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

Getting signed

JILL: We did that [sessions for Radio 1] and then Bill Drummond, who was Echo &The Bunnymen's manager, phoned us and said he'd heard the sessions and wanted to sign us. At that time he was working for Warner Brothers publishing. Him and David Balfe came up to meet us. David Balfe had been in Teardrop Explodes [also managed by Drummond] and he wanted to get into management. The Teardrop Explodes had just split up, I remember him playing their last album to us, the one that never got released.

It got belatedly released in 1990 as Everyone Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes. It's really not very good.

JILL: I remember thinking that when I heard it at the time. He was obviously very proud of it, he'd had a lot to do with it.

ROSE: Then David Balfe and Bill Drummond heard the sessions, and they came up to Glasgow to meet us and propose that they two would be a management team for us. It ended up that Balfey was our manager solely cos Bill Drummond had to concentrate on running the Bunnymen and they didn't want him to spread himself out too much.

How did you first hear of Strawberry Switchblade?

BILL DRUMMOND: I knew that was going to be your first question. While you were putting the tape in I was thinking, 'fuck, when did I first hear of Strawberry Switchblade?'. I think - and I may be wrong - that Dave Balfe, my partner in different things, may have heard a session.

The BBC Peel and Jensen sessions?

BILL DRUMMOND: I think it was the Jensen session. Dave Balfe told me about that and maybe he'd got a tape of it, a tape that included Trees And Flowers. [Jill's tape says Trees And Flowers was on the Peel session]. I remember as soon as I heard that song I thought it was fantastic. Absolutely genius song.

DAVID BALFE: It first began with Bill having heard something being done that came out of John Peel, I think. Bill got hold of a tape and brought it to me and we liked it. I think that was Trees And Flowers but I'm not absolutely sure.

They'd done two BBC radio sessions in the space of a fortnight in late 1982.

DAVID BALFE: I dunno, was it that? It might've been that. We got in touch and we offered them a publishing deal. Bill and I had a publishing company, Zoo Music, that had been set up and we'd been doing Echo And The Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes with Warner Brothers music. So we did the publishing deal with them. I was at a little bit of a loose end, the Teardrops having just split up, and I suggested I manage them, and that all seemed to go very well and that's what we did.

BILL DRUMMOND: So the two of us went up to Glasgow to meet up with them and I think they had an American woman as a manager at the beginning. I think there was some problems there, but I didn't enter into finding out the detail.

On meeting them, the fact that they had got the whole fuckin look together, the whole package, in that sense added to it. Not just from a cynical commercial point of view, but they just knew what they were about, they were expressing themselves on a lot of different levels other than just writing lyrics and tunes. It was working in a lot of different ways and obviously it was working in a way that could reach out there.

And that look had a genuine artistic depth but also at the same time you knew it could work in a then-Smash Hits way as well. They were the genuine thing, they were real genuine artists.

DAVID BALFE: They also had this image which was very distinctive and very focussed, which I thought would work well and it did work well, but it also had the problem in that very quickly people could see... I mean, it was the classic one-hit wonder in that they had a light and frothy gimmick image, got attention initially but then it didn't look like it had any depth. And it didn't really.

So that was it really. Although Bill and I had managed the Bunnymen and the Teardrops together, with the Teardrops ending I was kind of low in self-confidence at that point and it just seemed to be a thing I liked a lot and could get on and do.

What were your first impressions on meeting them?

DAVID BALFE: They were a very diverse pair of girls; Rose was very hard, not nastily hard, but she had a very hard working class upbringing and was a tough cookie. And Jill was incredibly soft and quite fragile and had a very nice middle class upbringing. Rose, when we first met her, was living in this horrible horrible kind of estate made up of blocks of flats on the outskirts of Glasgow, most of the roads weren't built and it was as desolate as you can imagine any East European housing estate to be, and she'd already had a kid very young. But it all went together, this soft and fluffy side with the dark and edgy side which I liked the combination of. I liked it artistically and I thought it would be commercial. I thought the name perfectly embodied those aspects, in that Jill was the strawberry and Rose was the switchblade.

