26 January 1985
Three Steps To Stardom
How Strawberry Switchblade made it
By Eleanor Levy
Jill Bryson is short and red haired. Rose McDowall is even smaller and raven haired. They have heavy Scots accents, a taste for tall haircuts, make-up (lots of it) and dresses of their own creation which are, umm, visible. They form Strawberry Switchblade, the polka-dot 'n' lace duo who, after the odd false start, have finally commandeered our TV screens and wormed their way into our (c)harts with their single 'Since Yesterday'.
Two years ago, still living in their native Glasgow, they were interviewed in Record Mirror. At that time they described their main problem as "our ribbons falling on to the guitar strings when we're playing".
They seem to have coped with that OK, as the years have seen Glasgow replaced by flats in the flowery North London suburb of Muswell Hill. But what are the steps the duo have had to climb to bring them to such a heady peak?
First up, form your band. A name helps. Strawberry Switchblade means... well, nothing at all really and was thought up by one James Kirk, a friend and then with Orange Juice. At this point, the group was a foursome.
"One day," Rose explains, "we had this big meeting and me and Jill decided we wanted to make this our lives and start taking it seriously". So bass and drums departed to their respective jobs as teacher and secretary and are no doubt kicking themselves at this very moment.
Second point. Get yourselves a publishing deal. This materialised via Bill Drummond, manager of Echo And The Bunnymen, who licensed them to his company Zoo.
"He heard us on our sessions for Kid Jensen and John Peel," Jill explains, once more showing the important contribution Peel, in particular, has made to the breaking of new bands.
"Bill came down to see us in Glasgow with David Balfe (ex-Teardrop Explodes)". Balfe is now their manager - adding to the odd tinkling of the ivories when the need arises.
"They actually blushed when they came in to see us," laughs Rose, "so we thought, 'aaah, they cannae be that bad'."
The first single, 'Trees And Flowers', follows. Guests include Roddy Frame and Bedders and Woody of Madness. It's not a hit but picks up a fair bit of radio play. The seeds are well and truly sown.
Get a major record company with lots of lovely money interested in you. WEA duly oblige. Jill and Rose know the way they look helped - a colourful image ready made for the marketing department.
"I think it co-incided really," Jill explains. "Obviously, they'll want to get the look over because it's a good selling point, but we're not bothered about that. If it gets us noticed I don't care."
"And if that was all they wanted us for," Rose comes in, "they would never let us be so precious about our music. We signed over 18 months ago and they never pushed us to get something out quickly."
When the subject of how much money the company have provided in the interim comes up, Rose answers. "We actually owe more money than I could ever have imagined owing anybody, what with recording costs and everything."
"But it's worth it," Jill adds. "You have to fight through to begin with to get anywhere.
"And the record company did keep working for us. Our radio plugger Steve was really convinced. He'd say 'I'm not giving up on it'. He'd keep promising all these DJs it was going to go top 20 and they'd say 'yeah, yeah'. He really had to fight to stop them dropping it."
So, 'Since Yesterday' enters the charts... dribbles up, then down, then up again, then down. Oh well.
"It went up and down three times," says Jill. "Every time, you thought that was it. Finished."
"Each time you'd say, 'Oh, it was good it got that high'," continues Rose. "But underneath you couldn't wait until Tuesday to find out where it was in the charts. But when it went in at 32 it was a real shock. I fell over when they phoned to tell me."
Get yourself a prime and plump support slot to a big star. Being on the same record label can often help. Jill and Rose accompany Howard Jones around the concert halls of the country. Did he choose them for their fine musical talents?
"No," grins Jill. "We're vegetarians."
"He has a vegetarian road crew," adds Rose.
"So when WEA suggested it he probably thought 'oh yeah, they're vegetarians, they'll do'. We had met him before though, so we already knew him a little."
With the press latching on to their larger than life image, TV appearances galore follow. Strawberry Switchblade are never off the telly and 'Since Yesterday' goes top 10. They wake up at four in the morning to go on 'Breakfast Time' and have to face Noel Edmonds' blow wave on Christmas morning with the squaddies on the Falklands. You finally know you've arrived though, when you get THAT call. Top Of The Pops...
"When you have the run-through earlier in the day," Rose explains, "you just feel really stupid, standing there miming and dancing away to a tape that's so quiet you can hardly hear it."
"But then we had some champagne," say Jill with a wide grin, "and that helped. Don't know what I would have done without it."