Toyah Wilcox, singer, songwriter and lead vocalist with The Humans chats with Kevin Cooper about how The Humans got together, acting in Quadrophenia, her solo acoustic tour and the tour of the UK with The Humans.

Toyah Wilcox, singer, songwriter from the 1980’s and actor, formed The Humans in 2007 after her husband, Robert Fripp was too busy to perform at the birthday party of the President of Estonia. Having written a forty minute set, and toured Estonia with it in 2007, The Humans have since released three albums.

We Are The Humans was released in 2009, with the follow-up Sugar Rush being released in 2009. The latest album, Strange Tales was released in March 2014.

As they prepare for a six date tour of the UK to promote The Humans, Toyah is also busy with her own acoustic tour, she is heavily involved with The Flashback and Rewind Festivals, as well as working on a new Toyah Wilcox album together with her successful acting career.

Taking time out from her busy life, she had a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what she had to say.


Hi Toyah how are you this morning?

Hi Kevin I’m fine thanks how are you?

I’m good thank you. Let me just say that I have been a huge fan since I queued up for over five hours outside Rock City here in Nottingham so that I could see you perform in the early 80’s.

My god Kevin that really must have been the early 80’s (laughter). I can’t even remember playing in Nottingham.

I have got some photographs of the gig as I smuggled my camera in with me. I will send copies over to you.

I would love that Kevin that would be fantastic.

Not a problem. So how is life treating you?

I always find a new year quite fabulous and an incredibly positive event. I always feel recharged and it is like moving on to a new horizon. We have on average ten shows coming in every day so it is going to be a very busy year.

I see from your diary that you have already got six shows confirmed this year with The Humans.

Now I have to tell you Kevin that The Humans don’t work that often. What is really busy all year round, and has been for the last twenty years is The Toyah Band. And on top of that I have recently been touring with my acoustic show. With The Humans we really need people to sit up and take notice because we only tour in the UK every three years, so it is very much a project of my heart. I absolutely love working with these guys. But to be honest, it is at the moment a cottage industry that we run ourselves, so we really do need as much support as possible.

Should that support materialise, will there be any more dates than the six already announced?

First of all we will need to create the demand Kevin. We already have a good fan base who have started their own website, and for me the music is my new music. There will be new Toyah albums but with The Humans I make sure that we make a new album every two years. So we are building and building and building and I think with The Humans once we get the audience established, then we will probably get the record label support that we really need. I am a firm believer in this project but we need an army of fans.

Going back a step, just how did you all get together?

Well Kevin it originally started with my frustration with my husband continually turning down work that I wanted to get (laughter). As you will probably know I am married to Robert Fripp of King Crimson and to say that Robert is exclusive is actually an understatement. I have heard him on the phone to (David) Bowie and (Peter) Gabriel telling them that he is far too busy to take on a project. However I knew otherwise and it drove me absolutely crazy. So one day back in 2007 he got a call from one of the aides to the President of Estonia asking Robert to go to Estonia and play exclusively for the Presidents birthday, and Robert said no because he was too busy.

When I heard him I just thought for fucks sake, life is too short (laughter). So I called up the Embassy here in London and I told them that whilst I was married to Robert, I was an established musician here in the UK and that I would put a band together and we would go over to Estonia, perform 40 minutes of music written exclusively for the President for his birthday. And to my surprise they said yes. At this point I had a very limited budget but I had a yes. So I phoned up someone who I had always wanted to work with and that was Bill Rieflin, who is now a drummer in King Crimson, but Bill is also a multi-instrumentalist. He was a guitarist in Ministry; he has worked with Nine Inch Nails, and he was the drummer in R.E.M. and he said yes, so we got together.

I wrote the initial 40 minutes of music and then we all got together and we refined it, arraigned it and turned it into something completely different. And so we went over to Estonia; the Arts Ministry in Estonia put a tour together for us and it completely sold out and the last show was a private show for the President. It was just glorious Kevin and I loved every minute. Being in Estonia was simply fantastic.

How would you describe The Humans music?

The Humans have recorded three albums now, and the first album, We Are The Humans which we recorded back in 2009, was deliberately stripped down Kevin. I wanted it to be pop songs where you took away the formulaic nature of the song and just exposed the skeleton. It is a very, very European film noir; it is moody, there is something wrong with it, and it disturbs you which is very deliberate. Then when we recorded the second album, Sugar Rush in 2009, it is an album of grief, and that is deliberate, but there is more anger in it; there is more bass and more bass end. And then we come right up to date with Strange Tales which we recorded in 2014, and how can I put it, it is an album of rebirth.   It is a very joyous album and it has drums in for the first time.

