Interview by Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista / Pictures by Paul www.paulward.net
Punk pop teen terror, Toyah Willcox, exploded into the limelight as ‘Mad’ – the anarchic redhead in Derek Jaman’s 1978 “film about Punk”, ‘Jubilee’.
She went on to release over 20 studio albums, 13 Top 40 singles, appear in over 40 stage plays and 10 feature films – in a career spanning over three decades. Oh yeah, she’s written two books as well.
Now also the first luminary to be honored on Kings Heath’s ‘Walk of Fame’, Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista went to see what else (if there’s any room left) does Toyah have in her head.
BReview: “Congratulations on your star in the Kings Heath ‘Walk of Fame’. How does it feel to be awarded this accolade?”
Toyah: “It’s wonderful. It’s such an honour, and so good for people to remember me in this way. I lived in Birmingham for 18 years, until I left for London and got my career going. I was born and conceived here. I used to shop on the high street everyday with my mother.
It’s very kind of the business people of Kings Heath, to include me in the names of those associated with the suburb. Amazing people have played here, like Led Zeppelin and Jerry lee Lewis (at the Ritz Ballroom, now Cash Convertors, on York Rd).
I think I am the only other woman apart from Helen Shapiro; it’s an absolute honour.”
BReview: “You’ve had such a significant career, and hold a prolific music back catalogue. Is it difficult to decide what you will and won’t include, song wise, when organising a set or a tour?”
Toyah: “We are kind of lucky, because starting last year we had 3 major 30th Anniversaries. Last year was ‘Anthem’, this year is ‘The Changeling’ and next year is ‘Love is the Law”. These were all platinum albums, so we can tour them. What we do after is a different matter, but for the next year we’re kind of covered.”
BReview: “So what can we expect at tonight’s gig?”
Toyah: “Today, at the Hare and Hounds, we’re going to do a 32 year retrospective; covering 18 – 22 albums. That has been hard, as we can only fit 22 songs into the length of time we have. It’s going to be a real ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ night.”
BReview: “Do you ever feel the need to put a modern twist on some of your earlier works when performing live?”
Toyah: “Interestingly, people don’t seem to want that. They want the original 1980’s take on things. But to contemporise is never a problem; with technology, the way you arrange things, when and where drum fills and guitar solos in etc.
The designs for the costumes do have quite a contemporary take on what I was wearing 30 years ago. But funnily enough, people want the songs exactly as they were back then, they want the nostalgia.”
BReview: “The 2nd part of your ‘Changeling Resurrection’ tour starts in September, with you returning to play at the Birmingham Ballroom on October 31st. Will you have any Halloween surprises for us?”
Toyah: “It’s going to be a fancy dress theme. ‘The Changeling’ was a gothic album so it will be a Goth themed night. There will be all sorts of events happening; competitions, DJs and a club night after the gig.
BReview: “Moving on to ‘The Humans’ (a 3 piece ensemble Toyah formed in 2007) can you explain how this collaboration came about, and how it is to work with Chris Wong and Bill Reiflin?”
Toyah: “Well, Chris Wong was working as my Musical Director and also played guitar for my solo project, ‘Toyah’. In 2007 my husband was asked to play for the President of Estonia. However, he wasn’t available, so I contacted the embassy and asked if they would like myself and my band to do it instead.
At the time Bill Rieflin was drumming for R.E.M, but he had a window; so together with Chris we wrote 45 minutes of music which became the first ‘Humans’ album. We went to Estonia and played for the president and it went down incredibly well. It was fantastic. We are now on out 3rd album, which we record in September.”
BReview: “So a significant career, one that’s still evolving into new projects. What advice, if any, do you have for people pursuing a career in the industry today?”
Toyah: “It isn’t about the ‘X-Factor’. It takes genuine hard work, not instant gratification. My advice would be to learn an instrument, learn how to write, learn about the law and get clued up about what publishing is about and what a record company is about.
Try and launch yourself on the Internet; on things such as Facebook, Twitter etc, as today that is where it is at.”
BReview: “And as a strong female in the music industry, how do you feel the role of women in the industry has changed?”
Toyah: “When I started out, there were people like Kim Wilde, Kate Bush and Patti Smith leading the way for females; but doing so in a strong way and in control, even back then.
Today there are some really great female songwriters who not only look great but are headlining stadiums; which back when I started didn’t happen.
I began at a time when your career would be mainly playing the pub circuits, so now it’s clear there is a lot of control by women in the industry.”
BReview: “So who would you consider strong and influential female figures in the industry today?”
Toyah: “Songwriters and acts such as P.J Harvey, Florence & the Machine, Marina & the Diamonds and Pink – who has reinvented herself over a diverse career. It hasn’t all been about Madonna.”
Toyah Willcox brings ‘The Changeling Resurrection Tour’ to the Birmingham Ballroom on October 31st.
For more info about this, and other gigs at the venue, visit www.birmingham-ballroom.com
For more on Toyah Willcox, visit http://www.toyahwillcox.com