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

10 James Orr Street and Rose's childhood

Before you told me who wrote which lyrics, I'd seen 10 James Orr Street as an agoraphobic song, but you say Rose wrote it. What's it about then?

JILL: 10 James Orr Street is where she lived when she was a child and she really loved it there. It was a council flat so the council could turf you out whenever they wanted. I think they were going to renovate them or knock them down. She didn't want to leave, she loved it. Basically that was it, that's what it's about. I wrote the music for that one and just 'la la la'd the thing to her and she wrote the lyrics. She has much more of a gift for writing lyrics than I do. It's not something I like to do, it's not something I'm particularly good at. She's got the gift so I was happy to go 'this is the chords and the tune' and she'd go and write the lyrics. They were good when they were simple like that [on 10 James Orr Street]. That's the good thing about being part of a partnership, we both had different talents. I was completely happy with that song.

ROSE: 10 James Orr Street obviously, it was really my favourite place that I've ever lived and I really didn't want to leave it. But they were knocking the buildings down to extend the hospital and we HAD to go. I was really heartbroken when I left that house cos my first love lived there as well, this little ten year old boy who used to run away from me all the time. I was giving him sweets and he was going GO AWAY. I was ten and he was nine. I just loved that place. So 10 James Orr Street was about having to leave somewhere you just really don't want to.

The place I moved to afterwards turned out to be an absolute nightmare, an awful place. My little brother died within six months of us moving to that place. I just hated the place that we'd moved to, so 10 James Orr Street just seemed like the perfect place in the world looking back on it. The place we moved to afterward, I was there till I was sixteen. It was horrible because in was in sort of a gangland part of Glasgow, so it was really violent. When I moved there I was ten years old, or just turned eleven I think, and I was totally, like, the world is a wonderful place. I used to find all these places that I'd call fairyland, I was just an innocent little kid who thought everybody could be saved if they only knew. Even bad people, if you talked to them and stuff they'd be fine, if they just knew what you knew they'd be fine. Then my little brother died, that really changed my perspective on life.

And living in that area, where I could see people running down the street with an axe in their back. I found people dead; I found a man who'd been stabbed with a sword when I was about fourteen. It was a forty-two year old man, it was in the paper next day that he had a family. The guys who stabbed him with the big sword were just up the hill and they saw me and my friend, and because we were witnesses they chased us. We were only about from here to that door over there from her house but we were too scared to run in there cos they'd know where she lived, so we just ran and ran. We ran through people's gardens, we eventually had to stop running cos we were knackered. We were hiding under a hedge and these guys, we could hear them walking about looking for us and they were patting the hedge with the sword. To come out of that a sane person is impossible.

And that was just one story, there were loads of them. My dad got hit over the head with an axe twice because he's deaf in one ear and somebody had asked him a question, they'd asked him if was Paddy McCormick and my dad thought they'd asked 'do you KNOW Paddy McCormick?'. The man who was meant to be hit, his wife carried my dad up the stairs, he was unconscious. I remember she had a camelhair coat on and it was just covered in blood. My dad went off to the hospital, and the guy that did it came to the door an hour later or something. I have no idea who let him into the house, there was loads of neighbours in the house cos my mum was panicking and stuff like that, cos we didn't know what would happen to my dad with two great big gashes across the top of his skull, he was in hospital and we hadn't heard anything yet. And this guy came to the door to apologise, to say 'you're OK, it's not going to go any further, I apologise, just a case of mistaken identity'. He thought that was it, that's all he had to do.

I flew at the guy, I was screaming at him, I thought 'if I can kill this guy right now I'll kill this guy right now'. I was trying to punch him and the neighbour was pulling me off. I was only a kid and this guy was early twenties, there's quite a big difference. I just could not see why this guy was in the house apologising, he should be dying under my hand. And then I realised when he'd gone that basically my mum had to accept his apology, because if she hadn't and she had pressed charges, then he was one of the top guys in the gang, and they'd have put petrol bombs through the window or something like that. She was protecting her kids and I didn't realise that, I just thought an eye for an eye. I didn't even think that, it was just an emotional thing, I was distraught and I just wanted to kill that guy.

