Just Seventeen

15 November 1984

Two's company

Strawberry Switchblade are Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson. They dress alike, write songs together and no doubt fight over who gets to wear the black lace gloves tonight. But it wasn't always like that. Bev Hillier reports.

When Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall first met at a punk disco in 1977 they couldn't even pluck up the courage to talk to one another. Their boyfriends, who were good friends, introduced the two shy Glaswegian punks to each other and four years later they formed a group - Strawberry Switchblade.

'It took us four years to say hello to each other,' jokes Rose, 24. 'We were both really shy. We used to walk around behind our boyfriends in silence like Japanese women walk behind their husbands,' laughs Jill, 23.

With just four songs to their name and very little musical ability (Jill boasting three chords and Rose a little guitar and piano - 'not like a piano player though') they both agreed that a duo wasn't a very good idea. They drafted in two more girls, to drum and play bass. But after one disastrous gig - and a run-in because songwriters Jill and Rose wanted more say - they reverted back to a duo, with extra help from James Kirk of Orange Juice.

Next came an offer of two sessions in the same week from Radio One. 'We were so worried because we thought, oh no there's only the two of us, and we had about two weeks to do eight songs for John Peel and Kid Jensen,' says Rose.

'We only had eight songs at the time anyway which was lucky. When I listen to those vocals now I think oooooh God'. Gill doesn't agree: 'I quite like them. That was what got us a publishing deal and eventually a record deal, after all'.

Moving down to London at this time they brought only their essentials - Rose's sewing machine and one deaf cat, and Gill's three cats ('shame they can't sew,' she quips). They released their first single but unfortunately nothing came of it. Now a year later their second single Since Yesterday has just been released, their first album is completed and due out in January, and they plan to play a few live dates in small theatres around Christmas.

Playing live puts them both on edge. 'We get quite nervous,' admits Rose. 'I mean my voice normally wobbles through half the set and I try to hold my knees together so they don't look like they're wobbling too'.

'The first harmony is like so high,' pipes Jill, 'and you're really scared so it goes higher and right off key. I get scared at the sound of my own voice'.

Their visually striking image made up of home-made polka dot dresses, stripes, ribbons, flowers and heavy make-up is something they've both been piling on for years. 'When we were punks we were much more outrageous than this,' says Rose. 'We've toned it down'.

Both sets of parents were a little unsure of their daughters images in 77 but not now. Jill's hated her punk look. 'They'd say 'you look a right mess' and 'you can't go out looking like that'. Now when I go home underdressed my dad says 'where's your ribbons, put your flowers in' or 'you're not wearing that dress again'.'

Rose's on the other hand were convinced she was mad in her younger days. 'They still think I'm quite outrageous but they like it because they see other famous people and think it's going to make me money. They're so proud now they go round all the wee shops and show their friends the magazines we're in'.

Reading about her in the local Scottish newspaper The Daily Record and seeing her daughter on TV is fame enough for Rose's mum. 'Can you believe it,' laughs Rose, 'there was this big picture in the paper and my mum framed it. She's got it sitting on top of her TV'.

Hopefully if Since Yesterday is a hit Rose and Jill will be appearing on the screen, and not just the top of Mrs McDowall's TV.