Icon, Toyah Willcox Takes New Band On The Road
lady in the thigh-high boots and flaming
basque-cum-breastplate is unmistakably Toyah
Willcox the stack-heeled wench with her
back to camera requires a tad more explanation.
Ah yes, says Toyah,
thats John Wayne!
Hes actually a
transvestite who owns a nightclub in
Stoke-on-Trent I met him because hes
a Toyah impersonator and now hes my PA.
He was there when we were
making our video and the director said right
John, get your gear on, were filming you.
Toyah (the surname has been
superfluous since Its A Mystery provided
her breakthrough hit in 1981) supplies the
information in a matter-of-fact tone which
confirms that the bizarre is perfectly normal in
But she becomes far more
animated, genuinely excited, when she gets down
to details about the we in question
The Humans, latest project in her long,
multifaceted and highly successful career.
The band, who kick off a three-date
UK tour at Leamingtons Assembly on Monday,
features Bill Rieflin better known as REMs
drummer Chris Wong and, temporarily,
Robert Fripp, founder of King Crimson and, since
1986, Mr Wilcox.
And, naturally enough, they were
formed as a treat for the president of Estonia.
To précis a long story: The
Estonian embassy was trying to get hold of my
husband but I got in touch with them and said
look I could be out there with two
international musicians in a couple of weeks
we can write all the material in Estonia
and play exclusively for the president. And thats
exactly what happened it went down a storm
and we ended up selling out their biggest rock
I totally blagged my way in,
but then a lot of my life is about blagging. If
youre a woman you have to have that
Despite its improbably impromptu
genesis, the band fulfils a longstanding ambition
I wanted to put together a
band that could travel very easily and very
spontaneously, she says. Thats
difficult these days because the equipment is so
bulky you need lots of personnel, loads of
rehearsals. In the past 10 years Ive been
playing arenas on the 80s tours with
audiences up to 60,000 but I wanted something
that was portable and immediate.
And this is so exciting
because it involves three people that I really
admire and enjoy working with.
Fripps involvement in the
current phase of The Humans development is
a major bonus for a couple whose career
commitments mean that they spend long periods
apart, but Toyah stresses that he is a guest
The idea is that well
have a different one for every tour, she
says. Somebody doing something that theyre
not known for.
For instance were hoping
to get Steve Vai everybody knows that hes
a great guitarist but he also plays the harp. His
wife is a harpist and he does all her
arrangements so that would be fascinating.
Artists can sometimes
get decidedly sniffy if interviewers attempt to
pin down their sound, but Toyah, fortunately,
warms to the suggestion that there is a Brechtian
feel to The Humans music.
Thats a nice comparison,
she says. Its not 100 per cent
because theres a lot of energy and well
be playing some new stuff which is very Seattle
grunge, but it is a listening experience rather
than the come on everybody sing along
when Im out there as Toyah. And, yes, it is
a bit dark and bleak the Humans
world is permanently in winter!
That being the case, long-term fans
expecting a quick chorus of Thunder In The
Mountains or Brave New World will be
We will be doing some hits,
but theyre not Toyah hits, she says.
Thats not a possibility because we
are so peculiar its not a band
set-up its two bass players and a
guitar and vocals.
At a time when every week seems to
produce a new feisty female chart-topper, one
wonders if Toyah sees herself as a pioneer of
Not really, she says.
Take Florence & The Machine weve
got the same performance genes, perhaps, and I
can totally identify with the whole thing where
the emotion leads the vocal, but I dont
think Ive influenced her.
I think if Ive
influenced anyone youve got to look at
artists who are deliberately 80s retro like La
Roux. There might be a little influence there but
I really think that these kids have just
discovered themselves at a time when 80s is
suddenly so hip.
When I started, women werent
running the industry like they are now. It was a
real breakthrough time, exciting but really
challenging because every woman myself,
Hazel OConnor, Kim Wilde were always
being compared with each other because of the
novelty value of being a woman.
I was strident and bombastic
at a time when England was very conservative,
especially about women, so I definitely feel that
I helped push the boundaries. But there are so
many women out there today that we dont
need to compare them with each other.
Theyre being taken
seriously now, not just as performers but as
women. And thats massively important
because women were once treated as objects. The
prime example is Madonna if she had been
overweight with a hairy face, she wouldnt
have been as successful as she was.
There are exceptions. If youve
got a truly unique voice I dont think it
matters what you look like, whichever sex you
are, but most of the time it really does help if
you look good.
It is about sexuality, but to
be taken seriously on top of that is a remarkable
Now 51, Toyah has been completely
open about the surgical help she has employed to
maintain her glamorous image.
is part of the act I went into
showbusiness knowing that was the case so its
never been any other way. Thats my choice
because I know the powerful effect it has on my
Ive had some surgery
because its a well-developed science now,
regulated and relatively safe in this country,
and I think I would have had it done even if I
hadnt gone into showbusiness.
Whats interesting is
that I work very hard to stay in shape and those
around me who dont are quite threatened by
it particularly men.
My fellow band members are
quite perplexed by my willpower which is a very
interesting situation it seems to eat at
My husband is very open and
honest and sometimes he says to me I cant
compete with what you do.
Which is great, because I cant