Multi-talented Toyah just loves getting back to her roots

Since the early 80s, Toyah Willcox has been a name synonymous with something. Whether it be pink hair, alternative remedies, plastic surgery or an iconic children’s TV show. Sam Wonfor talks to her ahead of a return to her (non-hair-related) roots.

Toyah Willcox is one of the first voices I hear upon waking pretty much every morning.

Now I don’t live with the former punk princess ... and, although I am a child of the 80s and delighted to be so, I don’t have It’s A Mystery programmed into my alarm clock.

However, I do immerse myself in the wonderfully colourful world of Teletubbies as the sun rises each day ... and, as anyone who has become a parent in the past 12 years will know, it is Toyah’s distinctive voice which opens and closes proceedings.

As the baby-faced sunshine comes up over the greener than green hills in Teletubbyland – Ms Willcox gets things under way with the immortal words (in the world of children’s TV anyway): “Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies come to play ...”

And then, following whatever antics we’ve enjoyed from those crazy beings who have tellies in their tummies, she brings the curtain, and the sun down, with: “the sun is setting in the sky, Teletubbies say goodbye,” which is particularly impressive when you consider Toyah’s position as one of the world’s most famous lispers.

Thus, I can’t let a chat with the now 50-year-old pass without giving this entry on her ridiculously varied and packed-to-the-rafters CV an early mention.

Turns out, she’s proud as punch about her involvement ... just as she is about the entries which cover her other careers as a singer, prolific and award-winning actress, TV presenter, author, reality television subject and alternative therapy flag waver.

But back to the ’tubbies.

“For me that was a massive blessing,” she says. “I did all the voices for Brum, which was also created by Anne Wood, (who went on to create the Teletubbies).

“Anne asked me to look at the pilot she had made ... I loved it. I said ‘this is the new Magic Roundabout’. I put that tiny voice-over on the beginning and the end ... and ended up having to have security guards,” she laughs before explaining.

“At the time, I was filming BBC Holiday Watchdog, and we literally couldn’t film for kids who were fans of the Teletubbies. We were getting mobbed.”

Now much as I could talk all day about the merits of my toddler’s favourite first-thing-in-the-morning viewing pleasures, the reason for the chat is a lot more exciting – for fans of Toyah anyway ... the aforementioned toddler would doubtless beg to differ.

Toyah is headlining a female-heavy line-up at this weekend’s free South Tyneside Summer Festival concert at Bents Park, South Shields.

She, along with the former T’Pau leading lady Carol Decker and BBC1 talent show Fame Academy runner-up Sinead Quinn, will play on Sunday.

“We are doing an extended set,” she promises.

“So we will be putting some real Toyah fan material from the albums (including a couple of tracks from last year’s solo release In The Court Of The Crimson Queen and Guns ’n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’mine).

“The thing is, is that the solo stuff is such a different and very young energy. And it’s about nostalgia.

“I really, really love doing the open-air shows. They’re so much about the fun side of what I do.

“I don’t often look back, but I really appreciate what those songs did for me and enjoy performing them ... and we’re always trying to find new ways of making them fresh and exciting.”

Indulging in a slice of nostalgia isn’t anything new for Toyah. Since 2002 she has been a regular on the global Here and Now circuit which sees groups of music stars from yesteryear (and usually the 80s) trotting out their chart-high-risers in quick succession.

“I do them all year round,” she confirms, as well as mentioning the tours she undertakes as the star of musical, Vampires Rock (just 50 dates this year) and those related to her new music project, The Humans which sees her collaborating with REM's Bill Rieflin, Chris Wong and her husband, Robert Fripp.

“The nice thing about being the age I am, is that rather than being pressurised into something which is being mass marketed, I can choose to do something at my own pace because I want to do it. It’s a terrific feeling.”

Apparently the new band “don’t really work in the UK” ... but apparently go down a storm in Estonia and will be having a crack at a second album and some States dates later this year.

So with that digression sorted, let’s return to the 80s-flavoured shows we were talking about.

“I was in Ireland for an Easter (Here and Now) show and will also do some of the English festivals. It’s a worldwide brand now. It’s really nice to get up on stage and do 20 minutes ... and then you’re with your friends,” she adds, speaking of her fellow performers.

“We share the same band. It has this real feeling of being a travelling family. We are all pretty close and have got over being competitive.

“We can all appreciate what these songs have done for us.”

Toyah says that far from being faced with people of her own generation at these regular celebrations of past pop powerhouses, she is increasingly being greeted on stage by relative youngsters.

“I’ve been noticing how different the audiences are. They are getting younger.

“I did a gig in Shrewsbury recently and 80% of the audience were under the age of 30. People are discovering the music and they like it.

“Eighties music is, for the younger generation of today, what 60s music was to me.

Toyah Willcox plays the South Tyneside Summer Festival at Bents Park, South Shields on Sunday.

Also on the bill are former T’Pau frontwoman Carol Decker and 2002 Fame Academy runner-up Sinead Quinn.

The open-air section of the festival’s programme continues on July 19 with a performance from the Soundpower Orchestra, X Factor star Andy Abrahams on July 26 and on August 2, ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again will be strutting their stuff with support from S Club 3 and former 5ive singer Scott Robinson.

Journal Live
30th June 2009