Sounds

6 August 1983

PIPSQUEAK PARADE

by BILL BLACK


It's like a scene from Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW. Between the grim, grey tombstones that populate a Glasgow cemetery like so many broken teeth, fleeting glimpses of polka dot and ribbon catch the eye and tease the mind with images and meaning, reminiscent of the little red horror that led poor Donald Sutherland to such a sticky end.

But enough of this creeping paranoia, why should such an incredibly nice duo as Strawberry Switchblade (who, I shall now reveal, are those spotty blurs) choose a graveyard high above their native city, currently slumbering in the mid afternoon heat, as a suitable photographic location for themselves?

Rose McDowall explains: "When we were too young to go in pubs we used to come here just to play among the crypts. We'd stay up here until maybe 2am and then catch the last bus home."

How macabre! But before I have a chance to rethink the sugar and spice image I have of Strawberry Switchblade (perhaps that should be sugar and slice!) Jill Bryson admits to a dread of the place.

"I used to come up here with Rose but I really hated it. I only came because I was afraid rose might call me a cissy if I didn't."

So how did these two young ladies of such differing nocturnal tastes get together?

"We've known each other since punk," Rose tells me as we wander back towards the city centre to find somewhere to eat. "We met at this punk disco that used to go on in Paisley".

"Everybody who was into punk had to go out to Paisley because al punk gigs and things in Glasgow were banned."

Jill: "Well we decided we'd like to be in a band then but we finally got round to it about two years ago."

Rose was already playing drums with another group but it was the desire to get out front and sing that encouraged her to learn the two guitar chords Jill knew, and after recruiting two girls to play bass and drums they were ready for their first gig.

Jill: "It was at Christmas time in a restaurant called the Spaghetti Factory. Nobody turned up because it was really snowy and there were no buses running."

Rose: "We played one set in the afternoon and one in the evening and the only person who I can remember there was Edwyn Collins."

A more useful audience the pair could not have wished for. Collins regularly used Orange Juice interviews to give the girls a plug and continually asked Strawberry Switchblade to support them.

Jill: "When we'd been together about a month as a four piece they asked us to go down to London to support them but we could hardly play - we had hardly any songs - it was stupid. We hadn't even played in Glasgow at that time, let alone London!"

But Strawberry Switchblade relented and went out on tour with Orange Juice at the end of last year as a duo.

Jill: "We used backing tapes on the tour which wasn't bad, but it's difficult to be spontaneous with backing tracks and if you don't get the sound right it's terrible! At the Hacienda nobody could hear us so nobody clapped. I just wanted to walk off. Orange Juice went down well but they sounded really powerful, you can't sound powerful with backing tapes.

"I'd rather play acoustically with just the two of us but neither of us can play well enough. On the tour we did an unaccompanied version of the Velvets' 'Sunday Morning', just a vocal and a guitar, which went down really well, but we'd really like to get in another guitarist who we could possibly learn off."

In the past they have been helped in that department by one time Orange Juice member James Kirk, but it was his (unwilling) role as a bass player that helped them get a session with Kid Jensen and, later, John Peel. And it was a session for Peel's programme that ultimately resulted in their debut single, just out, called 'Trees And Flowers'. Strangely, it was not brought about by any Glaswegian connection but a meeting with the 'Liverpool mafia' of Bunnymen manger Bill Drummond and ex-Teardrop David Balfe (who now manages Strawberry Switchblade). So how did it come about?

Jill: "Bill Drummond heard our John Peel session and phoned us up the next day and asked us if we were interested in signing a publishing deal with Zoo.

"When we met him and David we got on well with them, and they were the only people interested in us who had done something about it so we signed a publishing deal and recorded some demos".

The Liverpool connection does not end there. 'Trees And Flowers' is released on Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant's 92 Happy Customers label, but this does not look likely to be repeated.

Jill: "Will set up 92 Happy Customers just to release his solo LP, so I don't think he's planning to sign any groups to it. Bill just played him the demo we did of 'Trees And Flowers' and he really liked it and said he'd put it out on his label."

But if these all-star connections are too much for you, wait till you hear who played on the single! Woody and Mark Bedford form Madness on drums and bass, Aztec Cameraman Roddy Frame on guitar, Ravishing Beauty Kate St John and the late FB3 player and arranger Nicky Holland make up the supergroup.

Rose: " Having been in the Teardrops, David just seems to know everybody! He got Woody and Mark interested in playing with us and before we knew it, all of them turned up."

So did it come out as you wanted it?

"We didn't really know it was going to come out as it did. For example Nicky Holland played the ideas she'd come up with for oboe and French horn arrangements on the piano so it was difficult to imagine how they would sound."

Jill: I wanted the simple sounds that the Velvet Underground got on songs like 'Sunday Morning' and 'I'll Be Your Mirror'. I don't think 'Trees And Flowers' is anything like them, but then I don't think 'Trees And Flowers' is what we want to sound like."

With impeccable musical tastes, an impressive visual image and an imminent album deal with WEA, Strawberry Switchblade look set to carve themselves a comfortable niche, whatever doubts they may have about the single.