Toyah in conversation…
Birmingham’s very own punk queen Toyah Willcox returns this month (Oct 31st) to perform a very special Halloween show at the Birmingham Ballroom.
LTW’s Ross Cotton took the chance to ask Toyah about her memories whilst recording her album ‘The Changeling’ and her future plans.
The iconic pop star, actress and TV personality is reigniting her triumphant forth album ‘The Changeling’, to celebrate its 30th anniversary and the mark of the gothic era. After a sell-out touring stint earlier this year, and a well deserved star awarded at the ‘Kings Heath Walk of Fame’, it comes as no surprise that our local girl is in high demand.
â[The Walk of Fame] was a really emotional day for meâÂ, says Toyah. âI just wish my parents were around to have known because they just would be so proud. âMy grand father practically built most of Kings Heath, [he had a construction company called Willcox-Lang] so to be awarded the star was a very big honour.âÂ
Toyah’s star can be found outside the Cash Converters on York Road, a building that once existed as the prolific Ritz Ballroom. Presuming that the ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ contestant had visited the Hare & Hounds during her eighteen years living in Kings Heath, I began to pursue and ask her how it felt to perform on familiar turf.
â[The Walk of Fame gig] was the first time I’d actually walked inside [the Hare & Hounds]âÂ, she says. âI had a very strict upbringing and I wasn’t allowed out, so no, I never went there ââ which I think is a really bizarre thing to admit! âBut that was a really great night, and the Hare & Hounds is a fantastic venue with the most amazing sound.âÂ
Toyah’s Halloween performance at the Birmingham Ballroom will focus on tracks from her first four albums, Sheep Farming in Barnet, The Blue Meaning, Anthem, and of course, the goth trend setting 1982 release The Changeling.
â[That album] means more to me this year than it ever has beforeâÂ, says Toyah. âWriting it was quite an adventure, because it followed a platinum album [Anthem, which contained the smash hit ‘It’s a Mystery’] âI didn’t know who I was by the time I had to deliver The Changeling, I felt confused, and that’s how I remember the album. âI don’t think it was aimed at a commercial market, but unbenounced to me, it’s always been cited as the beginning of the goth movement. âI didn’t know that until retrospect, reading all of these quotes in the press. âBut I was never looked on in the same light as Siouxsie & the Banshees and the Cocteau Twins, I was just too commercialâÂ, she says. â[The Changeling is] a perfect show for Halloween because of the darkness of the songs – I’ve grown fond of it. âWe’ve done five shows of this tour this year already, and they’ve just gone down a storm, which has been an absolute blessing.âÂ
The artwork for The Changeling is extremely gothic/fantastical in detail, and almost echoes the explosion of prog rock, ten years prior to the album’s release in 1982.
Toyah agrees, âI didn’t intend it to be, but I think you’re absolutely right. âIf I’d have thought of it as prog rock, I probably would have thought twice about doing [the artwork] exactly like that. âIt’s why the music press at the time didn’t really get me ââ they associated me with prog rather than punk, so you hit the nail on the head there!âÂ, she says.
And Toyah’s prog connections don’t end here, as she later went on to marry King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, leading to side projects including the highly underrated Sunday All Over the World ââ an art rock band formed with her husband. Since then, Toyah’s solo albums such as Ophelia’s Shadow have included members from King Crimson. And her 2008 solo release was fittingly titled In the Court of the Crimson Queen, an album that is due a follow up release very soon (Toyah’s keeping that one under her hat though…….. for now at least.)
But of course, the iconic Brummie has always been firmly rooted in punk and new wave, so lets not get her sound mixed up with prog, and her pathway to rebellion all started in Birmingham.
âI saw [Sex Pistols] at a club on New Street called Bogarts, which closed about 20 years ago. It was a wonderful club, very intimate, and it was quite an experience being there. âI was in a room full of people that had the same beliefs and desire to do something different, and it gave me a really strong sense of placement. âIt changed my life radically and it gave me the encouragement to get up and go to London.âÂ
However, that’s not to say Toyah burnt any of her Birmingham bridges, as she’s voiced the likes of children’s TV programme Brum (and even guest starred in the soap Doctors during its Pebble Mill filming days.) âThe industrial nature of Birmingham and being into J.R.R. Tolkien did inspire me a lotâÂ, she says. âThe warmth from the [Birmingham] people is legendary, and they are by far the friendliest people in the world, and that is very important to me.âÂ
So what can we expect from the Halloween special [October 31st] performance at the Birmingham Ballroom? âIt’s going to be fancy dress, and there’s going to be lots of ghost things happeningâÂ, she says. âPete Newton [who is the producer/promoter] is keeping a lot up his sleeve that even I don’t know about!âÂ
Make sure you attend the Birmingham Ballroom on 31st October to catch Toyah, and look out for her tour next year with the experimental band The Humans, who have just finished recording their third album in Seattle.
Toyah tour dates:
Wed 19 Sep / Middlesbrough Theatre
Sat 29 Sep / Sheffield Corporation
Fri 12 Oct / Glasgow Classic Grand
Sat 13 Oct / Manchester Academy
Sat 20 Oct / London Islington Academy
Sun 21 Oct / Kings Lynn Corn Exchange
Fri 26 Oct / Bridport Electric Palace
Sat 27 Oct / Redhill Harlequin Theatre
Wed 31 Oct / Birmingham Ballroom ââ Halloween Special
Thu 1 Nov / The Horn St Alban’s
Sat 3 Nov / Brighton Concorde 2
Ross Cotton is the publisher of online magazine‘Something In The Water’ – Issue 1 including an interview with Gary Numan is available now.