Think Positive

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 creative."

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 to survive."

Like Prostitute, the new album is essentially self-analytical.

"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 to wear."

"One face Toyah has chosen not to wear is that of motherhood.

"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