CHRIS: Shortly after I started running Toyah's fan club I recorded an interview with her. This was not printed in the fan club magazine - it was used as part of my "audio portfolio" for my attempts at getting a job in radio. In it she talks candidly about (the plays) “Cabaret”, “Three Men On A Horse” and (her solo album) “Desire.”
Toyah Willcox appeared earlier this year in the ill fated production of “Cabaret.” Now she’s back in the West End playing Mabel, a 1930’s gangster’s moll in a comedy “Three Men On A Horse” at the Vaudeville Theatre. I asked her how she got the part.
TOYAH: I went along to an audition. I was called to audition for “Three Men On A Horse” (in 1987, below), about two months ago at the National Theatre and they sent me the script and you go along and you do a reading with the casting and with the National Theatre you don’t always meet the director straight off.
I didn’t meet Jonathan Lynn, who directs the play - I didn’t meet him until a week into rehearsals. So I did the reading with the casting people, got the job and started two weeks later.
CHRIS: Do you enjoy it?
TOYAH: Do I enjoy … ?
CHRIS: Do you enjoy the play now?
TOYAH: Oh, yeah - I enjoy the play very much, it’s great fun. It helps when the mental attitude of the character you’re playing is healthy and the character “Mabel” is just very – I don’t think she’s thick even though on the surface she’s a dumb blonde. I don’t think she’s thick at all, I think she’s quite shrewd and a lot if instinct and things like –instinctive creature.
CHRIS: She seems to be a bit of a Marilyn Monroe type character when I saw it -
TOYAH: Yes, she is a fashion piece of the 30’s. It was very peroxide and women were performing a feminine role then. It’s very very dated to a woman’s place in a society now but at the same time a lot of her reactions and actions are done upon instinct.
But anyway, I enjoy it very much and it’s nice to come off stage feeling good rather than wretched. “Cabaret” left me feeling very depressed at the end of each show because it’s just the way “Cabaret” was.
CHRIS: I suppose it has a rather depressing ending?
CHRIS: And did you have any doubts about going more or less straight from play to play without leaving time for the promotion of your album “Desire” which was released shortly after “Cabaret” finished?
TOYAH: No, because my attitude toward the music industry isn’t very good at the moment. I don’t feel – I found myself in a situation of emotional prostitution to sell a piece of music. And I’m not prepared to do that any more. “Desire” is my last solo album, I won’t do another one. And I certainly – say if I ever -I’m in a band now and if the band takes off and I want to do a solo vocal project I will never sell it in a way I used to.
Especially in this country because I feel there is an attitude geared towards success, a superficial success rather than the success of the piece music you’ve done. And people don’t see the achievement within the music, they see the achievement on the surface level of you know, what clothes you’re wearing and what TV’s you’ve been on and how many fans turn up when you do something. I think that’s just not important.
And I’d rather be - have the music recognised for what it is at that moment. With “Desire” – which was an hell of an album to make - I had a lot of arguments with A&R and things like that.
One person in particular who tried to stop the album because I wouldn’t do any cover versions. Things like that. I’ve decided not make another solo album. But my commitment to music is greater now than it’s ever been and I’ve now formed a band and I will only work with that band in the public eye.
CHRIS: How do you feel about “Desire” as an end product? Were you pleased the way it came out?
TOYAH: I think it’s got very good songs on it. I’m not pleased with the way – it was taken out of my hands once I’d put the vocals down on it – it was taken out of my hands by someone who I had lots of arguments with who’s now left this office. Because it was him or me.
And I literally divorced myself from the album as soon I’d done the vocals and I’d already shot the album cover and as a piece of marketing, the image and everything I’m very happy with.
The songs I think are very good songs. But I couldn’t get involved on the production side because there was someone involved who I wouldn’t work with. And it became a huge political issue. So I just walked a way from it.
CHRIS: I gather it wasn’t your idea to do the cover versions?
TOYAH: No, not at all. But I could only raise the money to do rest of the album by saying I’d do the cover versions.
CHRIS: Did you actually get to choose the songs you were doing or were they suggested to you as well?
TOYAH: No, they were suggested as well. I mean my biggest argument is “Love’s Unkind” which I think is a pile of trash! And I was stopped from doing interviews because I was mentioning this person and what this person did.
And the record company said look "don’t do interviews if you can’t support the album – don’t do it" so literally I had nothing to do with it. Went straight into “Three Men On A Horse”.
CHRIS: And how was it working with your husband on the album because it’s obviously it’s the first real musical project you’ve worked with him?
TOYAH: It was great! I mean he was the only thing that kept me sane on that album. I think the team was very good. We had Mike Hedges producing and Haydn Bendall engineering. Perfect team – no problem at all. Very good musicians as well.
But it just took one nerd who really wanted to put his impression on this album and wouldn’t see me as an individual. Just saw me as a female. And that literally was the cancer within the project.
But working with Robert was great. Robert kept me sane and if anything I had to pull him in on meetings all the time to get things done.
The new band is with Robert and Robert’s contributing the music, I’m contributing the lyrics. We realised that’s the only way that I’ll be able to work within the chauvinistic industry. I’m fed up with fighting men all the time. So if I’m in a band I can just get on do the singing and do the writing and be left alone and let the politics happen with someone else.
Toyah leaving the Vaudeville Theatre
with her husband Robert Fripp in 1987
with her husband Robert Fripp in 1987
CHRIS: Do you think that’s something you’ve suffered with for a long time because even though officially in the past you were the “Toyah band” you were always seen as a solo artist?
TOYAH: I didn’t mind that because the band was good and you had a relationship with musicians. What I don’t like and haven’t liked - say on the “Minx”, which I think is a very good album and won’t suffer in time -I didn’t like working with different session musicians coming in for different numbers.