I am currently writing album four and I have to tell you Kevin, it is going to be an explosion. So each album was written deliberately as a step forward in building a creative process.

I have been listening to Strange Tales and I have to say that I think it is fantastic.

Thank you Kevin, that’s kind of you to say that.

I love Slow Descent and I adore Get In Your Car. I think that they are both phenomenal tracks.

Both of those tracks are lovely and they are so good to perform live. Get In Your Car is a hit waiting to happen Kevin.

As you have touched upon, the three previous albums have been a progression. With album four will you loosen the boundaries and let more instruments in?

The simple answer Kevin is yes, absolutely. The idea is that it will grow and grow into a cacophony of joy, so yes there will be more instruments on album four.

You are extremely busy so when are you looking at releasing the fourth album?

Well the thing is Kevin, because I see The Humans as existing within a pod state with our audience, the album will be available on iTunes but the hard copy will only be available at the shows. That way we manage to keep an air of exclusiveness, and the people that bother to come and see the shows can get hold of the hard copy. After that we will probably release it on all of the internet genres but at the moment there is that exclusivity.

Me being a lover of old school vinyl, will the album ever be released in that format?

I have to say that eventually all three albums will probably be available on vinyl. I think that with our audience and what The Humans represent, vinyl is probably the best medium for it. So yes, we are getting there on that.

Are you pleased with the album?

I love it (laughter). I am so pleased with the writing which is why The Humans mean so much to me Kevin. I actually think as a writer and as a singer I have developed; I have formed and I keep forming. People are totally forgiven for still thinking of me as being in the 1980’s and I have made a very good living from that. But what people don’t necessarily hold an interest in is how a singer develops, and with The Humans that carries my development. It is what I am today and I am very, very proud of it.

So who is the boss?

(Laughter) that is such a very good question Kevin. I am the bank of Toyah and I pay for everything, and I remind people of this when they start ignoring me. But the ultimate boss is Bill (Rieflin) because I allow him to edit me. Bill will take my ideas and if he doesn’t like them he will tell me that I can do better so he is the editor general Kevin (laughter).

I have just had a look at your diary and it would appear that I will be photographing you on four separate occasions this year so it is plain to see that you still get a buzz out of touring.

It is what I do Kevin, it is my day job (laughter). I would never think that I want to go and work in IT or go and work in a foundry; I am a singer and a writer, and I like to think that I am creative above all else. It is simply what I do and I love it. I think that if I didn’t love it then I couldn’t do it Kevin and I think that the audience would be aware of this, so I have a huge amount of respect for my audiences as well as the art of performing. So yes Kevin, I do love it and I do still get a buzz out of touring. I am incredibly grateful that here I am at 56, about to turn 57 and I am still doing it.

I asked a well-known artist if they had ever thought about retiring and they asked me from what, performing or playing golf (laughter).

But that is a problem with me Kevin, I don’t have an interest outside of the music business and I really wish that I did. All of my interests are all in the business. I love to walk and walking for me is a privilege because I have a history of losing the ability to walk because of a condition that I was born with. Only two years ago I couldn’t walk; I had to learn to walk again and at the moment my mobility is fabulous and I am right back to being a 26 year old. So walking to me is an indication that I am well and it is also an indication of complete freedom and that is the only interest that I have because I am so passionate about being able to move. The way that I express my joy is that I go off and I walk for two hours.

If I was to have an interest outside of music I have been invited to create a jewellery range and I am working on that at the moment. It is high-end Kevin, and so it is not hugely accessible just yet. If buyers take it, and if people want it, then we are going to create a high street section of it. So everything that I do is actually to do with work. I simply don’t have a passion that takes me away from work other than walking and perhaps going to the cinema.

You take part in the Flashback / Rewind Festivals and you also tour on your own with your acoustic show. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, which one gives you the greater pleasure?

That’s an impossible question for me to answer Kevin because I enjoy everything that I do and if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it (laughter). The Flashback Festivals are just great because they are just a hundred percent fun. I am not a boss; I just turn up and sing (laughter). It’s absolutely great. With the acoustic show, you are talking about me standing in front of an audience for two and a half hours singing, telling the stories and running the show. It is incredibly satisfying, together with being very demanding in a totally different way to anything else that I do. So Kevin there is simply no comparison. The Flashback Festivals pay for me to put The Humans on stage because that is the only time of the year that I really earn any money (laughter). On the other hand the acoustic show is an incredible experience for self-expression, so they are not comparable.

Is it easy for you to open up your soul to the public for two and a half hours?

