Complete Strawberry Switchblade interview by subject

Jill Bryson interviewed 9 June 01
Rose McDowall interviewed 29 Jan 02
Bill Drummond interviewed 26 April 03
David Balfe interviewed 19 May 03
David Motion interviewed 2 Aug 02 & 15 April 03
Robin Millar interviewed 16 Feb 03
Tim Pope interviewed 22 June 06

Development: exit the rhythm section, getting a manager

There's a tape of one of the really early gigs and there's a reference to being there and missing the World Cup on TV, which would make that summer 1982. How long did Strawberry Switchblade last as a four-piece?

ROSE: God, not very long at all. Until Strawberry Switchblade started getting really busy actually. We became a two-piece when we started doing the Peel sessions. I was still going to do Poems things but it was getting a bit silly cos I was practising all the time with Strawberry Switchblade. And also I had a daughter so Drew, my partner at the time, he would be babysitting while I was doing Strawberry Switchblade things.

Eventually The Poems thing just kind of fell away, cos also the guitarist got married and stuff and it just dissipated really. Drew had wanted to carry it on but it just didn't work, we wouldn't have had enough time to do it all. Didn't have time to do all the Strawberry Switchblade, never mind anything else!

We sat down and thought 'we really want to concentrate on the band now, and practise a lot and do gigs'. And we sat down with the other two girls and said 'would you be willing to give up your job if we get really busy?' Jill was at art school at the time, and she was willing to give that up, but the other two girls weren't willing to give up their jobs.

What were you doing at the time?

ROSE: Me? I was not doing anything except being in Strawberry Switchblade and The Poems and listening to bands and being a mother and having fun and going out a lot [laughs]. I wasn't working, work already was music, I was writing, spending a lot of time doing that.

So they decided they didn't want to commit themselves to the band, so we thought there's not much point in continuing [with the other two] cos we now have to continue on our own if we're going to take it a bit more seriously. And within weeks we had got a call cos Orange Juice had mentioned 'look out for Strawberry Switchblade'.

How soon did you realise it was going to get that busy? Did you think at the start you were going to make a go of it as a really serious thing?

ROSE: No, we just thought 'let's join a band and have fun', cos Orange Juice were our friends, all our friends were in bands, I was in The Poems at the time and it was just really easy. Punk made it really easy to be in a band as well. When I was a kid growing up that's what I always wanted to do. I remember in school when the careers officer came round and was asking everyone what they wanted to do, and they were saying they wanted to be a nurse or work in a steel factory or a shipyard, and I said I wanted to be a brain surgeon or a pop star, and everybody in the class just started laughing. I remember when we were first on Top Of The Pops thinking 'I wonder if any of them are watching now?'

But I remember when I was younger thinking you have to have a manager and you have to do all those kind of things, I hadn't a clue how you became a pop star or really thought about what that meant, I just wanted to sing cos I always liked singing. I was always singing at the top of my voice along to all my records that were blasting really really loud. None of the neighbours complained, in fact they used to borrow all my records cos I had the best record collection in the street. My dad started taking me out to buy records when I was twelve years old. He was so much into music he was glad he had a daughter he could take out and buy music for. My first seven inch was Monster Mash! I love it!

The other people in the band: when did they leave and why?

JILL: We didn't actually play that many gigs with them. I think we must have been together about six months, nine months maybe. I can't actually remember what happened. I remember an American woman got involved called Barbara Shaw. I think she was a Postcard fan and she'd come to live in Glasgow and she must've known Alan Horne, and Rose got to know her and she said she'd like to be our manager and we thought well, if you want to do that, fine. But then it all started getting a bit weird as soon as she was involved, it all started getting a bit strange.

What kind of strange?

JILL: Well, her and Rose were quite friendly and I think she wanted to get rid of everybody except Rose, basically. At one point she was coming along to rehearsals and playing along with me and I started going 'WHAT? That's a bit weird! Why's she doing that?' That kind of freaked me out a little bit.

Did you ask what she was doing?

JILL: Oh, she was 'just learning to play guitar'. At that point she said that the other two weren't committed and they weren't going to do it full-time.

Was that true?

JILL: I don't know. I don't think so, I think they were pretty pissed off actually. I can't actually remember what happened, it had come to a point of 'do you really want to do this?', we were going to take it up a gear. I can't remember exactly what happened, I know it wasn't very nice.

You've said you had problems with not being taken seriously because you weren't blokes. Would that not be even more of a problem if you're not a full band playing instruments?

JILL: Yeah! But there was the whole thing that we were writing and we [Jill and Rose]were committed and they [the other two]weren't really putting anything into it. But that's kind of how bands work, really, when I look at it in retrospect. There's usually 'just musicians'. And it's not as if we wanted good musicians! It coincided with this woman being involved, and it set alarm bells ringing with me.