I realised afterwards that there was all that sort of stuff goes on, if you see things you turn a blind eye and all that, and I couldn't stand that attitude. I really really disliked that attitude. If you turn a blind eye then they will always get away with it, you just HAVE to stand up to them. It was really difficult cos my mum and dad were, like, 'don't cause any trouble,' and I was 'you can't let them bully you like that,' it was awful.

This one guy stabbed his girlfriend through the stomach when she was pregnant, in the street. They were about seventeen-ish. A lot of things like that happened, it was not uncommon. I saw a little boy who was just jumping on the side doors of a bus for a ride to the next bus stop and he fell off and went under the back wheel of the bus, and his head and his teeth flew all over the road. I saw some really gruesome things, it's a wonder I'm not locked up somewhere. I did see some really awful things cos it was quite a wild place and the children were really wild. We lived in a tenement and there were six families and only two of them had never been in trouble with the police; us and the people directly below us. There were armed robbers on the bottom floor, murderers, someone was in for manslaughter.

In the other house there was a manslaughterer and a murderer; two guy in prison. And one of the other brothers tried to kill me once. He got me by the throat and he picked me up. It was such a stupid thing - my three year old brother was fighting with his three year old brother over a biscuit. His mother came up to the door to complain and my mum and dad were out working and I had to look after my siblings cos I was the oldest. I said, 'my mum and dad aren't in right now'. Obviously that's why she came up, she knew they weren't in, she knew where they worked. She was trying to push into the house, and I tried to close the door and say 'come back when my mum and dad come back'. I pushed the door and she stuck her foot in the door, I pushed the door on her foot really hard. She pulled her foot out and started screaming at the top of her voice and ran downstairs and her son came up who was twenty two or something like that - early twenties - and he kicked the door in. I told my friend who was with me to take all the kids into the living room and put things up against the door. This guy was strangling me, he lifted me up off the ground, my feet were about a foot off the ground, I was just standing there being strangled until somebody came and pulled him off me. And his sister shouted something about 'you're pretty, I'll spoil that for you, I'm going to throw acid in your face,' and they're the kind of people who WOULD do that.

There was a boy who was about the same age as me, he was always trying to trip me up and push me, and that's when I took up martial arts. When I used to come round the corner with my martial arts bag that guy who used to bully me all the time would cross the road. I'd only done a couple of lessons, I hadn't done anything much yet, but because my mum and dad know someone who was a black belt and a really good person who worked with them, and also the guy who was teaching me was a world champion. It was also at the time when Kung Fu was on TV and everybody was into kung fu, so although I was only about four foot eleven at the time they thought 'she could probably take out about twenty guys with one swing'! I was 'don't try me out please!', I was only just learning the right stance and stuff, but it really worked; nobody bullied me, nobody tried to.

My little brother got killed. Some guys said that they were going to kill him, and I said, 'you touch him and I'll get you', cos that's what big sisters do. I always wished I had a big brother so I wasn't the one that had to do that. And we went off, my little brother was only six and we decided to go home. He ran into these guys on the way home, two of them held an arm each and the other one kicked into his stomach. That was on the Thursday, he died on the Sunday of peritonitis; ruptured appendix.

The doctor had been called out lots of times but because of the kicking he thought it was just internal bruising. So he was lying there for days dying and I was actually sat with him as he died. I was laughing my head off cos he was telling me these funny stories - he was lying on the sofa and he was telling me there were these little men on the top of the sofa, little men with funny hats on who were coming to take him away. I was going 'what do they look like? What do they look like?' and he was describing what they look like and they just sounded like pixies. He said, 'they're coming to take me away'. I said 'where are they taking you?' and then he just stopped talking and he was staring at the ceiling. And I remember him making this funny noise when he just stared at the ceiling and I was going 'Michael, Michael' and he wouldn't talk, he was just staring at the ceiling. My other little boy noticed the boy that had hit him so we ran out to get him. All we did was get his ball off him and kick it over a fence and say, 'if anything happens to my little brother you're going to be in trouble'.

