IT wouldn’t be wrong to introduce Toyah Willcox as an iconic 80’s pop star but such a tag tells a very small part of her story.
Actress, presenter, author, it was in the late-70s that the then ‘punk princess’ first exploded onto the music scene with the EP Sheep Farming In Barnet. The albums Blue Meaning, Anthem, The Changeling, Minx and Love Is The Law all followed, along with many more.
Her latest album, In The Court of the Crimson Queen, released on Friday 12 April, brings the singer/songwriter back to Edinburgh for her first headline gig in the Capital since selling out The Playhouse in 1982.
In the intervening years, of course, Toyah has been no stranger to the city, appearing in numerous ‘Best of the 80s’ tours as well as starring in the play Picasso’s Women at the Festival and in musicals such as Calamity Jane.
Consequently, it’s clear the diminutive powerhouse performer is looking forward to returning on 25 April to play The Liquid Room.
“Scotland is very different to England in a wonderful way,” she smiles.
“Scotland is a very responsive, dedicated audience and we can’t wait to experience that energy because audiences definitely give you something back, and Scotland is a prime example of that.”
The Edinburgh gig is the first of four on Toyah’s Thunder in the Highlands Tour, which also takes her to Glasgow, Inverness and Dundee, giving Scottish fans the first chance to hear her newest song, Dance in the Hurricane, performed live .
An irresistible anthem, it has been causing a bit of a stir, it’s also a song Toyah feels particularly connected to, not least because it features an introduction spoken by her husband Robert Fripp, of King Crimson fame.
She reveals, “We are opening with Hurricane, which will be very much an experiment. It will be the first time that we have performed it but the reviews we are getting back already make me think it will probably be the strongest song of my whole career.”
The songs Come, Sensational, Latex Messiah, Lesser God and Who Let The Beast Out, all from the new album, will also feature in the set list, she adds. In The Court of the Crimson Queen reunites Toyah with long-term writing partner Simon Darlow,
“I met Simon in 1977 when I was 18 and he was 17,” the singer recalls.
“We both had the same manager, and they put us together to write. Our first ever song was called Sky Lullaby and it was truly awful,” she laughs, “but we bonded.”
That bond is obvious throughout the album, candidly, Toyah agrees, “We couldn’t have made this album without that bond. What is so special, unique and magical about this particular album is that both Simon and I trust our creative paths, by that I mean we trust our styles.
“I’ve often worked with other writers who want to make me sound like someone else. Simon realises I can only really sound like me and that is not a problem.”
She continues, “Simon was a session musician on The Changeling, we then got back together to write with Joel Bogen for Love Is The Law and from that point on we just realised our relationship was about writing.
“We ended up writing for other people, writing for films and for TV, so I think we now realise that it is a partnership that should not be ignored.”
Nevertheless, Toyah had her work cut out convincing Darlow that Dance in the Hurricane was more than just an introduction to the album.
“Dance in the Hurricane originated because Simon wanted an intro for the album. That’s all that it was, an intro in which you heard Robert speaking the words, then we had a four bar drum fill into the song Sensational.
“I said ‘No, that magical four bars is a song...’
“It took me about a year to get Simon to appreciate that and to give us time to develop it and thank god we did. So we had it within a day, it just took a year to convince him there was a song in that idea.”
Throughout the album nods and references bring past hits and album tracks to mind, like little winks to her long-term fans.
“All of that is deliberate, especially the end note of Hurricane, which reflects one of the end notes in Danced,” she says.
“We deliberately went to sounds and moments on stage that I have recognised over the years as moments why fans like me.
“That very last note of Hurricane is so symbolic of how I hold a note and how the really iconic songs of Sheep Farming and Blue Meaning also hit that note.”
It’s hard to believe the singer celebrated her sixtieth birthday last year, marked by a series of gigs that kicked off in Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, where her energy and passion belied her years.
“We have really got the set list working now, it’s about stringing along energy and holding it up, and that has to work not just for the audience but for us as well,” she says.
“Many times, seeing other artists, a set list can unbalance the whole of the show for the performer, but we’ve really got ours working and can trust that when we take a song down we’re not going to loose the audience, in fact, it’s the next stage.
“That night in the Ruby Lounge was a particularly good night and a particularly tough set list, but because it worked it kept us all connected.”
There will be more of the same at The Liquid Room, she promises.
“It’s very exciting because we don’t get the chance to come to Scotland very often and I think we have the right venues to recapture what happened at The Ruby Lounge.
“That intimacy is vital to what I do because people of our generation remember the power of the room.
“A lot of young kids today are used to being separated by more than six degrees but we are used to being in very small rooms and with that intimacy the power is absolutely overwhelming.”
The ongoing success of Toyah’s live gigs can only bode well for the album.
“What’s really lovely about In The Court of the Crimson Queen is that when Simon and I started working on this album in 2007, no one was really interested, then we gave the publishers the songs Sensational and Latex Messiah and they went, ‘Oh my god, these are the best songs we’ve heard all year’.
“From that point onwards people became interested in us. When Weight Watchers licensed Sensational for their theme we knew that the writing side was working. Then the fans, of all ages, wanted this music, wanted to be able to able to access it.”
Toyah insists that ‘Living’ is the key to the writing on the release, which has been 12 years in the making.
“Through this journey we have gone through a lot of living... a lot of living,” she emphasises.
“I lost my parents, Simon lost his father and this is where Dance in the Hurricane came from; once you are part of our generation, our age group, life has no control anymore. It was important to reflect that in the writing.
“Simon thinks that I write very young, but Hurricane is not about being young, it’s about life experience and the fact that whatever happens to us physically, we remain strong spiritually and internally. We survive. We move on. Everything is a continuation.
“I also believe everything is eternal. So the whole point of that song is, yes, life gives you terrible blows but we are still connected.
“Hurricane comes from that experience and I could only have written it with those experiences happening in my life.”
She adds, “With the rest of the writing on the album, I wanted to still be age appropriate but we are all still rebels, we are the rebel generation.
“We are the generation who grew up without the Internet, we had to find each other on the road, we found each other through fanzines, through writing letters, turning up a gigs by word of mouth and that creates an incredible community.
“I wanted to write about this and what we’ve all been through because, whatever age we are, we are still young.
“Age is a concept, an accident of nature, we are eternally young.”
Toyah, Liquid Room, Victoria Street, 25 April, £22.50, 222.ticketweb.uk
In The Court of The Crimson Queen is released 12 April, pre-order at http://smarturl.it/toyah_crimson_queen