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
Fan mail and stalkers
A couple of old press interviews make references to getting letters. Was there a lot of fan mail?
JILL: Not a lot. Most of it was really nice, there were some people who wrote more than once. But then once you get to a certain point you just don't even see the letters. To begin with we used to write back, and at that time people were still interested in the band and the music.
Who were the people who wrote?
JILL: To begin with it was indie kids who liked the fact it was girls doing stuff. That was when there was the radio sessions and stuff. But after Since Yesterday it was loads of little girls.
There's a reference to getting very long letters from nutters as well.
JILL: Yeah, Rose used to get the mad letters more than I did.
In one interview she says she got a letter blaming her for the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
JILL: I never got anything like that, she got all the nutty stuff.
What about gigs, who were the people who came to the gigs?
JILL: Before the album was released it was an indie audience. I remember one of the Jesus &Mary Chain being there, all the Glasgow people like the Pastels and Orange Juice, students, just indie people. That was the audience wherever we went. After the album we never toured much, and when we did do it, it was with Howard Jones so obviously it was all going to be little girls. I remember standing in the Albert Hall going 'it's like a Sunday school outing, really well dressed kids having a jolly good time, 'nice' and 'wholesome'. It wasn't like that before.
What about in Japan?
JILL: That was little girls.
Who was it that WAS into you?
ROSE: Our audience was already really really wide. There were kids at gigs and there were old grandfathers at gigs, it was completely across the board. It wasn't just specific people, Cure-type fans and people from that scene. We had loads of kids come - like, little kids with their parents - and I had a man come up to us to sign these photographs and he was a grandfather. A lot of weirdos as well! I used to get loads of weirdo letters.
In an old interview for ZigZag there a reference to getting loads of weird letters, and you getting ninety percent of them.
ROSE: I'd get the weird ones and she'd get the sensitive ones! [laughs]
Why was that do you think?
ROSE: I have no idea!
How weird is 'weird'? Anything stick in your memory?
ROSE: There was one that was quite extreme, one guy blaming me for all the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which was pretty weird coming from a fan, from someone who actually liked the band. It's very very hard to follow the letter, he's jumping all over the place, I think he was schizophrenic. I had quite a few schizos I got letters from, like I was reading a letter written by three or four people, it would jumble up. I used to get weirdos, or else people saying 'send me your details I want to make you a leather dress', something like that. I'd send them measurements for a three piece suite, see if I could get that out of them!
We had a fan club at the time, and the guy who was running the fan club was taking all the weirder obscene or cheeky or whatever mail out so the girls wouldn't have to look at it. I heard him talking to Balfe about it, my ears perked up and I went 'those are the ones I WANT to see!' and David was going 'oh no no no'. 'I want to see every single one of the weird letters', but we didn't actually get a lot, I think he binned them. Then he started not getting to them, because I wanted to know - the weird ones can be a lot more interesting!
It gives you a clue as to who's coming the gigs and what to watch out for.
ROSE: Exactly. Which was kind of useful cos I got a stalker, I don't know if Jill told you about him. When we lived in Muswell Hill I was getting these letters from this guy saying he was suicidal and blah blah, and he really loved Strawberry Switchblade and he was going to kill himself cos he was so depressed. And stupidly I wrote back to him, saying 'you don't kill yourself over a pop band, that's really silly'. Then he sent me another letter saying he'd come from Wales and moved to Muswell Hill cos in an interview we'd said we lived in Muswell Hill. He moved into a street called ROSEbery Avenue and he said he'd been following me around for a year. I was like 'Shit! SHIT!' I was sitting on the bus going 'could be him, could be him'. I was always thinking, 'god, I don't know who this person is' and I went out a lot at night time and I'd be getting off the bus thinking 'who's the weirdo?'.
Then one day I was just pushing my bike up Muswell Hill and I had my daughter with me who was only five, Keri, and then I heard these footsteps behind me getting closer and closer until they were really uncomfortably close but had no intention of overtaking me. I thought 'what's going on? Am I going to turn round here?'. And I could hear a walkman tsss-tsss-tssss and I recognised the song; it was Since Yesterday. I just thought 'oh fuck', I was a wee bit scared to turn round cos I didn't know what I was going to see - it might be some big guy, it might just be some weasel. I turned round and it happened to be some weasel! Not very threatening. Of course he COULD have been threatening but I'd done martial arts and stuff so I wasn't really scared of him, I wasn't intimidated by him. He tapped my shoulder in slow motion - it wasn't just my imagination, it was REALLY slow - tap. Tap. Tap. Then he said 'you know who I am don't you?' I went, 'yeah, I think I do. Kelvin?'. Then he was just going like that [looks slowly up and down], we went all the way up the hill with him looking me up and down. I was like 'get this guy off the street!' It was really freaky, and then I said 'don't you ever follow me when I'm taking my daughter to school,' I really told him off. That guy was a real fruitcake.