I went back and when I got to the bottom of the stairs I heard this really loud shriek, this SCREAM. I thought that sounds like my mum, I ran up the stairs and before I got to the last flight she was saying 'don't come up don't come up', and of course that just said to me 'come up'. So I looked in the house and there was a long corridor with the living room at the end of it. My dad was just lifting his head away trying to give my little brother the kiss of life. He didn't know I was there, he turned round and shook his head to my mum. I just completely freaked out, I leaped down all the stairs. A neighbour stopped me at one point and slapped me to try and calm me down. I ran for eight miles to my granny's and told her what happened, that he was really sick. I didn't say he was dead cos I didn't want to believe that. I told her about the hallucinations and she said the last time she knew someone who did that, they died. I started screaming cos I didn't want her to say that word. I was only eleven and I was so freaked out by it. Just as we got back the ambulance was pulling away. It was the worst time of my life. From eleven years old I got a wee bit more cynical with people.

Since we moved to that place I thought actually, some people are not saveable, you can't change them. You see all these little kids who run around and their mums and dads are alcoholics, you feel really sorry for them and up until a point they're probably saveable. But beyond a certain age when they become teenagers and late teenagers, you're not going to change that person's mind, they're gonna thieve, they're gonna mug you. I've been mugged a couple of times, I've been assaulted a couple of times, not seriously. Somebody thought I was a boy once cos I had really short hair and he came running over to beat me up, and when he realised I was a girl he thought he'd just touch me up instead. They were guys who went to the same school as me. Other guys who went to the same school as me held me and my friend up in an elevator and told us to take our knickers off. I said no, I looked at one of the guys who was in my class and said, 'you know you're not going to do this don't you? This is really stupid, I know exactly who you are'. They were holding a knife up to us and my friend was so scared she took her knickers off. I just bluntly refused. Eventually they just let us go and didn't do anything. It was a horrible place, it was a really horrible place to grow up.

It was a horrible place for somebody who.... It was a horrible place for ANYBODY, but I was somebody who was really optimistic and believed in all the beautiful things in life, in trees and...trees and flowers, haha. I just love nature and I love life, and then I saw that and thought 'this is SO awful'. I really really believe that some people are just scum. It's not a PC thing to say, but when you live with them you don't care about that, you just think, 'that person is the complete scum of the world and we'd be better without him,' cos there were a lot of people like that.

Also I turned away from religion at that age as well, cos when my little brother died I thought that was a really cruel thing for God to do.

Had religion been a big thing for you up until then?

ROSE: Oh yeah, we were brought up Catholics and we went to chapel all the time. Just before we were moving my cat ran away because we were moving and it was scared. My mum sent me off to church on my own. I was really really shy when I was a little kid and I was too scared to go on my own cos I didn't know anybody. She gave me tuppence for the plate, and I was all dressed in a little white dress cos you used to do that in those days; Sunday best of little white dress, little white shoes and a hat and a handbag with tuppence for the plate in it. I decided to buy sweets with the tuppence and sat waiting for time to go home. My cat ran past me with its hair sticking up and it was foaming at the mouth and really rabid looking. I started running after it. It fell over and got up and ran away again and I couldn't catch it. Then this boy picked it up and said 'is this your cat?' and he was swinging it by the tail and he dropped it into the dustbin and said 'it's dead'. I said it's not dead cos it was making noise. He set the bin on fire and I could hear my cat screaming. I was totally one hundred percent convinced that was God punishing me for not going to chapel. I really though it was my fault that that happened.

