It’s no mystery

Toyah Willcox is one of the best-known and most versatile entertainers Birmingham has produced. Actor, TV presenter, businesswoman but most of all a singer, she is about to begin a tour which will feature her best-known work played acoustically. She told us about her upcoming Robin show.

“It’s acoustic, which is a lot of fun. I’ve been doing this show for a year now. It’s Colin Hinds from China Crisis and Chris Wong from my band, two acoustic guitars and myself. We do all the hits but I also do favourite tracks from my albums and I use film and visuals to tell behind the scenes stories, how certain images were created and how videos were made. It’s really irreverent, the whole point of the evening is fun, laughter and dance. The evening is very uplifting and what I find surprising is that the songs are more danceable in this format. It just works, the songs really shine and it’s been incredibly successful.”

You certainly seem very enthusiastic about it. Will this be something you do more of?

“It’s a regular thing because it’s very much in demand. A lot of people don’t want to go to rock clubs to hear an electric band so this show can go to other venues such as arts centres where the clientele are happy to sit and listen to someone talking about their life. But we’ve found that the show still maintains the energy and if anything it’s more intense because it goes from story to song and back again and it sounds very melodic, with a lot of light and shade. It takes me by surprise because when we started I honestly thought we’d do two shows and never do it again but I’m getting a standing ovation every ten minutes. People really get it.

“It’s very different to the band shows. It’s very personal, there’s a lot about me and also it’s not all action. I think a good show can prove itself acoustically. My really punky stuff sounds incredible, it’s because of the visuals in the lyrics and the changing formats and keys, they allow the songs to breathe. I’ve been on stage now for 35 years, it allows me to be a real showwoman. You’re up there for 2 ½ hours, you’ve really got to carry it off.”


You’ve reinvented yourself regularly over the years.

“That’s inevitable. I’m 35 years older than when I started. I don’t think it’s just about reinvention, I’ve grown. We all become better musicians and singers, I think its a question of growing into your skin. Being on stage for me now is second nature.”

It’s strange that you always seem to be overlooked in the lists of great Birmingham musicians. Does that annoy you?

“No. I have noticed it but I’m successful and I’ve never been busier so if they want to overlook me it’s their loss not mine. I agree that I’m not thought of as a Brummie musician but it’s not my problem. I was born three miles from the city centre, my father was an incredibly influential architect in the city. It’s surprising that I’m never included in those sort of lists although I was included in the 100 Famous Brummies in about 1988 and I’ve an honorary doctorate from the university, but while it’s true it never affects me.

“I love Birmingham, my husband and I visit the city at least once a week. The centre has been got absolutely right and that Fox story saying Birmingham was unsafe because it’s full of Muslims, we used to take my mother to Birmingham on her mobility scooter and the only people who helped her most were young Asian males. That’s a representation of how brilliant the cultures work together in the city.”

Although your music was never really Brummie unlike, say, Sabbath or UB40 who couldn’t have come from anywhere else.

“When I was breaking big round about 1980 I used to say I couldn’t wait to get out of Birmingham. Did the city influence me? Not in a positive way because I was a woman growing up in a tough environment but now it’s an absolutely world-class city.

“I feel I’m a Birmingham girl and like everything, if a city works hard and looks after its people then that rectifies everything else and I think Birmingham is a city of great opportunities. When Pebble Mill was closing and the BBC was moving to Manchester I was one of the first people to vocalise that they were denying the largest body of licence payers their fair share. I am actually quite passionate about Birmingham, the people are phenomenal. A city is not a bunch of buildings and a bunch of councillors, a city is the people so I will defend it.”

You seem to have a very loyal fanbase.

“I’ve had people following me for so long they have children and grandchildren who are Toyah fans as well. I’m not the sort of artist who keeps in touch with their fans every day, I’m not made that way but I try to stay loyal to the music that means so much to them. Their dedication is more to the music than it is to me, they know what they like from my career.”

You play the Rewind and Here & Now eighties shows. Are you, like the rest of us, terrified at how quickly the years have passed?

“I’ve only noticed it recently. I had this conversation with my husband ten minutes ago – suddenly you’re looking at people you’ve known all your life or someone on TV who are so much older and you think ‘How did that happen?’. It’s as if a switch has gone. I’m not afraid of it but it’s made me change radically because I don’t like wasting my time. It’s so precious and I have so much I want to do, especially as a writer and singer. The concept of retirement to me is like volunteering to be ill; I just don’t get it. This thing about time moving fast is making me value the time I have and to make sure I live it.”


Those shows must be like being in the dressing room of Top of the Pops from 1981.

“Yes, because we’re with all our friends. Out of the 60,000 people at a festival 40,000 are under 25 so they bring a completely different element to the show but you’re right, we all know each other and we’ve all supported each other over the years. We know each other’s families, it’s a very close-knit community and we have a lot of fun. I’ll play them and things like the Butlins weekends, with about 8,000 people watching and it’s a riot.”

When you look back at the hair and the clothes from those days, do you smile or shudder?

“I never shudder. I changed the face of fashion for women, I’m very proud of it.”.

Toyah plays the Robin 2 on Tuesday 3rd March. Tickets or 01902-401211.