Toyah Willcox, singer–songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about her first appearance on Top Of The Pops, touring with The Humans, the release of her new film AHHHHH!, and performing at The Flashback Festival in Clumber Park.
Toyah Willcox is an English singer-songwriter and actress. In a career spanning more than thirty years, she has had fifteen Top 40 singles, released over 20 albums, written two books, appeared in over forty stage plays and ten feature films, and voiced and presented numerous television shows.
More recently she has formed a band called The Humans, which she fronts. She also tours with her own acoustic set and is heavily involved with The Flashback and Rewind Festivals.
An incredibly busy lady, it was a privilege for Kevin Cooper to have the opportunity to catch up with her for a chat and this is what she had to say.
Hi Toyah how are you?
Hello Kevin I’m good thanks for asking.
So tell me, just how is life treating Toyah at this moment in time?
It’s very good Kevin, I am so busy that I am either spending twenty hours per day in my office or I am travelling to a show. Honestly, I have never been busier but don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, I am incredibly grateful. It is fabulous and everything is so interesting. I don’t like doing just one thing, I like to have a lot of variety and at the moment I have got that. I am currently filming a drama for the BBC; I am promoting a new movie, and I have another movie being released over in Berlin in November, and so it is just very, very busy. And thankfully the shows are going wonderfully well too.
I have just checked out your tour diary and up to the end of the year I simply cannot see where you could squeeze anything else in other than The Flowerpot in Derby.
Well this year, The Flowerpot are having some celebrations and we are so pleased to be a part of that. We just love playing at The Flowerpot Kevin. I first played there with The Humans and it was my favourite venue of that particular tour so I am now going back with the Toyah Band which I am very excited about. Regarding my tour diary being full, you may think that Kevin but let me tell you, my agents have managed to squeeze a few more things in there for me (hysterical laughter). Believe me they have managed to squeeze in as much as is physically possible (laughter). I only now sing three times per week because I want to protect not only my vocal chords but my hearing as well because I am now 57 years old and I don’t want to sing every day. I want my vocal chords to have some rest time so in the week days I am either recording the drama or recording and writing. It just works that way for me. I don’t think that I could do one of these tours where you are out on the road for six months singing for seven days per week. I just don’t feel that I could do it.
A lot of the artists who I have recently interviewed are all saying the same thing to me.
You have to remember Kevin that it is only the management that makes you work that hard. There is absolutely no point in doing concerts on a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday, there simply is no point. It is just management trying to make your tours as cheap as possible cost wise. As a singer it is brutal and you want to go out there knowing that you can hit every note with the best quality of sound possible. And I am so glad to hear that lots of other singers are now saying this too.
What a lot of them are picking up on are the actual tour dates, one in London then one in Glasgow then back down to Southampton. It’s just crazy.
Oh yes. It is almost impossible these days to have a straight line going up the UK. Even in America Kevin it is now the same. It is impossible for you to have that sensible journey and I think that it is because there are so many acts out there that book venues up to two years ahead. So yes, I do suffer that too.
So what will you do when you undertake the promotional tour of cinemas here in the UK for the launch of AHHHHH! the film with no dialogue which was written by Steve Oram in which you appear. Do you have a plan in place?
Well I have already told Steve not to expect me to get to Edinburgh and back in twelve hours because it is simply not physically possible (laughter).
What can you tell me about the film?
The one thing that I know Kevin is that it is going to upset a lot of people. It breaks every boundary. It is very, very naughty and The Daily Mail are going to have a field day over it. Having said that it is utterly brilliant. I think that it is a cult classic which is going to play and play and play. I think that the cleverest thing about this film is that it has no language and yet it is one of the most shocking things that I have done and I think that it makes one hell of a social comment but I don’t think that it intends too. However everyone who has seen it has just gone “oh my god”.
AHHHHH! Is made by comedians and Steve Oram has written and directed this and virtually everyone who is in it with the exception of me is a comedic actor. It is astonishing Kevin but it is incredibly unsettling. My husband Robert (Fripp) has done all of the music for the movie and the music is like the sub-titles. The music is astonishing and it really does make it work. So it is going to be a very interesting few months (laughter).
At least you are not rattling up and down the M1 in a transit van anymore.
Well no Kevin, I now drive myself. I couldn’t bear to do that although we do occasionally do it. We will be doing it in September but all of the people concerned know that it is not my favourite situation. I live my life in complete silence, which is my favourite state. I can always remember Geoffrey Hutchings the actor on the opening night of a play that I did at The Strand, he gave me a blue bottle and on the label it just said silence. For me to find silence is just so wonderful. So I have to say that transit vans are not my favourite things Kevin.
Before we talk about The Flashback Tour I must ask you, how was The Humans show in April this year down in Southampton at The Talking Heads?
It was a good show Kevin in a great venue; it was a good one. It was fabulous, it was intimate but not too small. Also it has a really good sound in there.
The Talking Heads is new on the tour circuit, how was it?
I really like it. We had a really good night. In fact I like both The Brook and The Talking Heads.
