Although she’s never been one to hide her light, Toyah Willcox is more ready than ever for the public to see her.
She regularly plays to thousands in 1980s revival shows with the likes of Belinda Carlisle, Rick Astley and Banarama, but she also tours in her own right and is returning to some of the darkest material of her 35-year career in The Changeling Resurrection II tour which arrives in Bridport this month.
“The Changeling was a very difficult album for me, it was very difficult to write, I wasn’t very happy at the time – it was 1982 and I was so famous I couldn’t leave the building without being escorted and everyone wanted the Toyah they saw on Top of the Pops, nobody cared much about the Toyah that was the real me,” she says.
“I hadn’t really thought about the record for years, but having toured a show last year covering my early years I found there was a real enthusiasm for The Changeling so this tour is very much down to public demand.”
Darker than her earlier records, it has been credited as a major influence on the post-punk Goth movement of the early 1980s.
“The funny thing is how many of the songs seem to be about the world of today – Creepy Room sounded totally absurd in 1982, but it resonates with the way policing is carried out through the internet. I thought I’d left those songs back in 1982, but it has been really interesting to revisit them now – it’s as if I needed the 30 years to become the person that could really sing them.”
Unlike the previous tour, which featured original costumes from Toyah’s extensive archive, The Changeling Resurrection II shows include new stagewear – though Toyah is at pains to point out it’s about the music first and foremost.
“It wouldn’t matter what I wore if the band isn’t rocking and this is a great band. I’ve also had to retrain my voice so I can get the top notes I need to cut through the heavy metal – I’ve got a three-octave voice again.”
I ask if the return of those high notes has left her feeling re-energised, rejuvenated even.
“Not at all, I never feel older than 12 in any case!”
Toyah knows Bridport well having lived at Evershot Manor with her Wimborne-born husband, King Crimson founder Robert Fripp.
“I always liked Bridport, it has a wonderfully creative and diverse community,” she says. “We had an art dealer opposite the town hall that we loved.”
As the music industry struggles to adjust to the changing business landscape of the digital era, in a complete reversal of fortune bands now earn more from playing live than from record sales and artists have had to diversify in order to survive.
For Toyah though, it’s business as usual. She was appearing at the National Theatre before she formed her first band. She had parts in Derek Jarman’s landmark punk film Jubilee (1978) and Quadrophenia (1979), inspired by The Who’s rock opera, as well as Jarman’s The Tempest (1980) and played opposite Olivier in TV’s The Ebony Tower (1984). She has presented Songs of Praise and The Good Sex Guide Late, done voiceovers for children’s TV hits like Brum, Teletubbies and Barmy Aunt Boomerang, taken part in I’m a Celebrity…, written an autobiography as well as a diary of her experiences with cosmetic surgery and made herself available as an inspirational speaker.
“You have to diversify, although for me it was never a conscious decision, it’s just what I do. The beauty is that every time something dries up you move on to the next thing. What time teaches you though is that you can always go back and pick up where you left off.”
She also self manages.
“That’s important,” she says. “You just get to the stage where you’ve lost so much money that it has to stop. In the past I’ve employed people to do that for me then had to spend half my time undoing the mess they made; or there are others who earn their 20 per cent then take you for another as well, so now I keep the percentage… but I have to earn it, I’ve never been busier!
“The good news is I’m an insomniac so I get more time than everyone else and I even find time to deal with the bureaucracy, sort out contracts and all the stuff I never wanted to do.”
As willful as ever then, Toyah revels in her past even as it becomes her present and, as she’s booking shows for 2013 and 2014, her future as well.
“I never looked back on my career, so in some ways this is still quite new to me. I’ve done lots of different things because I’m not at all snobby about what I do, I just have to be working. And I’ve never been very good at being told what I should be – it happened when I was with CBS in 1984 and they told me I should be like Pat Benatar mixed with someone else and it just wasn’t me.”
So, as she prepares to go back on the road and bring a new perspective to a set of songs that came from a specific time and place I wonder what the Toyah of then would make of today’s Toyah.
“In many ways I’m still the same Toyah – I’m still not sane – but as you mature you bring a confidence with you so I know I can sing, I know I can write, present, whatever and I find I can still inhabit my songs. I’m very proud of that.”
Electric Palace, Bridport