Zigzag feature

April 1985

Interview by Mick Sinclair

If we are to have Pop Stars then make mine the ones that cock-a-snook to the crown jewels of their chart placings and are strong and strange enough to be a part of and apart from the industry.

The queue to interview Strawberry Switchblade wound up the staircase and into the WEA press office. Sometimes such places strike me as being the Carry On film that never got made. One imagines Sid James leering over nipples in the art department, Barbara Windsor filing her nails over a typewriter with no ribbon, the 70-year-old errand boy Charles Hawtrey struggling about under a huge pile of LPs while Kenneth Williams bursts in from the A & R department brandishing a cassette of his latest signings, imploring the assembled to "pin back your lug 'oles..."

Strawberry Switchblade are deceptively strong and marvellously strange. The knowledge that Rose used to be in a group called The Poems who once made a single financed, at least partly, by shoplifting tends to imbue her current endeavours with a somewhat sterner significance.

Their songs are sometimes cute, sometimes irksome, sometimes fun, sometimes twee. If I was 10 they'd be on my wall. But I'm not. And they're not. Instead we're sitting behind a sliding glass panel in the corner of the WEA press office - how very zoo!

They've spent the day doing interviews and making occasional demands for cake. I've decided not to mention jewellery (although a magazine phones to ask how much the pair possess. "In tons'?" asks Rose, "about a crateful each") or clothes - Rose has an enormous white ribbon set into her black hair. Such a thing simply speaks for itself.

Will those who buy your records learn something about you as people?

Rose: "They might have an idea but goodness knows what sort of idea."

Jill: "They might have a small idea."

Rose: "It could just give them a hint. We don't write them very obviously."

Jill "It's difficult to write very personal lyrics that give a lot away. It's something that is close to you so it's difficult to write about it in an objective way that isn't really cringey."

(Cringey!)

Rose: "Some of your personality does come through."

Jill: "Probably more likely they'll get a false idea. But not that far off, like not completely misleading."

Rose: "It's just that words can easily be read in different ways. A certain piece of music will make some people feel happy and somebody else feel really sad."

Have you discovered anything about yourselves that you didn't already know?

Jill: "Only that it's very difficult to write lyrics."

You don't write lyrics together?

Rose: "No. We only wrote 'By The Sea' together."

Jill: "But that's really tongue in cheek. If you write together tend to have to create songs in a really superficial way and not about anything. We do have different opinions on a lot of things and the lyrics are very personal. It's hard for to people to write a personal song."

Is it satisfying to have a hit record?

Jill: "I just think 'On no, I've got to follow it up now'."

Rose: It is something that you wish for. Something you think will be great to happen. It is really good when it does. We did work really hard towards it as well, all the recording and the various producers we went through leading up to it.

Jill: "I wanted it to be a hit and it didn't look like it was going to be. I remember asking the people at the record company what they would expect a single to do - what would they by happy with. They said it has to go Top 50 and Top 40 would be great. Top 50, phew! I didn't even think it would do that."

Is being a pop star all it is cracked up to be?

Jill: "I haven't really noticed any difference because we've been doing as much work after its been a hit as before. We did Cable TV, Music Box and Sky Channel that people don't see down here but it gets you used to being on camera. It's just carried on."

Rose: "We've not had time for it to sink in. Maybe if we had a week off it might sink in. It might hit us and we'd run away to Scotland - 'Mummy, hide me in the wardrobe'. It's good, you get to meet lots of people although I'm sure it'll be better when the LP is out and we tour in May. Touring is the most brilliant part of all of it. Jill likes it too... don't you... go on... "

Jill: "I like it and I don't like it. I like doing photos and recording and interviews and television. Playing live is great, you can get the feedback from the audience so it's more exciting but... I think once we're good at it I'll probably enjoy it more. I always feel a bit inhibited, a bit embarrassed. Once I get over the embarrassment of being on stage I'll enjoy it more and have more confidence in doing other things."

Rose: "The studio is great fun, all the sounds and harmonies. You can't do that live because you can only make one noise with your mouth at the one time. But everything that goes on within a song happens all at once. On records it goes through all the separate channels."

