Pam Francis talks to Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson, alias Strawberry Switchblade
Everyone in the smart Chinese restaurant sits up and stares when Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson make their entrance. Let's face it, there is no way you can ignore two girls in dotty outfits, plastered-on make-up and ribbons cascading down to their waists. People stop in the street, yell out names and make rude comments. But it doesn't bother the girls one bit.
'We don't even notice any more. I always walk with my head down anyway,' says Rose blithely.
'Yeah, looking for money,' quips Jill, and they shriek with laughter, ignoring all the curious sideways glances from diners on nearby tables.
'We get all sorts of comments. Some of them are nice, some not so nice. If it's Easter we get called Eater eggs…' continues Rose.
'…and if it's Christmas we get called Christmas trees,' says Jill.
Rose, who is 24, and Jill, 23, have always loved dressing up. As punks, they used to devise weird and wonderful ways of wearing anything they could get their hands on that was red, black or gold. Paper, old clothes, even kitchen utensils. Then, with about five pairs of clip-on earrings each, they would hit the town together. Dressed to thrill!
The girls go to great pains to look the way they do. Their hair is back-combed beehive fashion, stiffened with giant cans of hairspray, then adorned with flowers and streams of black and white polka-dot ribbons. Their clothes are mainly black and white, either based on flamenco frills, or just plain tight, mini, and sexy. The look is often completed with black stockings and stiletto heels - not forgetting the enormous dangly earrings and gaudy trinkets. They would never dream of wearing jeans, and have several sets of polka-dot pyjamas for bed!
The pair were friends for four years before they decided to sing together as Strawberry Switchblade. Jill had previously been to art school and Rose was a drummer in a punk band. Rose, the one with the jet black hair, comes from a large family. She's got four brothers and one sister. Her dad was a coalman in the rougher part of Glasgow and Rose used to travel round with him on his horse and cart.
'I always wanted to be a pop star or else something medical… like a brain surgeon,' says Rose, quite seriously, whilst tucking into a plate of seaweed. The girls, both vegetarians, pleasantly confuse out waiter by ordering different combinations of vegetables in their broad Glasgow accents, both talking at the same time.
Jill is the red-head ('all out of a bottle, my dear,' she says. 'I'm really pure mouse.') As a child, she admits she had little self-confidence. She comes from a smaller family, with just one sister. Her father was a sales manager and her mother had a flower shop. Whilst at school she suffered, for about a year, from agoraphobia. 'I never thought I could do anything. I never even thought I'd get into art school, let alone be a pop star. I was a bit of a pessimist. When I got older I realised that if you really want to do something, you should try it.' Even now she says she talks too much because she sometimes feels awkward in company. 'If you're quiet, people are actually more curious about you and look at you and wonder why you are not saying anything.'
It was through the punk scene that the girls realised how easy it was to be in a band without all the trappings of managers and record companies. They learned to play guitars by strumming along to records and wrote some catchy songs. All it took was a couple of lucky breaks, one of them being a session on the John Peel show - from there, success snowballed. Their second record Since Yesterday shot into the charts making them famous virtually overnight. And it's obvious they are enjoying every minute of their new-found popularity.
The refreshing thing about Strawberry Switchblade is that they haven't been packaged or styled by anybody. Right from the start they have written all their won material, and designed and made all their own clothes, setting fashion trends along the way. They are tickled pink that their followers go to all the trouble of imitating all their clothes and hair. 'It's weird to see girls in the audience dressed up just like me,' says Rose. 'But it's nice weird'.
Their music, with its haunting echoes of the sixties, is a mixture of strawberry sweet words and melodies and sharp switchblade electronic sounds. Their record company has great hopes for their new single Let Her Go.
Home these days is London where Rose and Jill have flats in the same block. Leaving Glasgow was a great wrench but they are coming to terms with life in London. When they first moved in, they had little furniture. They solved this by scouring the streets for rubbish skips outside people's houses. Rose acquired a respectable old sofa which had been left in a skip (with the owner's permission) and made the cushions herself. 'It's amazing what people throw away!'
Both have steady men in their lives. In fact, they are the same two boyfriends who were around in the girls punk days. Rose lives with Drew, who works as the stage manager, and Jill with Peter who is a photographer. Having stable relationships has given the girls a secure base to work from.
'In this business,' says Rose, 'you can really be lost if you don't have someone there to talk to, to rely on and to totally trust.'
'My boyfriend thought we would never make it,' says Jill. He used to say that there's a thing called talent, there are things called songs, and there are things like learning to play your guitars properly…!'
Strawberry Switchblade may sing sweet songs, but they are pretty thick-skinned. When they are pelted with bottles and cans at a GLC benefit concert, they carried on playing and just glared at the thugs responsible. 'They were spitting at us too,' remembers Jill. 'But I didn't get the tiniest bit upset.
Hopefully when the girls go on tour this year their audiences will be more appreciative. They will be performing all over the UK, and then it's off to Europe and maybe Japan. They can't wait. 'We've hardly travelled at all. When I was a wee girl the furthest I'd been was to Berwick on Tweed and I used to boast that I'd been to England for my holidays!' adds Jill. And with that they're off again, falling about in fits of laughter, while the Chinese waiters look on, bemused.