30 March 1985


Strawberry Switchblade: razor sharp or blunt (sex) objects?

Interview by HUGH FIELDER

"You want to know what kind of lipstick we're wearing? Well, we're not going to tell you. We're going to be controversial."

I haven't had a chance to ask, actually. They've been too bust slagging off Jaz, that "warm and wonderful fascist" from Killing Joke, for a pasting he's just given them in print.

But I can controversially reveal that Jill isn't wearing any lipstick. She's in a black hat and coat mood today. And Rose has bright red lipstick with a black liner. It goes with her red ribbons and pom-poms, her festooned hair and her shiny black ra-ra skirt and tights.

Together, of course, they are Strawberry Switchblade. Most of the people in Joe Allen's restaurant know that. Even Mel Brooks has been glancing across at our table. Strawberry Switchblade are getting what we media chaps call 'a big push' from their record company, WEA. Front covers all over the music press, cute pictures and words in the pop dailies. And you can't turn on a kids TV show without getting an eyeful of polka dot.

And so far it's paid off. They've already had one hit single this year with 'Since Yesterday' and here comes another wide-eyed, sweet-toothed pop ditty called 'Let Her Go', which is also destined for the Top Ten.

Well, it's the perfect image isn't it? Except that the contradictions begin almost before the image has been fixed, starting with their name.

Jill and Rose, both in their early twenties, come from Glasgow where, if you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to learn to dodge the flying cans. Not surprisingly, they find the promotional merry-go-round much more fun.

They giggle about playing Saturday Superstore off against Number 73. "Of course we're working up to the Whistle Test," says Rose as the laughter subsides.

Is that why they signed to WEA? "No. They were the only company that offered us an albums deal. All the others wanted us to have hit singles before we could make an album." So they made the album and had the hit first anyway!

Jill and Rose met up during the punk explosion in 1977. "We formed the band for fun and then after a year it started taking over our lives, and so we thought we might as well get serious about it," Rose reveals.

"You see, there were loads of bands coming up in Glasgow at that time," explains Jill. "There were good bands like Orange Juice, Simple Minds and Aztec Camera who'd written lots of songs and established themselves. And then there were others who just strapped on a guitar and started shouting into a microphone."

It may be safely assumed that Strawberry Switchblade came into the latter category, but they are not the only ones among the riff-raff to have made the grade later on. The Jesus And Mary Chain were also among the other bands trying to get themselves organised...

Originally a quartet, Strawberry Switchblade became a duo when the rhythm section wouldn't give up their day jobs. "And they wanted to get funkier, which we didn't," says Jill.

But Jill gave up her art school place and Rose gave up her other 'experimental' band. And within days they'd landed a Peel session.

Their first single, 'Trees And Flowers', came out in 1983 on Bunnyman Will Sergeant's 92 Happy Customers label. And that led them to Bunnyman manger Bill Drummond and his cohort David Balfe, and the deal with WEA via Korova.

For live gigs they've been alternating between using backing tapes and a band.

"Tapes are good because you always know what's going on and when something's going to happen," says Rose. "But if you make a mistake you're in serious trouble. We once got lost and finished eight bars after the tape ended. It was horrible! A band has a much better feel but it's not always the RIGHT feel."

They couldn't seem to make up their minds when they started recording their album either.

"We tried it with a band and it sounded too rocky Nothing sounded the way we wanted until we met David Motion. And even then we were a bit suspicious when he wanted to use synthesisers and we wanted to be guitar-based. But as soon as we started recording with him it worked, and we were dead happy with him."

The album, which is out next month, is all sweetness and light entertainment. The harmonies are luscious, David Motion's arrangements and production glistening with stylish finesse. I just wish their voices were a little stronger in the mix.

How would they like people to listen to it?

"They should sit down and be comfortable," says Jill. "And listen to it on headphones."

Many of the album tracks are simple but evocative, like '10 James Orr Street', which is where Rose grew up and had lots of "dead good experiences". And the new single 'Let Her Go' takes another unusual stance. It's a girl trying to persuade a bloke to give up his girlfriend so he can have her back as a friend.

Rose: "It's about a girl I knew and her over-possessive boyfriend. He didn't want her to have anything to do with any of her friends, not even me and I'd known her for years. It was as if he wanted to wipe her memory clear. But she eventually got rid of him."

But although they're not short of opinions on just about anything you care to talk about, they keep their songs away from slogans and causes.

"It depends on what makes you comfortable," says Rose. "I think you can be too specific, which ties you to one particular meaning. And I also find that if I get emotional about something it can be too difficult to write about it because you get too intense. And I'm not sure I want to give too much of myself away in a song."

Visually of course, the girls have no such reticence. But they insist they're dressing just for themselves. Rose: "Kids like to dress up, tribes like to dress up. People normally grow out of it but I just never have."

Jill: "The pressures to conform really start at school. And by the time you're in secondary school it can get really intense. And even though this jacket your mum's bought you is exactly like the one you wanted, it's useless because it hasn't got that green bit on the trimming. I remember agonising over things like that."

They've always made their own clothes and still do, because they haven't got time to find anyone else to make them. Rose isn't even sure if she'd wear something that had been specially designed for her.

"It would depend on what they came up with." But she makes off with the red plastic mac that's on the clothes horse behind her at the photo session. And photographer Gavin Watson is happy to give it to her. They are not the sort of girls that make you want to say no, which is perhaps another reason why they've got so far unscathed, unless you count Rose's infatuation with Psychic TV.

If people want to laugh at their pretty-little-pop-princesses image then that's fine by them.

"Obviously we've set ourselves up for a lot of criticism," says Rose. "But we can cope with that. I want to do what I want, inside music and outside. I want to write what I want and wear what I want. And I feel people should bend to accept me rather than bending me to accept them."

"We know how much we've put into writing and recording our songs. And I don't think there's any point in trying to say how serious we are," argues Jill. "I make up my own mind about other bands. People can make up their own minds about us."

So she doesn't mind being misunderstood? "It depends how important it is. If someone called me a Tory I'd be furious!"

And she's the middle class one of the pair. Rose's roots are classic working class, right down to her father's horse and cart. But they make a splendid double act, completely at ease with each other and therefore with everyone else they deal with.

"We don't argue about Strawberry Switchblade," confirms Rose. "We like different things outside but we don't hate anything the other likes."

Jill's not sure about touring, however. They've already done a couple of support slots with Orange Juice and Howard Jones, and she's not impressed.

"It's such a constant hassle organising everything, not getting enough sleep, eating badly and just trying to keep clean. I imagine it would be OK if you took a lot of drugs, but we don't do that."

"No," replies Rose, "I think you CAN get by without the drugs. I LOVE performing!"