BILL DRUMMOND: I genuinely thought they were both equally as talented. What was really good in the blend of their voices, Rose's voice had that cutting edge to it that Jill's didn't. It was a classic Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel thing with the two voices together, even Lennon and McCartney's voices, when you get those voices that can blend in a certain way, that have different textures and then work together in harmony and you get great pop music out of it. They had that. But they had that kind of delicate thing which meant it would always be kind of limited in it's appeal to a big audience, I guess.

What was the working relationship like between Rose and Jill?

DAVID BALFE: When you're new to a relationship people tend to club together. They were in the group, they knew each other, whereas I was this guy from the music business who'd been in bands that were successful and stuff. I think they were a bit intimidated by it. So they present a front to you, so you're never quite sure as the front evaporates over time and you start to see the way things are; is that the way things have always been or is it the way things have gone over recent times?

They worked very closely, it was a bit of a classic sort of Lennon and McCartney thing insofar as when they started I think they were very much excited by working together and fresh, and then as they progressed it became that it'd be one person's song or the other, I think. The initial songs were, as much as I could see, worked on together. And they were so friendly with each other, there was not a lot of differences you could generalise about. While Rose was far more the tougher character, they both kind of wanted to do what they did.

JILL: So, I remember them coming up to see us in somebody's flat, I think it was Edwyn's, and they talked to us and said they'd like to sign us to Warner Brothers Publishing, and they'd like to put out a single too. They put out Trees And Flowers on Ninety Two Happy Customers Records.

Was there anything else ever on that label? The catalogue number is HAPS001 which implies it's a first release.

ROSE: Well, that label was Will Sergeant's from the Bunnymen, I think he might've done something on it.

[There was only one other release on the label, Sergeant's solo album Themes For Grind, released March 1982].

ROSE: But basically he wanted to put our first single out as an independent before we went on to a semi-major. He liked Strawberry Switchblade so he wanted to put the record out, and we thought 'yeah, cool!'. We liked the Bunnymen, so it was mutual. We were lucky in that sense that we didn't get just thrown out into the commercial soup of pop straight away. There was a bit of dread, because of the people that we knew and that we were involved with at the beginning like Bill Drummond. It was good to put the first single out as an independent before we went to a major.

BILL DRUMMOND: 92 Happy Customers was Will Sergeant's label. Dave Balfe and I had stopped doing Zoo Records and I was working with the Bunnymen at the time and Will and I are mates. So we said, 'do you mind if we put a record out on your label, we'll actually pay for the stuff,' and he was really into the record anyway so he was up for it.

He'd done an album on it already of his own stuff, and I think the plan was he was going to do more things. I actually think there was some stuff of his that he was recording about that period that's just coming out now, in the next month or so, but it won't be coming out on 92 Happy Customers I don't think. It's also a brilliant name for a record label I thought.

Did Trees And Flowers do well?

JILL: It did well as an indie single, yeah. Top ten in the indie charts, and the indie charts at the time did sell quite well. And it was the only single we had that had posters. I remember seeing flyposters round London, we got our picture taken in front of one of them!

It's an incredible pedigree for a session, getting the rhythm section from Madness and Roddy Frame to play guitar, and at that time when they're at the peak of their powers. I see the connection with Roddy Frame from Postcard Records, but what's the connection with Madness?

JILL: David Balfe knew them for some reason, I think maybe it was through a girlfriend or something. I remember going out to dinner with people, when we first came down to London once we'd signed they'd go 'we're all going out to dinner in this wee place in Camden' and there'd be several members of Madness there and we'd be going, [incredulous gaping face] 'this is just bizarre'. I think Balfe had met them, the Teardrops probably came across Madness.

BILL DRUMMOND: I think the record that Dave and I produced, Trees And Flowers, - and I don't often say this about records I've been involved in making - but I still think it's a fantastic record. And I think we were able to capture that fragility on that first single. There's a friend of ours who played cor anglais,. Kate St John, and that really worked well.

