers, but actually you're drawing bigger crowds than the younger people and we are". Its phenomenally popular. 


And I think it's interesting because my daughter is just coming up on 8 and I've introduced her to late 70’s and 80’s music and although she likes the current stuff too, it's amazing - she just loves that kind of stuff and I think it is probably a lot of sons and daughters of those who came first time round -  

TOYAH: Oh yeah! For me I love Cream in The Yard Birds. Early Stones, I mean magnificent songs that resonate in the part of me that had no worries and had no insecurities. Therefore when I hear those songs, I remember a time which was a really happy time. I would have been about 8 or 9 so I imagine with a lot of the 80’s stuff they allow people to kind of forget the present. And experience the fantasy of being truly truly happy, because I do think we live in phenomenally difficult times for everyone. Difficult times for the family, difficult times for teenagers thinking about the future, and I think because of that music has so much more power.

HUGH: I want to ask you about one of your recent roles, about “The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl”, working with Billie Piper (below). That must have been pretty special, I would think?

TOYAH: I love that. I mean, I've done very few days filming on it, but I love the fact that they cast me, a singer, as Billie Piper's mother. I think it's so clever because Billie, she's had a singing career. She might revisit it. But I just thought that was great. Really great. She's a tall girl. She spent most of the time kissing me on top of the head, but I'm very very fond of her. She's a very brilliant and talented actress.


HUGH: Let's talk about your tour now and tell us a bit about about the musical. What it actually involves and what the storyline is?

“Vampires Rock” (below) is a cult musical. It's been going for about five years and I joined it last year. Has little elements of the Rocky Horror Picture Show about it, but it's not as scripted. And basically it takes the genre of classic rock. If you look at songs by Bon Jovi, AC/DC Alice Cooper, Billy Idol, they're all featured in the show and the lyrics of these songs are used very loosely to tell the story of a nightclub owner in 2020 in New York who wants to get rid of his 2000 year old vampire wife and everyone on stage are vampires.

Beautiful band on stage called The Lost Boys, they are stunningly beautiful and the girls scream after them every night. Fabulous musicians, beautiful dancers, and then you got quirky characters like me playing the Devil Queen. So it's basically a rock show that has an incredibly strong sense of theatre about it. A little bit Bowie-esque, Mott The Hoople and Alice Cooper in its visualisation. And a lot of comedy as well, but it rocks. It's really, really good.

HUGH: Sort of bouncing in the aisles?

TOYAH: Yeah! Screaming in the aisles, rioting in the aisles. It’s great!

And you’re touring with that in fact through to next year?

Yeah, I'm touring with that until mid-February of next year and then I join it again in September and we tour right through again

I'm not trying to write your obituary in anyway, but what's left for Toyah Willcox to do? I mean, you've done so much and we've only been able to touch on a fraction of it in this interview. What else would you like to do?

TOYAH: Well, I’ve got my band The Humans, which is incredibly important to me, which is myself, the drummer from REM Bill Riefling. My husband Robert Fripp is guesting with us at the moment and we start touring in February. I created The Humans for the President of Estonia, who invited my husband to play in Estonia, but he couldn't make it so I said "well, I'll come over. I'll put band together and we will write songs in Estonia for Estonia".

This took off and the only way I can explain it's like European film noir. It's two electric basses and my voice and a lot of very weird loops and we deconstruct the pop song. So we've got a single out out at the moment called “These Boots Are Made For Walking” and all I can say is it's very New York - Seattle because it slightly deconstructed

HUGH: It’s the old Nancy Sinatra song -

TOYAH: Yes, the old Nancy Sinatra song, which is a brilliant classic song. But we've brought the darkness of that song into this millennium. So I'll be working on that band for most of next year.

HUGH: I think that's quite brave because it's one of those songs that you wouldn't really expect anyone to cover. Its one of those you think you'd leave well alone?

But it's got so many connotations to it. It's a woman singing about the infidelities of a man. The song was written well before the AIDS scare. It was written well before the culture of sadomasochism, yet when you perform it in this day and age it really has quite a dark undertone to it, which is what The Humans is about. The Humans is about the face we wear behind our heads, it's about the dark nature of the human race, so it's perfect for us.

HUGH: Tell us what this movie is then?

Yeah, I’ve just starred in a very low budget British movie called “Three To Tango”. And at the moment they're having their press showings and audience showings, which means they get test audience in and the audience kind of write reports. So it might become “Power Of Three” (below). There's two titles at the moment, and it's going to all the festivals next year and I star in it. And it's a British comedy made for £80,000 which is an absolute feat.

But the reason I'm telling you about it, the press are saying it's one of the best movies of next year. Apparently it looks as though it has £100 million budget, which is very very clever because it was filmed on high definition around Belsize Park in London. And they've used all the music off an album I wrote with my partner, Simon Darlow, called “In The Court Of The Crimson Queen”, which was out last year, went to number 6 in the iTunes Rock chart. And this is due for release next year and apparently it's wonderful

HUGH: We look forward to seeing it. Will it be on general release do you think?

I think it’ll get a limited general release. It’s definitely written for the “Sex An The City” generation and the kind of 50 year olds upwards. It's a very pro film about women in their 50’s reinventing their lives and becoming business women . It's very, very kind of “go girl! You go out and get the life you want. It's never too late”! So I think we'll have a limited release in the cinemas. Then it'll have a TV distribution and then to DVD. But hey, who cares? You know. These films kind of like “Quadrophenia” build and build and build.

You know, I interviewed Lulu a few years ago, and you remind me a lot of her in that you are looking fantastic! If I may say so -

Oh, thank you!

HUGH: You’re looking absolutely brilliant!

TOYAH: Thank you!

HUGH: How do you keep yourself looking so well?

Well, I don't party very much and people get very cross with me because I don't drink and I'm with a team of people at the moment who do nothing but drink (they both laugh) I only allow water and green tea to pass my lips and people can’t handle that at all! And very boringly 1500 calories a day. That's it. It's so important if you want to kind of keep in show business, you just have to live that really boring routine. It’s is not rock’n’roll at all.

HUGH: You mentioned about calories ... As you can see, I don't worry about them at all but … (they both burst out laughing)

I would like to wake up in the morning and eat a bar of chocolate and then I'd like to go out and have a fried Mars Bar and then I'd like to go out and have fish and chips and then I'd like a bottle of Bourbon and then stay up all night. I mean, if I did that for one night I would not make the show the next day.

So that gives my age away. I really live a military regime when it comes to my health, it's ridiculous because when I walk on stage is the Devil Queen. Spitting at the audience. If they knew I have to be in bed by 11 o'clock with a carrot stick and hummus dip and lots of water … I mean they be so disappointed.

Well, it certainly works. Toyah, been lovely to speak to you. Wish you well with the single, the album and indeed the tour as well

TOYAH: Thank you very much

You can watch the interview in Youtube here


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