5 Minutes With Toyah Willcox

Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp are bursting out of the kitchen and heading across the UK for a huge tour from later this month!

Their legendary 'Sunday Lunch' is typically packed with rock and pop classics with artistic twists from the iconic performers - and you can expect plenty more on the live stage.

We caught up with Toyah Willcox to discuss what to expect from the show, how they decide on which hits to cover, the track they're still sussing and much more!

Check out the full interview below.

Firstly – you’re heading out on tour from the end of this month – how are preparations going?

Preparations have been really fantastic because we’ve had the whole year to get ready. We played Glastonbury for the first time in our careers, Isle of Wight for the second time in mine, Cropredy, Wickham and so many wonderful festivals that have helped us hone and shape this show into a musical journey. This is what the Sunday Lunch live show is going to be: it’s inevitable that people are going to get the chemistry between Robert and myself, and the references to Sunday Lunch, but the show is dominantly about the classic rock music that we have featured on the series being played to perfection so the audience can enjoy it and remember when they first heard it. What we are now playing is what we consider to be “classic" rock, the way Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin are all considered classics—these songs are now rock classics!

The shows are a celebration of ‘Sunday Lunch’ – how did the idea originally come about?

It started in April 2020 during lockdown when me and Robert were feeling incredibly anxious about the future. I had 3 tours booked in 2020 that were all sold out and we didn’t know how we were going to reach our audience, and then it became so clear - it was social media. We posted a 28 second video of me teaching Robert to do the jive, and within 5 minutes we had 100,000 responses which mostly said “you’ve cheered us up, thank you” so we decided we would continue. Both Robert and I believe that performance is not only our oxygen, it’s actually our responsibility, it’s what we have done for the whole of our careers. Robert for over 60 years, me for over 45. We have entertained - and social media allowed us to entertain our audience. The idea for the tour came about because we know we can play these songs very well; these are classic rock songs, songs we love, songs that I grew up with and musicians that Robert has worked with. We have unique memories to these songs. Very special, unique cultural memories that made me who and what I am today. What we discovered through Sunday Lunch is that everyone who watches has the same experiences as us. That’s what the tour is about.

Was translating it to a live performance difficult, or did it naturally flow when you sat down and looked at logistics?

Above all, we are all really superb musicians - every member of this band. Two keys, three guitars, bass, drums and we all sing. It’s a really excellent band and we want to honour and respect the music, so that came first. When we sat down to look at the logistics we decided we didn’t want to do something that would be the equivalent of a pub show performance or a comedy performance, we wanted to give the best arena rock performance we could. The music and the interpretation of the music is the priority of this show, but it’s inevitable that when you’ve got somebody like me heading the show it’s not going to be like anything else! There’s going to be quirkiness involved, relationships involved, and the chemistry between myself and Robert is something people are finding very enjoyable and addictive. We're going to reference certain Sunday Lunches, but there’ll be a lot of people in the audience who might not have seen the videos, but have heard that we give one of the best live shows out there!

You’re playing some stunning venues across the tour – are there any particular cities you look forward to visiting when on the road?

We're really looking forward to every venue on this tour. We know it’s a special tour—it’s the first time Robert and I have done anything like this. We’ve had the most special summer doing the festivals and we now feel we want the intimacy of this particular tour. I can tell you that Robert is looking forward to Wimborne as that’s where he was born and the Tivoli means everything to him. I’m looking forward to Cheltenham because my mother was an actress, singer, and dancer and that’s where she performed in her teens. Harrogate will be special as we love it, Whitley Bay again very special. Salford Lowry we love and respect, and think it is such a culturally important place. We feel that way about everywhere we’re going. We can’t wait to do Worthing, Liverpool Philharmonic which is just going to be amazing, Bury St Edmunds - I adore The Apex it’s one of my favourite venues, Basingstoke we are so proud to know this is virtually sold out—it’s a magnificent venue and I’ve even done theatre there. Shepherds Bush, I normally play there with the SAS band and with Roger Taylor from Queen, and now we’re headlining it ourselves! Buxton Opera House - adore it, Buxton is a magical place. Shrewsbury is absolutely wonderful, I’ve been there many times to sing and be in theatre, Swansea Grand again my mother performed there in the 1940s so it’s so exciting to be there. Birmingham Town Hall - my home town! We really are looking forward to every single one of these gigs.

You’ve covered a wide range of artists during ‘Sunday Lunch’ – what are your stand out favourites?

The extraordinary thing about doing Sunday Lunch is that I found it an education in how eternal and sustaining great music is, and what I mean by that is that we’ve covered many decades within the Sunday Lunch “brand" and it’s astonishing how some songs just are unbeatable. I think when you look at 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath and then 'Poison' by Alice Cooper, these are absolute classics. They’ve never been bettered. Billy Idol’s 'White Wedding', 'Rebel Yell', they just stand alone as great pieces of writing. When you start to learn them you think ‘oh this is quite basic’ - well they’re not, every chord and note has been chosen with impeccable and incredible taste, and this is why we respect them so much. We’ve performed Motley Crue and Poison, and that was a trip down memory lane because those boys really rocked. The memories are special, the writing is special, the artists are special and have achieved incredible careers, and that’s why I love performing and touching on the memory of these songs, they’re all fantastic.

Similarly, have you ever approached a track and had to walk away because you couldn’t get it just right?

Funnily enough we have, and we’re still debating it. This particular track worked fantastically for Sunday Lunch and it’s The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’, which we all love, but it just doesn’t work if you’re not a DJ/dance set up. We rehearsed it with the band but it’s almost as if the band is too musician orientated. We don’t feel we can get that power across and we don’t want to do an interpretation of the song. We want to perform the living, breathing moment of the song and with ‘Firestarter' we couldn’t quite get that raw anarchic power because we’re mainly a guitar band. We’ve put that on the back burner but it hasn’t gone away because the band want to do it, but Robert feels it doesn’t represent the song well enough. Because that particular Sunday Lunch episode went so viral all around the world, we entered a space where the song could be interpreted as joke, and we don’t want to do that to any of the artists we’re covering—there’s no joke about this music, the joke behind Sunday Lunch was spitting in the eye of COVID. Music was the saviour, so we’ve been really deliberate and careful about respecting the songs we choose to cover.

For any fans still on the fence – what advice would you give them to nudge towards buying a ticket?

We’ve put a whole year of thought into this tour and we want people to walk into the auditorium and make new memories, special memories of the night and specular performances of these brilliant songs. What we know is that everyone in the audience will have their own special memories of when they first heard these songs, and we’ve deliberately chosen very powerful songs for this tour like 'Kashmir' by Led Zeppelin, 'Free World' by Neil Young - songs that resonate in all our lives. They have such strength in the memory cells of our individual lives, but at the same time we want everyone to know that we are celebrating the audience that’s followed us and trusted us in lockdown, and celebrating with each other the pure joy of playing live that was taken from us from over a year and a half in 2020. So this is very much a celebration and I really like to think that it’s also a role reversal - we’re not getting on stage saying ‘look at us, we’re rockstars’ - we’re going on stage and saying to the audience ‘look at you, you are heroes’ and that’s it, we’re celebrating the audience and the music.

Final tickets are on sale now!

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Hey - I'm Callum. Fan of The National, collector of vinyl, season ticket holder at Leeds United, owner of Dougal the cat.

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