I like having a team that you work with. And I think that is the strength of the music when you have a team with one language and that’s what I’m looking for in the future. I’d tried to get it on this album but just didn’t get it.
CHRIS: It was still just various musicians coming in and going out again?
TOYAH: We had a pretty solid set of musicians but still we didn’t have the rehearsal time. I wanted to tour this album before we recorded it and that just wasn’t feasible and I think the songs would’ve grown from that. Robert believes in that way too.
So what we’ve literally had to do is to put a wall around us to stop these things happening. But I don’t feel bitter - I feel they’re lessons learned. I really don’t think “Desire” is a bad album at all. I think it’s pretty good in places. But I want to take my future seriously and I’ve just had to iron out certain methods really.
CHRIS: What are you planning to do when you finish your run in the play?
TOYAH: Well, I start recording next week. I’m recording with Steve Harley – a separate project and then I go on to record an another single project which is me and Robert, songs that I pulled out off the album because the album wasn’t being recorded in the right way.
And these are songs that have to be performed live so I am still recording on certain levels. Robert and I are writing for the band which we plan to be recording and touring by April next year. But Robert has a King Crimson album to deliver in November.
CHRIS: Oh, it’s still going on then?
TOYAH: Oh yeah. So we’re pretty busy on the music side. It’s just focusing and developing. I go to Australia with him in February to be writing and recording for the band project. So I’ll probably leave “Three Men On A Horse” by February.
CHRIS: So is this quite a long time in a play then? A long time commitment to the play?
TOYAH: Six month commitment. I’m due to leave at Xmas but I might stay on. I don’t want to have any holiday or anything like that so I’ll stay on 'til my next work commitment and there’s possibly a film. Robert’s doing music for a science fiction film next year and they’re interested in me for the second female lead. But I don’t know if I’ve got that yet. If I get that that will radically change next year.
CHRIS: How’s the play been received generally by the press and everything?
TOYAH: It’s a hit by the press. It’s a huge hit. We haven’t had a bad review yet. The only criticism I had it was in the paper called “The Stage” which said I hadn’t got the rhythm of my accent right and that’s literally the only criticism I’ve had. In the industry and in the review stages it’s the biggest hit I’ve ever had. And it’s now selling out so it looks it will be running after I’ve left, easily.
CHRIS: So it must be in a way much more satisfying than “Cabaret” because in “Cabaret” you were joining a successful production already whereas in this thing you help start something up?
TOYAH: Well, it’s – I try not be involved on that level because I don’t think that is of importance to a performer. It certainly is a very gratifying play to do, because you’re working with a team – I think that if you work with good people they pull you up to their level. And I’ve learned a lot from this team. They’re highly professional, highly skilled and very nice people to go with it.
They’ve pulled me out of the black rut I ended up in after “Cabaret” because the “Cabaret” thing was a battle to keep going and it is nice to step into something like this that’s lighthearted and good. And it’s been appreciated. But I had the same with “Trafford Tanzi” - that was very enjoyable too. And it just all helps alter your attitude.
Toyah in "Cabaret" 1987
CHRIS: Out of all the acting mediums which to do prefer? I mean you’ve been working in the theatre a lot lately but would you like to get into a television series or a film or something like that?
TOYAH: I’d like – I don’t think I want to get into a series as such. I like short term things. So to do a film over a space of three months or to do TV over three months is perfect. Yes, I’d like that. In an ideal world I’d like to spend my year: six months on stage doing a theatre, three months doing a film and three months touring a band. In a perfect world.
But that’s just impossible. I’m not really in a league of doing films regularly. I haven’t done a film now for four years. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s quite natural and it’s quite normal. But I would like to be involved in that media more because through work I improve. If I don’t work I can loose five years experience through not working for six months.
CHRIS: Would you like to get involved in films on the other side of the cameras, perhaps directing or anything like that?
TOYAH: No, the only time I would like to get involved in that is to make my own videos and direct my own videos, budget them and everything. Because I do think it’s almost a contaminated area, it’s over budgeted. A lot of money is spent. OK, it gives people employment but I think money is wasted in certain areas. I’d like to be involved more on that.
Usually I just story board. Get involved on the image side and leave the rest up to a team and I’d quite like to be just more involved on the three minute epic. But really directing humans beings within the acting field - I don’t think I'm made for that.
CHRIS: Not even if it was perhaps some project that you were acting in and directing it?
TOYAH: No, I don’t think so. I think I might one day, just once. But it’s certainly not a life time ambition. I think it’s been many people’s downfall apart from Orson Wells or someone like that who are epic people and have that kind of energy.
But I think - I suppose a few women have done it. Who’s done it? Umm – oh god, Diane Keaton’s done it I think, with success and a few other women. American women seem good at it. But I just don’t think I’m cut out for that.
CHRIS: What would you like to be most remembered for? Because you’ve come from being a “punk” singer as a lot of people called to being a respected and serious actress but what would you most like people in the next century to remember you for?
TOYAH: I’ll be remembered for what I do around the age of 50 to 55. I won’t be remembered for the last ten years and in a way don’t feel I’ve done - I’ve touched anything I really want to do in the last ten years. I’ve looked on that as my training for what I’ll hopefully get onto next.
I think I’ll be remembered as a performer, singing and acting but not within – not touching remotely on what I’ve done so far. I don’t know what it’ll be but I kind of know that I’ll be remembered for my middle age rather than my teenage.
CHRIS: Thanks very much.
TOYAH: Thank you!
You can listen to the interview HERE
Chris Limb is the author of
I Was A Teeange Toyah Fan
Toyah with Chris in October 2011