Jill: "We're going to be able to spend more money now on giving people more of a show. We're going to have a sound crew! And we're going to have a visual show, different screens and 8mm films and slides to create moods for the songs. We want to play in seated venues because we're not a rock band and we don't run on adrenaline. A lot of rock bands create adrenaline in the audience and excitement through volume and intensity. We can be intense but it's difficult with a backing tape and two voices that are quite quiet. Hopefully it will be exciting but we've got to compliment ourselves rather than fill it with all the rock clichés."

Rose: "I think it's really important that everybody who wants to come and see us can. There's quite a few under 18s who want to see us and it's not fair if they can't get in. The good thing about seated venues is that they're usually not licensed so everybody can get in."

What age group do you appeal to?

Rose: "From the very young to the quite old. We get fan letters from younger people. We don't get any horrible letters yet."

Jill: "We did a Smash Hits interview when he tongue-in-cheek asked us why we were so ugly and we were playing up to it. We got letters saying 'you're not ugly, you're lovely' - and we were going NO! We got a really long letter from America saying we were warm, intelligent women. Some people get really personally involved in reading an interview 'why did they ask you that?' or 'that was a horrible review'. We get... sympathy. Somebody wrote saying they'd make Rose a dress and to send the measurements."

And did she send them?

Rose: "No".

Jill: "You should. See what comes back."

Rose: "I got a letter saying that I was responsible for all the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was from America. Three pages long, in fact there were three separate letters because it came via Roddy Frame. It was mad. I couldn't even understand half of it because it was written in riddles."

Jill: "We get different categories of letter. Ones like 'we think you're a really great pop group', ones from people struggling in other groups saying 'can we support you' and really long, dead sincere letters. I like the long sincere ones the best."

Are you taken seriously enough?

Rose: "I think we are. The people who don't take us seriously are the people who don't know us. Especially on a working level. We're quite strong minded and do what we want and we don't give people the chance to mess us around."

Jill: "I think if you have fans that like you, they're going to find out about you. If they find out you write your own songs and read a bit about your background they'll know we weren't manufactured and picked up off the street by the record company, dusted down and given an image and stuck out on stage. There aren't that many female singer/ songwriters and that helps.

"People we work with have probably been briefed by our manager about what we're like. I'd like to know what they say actually, I'd quite like to eavesdrop. People that don't know us at all are sometimes surprised but they don't say that to your face. You hear from someone else 'I'd thought they'd be frightening, dead moody or bad tempered'."

Has Glasgow had a definite effect on you. Would you be a different group if you lived somewhere else?

Jill: "I don't think so."

Rose: "I do. I think your whole environment and everything about you influences your work."

Jill: I just think it's to do with your parents. Obviously I wouldn't have met Rose if I'd lived somewhere else."

Obviously.

Rose: "Glasgow is different from London and most places are different so what goes on around you influences you in one way or another."

Jill: "I think cities are much like one another. I've been to a few cities and there are areas which are equivalent to areas in other cities but... London's similar to Glasgow except it's bigger. I don't think I'd have been a different person if I'd been brought up in Edinburgh. I would have gone to Edinburgh art school instead of Glasgow art school."

But the character of a city?

Rose: "I think the character has definitely influenced me very strongly. Even the places where you play when you're young, I'm sure that's very important."

Jill: "I think Rose stayed in a much more Glasgow part of Glasgow. Where I stayed in Glasgow wasn't like Glasgow, it was just a suburb."

Ah! Just a suburb. Much is explained.

Jill: "It didn't appear to have any character of its own - it's just... houses!"

Rose: "I moved around a lot when I was younger and everywhere I lived was quite rich in character. If I'd lived in a suburb I might feel exactly the same as Jill but I lived in quite alive places - always rich in experience so I actually feel that it shaped me. The places I lived were quite unique.

And you enjoyed your childhood?

Rose: "Oh yeah. It was brilliant. Good."

Jill: "Yeah, I liked, er, certain aspects of being a child. There wasn't so much worrying, more security. You felt secure for less. But also there are a lot of things that upset you that you don't let upset you when you're older. You leave the security and thinking everything you're parents tell you is true. I used to say to them 'say there won't be another war, say there won't be!' and get upset. And they'd say 'of course there won't be another war'. When you're grown up you think how do they know? They don't know! That was very unsettling."

Rose: "All your illusions get shattered when you grow up."

Jill: "You have to go through a really bad patch and have to readjust from childhood into adulthood. Some people seem to do it like that but I'm still adjusting.. (shrieks).

Rose: "So am I."

