From punk princess to high priestess of TV, Toyah Willcox is a uniquely gifted performer. Charismatic, outspoken and impossible to categorise, she is one of Britain’s iconic household names – an award-winning rock legend as well as a much-loved actress and music composer.
2015 saw Toyah act in the acclaimed cult British feature film Ahhhhhhhh! directed by Steve Oram whilst 2016 will also see the release of three recently completed films in which Toyah has roles; Extremis, Lies We Tell and Kaleidoscope Man. As ever, Toyah’s annual concert diary is also packed with summer festivals, acoustic shows and electric gigs with her full band. Her transatlantic rock band The Humans featuring Bill Rieflin (King Crimson, REM) & Chris Wong recently released their third album Strange Tales.
Toyah is one of our most versatile and popular personalities whose vibrance and energy has won over many audiences in a career spanning thirty-nine years. Toyah has amassed thirteen top 40 singles, recorded twenty albums, written two books, appeared in over forty stage plays, acted in fifteen feature films and presented such diverse television programmes as The Good Sex Guide Late, Watchdog and Songs Of Praise.
It all began in her hometown Birmingham in 1977 when film director Derek Jarman offered her the role of ‘Mad’ in seminal punk epic Jubilee. She continued to gain strong roles, appearing alongside Katherine Hepburn in the film, The Corn is Green, as well as playing ‘Monkey’ in the legendary Quadrophenia. She teamed up with Jarman again to play Miranda in his innovative version of The Tempest, which won her a nomination as Best Newcomer at the 1980 Evening Standard Awards.
By this time Toyah’s band was gaining critical success with the debut single Victims of the Riddle (no.1 in the independent charts) and six track EP Sheep Farming in Barnet. Her first album, The Blue Meaning, became a Top 40 hit. A TV Documentary “Toyah”, an accompanying live album Toyah! Toyah! Toyah! – as well as hit singles It’s A Mystery, I Want to Be Free, Brave New World and Be Proud, Be Loud, Be Heard plus the platinum albums Anthem and The Changeling – confirmed her status as one of the most significant talents of the Eighties. In 1982 she won the Best Female Singer at the Rock & Pop Awards.
Over the next two decades, as well as consolidating her reputation as a singer songwriter (with albums Minx, Desire, and her least commercial album Prostitute) Toyah also forged ahead with a career as a stage performer. Notable credits include Trafford Tanzi (lead); Cabaret (Sally Bowles); Three Men and a Horse (winner of Olivier Award for best New Comedy); the UK tour of Arthur Smith’s Live Bed Show; the title role in Calamity Jane (nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical) and most recently starring as the Devil Queen in the hugely successful rock show, Vampires Rock.
Musically, the 90s saw Toyah transform from pop star to new wave diva. With her husband Robert Fripp she formed the band Sunday All Over the World, which toured world-wide. They recorded the album Kneeling at the Shrine which received rave reviews and Toyah went on to produce the critically-acclaimed albums Ophelia’s Shadow and Take the Leap!.
The 90s also saw Toyah dominate our TV screens. Whether it be drama – as a dog, in the half animated real life drama series The Ink Thief with Richard O’ Brien or kid’s programming (Toyah found renewed cult status as the intro and outro voice of Teletubbies), or presenting an ‘Alternative Remedies’ series on This Morning, Toyah’s range and versatility was unrivalled. She recorded two series of the BBC’s popular Fasten Your Seatbelt, two series of the BBC Scotland’s kid’s drama series Barmy Aunt Boomerang, fronted her own BBC1 series Discovering Eve and was a regular presenter on Watchdog, The Heaven & Earth Show and Holiday.She also presented Anything Goes, Time Off. The Magic & Mystery Show and Roll With It! In 1996, whilst Toyah was making the film Julie and The Cadillacs, Michael Aspel surprised her as the subject of BBC1’s This Is Your Life.
The year 2000 saw the publication of her long awaited autobiography Living Out Loud and in 2001 Toyah was awarded a prestigious Honorary Doctorate by the University of Central England in recognition of her distinguished achievements in performing arts, media and broadcasting. Television continued to feature as she fronted forty programmes of Beyond Medicine for the Discovery Channel and Whose Recipe is it Anyway? for the Carlton Food Network. Carlton Television also made a documentary on Toyah’s music career as part of the Rock Legends series. Toyah also participated in the 2003 Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and most recently appeared in ITV2’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl as the mother of lead actress Billie Piper.
Toyah returned to song writing in 2002 with new material for a limited edition EP, Little Tears of Love and a one-off preview concert at Ronnie Scotts. In 2002 Toyah proved her staying power selling out eleven stadium gigs for the Here and Now Tour. In May 2003 she released a brand new mini-album Velvet Lined Shell on her own record label, Vertical Species Records, showcasing a darker, edgier direction. In 2004 she returned to her musical roots as part of The Best of the 80s Tour – a UK tour alongside fellow 80s hit-makers Nick Heyward, Curiosity Killed the Cat and Altered Images.
Musically, Toyah has remained fresh, uncompromising and ground-breaking. In 2007 she signed a new worldwide publishing deal with Zomba Music and released her first digital single – Latex Messiah (Viva La Rebel In You) from the 2008 album In The Court Of The Crimson Queen, written and produced in collaboration with Simon Darlow. Alongside this Toyah began a collaboration with Bill Rieflin (REM) and Chris Wong on the band project, The Humans. Described as “European experimental meets West Coast American grunge”, The Humans debut live performances took place in Estonia in 2007. Their debut album, We Are The Humans, was recorded in Seattle in 2008 and released in Estonia in May 2009 to coincide with the band’s return to play before the country’s president at Tartufest. It received a UK digital release in September 2009, along with a Humans’ single, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.
The Humans marked their first ever like UK appearances with a series of warm-up concerts in the very intimate and beautiful surroundings of churches including St. Michael’s & All Angels’ Church and St. Anne’s Church, Worcester. These were followed up by dates across the UK, featuring special guest Robert Fripp playing live with the band. They appeared on the bill of acts invited to perform at The Roundhouse for the Helping Haiti fundraiser concert. Their UK tour culminated in a headline date at London’s Scala, yielding a 4-star, review from the Financial Times who concluded it was an “intriguing, often terrific, show” with “programmed beats, sinewy, rumbling rhythms, a kind of twisted funk”. The Humans’ second album Sugar Rush, saw a further development of the band’s songs and featured guest guitar on all tracks from Robert Fripp.
The Humans’ acclaimed third album Strange Tales was released in march 2014 and added violin, saxophone into the band’s sonic landscape and was supported by stateside dates in Seattle and Portland. In April 2015 The Humans presented the entire Strange Tales album in a 7-date UK tour alongside a physical pressing of the CD album due to fan demand.
In 2015, Toyah continues to be seen on film, acting in innovative and cutting edge productions from the Electric Flix thriller short Three Sides Of The Coin, the British horror feature film Extremis and an ambitious UK science-fiction production Kaleidoscope Man.
Perhaps most anticipated is Toyah’s part of a stunning cast in the upcoming, British feature film Ahhhhhhhh! which was written and directed by Steve Oram. The film with no dialogue and all actors performing as chimps also stars Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Noel Fielding and Alice Lowe and is released in autumn. King Crimson ProjecKts have provided music for the motion picture soundtrack.
An intensive live concert diary sees Toyah perform each year at summer festivals all over the UK. Solo headline Toyah concerts also span the entire year with energetic sets with her full band and an unplugged/storytellers style in the Acoustic, Up Close & Personal gig series.