Here’s a review I’ve long dreamed of writing; namely my favourite live artist, in my favourite live music venue, in my favourite city. If that isn’t enough to make it an interesting night out, my wife is also joining me – her first live gig for forty years. Here, it has to be categorically stated that my wife has no musical passions for Toyah but, as I discovered the Birmingham singer/actress back in 1980 and my wife as recently as 1988, she’s always been (mostly) very patient and contented herself with eye-rolling while I relive my teenage years of enthusiastic pogo dancing. An added element here is that both my wife and I are disabled – this being a key issue for her not attending gigs for so long – so it would naturally be interesting to see how the venue catered for us less-mobile types. Here, knowing The Fleece well was a distinct advantage. To me, it’s the perfect music location, consisting of a single, long room with not a trace of evil staircases. However, we contacted The Fleece well in advance to ask about specific details concerning disabled patrons. The venue did not disappoint us, being courteous and helpful through every stage of the booking process. So, before we get to Toyah, a shout out to Holly Angus and the team in Bristol for their support. In Holly’s words, ‘The Fleece is looking at seeing what other things we can do to make our venue and the website more disability friendly’. From chatting to Holly, it’s clear that disability consideration is a serious work in motion for The Fleece. For us, this is wonderfully reassuring and I hope that many more venues follow their lead.
Okay, it’s gig time. I’m suitably attired in my 80’s Toyah t-shirt, Crombie coat and orthopaedic dancing boot. Parking is fine around the venue, which is very handy as we have to assemble a disability scooter. Turning the corner, I spy the first obstacle, in the shape of a stone step up into the building. We’re just discussing having to lift the heavy scooter up over the step but, before we can devise a cunning battleplan, the security team is waiting for us, armed with welcome smiles and a ramp. Holly is on reception to check that all is well and we’re in. Assigned a spot right by the side of the stage, we have an excellent view of proceedings and it’s not long before we’re joined by other disabled customers. As we’re engaging in chatter, it’s time for Toyah’s support act: Vanity Fairy (Daisy Capri). Echoing Toyah’s individualistic style, the audience is treated to a lively, energetic and artistic set. It’s great to see that the crowd responds in a very positive and encouraging manner. Everyone seems to be thoroughly engaged and it’s very clear that – again, like Toyah – Daisy possesses stage presence, charisma and awareness, in plentiful abundance. Catch her if you can.
Right, it’s just gone 8.30PM and the crowd is growing in anticipation, especially us disabled types at the side of the stage, as we’ve learned that we’re right by the stage door and that artists have to pass right through us. Sure enough, here’s all 5 feet of Toyah, confidently weaving her way through the room; now packed to bursting point. The main reason behind this tour is to celebrate the (41st) anniversary of her most successful, gold album, ‘Anthem’ (and to promote its latest incarnation, a pricey but very generously-proportioned – with multiple extras – release that retails for around £125, but has actually just sold out due to some rather excellent marketing) from the peak of her popularity in 1981, where it originally sold more than 100,000 copies and reached #2 in the album charts (no mean feat back then). Having been replaying the original, 1981 album for several months now (both loudly and away from my long-suffering wife), I’m hoping that there will be many songs taken from this classic 80’s release. I’m not to be disappointed.
Over the decades I’ve seen Toyah live on around a dozen occasions. She’s now 64 years young and enjoying a wave of fresh popularity with her regular ‘YouTube’ broadcasts. Naturally, there’s always that concern that the day will come when she can no longer match the energy – or vocal skills – of her younger days. However, from the opening notes of the first song, I’m delighted to observe that this day is definitely nowhere in sight. If anything, Toyah’s voice is stronger now than it’s ever been and her physical energy is no less diminished. Of the original 11 songs on the 1981 album, we’re treated to 8 of them: ‘I Want To Be Free’, ‘Obsolete’, ‘Pop Star’, ‘Jungles of Jupiter’, ‘It’s A Mystery’, ‘Marionette’, ‘Demolition Men’ and ‘We Are’. Her current band is nothing short of professionally splendid and it feels like they’ve been accompanying Toyah for years. The singer’s personality shines through every minute of the gig and she engages in some brilliant banter with the crowd. The set includes two hit covers by Billy Idol (‘Rebel Yell’) & Grace Jones (‘Slave To The Rhythm’), although Toyah was originally a key element in both songs back in the 1980’s and sings them majestically. There’s a 10.30 curfew at The Fleece and we continue dancing, bouncing and singing until a little after 10.32. Sod it. We’re old punks. Anarchy! And all that hullabaloo…
It was halfway through the gentle and melodic ‘Marionette’ that I looked at my wife and saw that she was enraptured by Toyah’s performance. Far from my deepest fears of her spending two hours with her fingers lodged defiantly in both ears, we spent the best part of that late evening and the following morning discussing the performance. My wife’s unbiased comments included, ‘Toyah is certainly a true performer’, ‘her vocal work is phenomenal…it’s clear to see that she puts a lot of work into her professional life as a singer’, ‘the band was amazing…musically tight’ & ‘she is ridiculously fit for someone who is 64…where the hell does she get all that energy from?’ In short, nothing but praise for Toyah Ann Willcox and her band. I can’t argue with any of that. Toyah still dominates any stage with both ease and aplomb. Her musical presence and natural personality light up any venue. Every song possesses unique energy and rightly earns full respect from the crowd. It was also interesting to get the reactions from the audience after the gig: ‘Brilliant!’, ‘The best ever!’, ‘A-ma-zing!’, ‘I never knew she was this good!’. Personally, I think the mark of a great gig is singing your head off so much that you become hoarse. Proud to say that for a day afterwards I sounded like Rocky Balboa if he’d smoked 100 cigarettes, then gargled in finest single malt whisky.
Toyah is performing the ‘Anthem+1 Tour’ till early November, with 2 gigs in 2023 and some seats are still available. If you can get to see her live, either this year or at any time, then please do. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
Toyah’s official website: https://toyahwillcox.com
Article & Photography by Kev Milsom