This month our Content Editor, Charlie O’Neill had the chance to catch up with Toyah Willcox ahead of the ‘80’s Invasion Tour Birmingham’, set to kick off in Birmingham on the 12th March at the Birmingham Town Hall.
Toyah has had a highly successful and incredibly diverse career with major hit records and many prestigious stage and screen roles to her credit that have made her one of Britain’s biggest household names. She has had 15 top 40 singles, 4 gold and platinum albums, made over 10 feature films and appeared in over 30 stage plays. Her hits include ‘It’s A Mystery’ (No. 4), ‘I Want To Be Free’ (No. 8) and ‘Thunder In The Mountains’ (No. 4). In 1982 she won the ‘Best Female Singer’ in the then Rock & Pop Awards (now the Brits). She also appeared in the cult classic ‘Quadrophenia’ alongside Phil Daniels and Ray Winstone, based loosely on the life of The Who. In 2003 she survived 12 long days and nights in the Australian jungle for “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here” and is still a prolific performer and what’s even better is that we had chance to catch up with the lady herself.
Interview by Charlie O’Neill
Firstly, Happy New Year. Did you have a nice Christmas? What did you get up to over the festive period?
TOYAH: Thank you and the same to you! I had the best Christmas ever, it was absolutely lovely. We were both home from a year of touring. And, we just had family time and for me that’s what Christmas always will be. It was very gentle and perfect.
It’s the only time of year, where no matter what happens, whatever distractions, and you always make room for family. Its catch up time.
Do you have any New Years resolutions set or any goals you are aiming to achieve this year?
TOYAH: My New Years resolutions usually go into about 3 pages of dialogue with myself! Basically, I just want to keep developing and moving forward. I don’t want to just rest on my laurels. So, my new years resolutions are always linked to creative writing, painting, developing ideas and examining ideas, brining them into fruition.
My New Years resolutions are always boringly predictable, but they are for me, nagging myself to hit my goals.
I’m exactly the same, I am a singer and songwriter myself and my resolutions are always fairly creative, and are a reminder to myself of things I want to achieve.
TOYAH: I also think increasingly we live in a developing society where we are distracted the whole time and distraction is incredibly easy. I don’t want to lose myself because of technology, so I’m always trying to remind myself why I do what I do.
Absolutely, so, tell me a little bit about the ‘80’s Invasion’ tour and your involvement within the show? How are rehearsals?
TOYAH: It doesn’t start till March and we’ve worked together for 40 years and are used to working together. Of course, there will be production rehearsals to do, but we don’t have anything to learn as I sing these songs 4 times a week, right through the year.
I’m really looking forward to being in the company of other artists and most of the time I’m headlining on my own and we’ve got 4 headliners on for this tour, all with great credentials, a fantastic history in music, wonderful singles and genres. I know China Crisis so well, because, I use their guitarist when I’m on the road. I love their hits, their sound, music and whole philosophy of life. Then you get me. I’m going to be quite Rock’n’Roll during the tour. I’m probably the rockiest of the lot!
Then theirs Martika and were all really excited to see what she will bring to the table. We obviously know her hits and she lives in Canada so, she’s for us a new kid on the block. Then, of course, you have Paul Young, who everyone adores and has a fantastic roster of hits.
The idea of the evening will involve doing a meet and greet and then we do the show, which will include all the hits. We want people to sing along and to go back on good memories. It’s un-ashameably nostalgic. At the same time we are good at what we do as we’ve been doing it a long time, so, the quality is there.
Are you close with the other musicians involved with the tour?
TOYAH: I started working on the tour 6 weeks ago with Paul. We know each other very well; each other’s material and even our families so were ready and rearing to go.
What’s your fondest memory from the 80s?
TOYAH: It’s like another world and we didn’t have the technology that we have today. I think, wow if we had today’s technology what could we have done! We were so free with our imaginations. The 80’s was about making things happen and I do believe our age group back then had more opportunity then anyone does today. I’m so grateful for that.
My happiest memories of the 80s was freedom of choice and creating videos, which was the most exciting thing to do as you were creating these mini feature films. We had fun creating images every few weeks. It was a lot of fun.
It must be so much fun being able to have your own input and using your own creative mind…
TOYAH: The extraordinary thing was that you had to come up with a new single or image every 6 weeks, which sounds ridiculous now!
