Toyah

The Oxford English dictionary definition of Toyah Willcox runs thus, "small irascible vole equipped with contagious laughter and fiendish footwear". Her heels lay entrenched in red carpet, London SE1, as the toes sped busily through Whitehall streets impaling unsuspecting passers-by on the svelte felt (suede actually) points, like an animated kebab. 

It often seems that no matter what publication you perceive, there beams Toyah, scowling, "when I was young I masticated over helpless neighbours", and more. 

So there she sits, her toes travelling unhindered through the Northern wastelands, whilst the mind remains rooted in the interview situation. As ever she laughs easily, punctuating speech with ceaseless giggling until the subject of music arises, when she takes on a far more serious demeanour. We begin by discussing her current thespian involvement, 'Sugar and Spice'. 

Helluva lot of lines involved. Have trouble learning them? 

"Em...not any more. I mean, that's the biggest part I've ever played., It took six weeks to learn that part. I did have trouble learning 'em but eventually I achieved it. The achievement is the only reason for doing it." 

Have you ever muffed them onstage? 

"All the fucking time (laaaaauuughhs), every night. You get to the point where if you're not concentrating I find I'm talking a load of gibberish because I'm missing certain words out. I'm not thinking about what I'm saying, and the cast are looking at me in horror. You do things like that 'cos there's so many lines, you forget you are talking sense." 

Did you do it because you needed stage experience? 

"Yeah. I would like to one stage play a year 'cos it's training, really good training." 

Better training than a film? 

"Totally. Film can be so related and you don't have to concentrate so much. I just find it a good refresher course. It just makes you think." 

What's coming up? Tell me in ten seconds. 

"Oh God, I don't know. 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde', a film on BBC2. I've done 'Urggh', the music film, two albums coming out. One with the new band which we're working on, and one live album called 'Toyah, Toyah, Toyah' which I've got nothing to do with whatsoever, and a live version of 'Danced' is coming out as a single, which to me, I'm just treating it as a goodbye to the old band. I don't like the rehashing of old material. All I'm interested in is the new music." 

What do you see as the perfect role to play? 

"They're all men's parts - the Marquis de Sade, a man who is into pornography and cruelty. he's a sadist and a masochist. It's written in verse and it is a brilliant play. It's horrific and totally about madness. I would love to play him, but there's no female role I've ever been impressed with except 'Taming Of The Shrew'. I don't know...Queen Elizabeth the First...period sort of thing." 

Nothing to stop you doing a man's part. 

"Except the directors (screech!) and the promoters (Howlll!)" 

What about typecasting? All your roles have been similar. 

"I will get round that with age. At the moment I'm so young, and young parts are usually based on the type of parts I'm playing. So I won't get out of the evil type roles I'm playing until I'm older I don't think. Till I'm more mature, 'cos I'm so small. So small and childlike...I end up playing deceptive roles." 

Ever aware of people thinking, 'is she putting it on?' when you're onstage? 

"No. I used to "act" at one point but I don't anymore cos I'm a bit more independent now. I've finished with Jem. I haven't got anyone mothering me now, and I have nothing to hide anymore. I used to have to hide this complete tantrum going on in my head the whole time. I used to suffer from this a lot, just explosions going on in my head. I used to hide them. I just used to sit there being very nice, otherwise I'd be running around smashing up the furniture. But now I don't have to worry about that 'cos I've sorted myself out. In know who I am now. When you know who you are you don't have to hide anything or prove anything." 

Do you like parties? 

"Hate 'em. I was made to throw one for a tv documentary being made on me, and by the time people started arriving I was so frightened at having to go out amongst them that Tom, my bodyguard, had to drive me off 'cos I couldn't go out. They really freak me out, parties. Everyone wants to talk o you, you get piss artists trying to chat you up, you're just expected to be nice the whole time, and I all I wanted to do was go, "Get out of my fucking warehouse!" It gets up my nose, because you can't have a conversation. The people I invite to parties never turn up, but the rest of London does."

Your image of 'niceness', does this bother you? 

"I don't really care. What's annoying me is people are writing interviews of me that make me look really aggressive. There was something in the Sunday Telegraph about, 'I care about so and so but everybody else can sod off' and it was a joke but they printed it as though I meant it, as though I hate everyone on this bleeding planet, and I don't like the way people bend your words. I don't care what people think of me...so what if you're nice, so what if you're horrible? They think, 'she's a punk rocker, and punk rockers are supposed to be nasty, but we have found a nice punk rocker and (laughs) so fucking what?!!! (Screeeeccchhh.)"| 

Music...what's your favourite piece? What do you regard as your most successful tracks to date? 

"Musically I would've enjoyed 'Sheep Farming In Barnet' if it had been produced better and fuller. As a band I was happier with what we achieved with 'Blue Meaning'. It was definitely a band contribution, something the band did as a whole for a change, rather than me bossing them about, even though the band fell apart after it. I'm not really happy with anything we've ever done, except 'Victims Of The Riddle', which was the first tune I ever write, but 'cos a certain member of the band was so stinking jealous that I had written a tune on keyboards it went out as he had written it, otherwise he'd have left the band and I didn't want that 'cos I quite liked his keyboard playing. 

"Em...but from now on I don't give a fuck about personal problems. If Anyone does not like anything then they can fuck off 'cops I'm not having my career ruined. I played mother to that band for two years and they just walk out on me. It's left me bitter, but I know I can survive without them." 

Is the new music very different? 

"It's gonna be based more on 'Victims Of The Riddle' type things. It's gonna be more simple and more from the heart than the head. I dunno, I want it to be like 'Danced' and 'Neon Womb', the numbers with energy, but also with something that people can understand in the lyrics. I want to make it more fun with better use of technical effects like stereo, but not over the top. We've still got Joel Bogen who has improvised no end. I'm going to sneeze. Aaaaachoooooooooo." 

Bless you. 

"Thank you. We're using the keyboard player from Blood Donor. He helped write 'Victims Of The Riddle'. I can control him and he can control me, we are quite a god writing team. The bass player is called Andy, and the drummer's called Nigel. I can't remember their surnames, and can easily say they are better than Charlie and Steve. They come up with really nice, unselfindulgent rhythms. They're really inspiring, so I am pleased. We haven't had to take a step back, we are taking a major step forward. 

"They've got the old band's experience in front of 'em. They know what the possibilities are. I'm going to use them at set times, and when I'm acting they can do what they want. They're free spirits. They're prepared to drop everything to work with me. Things are better already. I actually like it. I'm quite impressed with the music, which is marvellous because it's my success they're sitting on. They are cool, mature people." 

Do you get pissed off with interviews? 

"I don't get pissed off with 'em, I just...em, they helped me explore myself as the interviewed." 

And there we left it. As I wandered off into the London streets to get hopelessly lost, the red-haired object was scuttling about wondering who to invite on her 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' stint. After that it's 'Blue Peter', 'Play School'...who knows what else? 

M Mercer.

ZigZag Magazine
December 1980
Thanks to Mick Mercer