23 March 1985
Let Her Go Out
Eighteen months ago Strawberry Switchblade moved from Glasgow to London. They got a grotty flat in Muswell Hill and sat in it. Not a great start, you might think. But Jill McDowall [sic] suffers from agoraphobia - a fear of the outdoors - and Rose Bryson [sic] wasn't going out by herself. So how come they're now standing on top of St Paul's Cathedral being photographed by John Stoddart? Paul Simper tries to find the courage to go up there and ask them…
As our car pulls up in front of St Paul's Cathedral, it's obvious that there's no such thing as a quiet day out with Strawberry Switchblade. Amongst the crowd of sightseers and businessmen rushing back to work just three things stand out - the building, Jill and Rose.
It's not really their fault. They're not leaping about singing their new single Let Her Go.
But when your dress-sense is enough to pale a peacock you can hardly help being noticed.
Already the tourists' shots of 'me in front of St Paul's' are turning into 'me with these weird girls in front of a church'. And Jill's agoraphobia is being tested to the full.
'I can handle it now,' she says. And just to prove it, she and Rose surround themselves with a coachload of schoolkids.
It's the same mayhem inside the building. A teacher has his history lesson interrupted as the girls tip-toe quietly down the aisle. While up in the Whispering Gallery Jill finds a new admirer whispering sweet nothings to her from the other side of the circular room.
But the girls take it all in their stride.
When your faint-hearted No.1 journalist freezes with an attack of vertigo (I knew I should have stayed in and done Claim To Fame), Rose and Jill climb up to the top, perch on the parapets and tolerate young men looking up their skirts.
And when that's all finished they're quite ready to chat and chuckle their way through a large Chinese meal.
What made you move down to London?
Jill: We had to move because we were so busy travelling from Glasgow to London! You get really sick of the train journeys - especially when it stops at Carlisle for two hours.
Rose: When we first arrived we lived together for a few months, which got a wee bit unbearable.
Jill: What d'you mean? I thought it was fine!
Rose: We got on well but Jill's boyfriend is like a non-stop talker. Jill's mastered the art of ignoring him and going to bed. But me and Peter used to be up till seven o'clock in the morning arguing about things.
Did you live together back in Glasgow?
Rose: No, we lived in completely different parts. Jill was right in the centre. I was right on the edge.
Jill: Rose had cows and sheep nearby.
Rose: It was a weird place. Like this housing estate in the middle of the countryside - but still in Glasgow.
Did it feel like a big step moving down?
Rose: Aye, it was. It very nearly killed us. We didn't know anybody and we weren't that busy either.
Jill: We had some friends from Glasgow in Fulham but that's miles away from Muswell Hill where we were. We hardly ever saw them. We knew our manager (ex-Teardrops member David Balfe) but he doesn't like socialising with us. He thinks we're stupid! He's taken pity on us lately and invited us out places…
Rose: He tells people you've got to look after the afflicted and that's why he's our manager.
Did you ever think of going back to Glasgow then?
Jill: I thought, I'm not going up for a holiday until I know I won't not come back.
Rose: I also kept my flat in Glasgow for ages cos I was too scared to give it up.
Do you go back much to see your families now?
Rose: No I've been back once. And once on the tour.
Jill: But they phone up every night…
Rose: It's rotten when they phone up and you've nothing new to tell them. My mum phones me and tells me what magazines we're in.
Jill: My dad phones up and tells us what single we should release - 'Why are you recording another single? Why aren't you taking it from the album? There's plenty of good things on the album, it's a waste of money…' (Especially when the LP isn't even released yet!)
Rose: Dead funny!
Do you find the two cities very different?
Rose: Even the air's different in London. When you go back to Glasgow, soon as you come out of the train station - and the station's in the centre of the city - the air just feels much fresher.
Jill: London is quite exciting though, especially when you're busy. We were talking to Tim Pope who's made the video for our new single Let Her Go. He was saying how a few years ago he'd do maybe one exciting thing a month, now he does ten exciting things a day.
Rose: It was dead weird when we just came away cos I'm form quite a big family. We've always been crowded, always had loads of people about - and then there was nobody. I was on my own in London at first and Jill was living with her boyfriend. We didn't socialise at first at all. All we did was get into town, come back and watch telly. We thought we should go out but we didn't know where to go. London's so big. In Glasgow you'd know where to go cos it's so small. But in London there's too much choice. So you end up going nowhere.