Jill: "I was such an insecure child. I was told I had to wear glasses when I was 10 and I had a nervous breakdown! I can't really remember but my Dad tells me I over reacted to everything. Wearing glasses is nothing and I acted like it was the worst thing in the world. I don't even wear them anymore. Things like that don't really affect me now. I wouldn't over react these days."

Are you still close to your families?

Jill: "My mum and dad phone every night, they always keep in touch."

Rose: "And people from my family always phone up, my Granny or something. I come from quite a big family so I found it quite traumatic leaving though I didn't live with them when I was in Glasgow. I think that's the really sad thing about having moved to London."

Jill: "It's quite a hard decision to break totally away. I was living away from my parents in Glasgow but to actually sever the links with your parents and come here... only seeing them two or three times a year.

Rose: "The whole experience of going back is dead unreal. You're extremely fussed over and everybody wants to see you while you're there. I've got a big family, lots of aunts that I want to see. So having a break for a few days to go to Glasgow is actually harder work because you're not wanting to miss anybody out.

"Last time I was in Glasgow I went to see my best pal who I hadn't seen for ages and spent a whole evening waiting for her to come in and she didn't. All the neighbours were saying 'd'ya want to come for a wee cup of tea hen?'. I was so sad. I wrote a wee note and put it through the door with a single. She wrote me a letter. We'll meet eventually again."

Is it worth the sacrifice?

Rose: "Oh, yeah. If I still lived in Glasgow I'd be wanting to do this anyway. I wouldn't be happy. But now I've done what I want and I know it was desire to do this. So everything that comes out of it is my doing and I know I can't complain."

What do you do with your spare time in London?

Rose: "We've got tomorrow and the next day off. I'm going to sit around the house and then do some shopping, we haven't done that for such a long time."

Have you seen the sights?

Jill: "Me and my boyfriend went to the Tate Gallery and I want to go to the natural history museum."

Rose: "Oh yeah. I wanna go there!"

Jill: "And the science museum sounds brilliant."

Rose: "I'd quite like to see the, what d'ya call it, the Tower of London. Go and see the Crown Jewels and the dungeons - I like dungeons!"

Jill: "I want to go to parliament, when they open parliament. And watch the debating."

Rose: "I can't really be bothered with going to see Big Ben."

Jill: "You see that in taxis."

Rose: "I can't be bothered with the Changing of the Guard, it's not eventful enough. I went to Madame Tussauds because I wanted to see if they were any good. It's a bloody rip-off, the amount of money they charge."

Tell me your ambitions.

Rose: "I've got millions of ambitions. I'd like to have a lot more leisure time, read more, take up hobbies. I'd like to jump out of an aeroplane."

With or without a parachute?

Rose: "With. I'll leave the jumping out without one until I'm older I think... into the sea. And I'd like to meet Lou Reed but that's hardly an ambition."

Jill: "I'd like to have a house and security. And I'd like more cats, I've got three. And a house with a garden." Rose: "I'd like a house as well."

Jill: "I'd like to be a TV presenter, not Blue Peter but Breakfast TV. I think it would be good if it wasn't on so early in the morning." (Applause from the gallery.) "It's dead relaxed, dead easy going. I'd like to be able to watch less TV but I always twitch around doing things. Actually not doing anything. Just twitching."

Group ambitions?

Rose: "I'd quite like to be going on as we are. I'd like the group to be successful and have more than just one hit single. And be successful to the degree where we could an album actually bought.

I'd like to be appreciated but I don't think success is important. It would be just great to write songs that people wanted to hear."

Do you identify with any characters from history?

Rose: "Sonny Bean. The Sonny Bean family lived in (a town in Scotland) in a cave and would waylay travellers and eat them.

Jill: "It's difficult. You tend to think of notorious people and I don't identify with any of them. I don't see myself as an historical type.

But quite certainly as a cat type. She latter tells me approvingly of the woman who converted kitchen cabinets into bunk bed accommodation for stray cats during the cold weather. "That's what they want, to curl up with some newspaper and keep warm. Not to have to live in a house with people."

And disapprovingly of the other woman with stray cats near her house who "called the health inspector to have them destroyed saying that they attract vermin. That's wrong - CATS EAT VERMIN!"


this article is also online at the Mick Sinclair Archive, a massive compendium of Mick's interviews with musicians from 1980 to the present.