Well Kevin, if you were to ask me that same question ten minutes before I go out onto the stage, I would tell you that I don’t know where it is going to come from. I just sit there thinking what the fuck am I going to do. But then I step out onto the stage and the whole event has a life of its own and they are great. I have got thirty five years of experience to tap into having worked with legends, and have been with great people and difficult people sometimes; I have got all of that to tap into and it presents itself. I have to say that I find these evenings incredibly magical.

There is no way that my evenings can ever be classed as boring Kevin as they always turn into a riot. The first act is a lot of stories and film clips with music, and I am singing all the way through. And then the second act we do it as a concert. People just push their chairs aside and start dancing.

Do you feel drained when you finally leave the stage?

No Kevin not at all. I think that something is only draining if you are having to push the energy forward. I find that most times, you are playing to an audience who knows who you are; therefore they are completely clued in and aware of what you are talking about. I think that if I was to take this show to a country that doesn’t know me then it would be a very different experience. I don’t find it draining at all in fact it is over in five minutes Kevin (laughter). I come off the stage and think where has that two and a half hours gone (laughter). So I think that in itself shows that it works.

Do you have any musical ambitions still left to achieve?

There are many Kevin, in fact there are so many and they are ambitions for obvious reasons. For The Humans to move forward we have got to get that kind of audience grounded and to get a major label interested. How can I explain, I am a one person cottage industry; I run everything. I run the live shows; I’m the boss, I am the accountant, the payroll master, and for The Humans to move onto the next stage we have just got to get the industry involved. So that’s an ambition but I am incredibly choosey about how it all moves forward. I am so very ambitious about The Humans and it is something that I want to be doing well into my seventies.

Then as an actress there is always ambition; you are always thinking I want to do this and I want to do that. But a lot of my career and decisions with my career are in the hands of others, for example when it comes to a script-writer thinking that I would be perfect for a role or a casting agent thinking I would be suited to a specific role. I can’t call up the producers of The Missing and tell them that I would be great for that role; they have to make that choice but I am still very ambitious.

On the subject of acting, what was it like to be part of the cast of what was, in my opinion, the best film ever made, and I am talking about Quadrophenia. Was it as much fun making it as it looked?

What I will say Kevin is that it was very challenging. It was challenging purely because there were so many of us. When we were shooting the outdoor scenes there was a cast of thousands. Once we were on camera and actually doing the work it was great but in-between sequences, you were trying to get on set, you were trying to get fed, you were trying to get to makeup, and it was very challenging because of the number of people that were involved. But having said that Kevin, what a great cast; it was a staggering cast.

And of course you had huge success when you starred as Trafford Tanzi.

The great thing about Trafford Tanzi was that it was such a huge success and it was sold out for about four months. To this day I am still bumping into people who were in the audience and it really does make the world a lot smaller. I have to be honest with you and say that I am always the actress who is second on the list Kevin, but a lot of the time that has actually worked in my favour. The top actresses have so many offers that they are turning them down and then I get them (laughter). I always got the jobs of an actress called Kathryn Hunter because she was never available and that gave me some fabulous roles; some absolutely wonderful roles.

But there is another side to the industry. I am always having creative meetings with TV companies who say that they don’t want my ideas and then six months later that idea is on screen. It’s a business full of plagiarism and a lot of people out there are more than willing to steal someone else’s ideas. It is constantly frustrating but you simply have to get on with it and accept it. There is no point in taking anything personally, there is no point being bitter. The industry is tough Kevin; it is a vicious industry to be part of. Anyone who is creative will tell you that trying to protect the egg of the idea is so very hard.

But is there any harder industry than the music industry?

Oh god, it’s everywhere Kevin. I could go onto YouTube today, find an unreleased band, copy their song, and simply release it as my own. If you don’t have scruples that is how it works. It is just tough.

So what next for Toyah?

What do you mean what next you cheeky sod (laughter). I’ve got a whole year of touring isn’t that enough?

But you have to keep looking forward (laughter).

I am looking forward; I am looking forward to the next twelve months (laughter).

Ok let me put it another way, when will we see a new album from Toyah the solo artist?

Well my co-writer Simon Darlow, who I wrote In The Court Of The Crimson Queen with, is just desperate to get into the studio with me. He is very busy at the moment and so we both keep trying to block out some time to enable us to write and record. So hopefully the writing and recording may happen sometime this year which would mean a release next year, which would be perfect timing. That release would then bridge me while we record The Humans Four. So let me just say Kevin that I am on to it (laughter).

On that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

No problem Kevin, thank you very much. I hope to see you sometime this year. Bye.