In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Hmmm–“In the Spotlight” could well be the giveaway, being exactly where at least half of this odd couple seems, more than anything else, to want to be. Odd couple? Well, back in the day, I daresay that the idea of Robert Fripp, the complex guitar wrangler of King Crimson fame, besuited and besitted always, having a lengthy and lasting marriage with Toyah Willcox, the punk-pop princess of Birmingham with the look-at-me dramatics, was not one of life’s great certainties.
I confess to being quite delighted by the couple’s first forays into Sunday Lunchtime COVID-19 entertainment, as much for the bizarre hoops Mrs. Fripp could put her permanently-bemused husband through, in the sake of raising the spirits of those who stumbled onto these little vignettes of, apparently, their life.
According to Willcox, the purpose of these weekly vids was primarily to lift Fripp out of the black dog that permeated him as lockdown locked down, depriving him of both an outlet for and an income for his art. So, on 5th April 2020, those idly browsing the net became party to the extraordinary image of the couple, dressed to the nines, having a bop to Bill Haley’s vintage hit, “Rock Around the Clock.” And looking to be having a whale of a time.
Since then the habit has stuck, varying in name from Toyah and Robert’s Sunday Lunch to Lockdown Lunch, and, more often than not, consisting of a venerable cover version being played from within their kitchen. Viewers get to see Robert, invariably in a collar, waistcoat and tie under his Saville Row suit, sitting to the left of the screen, with Toyah, in and out of ever more extraordinary (and revealing) outfits, as she bellows along the vocal line. Sometimes there’s a third character, the mysterious figure in the background, toting extra guitar. Sometime Fripp is extravagantly made up, or down, in the flavor of the requisite song, but he still manages to offer an air of distraction from the cavortings of his wife.
These little set pieces swiftly took over from the more freeform style of the pair, both in tutus, dancing to Swan Lake, with songs plucked across the musical spectrum, from golden age classics to punk anthems. Musically, they can be interesting, although I suspect the visuals are perhaps the greater grab on a viewing public.
Anyhow, let’s have a look and a listen, concentrating, of course, on the musical surprises. You will have to peruse the YouTube site to find the originals, the Bill Haley and the Swan Lake, as they, not being covers, fall outwith my strict remit. But here is my pick of the still ongoing series…
Toyah and Robert – Zombie (The Cranberries cover)
First off, here’s the relative restraint of the Cranberries classic, taken quite straightly, guitar and vocals, almost sweet in the construction, allowing it to be picked apart for its requisite parts. Toyah has sung worse, even attempting the glorious Dolores O’Riordan yelps. OK, she fails, but most fall at that particular post. It’s prompting a good cause, apart from (if as well as) themselves, so that’s all good too.
Toyah and Robert – My Generation (The Who cover)
Back to last year, from the run of vids that include the (sensibly?) masked man, the show then given away by revealing his name, one Sidney Jake, Robert’s pupil turned Toyah’s guitar teacher. “My Generation,” the Who staple for those who wish to die rather than decay, has seemed more ridiculous, thinking perhaps of the times when the residual actual band lever it out for current audiences, but this is a lively rendition, with praise for thin red rope. What do you think of Fripp’s fauxhican? It’s a look he maintained for some time thereafter.
Toyah and Robert – Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones cover)
Sorry if this is descending into increasingly accidental reveals of Mrs. Fripp’s décolletage, but I actually like the ridiculousness of this one, the almost ludicrous idea of the never more cerebral Fripp engaging with the never less cerebral gabba gabba of the Ramones. Still with his punky tufts standing tall, the makeup makes up for a thoroughly enjoyable brain twist of some epic contortion. Toyah? Let’s say it doesn’t stretch her range. (Love Fripp’s 1,2,3,4!)
Toyah and Robert – Silver Machine (Hawkwind cover)
Well, what can I say? The video actually brings back all sort of memories of Stacia, the dancer who graced Hawkwind’s earlier days with little more than paint. Wilcox certainly looks the part, but her vocal is curiously, almost deliberately awry. Rather than Lemmy’s raw bark, she affects a polite received English BBC pronunciation, perhaps to complement Fripp’s stage directorial backing “vocals” (instructions?). Jake is thrashing away manfully, as ever.
Toyah and Robert – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana cover)
I rather like this one. And that looks like a flicker of a smile crossing the guitarist’s lips, as he relishes wrangling the chords out his guitar. I also like the attention to detail, each affecting, at least to start, the bespectacled tortured artist look of Cobain. As a version it is passable, although I would love, again, a bit of mid-Atlantic to drop into the delivery, it otherwise pushed toward the limits of where respect becomes parody.
Toyah and Robert – You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)
Another one where the joy is seeing Fripp thrash out the power chords, the feeling that he could do it in his sleep, and maybe wishes he were. Hang on for the bonus material, where we get to see Mr. Jake’s face, and it all begs the question as to which is real and which is the dream sequence. I think the format suits dumbass songs better than anything with much musical heft.
Toyah and Robert – Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols cover)
I am sorry for the deluge of décolletage here, but I felt it worth a show, more for the final logical extension of King Crimson as a punk rock institution, it a joy to see the dyed green tonsure and the vest. Willcox’s hair is also suitably Jordanesque for the King’s Road, 1977. The cavorting? Well, maybe worth it for Fripp’s appalled expression as he gets up unexpectedly close to his spouse.
I think you have, by now, got the gist, as I try to encircle the limits around the safety for work credentials of these vignettes. Those keen to explore further can subscribe and purchase merchandise aplenty. Amongst the huge array of available material, perhaps my favorite is where they poke fun at their relative positions in the wide-ranging world of popular music. Not a cover but still well worth including here.