15 January 1983EVERY WITCH WAY BUT LOOSE
by MARK COOPER
Rose and Jill of Strawberry Switchblade may look like Macbeth's weird witches but sisters they aren't. "We actually think we dress quite differently," complains Jill, "but other people still get the wrong name in the third meeting!"
Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson come from Glasgow and have known each other for years. They'd drifted apart when punk arrived in Scotland and brought together a lot of folks who normally wouldn't have met. They discovered a mutual love of polka dots and took it form there, growing together like a couple of hothouse plants.
"One of us will get an idea and the other will think, 'That's great!' and share it. We go out shopping together. We have different shoe sizes, the rest we fight over - good naturedly, of course. Most of our clothes we make - we even sew on our own dots!"
Rose remembers having a polka dot dress when she was wee and claims that, "everyone wears polka dots when they're six months old." Once the girls had polka dots everything just evolved. "If you get the idea, everything just seems to sprout from it..."
Everything includes all kinds of accessories, from earrings that look like chandeliers to ribbons that are almost floor-length. Strawberry Switchblade have fertile heads like overgrown gardens and hair like Egyptian haystacks.
Rose comes from Darnley in Glasgow where, according to Jill, she is notorious. "Everybody in Darnley knows us now," she explains, "all the little kids talk to us and grannies keep jewellery for us. They'd look at us now if we didn't dress up. It'd be horrible if people did make a fuss. If you're dressing up all the time, the last thing you want is people bothering you..."
The girls remember playing scary games in the local graveyard when wee; playing with caterpillars in hedge leaves, catching bumble bees and letting them go. Rose has a spider and feeds it flies, Jill lives in the centre of Glasgow and has a cat that sits on her shoulders when she's cutting out material. Rose can't wait until she has lots of money and can afford to live in the Highlands, Jill just wants a garden, not a mountain or a loch. Like the weird sisters, the two seem to have sprung out of the dark mists of Celtic faery - a notion born out by their songs. Who'd have thought they come from housing estates in Glasgow?
Witches always invent themselves. Why else would the church have burned them but for their independence and knowledge of nature? After punk, Rose and Jill formed a group and began to learn guitar (not necessarily in that order). Their inspiration came from the softer songs of the Velvet Underground. As followers of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and the rest will know, everyone in Glasgow has the Velvets 'Banana' album on the coffee table.
"We loved the slow songs because they're great to listen to in the dark with your eyes closed," says Rose. "We formed a group as an excuse to spend more money on clothes. At first we just thought we'd make a lot of noise but we got bored with that after three minutes and started learning a few chords on acoustic guitar..."
Strawberry Switchblade formed round the name, the invention of James Kirk. At first they were a four-piece, all women. Rose and Jill liked the protection of bass and drums behind them but soon grew tired of the rhythm section's tendency to reduce all their songs to the same tempo. A duo was born! "We only play slow songs," says Jill." That's all we can play. People tend to stare with their mouths open. At some places we're just an interruption to the disco. We prefer being heckled to being stared at but the best place we've played was a small coffee house in Glasgow. No-one chattered! It was a lot more pleasant thatn going to rock clubs. Neither of us have enjoyed going to live gigs for a long time..."
Despite their na´vete, Rose and Jill have canny wits and soon learnt to deal with difficult audiences. They've recently completed a support slot with Orange Juice and a couple of sessions with Radio One.
Signed to Zoo publishing, they're learning to deal with the excited sniffings of major record companies. "We don't want to release a single too early and have people asking, 'Who were those funny girls?' in a year's time," explains Jill. "We don't have a very wide knowledge of music - I don't even have a record player. Right now we want to get a few more songs behind us and practise some more."
Next year we'll be hearing a lot of Strawberry Switchblade's quietly haunting songs, folk ballads on the eerie side of twee. Meanwhile the girls are concerned to convey the right impression.
"People expect us to sound punky because of the make-up so we try to smile a lot to reassure them: we're lovely people, really. The people who hear our music tend to describe it as 'lovely or nice or beautiful' rather than 'great'. Everybody can be great - not everybody can be lovely. Our main problem is the ribbins falling on to the guitar strings while we're playing. We need a ribbon roadie and someone who'll iron our clothes before we go onstage. Oh, and someone to tune the guitars..."