Roddy Frame's guitar works really well to get that blend of richness and fragility.

BILL DRUMMOND: I can't remember him being on there! I'm not denying it. I can't remember him being in the studio.

How did it get so many notable musicians on it?

BILL DRUMMOND: The rhythm section from Madness were friends. Roddy was a sort of friend at the time, and I guess he was a friend of theirs [Rose and Jill], but I knew him anyway. The thing is I can't remember him playing on it!

ROSE: It was good actually. It was lucky, we just happened to be in a scene that was just buzzing with life, so much talent.

BILL DRUMMOND: I'm really really genuinely a hundred percent proud of that record. Then the trouble started, I guess.

JILL: Bill Drummond and David Balfe had moved to London at that time. Bill Drummond is such a gab and he's so enthusiastic, he would get to know people, the pair of them were like that. And Bill had been managing the Bunnymen for a good while and wanted to branch out, so he was an A&R man in Warners publishing. When they signed us we had to go to London to see them and I couldn't get on the train cos I was so agoraphobic. I could get out and about in Glasgow but the thought of getting on the train..... I remember my boyfriend Peter and Rose's husband went, and Peter asked the managing director of Warners publishing to borrow a fiver so he could get back to the station! And they still signed us!

Then we got a support slot with Orange Juice. We did this tour with Orange Juice and half way through we signed the contract with Warners publishing, in Liverpool. Then the single was released. It was such a bizarre tour, we did it in a hired car, just the two of us and a reel to reel tape deck. Drew, Rose's husband, set it up with programmed drums and bass on it, and the pair of us would play guitar and sing. It worked, although sometimes the tape would keep going when we'd finished and stuff.

ROSE: Then we had a lot of record companies start to get interested, a lot of the independents like Cherry Red and Rough Trade, and then some majors got interested. I think we went with WEA because, well, One: the advance [laughs] Two: the fact that they had a little subsidiary label that was quite cool to be on, it wasn't quite selling out to a major.

Was the plan to keep Strawberry Switchblade putting stuff out in an indie way or was the plan always to move them on to a major after an indie single?

BILL DRUMMOND: I think Dave would have been keen to get them on to a major. Rose would have been keen on it.

DAVID BALFE: Then we decided to put out... I'm just trying to get the order in my head... we put out a single, and the idea - as you still do these days - is to put out an indie single, get the ball rolling, get a bit of a vibe. Bill had got a job then working as an A&R man at Warner Brothers.

We put out the single. Did we put out an indie single or did Bill decide he'd sign them to Warners?

Trees And Flowers came out on 92 Happy Customers.

DAVID BALFE: Oh! That was Will Sergeant's thing. That's right! I was big friends with most of Madness in those days, they were part of my social group in London, and we got the bass and drums from Madness, Woody and Mark, to play on it. We recorded it and we put it out and it got reaction, a good vibe, and then Bill signed them for a fairly reasonable deal - by no means a big deal - to Warners.

So the plan was always to move them on to a major label?

DAVID BALFE: Yes, yes. Well we had no money.

BILL DRUMMOND: I had got myself into a position where I had to get some money, so I'd taken on a position as an A&R consultant at WEA records. They actually got signed to WEA records before I got there, but when I got the A&R consultancy position they said, 'you know these people Bill, you look after them within the record company'.

The stuff came out on Korova, which was Rob Dickins' imprint wasn't it?

BILL DRUMMOND: It was Rob Dickins' imprint when he was the boss of Warner Brothers Music, but then he became the boss of WEA records. Rob and I were friends at the time and when we made the deal that I'd become an A&R consultant it sort of became my imprint, sort of, for as long as I was there.

Was there any effective difference between being on Korova and WEA, or was it just a different logo on a WEA record?

BILL DRUMMOND: It was just WEA. I just had an office at WEA which I went into sometimes cos the phones were free instead of using it at home, and cos the taxis were free.

