On With The Show

The Cabaret may be over for Toyah Willcox but she's still got plenty to sing about. Jill Eckersley sounds out her new album...

Despite her stint in the West End musical Cabaret coming to such an abrupt end recently, after a dramatic walk-out by the production's orchestra over allegations of drunkeness and incompetence, the show must still go on for Toyah. For starters there's her brand new album, Desire, just out..."I wanted to make an album which expressed a lot of different emotions from a woman's point of view," she explains. "There's a modern feminist feel to it. I think we are moving into an era where independent, intelligent women feel that they can be feminine too. I'm a great supporter of women because I think we have a unique spirit, though maybe I'm not a true feminist, because so much of my work is based on sexuality." 

Obviously she's committed wholeheartedly to her latest vinyl offering but surely she must have been disappointed when her role as Sally Bowles in the ill-fated musical was so suddenly curtailed? It is naturally a very sensitive subject and Toyah is reluctant to enter into slanging matches about the quality of the orchestra, who, it was alleged, played practical jokes, turned up drunk and played out of tune! "Being a rock musician, you're used to battling against lousy musicians," she shrugs. "Generally it was a happy show, and most of us stuck to the professional discipline. For me Cabaret was very enjoyable." 

She has certainly moved on from the flame-haired Punk Princess of Jubilee, Quadrophenia and The Tempest. And not only has she had the controversy of Cabaret to contend with, she has also just celebrated her first year of married life to rock virtuoso Robert Fripp of King Crimson. 

"Married life is fine, but I don't get much of it," she says dryly. "I have a flat in London and Robert has a house in Dorset. At the moment, we don't see that much of each other. He worked on my album with me and we've decided to work together much more in the future so that we can actually be together more." 

Like a lot of working women, in and out of show business, Toyah is inclined to feel the conflict between her career demands and her relationship. 

"But I could never, ever give up my career and just be a wife. My life is motivated and regenerated by my work, and I'm at my best and most balanced when I'm working. When I'm not, I just fall asleep! Besides, I think it's very important for a woman to be financially independent. Part of the basis of our marriage is that we both pay our own way. I suppose when you have children you have to surrender that independence for a time, but neither of us want children"...

She sounded so adamant about this that I had to ask her why. 

"I can't identify with children at all, and I don't feel that I need them in my life," she maintains. "Any maternal instinct I have is directed towards humanity as a whole, not just a small nuclear family. We should be protecting people, animals, plants from all the new and lethal problems which affect us all. Everyone, all over the world, has the right to work, to food and warmth, so they feel it's good to be alive!" 

However, Toyah avoids making any overt political statements in her work. "All I can do is give people pleasure by performing and maybe prove something by the way I live - encouraging vegetarianism, for instance," she says. "I can't change the world, no entertainer can do that, but I can at least be aware of what's going on. Great Britain is a very divided country at the moment and that distresses me." 

Toyah feels that Eighties teenagers are a lot brighter and more aware than she was. "I come from a middle-class background, and it was only through Punk that I became aware of the desperation and frustration of working class problems," she admitted. "I'd never been unemployed, so I didn't know what it was like. I'm very concerned to keep people off drugs, too." 

She also feels that AIDS poses a different kind of sexual pressure from the kind she grew up with. "If you didn't sleep with a boy on your first date you were ridiculed," she said. "Pressures like that have got to change and women have to learn to say no. As for AIDS, well, casual sex has never appealed to me. I'm a one man woman. In fact I think the AIDS threat is going to save a lot of show business marriages! If you have to be apart a lot, unfaithfulness can be a problem. On the other hand, if you're single and you meet someone you really like, it's sad to have to tell them you're not going to have sex for three months until they've taken an AIDS test! I'm also glad to see TV and the media being positive and informative, and the rock business doing such a lot to help." 

It's three years since Toyah last made an album and she says that Desire is more rock oriented than her earlier work. She co-wrote most of the songs and among the musicians she used, apart from her husband, was Rolling Stones guitarist, Ron Wood. Amazingly, Toyah says her earliest inspiration came from The Sound Of Music! 

"I saw it about seven times," she admitted. "I loved the innocence, the naiveté, and above all the idea of giving pleasure to an audience. That's when I decided I had to act and sing." 

Maybe in Hollywood? I suggested. "I'd love to!" was Toyah's response. "I love Harrison Ford and Martin Sheen and all those American stars. I'm not sure I'd fit into the Hollywood system though. If I don't like people I tend to tell them to f... off!" 

MS London, June 1987
Thanks to Michael Cooney