Where Toyah Leads...

She is no longer an angry young woman, but at the age of 51 Toyah Willcox can still be riled.

The spark is Nightlife’s innocently-intended query.

Toyah’s last hit single came in 1985, her most recent top 10 album in 1982.

Does she ever feel frustrated that her recent work is less widely known than the music she made in her early 20s?

“That’s not true,” she says, with a touch of frost. “My last album went to number six in the iTunes chart. I’m in a band with the drummer from REM.”

These are valid points. The album was last year’s In The Court Of The Crimson Queen. The band is The Humans, in which Toyah appears with REM’s tour drummer Bill Rieflin.

Whether either of these projects has eclipsed the public’s image of Toyah with spiky red hair and paint-factory explosion make-up is a matter for debate.

What’s certain is that the Cumbrian crowd on Saturday will be expecting to hear Eighties’ anthems like It’s A Mystery and Brave New World.

Toyah trained as an actress and has played many parts in tandem with her pop career. Ask if the angry young woman was really her or just another role and the answer is unequivocal.

“That was me. In those days there was a scarcity of women in the profession. They had to fit a certain mould, a very feminine, sexualised mould.

“We were much more tomboyish. [‘We’ being Toyah and people like Hazel O’Connor and Siouxsie Sioux].

“There was a bit of bravado. We paved the way for women to be musicians, not sex objects. Women could come into music because they had something to say.

“A lot of people didn’t like that. But within the first year virtually everyone of my age was adopting that look and being very rebellious. Which means it wasn’t rebellious any more. That’s what happens. The counter-culture becomes part of the mainstream.

“Things have changed radically. It’s great to see people like PJ Harvey, Lily Allen and Beth Ditto.”

Toyah’s music no longer frightens parents. These days families flock to Here and Now gigs, which Toyah has been playing for 10 years.

“It’s great fun,” she says. “It’s a good festival for performers. They bring their families. It’s mayhem, but it’s fun.

“The music is all about the celebration of the Eighties. So many generations are into that music. The audiences are getting younger. It kind of gives the songs a completely new meaning.

“When we wrote these songs none of us meant to get older and get married. We didn’t change but we mellowed.”

Toyah’s acting roles have reflected this. She burst into view in Derek Jarman’s 1977 film Jubilee and in 1979’s Quadrophenia. Since then she has been strikingly versatile, appearing in Minder and Shakespeare, presenting Good Sex Guide Late and Songs of Praise.

Perhaps her best-known role has been the opening voiceover for Teletubbies. “No one knew how successful that would be,” she says. “How many millions, or billions, of people have heard that? I was only in the studio for about 20 minutes.”

Toyah lives in Worcestershire with her husband Robert Fripp, of King Crimson. She will return to Cumbria in the autumn.

On Friday, October 23 she appears at Carlisle’s Sands Centre alongside Steve Steinman in rock musical Vampires Rock.

“It’s very much like Here and Now, in that it’s a celebration of music that affects people’s lives. It’s all classic rock. The audience love it from the opening song to the end. It’s also very funny. There are singers and dancers and a band. My songs include Live and Let Die and Rebel Yell.”

Vampires Rock is one of Toyah’s many projects. She has just returned from the US where she was writing with The Humans. In October she will appear in Casualty and in a British romcom called Three To Tango.

“I’ve never been busier,” she says. “It’s always hard work. People who are successful are successful because they work hard. Things don’t fall in your lap.”

Whitehaven News
August 2009