JILL: So that was him, just Drummond's stuff on WEA. The guy who ran Warner Brothers publishing was Rob Dickins, he became head of WEA Records and he took Bill Drummond with him and made him an A&R guy there. Balfey then got together with another type of manager, Paul King who was managing Tears For Fears, Level 42 and Julian [Cope], so they were the managers and Bill just went off to A&R and took us with him.

So we were signed for shit, you know, we were signed for not much money at all, 20,000 which was nothing compared to what Brilliant would be signed for. And I felt they'd sold us down the river a little bit. I only wanted enough to live on, but we had no money. I remember asking if we could have some money so I could buy a dress for Top Of The Pops. The one I got was really expensive, I got it in Kensington Market and it was 60 quid or something, and I thought it was just OUTRAGEOUS, SO much money. And then I was hacking at it, it didn't have sleeves so I put sleeves on it and did stuff to it. Imagine having to ask! It's your first Top Of The Pops! When you think what bands get spent on them now...

We were getting a wage from the money that we had, but 20,000 was supposed to do us for two years. We had a publishing advance which wasn't very much but we could manage on it, we didn't spend a lot of money. And if you're working in studios and the record company have got a cab account then we'd just go everywhere in a cab, really take the piss, 'just wait for us while we do our shopping'.[laughs] Rose was terrible for that, really bad. Once we had a hit single then they let us have some money to buy clothes. It was a pitiful amount, but we used to make everything ourselves.

It seems strange you weren't on Postcard Records, given that you were around all the Postcard bands. Did you plan anything with them?

ROSE: We may have done had things not happened quickly, and we gone the other way. We did talk about stuff, but Postcard were really starting to wind up by the time we were really starting to do things, because Alan was losing interest.

I suppose Aztec Camera and Orange Juice had both moved on by then.

ROSE: Yeah, and also Paul Quinn, he was concentrating on him a bit, trying to make something of him. He had a nice voice, nice guy and everything and his version of Pale Blue Eyes was gorgeous, but I don't really know what happened after that. Then we moved to London and Postcard was still in Glasgow. Probably by the time we moved to London they weren't really doing anything any more anyway. Alan had spent all his money and done all the stuff he was going to do. I don't know. I really can't remember what happened there. That WAS the crowd that we hung about with, but it escapes me why we didn't do something with Postcard. Even The Poems were going to do something with Postcard. And we just decided to it ourselves.

It is an odd thing, cos the links were maintained with Roddy Frame playing on Trees &Flowers.

ROSE: Exactly, yeah. And Orange Juice promoting us to everybody, saying look out for Strawberry Switchblade. But I think because we really quite quickly started getting interest from other places, and then we went on tour with Orange Juice which was really good fun and we started playing gigs outside Glasgow and Edinburgh and getting a lot more exposure and more interest from outside. Cherry Red and lots of labels like that were interested, and Rough Trade as soon as they heard the sessions they were interested in us.

I think they knew us all too well at Postcard, they knew we only had eight songs, nobody else did! [laughs] So at the time we weren't really ready to be releasing things. Everything kind of snowballed and just went the other way. We were quite interested in Cherry Red and then we got talked out of that one for Warner Brothers.

It was a great time for Rough Trade, they'd signed your friends The Pastels and Aztec Camera.

ROSE: Felt were on Cherry Red at the time, I think. Cherry Red had done that compilation Pillows And Prayers, it's got a lot of really good stuff on it. It WAS a good time. I really liked a lot of stuff on Cherry Red. I always liked a lot of stuff on Rough Trade but Cherry Red seemed to be slightly... there was a much wider range of things on Rough Trade, Cherry Red just seemed a wee bit more exciting, and I liked the name, very me - any colour you like as long as it's red!

How come Postcard never put anything out of yours?

JILL: I don't know. I suppose by the time we were going to release stuff Orange Juice had signed a major deal and were recording their album and they were spending a lot of time there....

But you were around earlier, in 82

JILL: But I think all that was happening by then. There was talk of us being on Postcard but it never happened, and then we did the demos and James Kirk who was in Orange Juice helped us. We probably would've done it with Postcard, but it all happened so quickly, it was just bizarre.