MORE SONGS ABOUT... FLOWERS AND TREES
Strawberry Switchblade - Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson - formed about two and a half years ago in Glasgow. Before that Jill had been at art school, while Rose played drums in a band called The Promise [sic]. The two have known each other since 1977 when they met at a punk disco.
Jill: 'Punk was sort of banned in Glasgow, so we used to have to go to Paisley, which is just outside Glasgow, where we met. There weren't that many other punks in Glasgow, so we all just got to know each other.'
Having decided to work together, they acquired the name courtesy of Orange Juice's James Kirk, and eventually secured what was to be a notable and influential John Peel session. They then set off on a national tour as support to Orange Juice.
Rose: 'Everyone told us we'd hate going on the road but it was just so much fun, it was fantastic.'
Jill: 'It was just the to of us and our boyfriends. It was like going on holiday! We had a car, we didn't even have a van, it was just like all our clothes piled up in the back. We had these really cheap guitars that nobody could mike up properly and this reel to reel tape machine that kept breaking down. It was great fun! We were completely exhausted by the end of it though.'
Their first single, 'Trees And Flowers', followed in 1983 on Bunnyman Will Sergeant's '92 Happy Customers' label. It was a glorious piece of refreshing pop, catchy, bright, and well received, whilst credits boasted an impressive array of musicians. Something they look back now on with a mixture of affection and embarrassment.
Jill: 'Well, Nicky Holland, who wrote the oboe and french horn parts, had worked with the Funboy Three and knew Mark and Woody from Madness so asked them if they were interested, and our manager David Balfe knew Roddy Frame. So it was David Balfe and Bill Drummond producing, with Nicky, Mark, Woody and Roddy Frame on the record, and it was out on one of the Bunnymen's record label.
'I mean we didn't think about it when it was happening because we just thought it was dead good having them playing on it. Then we got the press for it and it just seemed to be a list of names, except for us! But I mean it wasn't like a publicity exercise or anything because it wasn't even going to come out as a single.'
Later on in the year, having signed a deal with WEA ('a one year contract disguised as a five year one - it has options every year'), they appeared success-bound. Since then though, little has been heard, though they have played a few isolated gigs, like the recent GLC Benefit with The Damned and Spear of Destiny.
Jill: 'That was a bit of a disaster, because you don't get a soundcheck and every other group were so loud they could just about get away with it. With us, you could really notice every wrong note, while the only thing we could hear on stage was the drum machine, and the volume was so low... what a nightmare! And we were hailed with cans and bottles the whole time... that and the wasps!'
As an expression of their support for the cause however, it was something they felt politically motivated to do.
Jill: 'It definitely doesn't show in the music! You could be embroidering table-cloths but you don't have to be embroidering GLC all over them to be politically active. I mean I was really keen to do that gig.'
The occasional performance aside though, it would seem that much of their time singing has been spent in various studios.
Jill: We've been through so many producers... oh it's terrible. We've recorded about five different things between then and now that just haven't worked out. You wouldn't think it was so complicated to put out a record.
'I mean I'm not joking, 'Trees And Flowers' was put out in about a week. We'd done a photo session in Rose's front room in Glasgow, we chose a picture, somebody put the writing on it and did the graphics and it got pressed up and that was it... and now it's like over a year - you keep thinking what if, what if... maybe we shouldn't put this out, maybe we shouldn't put that out, and what are people going to think if we put that out.'
Rose: 'I mean we haven't done anything so bad we wouldn't want it out, but I think you can just start to get a bit to precious.'
However, they have now recorded the LP after finally finding a compatible producer to work with in David Motion.
Rose: 'He's really good, next year everybody will know about him.'
Jill: 'He's just started producing and he's quite young and we tried a few different producers that we liked but it didn't work out that well, but as soon as we went into the studio with him it was great. And it's really good to have done it all at once in a certain way that we were happy with.'
Scheduled for release in October, it will be preceded by a single, 'Since Yesterday'. Switchblade, meanwhile, look to the future with a mixture of nerves and excitement.
Although it has been over a year since their first single, Strawberry Switchblade are now in a better position than ever to stake their claim to a prominent and deserving place in a current music scene that is currently filled with many other more prominent, but less deserving figures. Self-effacing and modest, they write sharp and neatly-focussed songs that suffuse warmth and beauty with an unpretentious and refreshing pop sensibility. They have talent, depth and rich promise.