We were churning out, and I use the word churning, because, if you look at someone like Adele who produces an album every 5 years, whereas back then we had to do 2 albums a year and 6 singles a year. The demand was incredible, quite strenuous but exciting at the same time.
I also hear that you have received a Birmingham Walk of Fame Star, so a big congratulations. How does that feel? When did you find out the news?
TOYAH: I was in tears all day! It’s a big knowledge, which is always lovely. The business were in is a tough business and your on your toes all the time. To have a City acknowledge you, I mean wow its incredible, my heart was in my mouth. I walked up the Broad Street to see who else was on it; I think there are 37 names on that street. I was like, “Oh my God Yesss!”
Being a local lady that’s lovely to have that recognition…
And also, I live 30 miles from Birmingham now and I’m their 2 or 3 times a week. I love that place and what it’s become. I think it’s a fantastic City and I’m very proud to have that Walk of fame star.
Do you have any other career projects in the pipeline for when the 80s invasion tour has finished? Or will you be taking some time to relax?
TOYAH: Yes, I have 7-feature film that I am working on this year. So, it’s very, very busy. Most of them I have cameo roles in , but for three of them, I have more significant roles, so, I’m getting ready for all of those. Then I continually screen test, which is just part of the job of being an actress.
I’m writing two new albums, one for my American band, The Humans, and one for a musical called ‘Crime and Punishment’, which played in London last summer which we are filming the live production for. So, I’ve got all that to complete so it’s busy.
You are going to be one very busy lady…
TOYAH: That’s how I like it!
When not acting or performing, where do you most like to spend your time? Any other hobbies you enjoy?
TOYAH: For me I just love walking in big open spaces. It clears my head, I feel grounded again. I love the sounds of nature and the seasons.
I’m currently working on a commission painting for the Cirencester Hair Festival, which I have to have finished in 4 weeks because of my touring. I love painting and I love art so I always try and connect with something creative but not something that I’m necessarily known for.
I’m surrounded by exceptional places. I adore the Lickey Hills, the Clents and Malvern’s. You’re spoilt for choice really.
After having a career that spans across over 40 years with music, TV and film. What has been your highlight throughout your career?
TOYAH: I live very much in the moment. Last year with the musical opening in London, ‘Crime and Punishment, I never expected to be involved with anything like that. A Director who loves my work put 13 of my songs into the musical. We were all bemused and wandering if it was going to work and it was stunning.
The reviews say that the music came into it’s own and highlighted the story. So, for me to get good reviews, from 40 years of musical writing, was very much a highlight of my career. You know its like; we live in a critical business and that was great so, at the moment I’m enjoying what’s heading my way as much as what I’ve enjoyed from the past.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening too? Any new and up coming artists you enjoy listening to?
TOYAH: I’m so hugely into the Rolling stones! I love my retro music, Roxy Music and obviously David Bowie. But, when it comes to new stuff I tend to look through YouTube and I trust YouTube’s recommendations. There are artists I really like who have complete control of their careers, like AKA Twigs. I love her filmmaking, her voice and arrangements. I don’t always get the songs on their own but when you see what she does with her filmmaking, I am absolutely blown away by what she does. I like performers who can do that. I love Lana Del Rey, but again I want my performers to be live performers as well. I think that’s tough for young talent these days.
Music’s very commercial these days and I always enjoy going to a live gig and watching that person actually perform…
TOYAH: Live music is so different to commercial single releases; it’s a different world.
When acting, do you prefer performing on stage or on screen?
TOYAH: You need both, because, there’s nothing like performing on stage to attune you to what’s needed in acting, having that alertness. Acting is 80% listening and being aware of what’s around you and you get the luxury of that on stage. I just adore working on camera. I love the fact that you’re a whole team that’s shut away in a log cabin with the snow outside. That’s what it feels like! Its like the circus comes to town and you work together as a team. I adore working on camera I really love it.
Well, it’s been fantastic speaking with you Toyah and thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
TOYAH: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Good luck with the tour, I hope it all goes well. My best wishes and take care.
TOYAH: Thank you so much Charlie.
The 80’s Invasion Tour 2017 featuring Paul Young, Martika, Toyah and China Crisis takes in 15 dates and starts on 2nd March at Rhyl’s Pavilion, culminating on 19th March at Liverpool’s Philharmonic, with London’s Indigo2 on 16th March. To buy tickets, please go to www.tdpromo.com