Toyah’s still loud and proud!
By Emma Clayton 

As a young teenager I prided myself on being a bit of a Toyah Willcox fan. 

While her first commercial success, the It’s A Mystery EP, was climbing up the charts, I was hunting out early records like Danced, Ieya and The Blue Meaning. I listened to them endlessly. The Toyah! live album got me through exam revision. My fan worship was short-lived, but I’ve still got my Toyah records – they’re part of my youth, and those early songs remain somewhere in my subconscious. 

So when I recently came to interview Toyah, I had mixed feelings; when someone has had an impact on your formative years, maybe it’s best not to break the spell by talking to them. 

As it turned out, Toyah was a pleasure to talk to; friendly, open and thoughtful. This month she has two album releases, and from September she stars in a tour of gothic rock musical Vampire Rocks. Next week she’s headlining the last-night celebrations at Grassington Festival, and this summer she joins other Eighties artists on the Here And Now tour. 

“I have respect for nostalgia,” says Toyah. “There’s a great atmosphere at these shows. People enjoy going back to a pivotal time in their lives – in the case of my records they remember getting expelled to them! “I like the idea of bands devoting a concert to a particular album – I’d love to see Lou Reed do Transformer – but there’s also a lot to be said for artists celebrating songs that played a big part in people’s lives.

My show is a career retrospective, covering the hits and rock covers by acts like Blue Oyster Cult and Guns N? Roses.

This month sees the release of Good Morning Universe, a compilation album spanning 1979 to 2003, including singles, key album tracks, live favourites, rare B-sides, collaborations and previously unreleased material.

Toyah is also releasing an album called In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, a reference to her husband, legendary guitarist Robert Fripp?s iconic album with his band King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King.

?We decided not to re-create the cover, that may have been going too far. We?ve gone for an image of me dressed as the Devil. It?s suitably tongue-in-cheek,? smiles Toyah.

Is album artwork lost on the download generation? Gone are the days when kids like me saved up for albums and treated them like treasured possessions. In the iPod age, music is as disposable as it is accessible.

?The download generation has been great for me because I?ve now created a global network,? says Toyah. ?Thanks to MySpace I?ve reached people I'd never normally have reached; it would?ve taken years of touring to build up that kind of fanbase. Last year my single Latex Messiah reached No 6 in the iTunes rock charts.

?But I know what you mean about the love of albums, that lost vinyl age. The writer Michel Faber works with his favourite album covers arranged all over the room. I like that.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Toyah has had 13 hit singles, 20 albums, written two books, and presented countless TV programmes, from The Good Sex Guide to Songs Of Praise. Her acting career spans TV, theatre and film. More recently she starred in children?s TV series Barmy Aunt Boomerang and ITV?s Secret Diary Of A Call Girl.

Her first notable film roles were in Derek Jarman?s 1977 punk epic Jubilee, then Quadrophenia. She and her band had been recording for several years before her music career took off in 1981 with It?s A Mystery and I Want To Be Free.

With her orange crimped hair and striking stage outfits, Toyah wasn?t embraced by punks, nor was she toe-the-line mainstream, and she says it was a struggle to retain her individuality. ?Artists are always pigeon-holed, and when I started out that was incredibly frustrating,? she says. ?I had tons of energy and thought the world was mine, I didn?t want to be told what to do.

?The internet gives today?s new artists more freedom from corporate record companies. And I get excited by major artists like Coldplay and Radiohead breaking away to deliver their music on the internet. Every generation brings its own revolution.?

Last month Toyah turned 50 and is embracing the future with the boundless energy of the girl bursting on to Top Of The Pops 25 years ago.

?Tomorrow, I?m going for a role in a film called The Power Of Three. All three lead roles are for women my age,? she says. ?The demographic is changing; the women with real power and money are aged 50 upwards. They call the shots and that reflects the kind of roles out there for older women.

?Life doesn?t turn off at a certain age. But the changes haven?t happened overnight, it?s taken people like me who have been very vocal about it to help break down stereotypes.?

Twenty-five years ago she sang: ?Be proud, be loud, be heard.? As she enters the next phase of her life, that mantra has lost none of its meaning.

Bradford Telegraph & Argus
June 2008