Mike Davies explores the shadows with Toyah
Two years ago Toyah Willcox upset a lot of men
with the release of an album called Prostitute. Many, it seemed, were affronted
by the very word (people walked out of sales meetings refusing to handle
the record) rather than the album's exploration of the roles women play
and men expect them to play. It was a sobering but valuable experience
for the singer, especially since one of the crucial aspects of the work
was about the way she had felt exploited as a singer and an artist. Prostitute
was her stand against the business.
"In the past the biggest problem was that I felt
I and the music were just product. I began to feel I wasn't developing
as a singer or a person, that I'd become a fashion victim. People were
putting product out in my name and I was having to take the criticism for
it. I decided I'd had enough, that if anything was released then I had
to be totally responsible for what was on it and that it was my own voice.
Prostitute was an attempt to be honest, to turn my rage into something
An act embodied in the image of Ophelia's Shadow.
"Your shadow always follows you and you can never
be shadowless. It represents the worst part of us, the part that reacts
with anger, the demon. In Hamlet Ophelia falls in love, is tormented, goes
mad and drowns herself. My Ophelia doesn't drown herself. She uses the
water in which she's surrounded to sail away. Water is a cleansing metaphor
and the shadow is about recognising the darkside and using it creatively
Like Prostitute, the new album is essentially
"But I try and use it in a way that other people
can identify. Women understand it instantly. Men see it from the point
of view of their relationships with women and feel alienated and angered.
I have no aggression towards men. The majority of my work is self-observation
and if a man takes it as criticism then he's seeing it the wrong way. Women
understand instantly. I've always felt women are irrational but that's
what's so wonderful about them. It's a fact that we change chemically,
that we have a new skeleton every three months. Change is inevitable and
only through death can you have rebirth. Decay always nourishes something
else. But in the West we like to stay rooted in the ideas of house and
family. I want to challenge that, to make women realise we have to motivate
our own future and that they have to learn not to react aggressively to
men when they are honest with us. "
The album is also very much about identity and
the masks we offer to others and ourselves. It may be about femininity
but there's more than one aspect.
"It's like saying you can only write one book.
There's sexual femininity, and creative and maternal femininity too. They
are specific roles and there's many faces. You choose the one you want
"One face Toyah has chosen not to wear is that
"Work will always be my priority and I married
a man (Robert Fripp) who feels the same way. I think that was a responsible
thing to. I'm not going to have children. I have enough around me and I
love them, but I couldn't handle one being there all the time. Also I don't
like babies. they repulse me. There may come a time when I adopt, but I
don't think I'm mentally stable enough to have a child. I'd resent it because
I resent anything that keeps me in one place too long."
It's an honest statement many may find hard to
accept, but it's an honesty that infuses everything Toyah now does.
"I think you should be perceived for what you
are, what you do and how. Looking back I was a bitch, but I learned that
makes you cruel. The only truth you can find is being honourable in your
relationships with other people. I want to be accepted for what I am not
judged on face value. I can't stand being idolised. Fame was great, that
one year was tremendous fun but I can't tell you how much I cried because
of the way people acted like animals around me because I was famous. It
upset me dreadfully and I could never allow it to happen again.
"I can't live a life of obscurity. I'm gregarious,
I have to have people round me. It's why I work on stage. I have true artist
syndrome. I need an audience, I love working in front of people. It's the
most rewarding part of my life. It's the heart of me. I won't ever be an
utterly serious artist, there'll always be a sense of mischief. But that
doesn't mean I'm immature. People have described me as being like Puck
and I do identify with him. He irritates people and so do I. But as long
as it's done with humour that's all right. Positivity is the key."
Ophelia's Shadow is on EG Records.
Brum Beat, 1991
Thanks to Mike Davies, who interviewed Toyah,
for providing this