Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
16th October 2023
Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp bring their Bonkers Web show Sunday Lunch to the stage and Del Pike is there to watch the madness unfold.
What started as a fun diversion from the horrors of Covid – Toyah and Robert’s Sunday Lunch has bloomed into an ongoing project with an army of cult followers – who’d have thought it?
Their appearance at Glasto cemented the idea that their online videos were more than a passing fad, and this was a piss-take that had actual legs.
The premise; Robert Fripp, he of King Crimson fame, stares intently at a static camera, seated in his kitchen, strumming along to a classic pop/rock hit, whilst his wife, Toyah Willcox frantically sings along, manically striking shapes and dancing feverishly around the domestic studio. And all this happens at midday every Sunday.
The results are hilarious mainly, unnerving often, but always entertaining. Toyah’s outfits, which are always comically revealing, are as much a feature as the songs and performances, and often there may be a masked collaborator to add a bit of meat to the musical bones.
It’s a crazy concept that borders heavily on the surreal (Performance art over simple performance?) and now it has developed into a UK tour, calling in tonight at the Liverpool Philharmonic. Backed with a proper band, this promises to be less lo-fi than the online version, and one would hope so given that the audience are paying for the experience.
Bang on time the band take to the stage and we can hear an ephemeral refrain of Toyah’s own Thunder in the Mountains before the star herself leaps forth and belts out the song in its full glory. The voice is still there and the trademark hand movements. She has been continually doing this in endless 80s revival shows for some time now, so the magic remains – a promising start. Her sequinned dress is much more conservative than her online outfits too.
The rest of the show is a well-curated selection of hits that have appeared on their online show, punctuated with entertaining stories of Toyah’s career and why each featured song or artist holds a special place in her heart. This is fine, but her adoration of her husband Robert does start to wear a little thin, even in the first few interludes. The man is indeed a guitar legend, but we are reminded of this and of the fact he is a friend to the stars to the max.
His appearance on Blondie’s Parallel Lines leads to a roaring cover of Heart of Glass, his support slot at a Lenny Kravitz gig leads to Are You Gonna Go My Way and, his long-standing friendship with Robert Plant leads to a cover of Led Zep’s Kashmir, and so on.
It’s a double-edged sword this gig. The madness of the Sunday Lunch show is lost in the more formal gig delivery, and all musicians are excellent – no argument there. But without the manic humour of those much-watched performances, this is basically a karaoke. A very good karaoke, but a karaoke nonetheless.
The sheer amount of tee shirts tonight suggest that the audience is made up of die-hard Toyah fans who would go and see her washing her car, so to them this would probably be a step out of her normal shows into the world of novelty. It’s a complex affair.
The choices are surprisingly heavy, particularly in the second act, opening with Metallica’s Enter Sandman and including Alice Cooper’s School’s Out with Toyah swinging a baseball bat around (careful now!), Sweet Child O’ Mine and ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man.
There are a few moments that are undeniably cringey, none more so than a cover of Frankie’s Relax that starts with a slow sultry delivery into Robert’s eyes as she drools the “When you want to come” line just a little too intimately. Having already revealed their ages and warned us of what we were about to see, we could probably have benefitted from just a straight version of the song, performed on its home soil. When that eventually kicks in, its absolutely fine.
Bowie’s Fashion is pretty good (Robert played on that Don’t’cha Know) whilst Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World changes the tempo somewhat with its anti-war sentiment.
Overall, this is an enjoyable gig and only really suffers from the fact that it tries to translate the low-key D.I.Y style web show into a full-blown live experience- that bit doesn’t work. Taken on its own merits, however, it is a good night out. Towards the end, Toyah seems to relax a little more and belts out Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell brilliantly, and we forget this is a stage version of a novelty show. During this, her voice sounds remarkably like Siouxsie, and I wonder if a Banshees cover wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
She also shines when singing her own stuff, I Want to be Free (and earlier on, It’s a Mystery), and the crowd finally stands, she knows her own stuff inside out obviously and then finishes on the double whammy of Bowie’s Heroes and I Love Rock n’ Roll to tremendous applause.
Its difficult to know what to make of the show initially but having slept on it there is no denying it was fun and a good way to cheer up a chilly Monday night. Toyah was certainly enjoying herself (not sure about “Grumpy” Robert) and if this is how they want to spend their autumn years then we may as well join them for the ride.
Toyah and Robert can be found at can be found here:
All words by Del Pike, you can find more at his Author profile
Photos by Phil Newall
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