Toyah gets her teeth into a new band

The vampires are swarming, rocking their way towards Edinburgh and The Humans are hot on their heels.

Which can mean just one thing, Toyah Willcox is heading to town with a show to star in and an album to launch.

The latter sees the diminutive star - just 4ft 10ins in her stockinged feet - teamed up with REM's Bill Rieflin and guitarist Chris Wong, deconstructing pop as The Humans, while the former brings her to the Playhouse on Monday, to rock out as the Vampire Queen in Steve Steinman's Vampire's Rock.

"Steve had been asking me to do Vampire's Rock for a couple of years," says Willcox, who makes a number of special guest appearances on each tour.

"Eventually I decided to give it a try because I like the music and I must admit, I have a lot of fun doing it."

Featuring rock anthems from the likes of AC/DC, Guns 'N' Roses, Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Joan Jett and Queen, Vampires Rock is a musical comedy. Set in New York in 2030, Steinman is the charismatic but evil Baron Von Rockula, owner of the Live and Let Die Club.

A vampire in search of a new bride, the Baron must convince his chosen one to agree to eternal life as his new queen. Willcox is his less than happy current queen.

"Everyone on the stage has an amazing voice and the band is just staggering," adds the actress, singer, TV presenter and author, who has become a regular visitor to the Capital.

She first toured here in 1979 as a flame-haired punk rock star, appearing with her eponymous band at the legendary Tiffany's. As her star continued to rise she graduated to the larger Odeon in 1981, before selling-out the 3000-seat Playhouse less than 12 months later.

More than a decade on she returned, this time to wow audiences at the Festival Theatre in the 1993 national tour of Peter Pan. Another seven years passed before she was back again, this time to star in Picasso's Women on the 2000 Fringe. A tour of Calamity Jane in the noughties as well as a Best Of The 80's gig five years ago, followed.

And talking of concerts, Willcox's latest venture in the world of music is one that she says has been "brewing for a while".

The Humans were formed in 2007 after Willcox's husband, King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, declined an invitation to play for the President of Estonia.

"When my husband said no I phoned the Embassy and said, 'I'll do it. I'll put a threepiece band together, you'll be able to get us out there for tuppence, and we'll do the show and write it specially for the President'," she reveals, adding, "We did, and it just took off."

Three sold-out concerts across Estonia later, The Humans regrouped on Rieflin's home turf, Seattle, where the single, These Boots Are Made For Walkin', and the album, We Are The Humans, began to take shape.

"When I formed the band I wanted to deconstruct the pop song. I'd always heard the people who master albums complain that radio and ipods can never recreate the quality of the master.

"I realised that the main reason for this was the drums, so, basically, we are a band without a drummer. Considering that we are using REM's drummer, Bill, that was a huge risk," she laughs.

"Bill however, is a multiinstrumentalist and also plays the bass. I love the bass because of the spectrum it gives my voice.

"About ten years ago I did an acoustic tour and everyone said, 'We didn't realise your voice was that rich'. Having the acoustic band meant I wasn't being blasted by masses of volume and battling with the same frequencies as the keyboard.

"I had a conversation with Bill about this and said, 'If I were to put the perfect band together it would only have a bass in it'.

"I asked, 'Do you think we could do this with just two bass players and a voice?'. Bill totally got that the whole point of The Humans was to have the voice out front and then build the foundation underneath the voice."

The concept of deconstructing 'pop' is fully explored on the band's first single, a cover of the Nancy Sinatra classic These Boots Are Made For Walkin', which is now available on digital download. It's a radical departure for Willcox who already has 20 albums and 13 Top 40 singles to her credit.

"I just love the older material. It means a lot to people of my age, however, with The Humans it's intensely personal. These Boots Are Made For Walkin' is one of the darkest pop songs. I mean, it's about a dominatrix.

The lyrics tackle openly unfaithful sexuality and when Nancy Sinatra first sang it, it was incredibly sexual.

"I studied her when we decided we wanted to do this track and all the footage of her is 'kinky boots' footage.

"In those days that was a totally hidden message which is why I think it's such a brilliant song. All the camerawork focuses on her feet and is totally fetishistic - we just loved it."

If Willcox loved that track because of its darkness, it was her sense of irony that led her to name her new project The Humans.

"As humans we always put ourselves before everything else - even before 'our God' - when really, we are part of the food chain. We aren't perfect, so for me there is an incredibly irony in using the name The Humans, it is both threatening, humorous and it is romantic. It is a fantastic word."

A word that has a lot in common with another, Vampires, which can are also be threatening, romantic and, in the context of Vampires Rock, more than a bit humorous too, as you'll discover at the Playhouse on Monday.

Vampires Rock, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, Monday, 7.30pm, GBP 22, 0844-847 1661

These Boots Are Made For Walkin' is available for download from major digital music sites, as is We Are The Humans, which is also available on CD at

TOYAH STORY ARRIVAL: Toyah was born Toyah Ann Willcox on 18 May 1958 in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

No1: Toyah first hit the pop charts in 1981 with the anthemic It's a Mystery and a year later was voted Best Female Singer at the British Rock and Pop Awards.

SILVER SCREEN: Toyah's film credits include Miranda in Derek Jarman's The Tempest, Monkey in Quadrophenia and George Cukor's The Corn is Green with Katharine Hepburn.

TV: Most recently seen as Billie Piper's mother in Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Toyah's other TV credits include Barmy Aunt Boomerang, Shoestring, Teletubbies, Minder, Tales of the Unexpected and The Ebony Tower with Sir Laurence Olivier.

LOVE: In 1986 Toyah married Robert Fripp, of prog rockers King Crimson.

I'M ONLY HUMAN: Toyah Willcox and her latest band The Humans.

By Liam Rudden: Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh Evening News: The Guide
Friday 2nd October 2009