So do you go out more now?
Rose: No, we haven't got time!
Did you cook much in your flat?
Rose: No, I hate cooking.
Jill: Our oven didn't work and our central heating kept breaking down so we used to have to put the gas cooker on and open all the doors.
Rose: Jill's boyfriend once attempted to cook himself something to eat. He got a raw potato and wrapped it in tin foil. Our oven was broken so he sat it on the gas ring. He wouldn't listen to us. He put it on and melted the tin foil.
Did you have a tidy flat together?
Jill: Apart from the mushrooms coming out of the edge of the kitchen…
Rose: But they were tidy mushrooms. Peter had them every morning for breakfast.
Jill: We had a bit of a mess sometimes but only in our bedrooms.
Rose: We tried to keep the communal room tidy.
Jill: We had a communal room with a red settee that was a bit damp so it smelt funny and you felt a bit itchy after you'd been sitting in it for a while. We didn't have proper curtains so we used to see people peering in through the windows. We had this nice Vera Duckworth cocktail cabinet that we had to hide away, it was so awful.
Rose: Jill was so proud of it. She'd have brought the whole of Coronation Street in to the house to have a look…
Jill: It was the only bit of furniture in the flat apart from the settee and the bed. Being in Muswell Hill, the flat was on a slope.
Rose: It was hideous. You'd roll out of your bed at night.
Jill: The flat I've got now is really basic with dead solid furniture so my three cats don't knock anything over. You know it takes me ages finding flats. In Glasgow I used to put my hair up and take all my make-up off and they still wouldn't give me one!
Do you find it more expensive in London?
Rose & Jill: Yeah!
Jill: I used to live round the corner from where a lot of the clubs were in Glasgow so I could always walk home. It was great. No bus fares. No nothing. And if you ever did get a taxi it was like 80 pence. But down here...
Do you still suffer from agoraphobia, Jill?
Jill: Yeah. Well, I never go out on my own. I hate going out on my own. I'm not so bad now but when we came down at first I'd hardly go out of the house at all. We were supposed to do a Janice Long session in Manchester. Balfey came to pick us up and I went, 'I'm not going, I'm not happy, I'm not going!'. I was really terrified. So everybody went and left me. Bastards! Bastards! I had to go up and do my part three weeks later.
Rose: Balfey was saying, 'If you can't do anything you'll have to learn that people will do it without you...'
Jill: He was very remorseful afterwards. And so he bloody well should be!
Do you know why you suffer from it?
Jill: No, I don't. It's totally irrational.
Rose: Jill's got it when she was a baby her mummy left her in a pram in the middle of town, went home and forgot about her! (A joke, we think)
Jill: It's not big open spaces I hate. Just being out. Being in Woolworths - that's frightening. Somewhere dead busy. The further away from your house, the worse it is. That's why I hated going to London. I used to dread going. I used to want to take all my cats with me, everything in the house.
Rose: I don't like going out very much either. Not cos I'm agoraphobic. I just don't like going out...
Does being recognised bother you?
Rose: Not really. When we get started getting recognised a lot we were so busy that we didn't really notice it. Every time we went out we were going to do an interview. We don't come into contact with everyday life really. Today we were walking round and all those kids came up...
Jill: It's like, 'Why are you coming up to me?!'... 'Don't you remember, you were on Top of The Pops...' 'Oh yeah, I thought that was a dream....' I think it's very sobering when wee girls come up to you and say, 'Are you one of the Strawberries? I thought you were Boy George at first!'
Rose: I once heard someone say about me, 'Look, there's a Strawberry Switchblade fan!'
Do kids come round and ring your doorbells?
Rose: No. There aren't really any kids near us. We live in separate flats now.
Jill: Round me there's mostly old people and weirdos. Nobody bothers much with us. Apart form the shop assistant asking for your autograph and you have to sign it on the Farmhouse Bran.
Do you watch much TV in the flat?
Jill: Yes. My favourite's The Black Adder. I had one episode of that I watched every night before I went to bed.
Rose: I like medical and nature documentaries.
Jill: She used to have this recurring nightmare about eyeballs coming after her. She's stuck in a phonebox -
Rose: And they'd surround it. They'd be coming out of the phone receiver. I used to want to be a brain surgeon.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
Rose: I'd like to live in Scotland, further up North than Glasgow, in the Highlands.
Jill: Hampstead's quite nice. We need to be in London and I quite like it... now!