Staying with The Humans if I may, how did the tour go?
It was absolutely brilliant Kevin. As you know The Humans don’t work that often because Bill (Rieflin) who is my co-writer is either away on tour with R.E.M. or King Crimson. So touring wise we get to work at this moment just once every year. It is still quite a challenge for us to tour England because people still expect Toyah Willcox to be doing It’s A Mystery and I Wanna Be Free but on this tour we really did build our audience. We tripled our audience; it was fabulous, the best set that we have ever had Kevin. We had people flying in from all over the world, Australia, Japan, Germany, France and it really was a very, very good tour.
I know that you are personally extremely busy touring but is there a fourth Human’s album on the horizon?
Yes there will Kevin. However Bill is on the road now with King Crimson until December when they will finish their current tour in Japan and then he and I will start writing together. I have already started putting some ideas together but whatever I take to the table they usually tear apart and start again anyway (laughter). So in answer to your question we will start writing again in the New Year.
And hopefully on the back of the new album you will put together a UK Tour?
Yes Kevin, we definitely will. And the great news is that all of the venues that we played at this year all want us back which is great.
Right, back to the Flashback Festival which is going to be taking place at Clumber Park on the 21st and 22nd August. Are you looking forward to it?
Of course, I mean Clumber Park; for everyone who plays on the circuit Clumber Park is just the icing on the cake Kevin. The venue is absolutely stunning. I am touching wood here as I have never played there in bad weather. The audience are just fabulous; they are an audience that’s just happy. From the moment they arrive to the moment they leave it is a very happy atmosphere. And yes, I am looking forward to it. I truly love the outdoor shows as do my band. It is a very social day because they have this huge tent backstage that we all eat in and we are all catching up with each other. We are all finding out what the other bands are up to. I am looking forward to it immensely.
So just what is it about these tours that you like so much, is it that it is a shorter greatest hits set or is it the catching up with old friends?
It doesn’t occur to me that it is a shorter set, because me and the band will still be giving a hundred percent. That is certainly not the reason because the day before and the day after I will be doing a two hour set anyway (laughter). For me, it’s the open air nature of it all; it’s summer but the summer is coming to a close and I think at that point mid-August onwards, you can see people really making the most of it. It’s like the end of the holiday is coming. So there is the kind of thing where we are going to love every minute of this no matter what (laughter).
Yes, it is always fun playing the hits but we always throw the odd curve ball into the set. Not everyone knows that I have had fifteen singles in the top forty. Sometimes we go out onto the stage and soon realise that we are there to win new fans. So there is pretty much the element of whoever we are playing to, when we come off the stage we want to know that absolutely everyone in the audience goes home thinking wow, I didn’t expect that. And we also put crowd pleasers in. I mean the whole fact that it is an open air festival we don’t feel that we can play it without doing Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child Of Mine for instance, something that unifies everyone. It is going to be a good night. It’s a good line-up which will definitely warm the audience up.
Is there anyone of the line-up who you are particularly looking forward to seeing?
Well Kevin I absolutely love Marc Almond. I am very, very fond of him and I think that he is one of our most important singers here in the UK. He is phenomenal and if people haven’t seen him before, they are in for a real treat. He is just staggering.
I totally agree with you but I also think that he is vastly underrated here in the UK.
I do know what you mean Kevin but I do think that it is changing. For the last two years Marc has toured with Jools Holland which is such a badge of recognition. I think that it is a changing perception. I have known that Marc Almond is utterly brilliant for the last twenty odd years and I think that Jools Holland has just said “right Marc this is your time”.
Now casting your mind back, I have to ask you, how was your first appearance on Top Of The Pops?
Absolutely wonderful, it was one of the highlights of my life. Firstly, everyone watched Top Of The Pops in my generation; you watched it as a family. Interestingly it was family entertainment even though the industry and the music styles changed so radically from the late 60’s through the 70’s you still watched it as a family whether Jimi Hendrix was on or whether Iron Maiden were on. It was a programme that was trusted family viewing. When I got my first Top Of The Pops I phoned my mum and dad. That was the first time that they gave me recognition that I was an artist because up until that point I was doomed to failure in their eyes; I was a disappointment to them.
And then suddenly I called them up and told them that I was going to be on Top Of The Pops and that was really the first time that my parents ever took me seriously (laughter). But to actually do it was just wonderful. There is absolutely nothing that I would ever want to change about that first day.
The last time that we spoke you swore at me when I asked you what next for Toyah (laughter) you told me to fuck off.
(Laughter) it’s amazing because I have recently been filming for the BBC One Show and they asked me if I was busy at the moment. I just thought to myself, why don’t you fucking look at the fucking website (laughter). Every day you are having to sell yourself when you are so busy that you only get four hours of sleep per day.
On that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me again.
That’s no problem Kevin, as usual it’s been a pleasure.
And I look forward to seeing you at one of many festivals this summer.
Thank you and just to keep the tradition up……fuck off (hysterical laughter).