Did you mention it to Rose?

JILL: I did mention it when there was this bizarre moment when Barbara came round to my house and said 'I think we've really got to talk. I really have to talk about the image of the band'. The other two had gone by this point. She said, 'I think you've got to get your own image', Rose had said 'Jill's copying me and I don't want that', which was just crap, and also I thought very petty. Obviously she hadn't really known me and Rose cos anyone who had would've known different, I remember telling Orange Juice and us all howling with laughter and thought it was so funny. It was such a silly petty thing to do.

Was that being exaggerated by Barbara or was that how Rose actually felt?

JILL: I think that's how Rose felt. It's tricky cos she was brought up in a really kind of deprived area of Glasgow, really deprived. I remember going round to hers and I was actually shocked, there was a mattress burning in the street outside. No cars, people didn't have cars, just a mattress on fire in the middle of the road and that was just normal.

She'd grown up in that and it was quite scary. There was nothing in the house. She hadn't stayed on at school or anything, she worked in a cake shop, and because she was hanging round with people who were at college I think she felt at a disadvantage, which nobody else thought. They all thought there was street cred, you know? I see now that she had a problem in that she felt she wasn't as well educated or as well read. She wouldn't know who the Prime Minister was, if you asked her to point out Australia on a map she wouldn't be able to do it, she'd no idea where countries were. Which is not her fault, it's not because she wasn't smart, it's just because she wasn't well educated and she'd just left school and gone to work in a cake shop. For some reason she thought that made her less of a person I think, in retrospect. I think that made her very defensive.

As soon as we got that bizarre trying to oust me, it was, 'well this is our thing, this was our idea', the whole thing is something that we cooked up together and pushed on and everybody encouraged us as a couple, as a duo. To start ousting somebody before you've even done anything's a bit bizarre. To start telling tales and trying to belittle them is sad, but I think it's because of her insecurities. I don't know if she'd think that, but I think that's probably what it was. And she used to say 'don't tell people you're at art school' because she'd think that they'd think I was responsible for more of what we were about. She said 'I don't think you should mention it in interviews'.

Did she say why she thought that?

JILL: No, no. She said 'I don't want to mention that I worked in a cake shop', which I'd thought was fantastic. All the punks in Glasgow used to go to the shop she worked in and she used to give them out free pies and things. Her and her friend Lynda worked there and they were sacked for having blue hair. Nobody had blue hair then, NOBODY. They took them to a tribunal and got their jobs back and so they had to be reinstated! That's fantastic, you know! And yet she's, 'Don't mention I worked in a cake shop'. I was, 'it's up to you what you say about your life'. She was quite happy to talk about being brought up on a council estate and all that sort of stuff, but not the cake shop. Why? She was 16, she'd left school young, there's nothing wrong with it.

Especially when you've got a cool story to go with it

JILL: It was legendary, The Wee Scone Shop cos there was a pair of punkettes working in it which was weird enough. You'd get all the wee wifeys going in. They could've been sacked for giving the pies away but they weren't, they were sacked for having blue hair which meant they had to be reinstated. It's fantastic isn't it?

By the time I knew Rose she'd stopped working there and then I think also having a baby and being stuck out in Paisley and being married, all of a sudden that's everything gone at nineteen. After she did the gig with her pregnant stomach sticking out she was out of circulation for ages cos she had a baby to look after. And really until Keri, her daughter, was a bit older she couldn't do anything. Then she started to come out again and by that time I was living up in the West End and I was at art school. And I guess she thought everyone else is doing OK and having an exciting life .

That's a phenomenal amount of drive isn't it?

JILL: Absolutely. She did NOT lack drive.

With that sort of background, if you feel insecure from it, and then having a kid and everything when you're still in your teens and finding yourself, and then you're responsible for the kid as well; to get out there and do a band on top of all that is utterly phenomenal.

JILL: Absolutely. Also with the lack of education, yet she was writing lyrics and doing well. I wish I'd been a bit more understanding at that time. But by the time we'd moved to London and it got huge I just wanted to punch her! It just went to her head and she just wasn't equipped to deal with it. She wasn't equipped to deal with success, and it WAS very difficult to handle. I spent most of the time in tears once we were signed and had to do stuff. It was no fun, I didn't want to do it any more. I was 'what's the point? I don't care whether I'm on TV, I don't care about that crap'. I wanted to do it because I liked her and I liked writing with her and it was funny and we had a laugh, we had a really good laugh. And yet we still managed to do stuff that meant something to us and that we enjoyed doing. There were some great times, some really good times. Playing live

You'd gigged as a four-piece, but with the other two leaving did it put gigs out of the way?