Then when the thing happened with my little brother I thought no. How can you possibly love somebody you're terrified of? How can you force children - out of fear - to believe in something? I just thought there's no way. I don't believe in God, I'm not going to love something that I'm scared of who tells me I'll burn in Hell if I don't love him. So I turned away from God.

I had a vision when we first went to London and we were looking for a flat and living in a hotel and Jesus Christ appeared over the top of my bed. This was really real - whether it was a hallucination or whatever, and I wasn't on drugs - and he hung over my bed and I thought 'Jesus wants to have sex with me', and I just said FUCK OFF. And that was a Catholic saying fuck off to Jesus Christ. Although I was a lot older then, for two weeks I had this impulse, every time I walked past a church or a chapel I wanted to go in, but going 'no no, be strong, don't give in to him, don't give in to THAT'. You stub your toe and you think, 'well what have I done, what am I being punished for?' That's what Catholicism does to you. I just thought it's sick and I'm not having anything to do with it. If I go to Hell that's OK cos all my friends are going there anyway.

Eternal heaven with Cliff Richard or eternal hell with Jimi Hendrix, who do you want to spend eternity with?

ROSE: I'll go to Hell thankyou very much, that's where the party is!

Did you move away fairly quickly?

ROSE: I lived there until I was sixteen, as soon as I was old enough to leave home. I left and went to live in Paisley where my boyfriend lived, also where there was a punk club. I moved there and never wanted to go back to that place again. I hated it. Kids would set flats on fire, a highrise flat, people would die. One of the wee boys that set the fire was ten years old, he died as well. And his brother and other brother died joyriding. His mum and dad were complete alcoholics who never knew where their kids were anyway. It was a hellhole, it was SO awful.

The only reason we stayed there is cos we were poor. It wasn't cos we were bad, we were just a large poor Catholic family, and cos we were moving out of one area into another we had three choices of council house, and that was the third choice. My mum had turned down the other two, she didn't like them. Turned out it was a bad choice we were stuck with for ages. I'm sure it moulded me quite a lot, the way I think about things.

It's extraordinary how you can have gone from such a happy optimistic child to a place that forces you to see the other end of the spectrum. Something that always draws me back to Strawberry Switchblade is that bittersweet thing, the way it is dark and melancholy yet very delicate and beautiful. Self-contained partly to keep the world out but also because there's enough inside to sustain, looking outside and reaching inside.

ROSE: My whole life's been like that.

It's that mix that makes the greatest and most moving pop music.

ROSE: The Mary Chain are like that as well.

Tim Buckley...

ROSE: Oh yeah, Tim Buckley, wow.

That sort of thing that soars and yet there's an ache, a worldly-wise ache, underneath it. The greatest pop music hits that, emotions that you can't quite name from simplistic lists. It interesting seeing your growing up as so directly and intensely feeding that mix, that emotional blend that characterises the music.

ROSE: I guess it's that kind of influence that still influences my lyrics now. They're still like that. I'm a kind of happy-sad person. I'd like the world to be a nice place, but it's not. So I chose to live somewhere like this where it's really beautiful and it's really isolated and you sort of create your own universe out here. You can ignore things. I never buy newspapers and it's not because I'm stupid and I can't read, it's because I don't want to read it. I don't really buy into this society, I really don't. I keep as far out of it as I possibly can, and I just don't want any connections with it. If I could completely drop out I would, but I can't cos I've got kids that go to school. If I was on my own I could easily see myself being an old woman in the woods. A witch in the woods who'd do potions for everybody, that would do me!

There's a little grotto down there on this property and it's fantastic. In fact Boyd Rice initiated Marc Almond into the Church of Satan in the little grotto that's just a walk down there! It's in that book Marc Almond wrote [Tainted Life], he mentions that he comes out to Rose's to go down to the grotto to be initiated into the Church of Satan by Boyd Rice. I don't think the landlord would appreciate that!