ROSE: We started using backing tapes.

Did you start doing that straight away or was that after the records had come out?

ROSE: It was before the records came out, we had a reel to reel with basic bass and drums on it. My husband would take care of the reel to reel, he was quite technical, and Jill's boyfriend's a photographer so he's do slides and stuff like that. So, the first tour we did with Orange Juice and we used a reel to reel.

Later on we started getting people in, when we were doing bigger gigs. After the records we'd get musicians in to play, which was a nightmare, I used to hate having the whole audition thing. But we found musicians who we went on tour with and it worked out quite well. And some of the later sessions we did are with those musicians. It was good. We worked with the Madness rhythm section.

What about later touring, didn't Balfe play keyboards?

JILL: He played keyboards when we played another support tour. We did a support tour with [giggles] Howard Jones! He was on Warner Brothers as well, and we'd signed to WEA [Warner Elektra Atlantic] so they said 'you're going touring with Howard Jones'. The only good thing about that was we got to play places like the NEC. Balfe would play keyboards and change the backing cassette.

There's a reference in one press interview to playing the Royal Albert Hall. What was that?

JILL: [laughs] that was on the Howard Jones tour! It was good in some respects - we got to play the Glasgow Apollo before it got flattened, I'd been to see so many bands in the Apollo, it was great. We did that and we did the NEC which was a bit scary.

The idea of Howard Jones being that big is a bit mad.

JILL: I know! The Albert Hall was the London gig, which was just wild. I'd just recovered from chicken pox as well, so I was a bit spaced out anyway. Backstage in the Albert Hall's quite a strange thing as well cos it's really elaborate and there's lots of space for when it's used by choirs and orchestras. I'd only done some of that tour cos of the chicken pox.

What happened without you?

JILL: Rose just went out on her own. She went out and said I wasn't well, and I think she just played songs with a guitar. I think everybody was really nice because she did it. The record company sent a bunch of flowers and said 'at least you got polka dot disease'.

Were you always using backing tapes and programmers?

JILL: We also had a band at one point. I think Madness had split up or they weren't working or something cos I remember rehearsing with the rhythm section of Madness but it kinda didn't work, it didn't sound right. And so then we had this jazz guitarist, a really nice guy Simon Booth he went on to be in a band called Working Week. The drummer Roy Dodds went on to be in Fairground Attraction or something, and there was a bass player, really jazzy kind of players, kinda weird.

I can sort of see it, cos it would be important with Strawberry Switchblade to have musicians who don't rock.

JILL: That's it, yeah, that was it.

Not just because it's important that your records don't rock but whilst maybe you'd get away with a bit of a noisy guitarist, having a rocking bass player and drummer would kill the subtlety and delicacy. The jazzy thing, at least it's not rocking, it's about subtlety and warmth rather than bombast, I can understand why you'd have tried that.

JILL: They were pretty good as well, they didn't overpower. So we played a few gigs with them but it didn't really work.

BILL DRUMMOND: Initially Dave Balfe, I think he put a band together round them, an acoustic band with Simon Booth who was the guitarist who then went on and did Working Week. And that didn't really work I don't think, particularly. Their talent was a very delicate talent and could easily be broken with what was around them, and I think on the whole that a traditional putting them on a tour playing small rock clubs around the country just didn't work. It was too fragile, their thing. Their voices are very fragile voices. There's been bands before that have had that problem, there'll always be bands that have that problem, you put them into a thing where you've got a drum kit and a guitarist going through an amplifier and it just starts....

Did you gig much?

JILL: No, not really.

It's just you're listing stuff on your own, Howard Jones tour with Balfe, stuff with the jazzy guys, all for a few gigs, it sounds like it adds up to a lot.

JILL: No, it's just a few here and there.

They played live a bit with the band didn't they?

DAVID BALFE: Yeah. We did lots of shitty places all round the country, I remember going to Brighton, I remember going to Bath. When I say lots I don't mean tens but at least half a dozen to a dozen at a guess, but I'm totally guessing. The idea was build up a bit of a fanbase and a bit of awareness. Also the girls were still very young and they hadn't really got a lot of performing under their belts, they were still very shy onstage. Well, Jill more so. They could do with the experience to get a bit better as well as building up a bit of a following, get a few journalists down to check them out, just getting those little things that help.

But it costs a lot to put a band together, you've got the rehearsal time, paying the musicians, the transport for gigs, every gig costs money. I'd be driving them most of the time. It was a lot of hard work and we weren't really achieving much because it's always a bit chicken-and-egg; you put out a single to get a few gigs, you need another single to build on that.