I once stepped out of a cab by accident in Muswell Hill and he jumped out in front of the car with me - not to push me out of the way of the car. I said to him, 'Kelvin, what the hell did you do that for?' and he said 'if you were going to die I wanted to die with you'. Why didn't you just save me? He was weird, he was really weird.
I had friends, this band called the Copyheads who came from Glasgow and wanted to stay over somewhere, so they stayed at my flat. And he was outside storming up and down, 'who are those guys in your house?' I said 'they're just friends from Glasgow, and it's none of your business anyway'. He came in and tried to put his arms round me and kiss me, I pushed him out of the door. When I started going out with my next husband he'd shifted houses to one that looked onto the roundabout so he could see whenever I was out so he could run downstairs and follow me around. He threatened to kill Robert, he said his stepdad had a shotgun. He was really furious that Robert was younger than him.
I was doing my driving lessons and he bought a car exactly the same a my car! Mine was a silvery green BMW and he got one that was a silvery blue, so it was slightly different but it was the exact same year and everything. I was doing my driving lessons, and if there's something gonna put you off it's this fruitcake following you! Honestly, it was a nightmare.
How long did this go on for?
ROSE: Ages. Till I left Muswell Hill. I was there six years and it happened pretty quickly after I moved there, so a very very long time. He went to my doctor's so he'd have the same doctor as me. She called me in one day and said, 'I shouldn't really say this and I don't think there's a real problem, I was wondering if you were aware of this person?'. She'd referred him to the psychiatric hospital up the road for group therapy. And then he'd come to my door with this big manual about sexual deviants and say 'look at page number whatever, that's you' and then just disappear. And then one of the guys from his group therapy knocked on my door one day and said 'can I borrow your walkman?'. I didn't even know this person so I said you can't borrow my walkman. He said, 'can I have a hug then, cos my therapist said hug therapy's really good for me'. I just said piss off. Instead of it getting better it got worse, he would get people from group therapy sat in the café we used to go to, just looking over at us. Instead of one stalker there's a whole gaggle!
He was just a wee bit over the top. He'd phone me up and say he'd taken an overdose, I'd tell him to phone the Samaritans. My number was ex-directory, I don't know how he got it. He could've got my address from following me - wandering around Muswell Hill we're not that difficult to spot. A couple of people came to the door actually. I'd open the curtains in the morning and there'd be four goths sat there, I'd close them again! It was a bit mad really.
Kelvin would phone and say 'leave Drew and I'll look after you and Keri'. Drew would answer and tell him to go away, I wouldn't let him do anything other than that - he wanted to give him a smack. I'd be stood talking to someone and they'd ask what I'd been doing and Kelvin would be stood right behind me and say 'you went to the chinese for a takeaway'.
You were in a really weird position cos you'd got all the mainstream publicity which attracts random mad people, but you've also got the outsiderness that gets people who are really obsessional. The level you were pitched at was always going to get the worst of both worlds.
ROSE: I know, exactly. I had this sixteen year old boy turn up at the door once with his auntie. He asked the shopkeepers where I lived - thankyou very much for telling him - he was from Sheffield I think, but his aunt lived in London. He turned up with a whole bunch of records to be signed and then one day he came back with some more and I let him come into the house. And then he had an epileptic fit! I went 'SHIT!' and sat on him, just to hold him down so he didn't hurt himself. Every time I said 'you have to go now, your aunt's probably waiting for you' he'd have another fit. I called my doctor round. He was there for three days, he would not go away. Eventually the doctor said he might be faking it. I phoned his mum and said 'I've got your son here and he keeps having fits'. I drove him to the bus stop, put him on a bus and he was in tears and everything. I said 'go home, your mother's waiting at the other end'.
That is REALLY far out. Imagine how different your life would have to have been for you to be like that.
ROSE: I know! Then his mum kept phoning me up all the time! Saying if he wasn't at home was he with me. Or, he's having fits again, will you talk to him? Stuff like that. I said I don't think it will help, it's just making it worse. His mum started sending me letters. I sent letters back saying they had to respect my privacy and it's really not my responsibility.
Things like that happened which were not glamorous, they're just a real pain and your life just comes to a stop sometimes because something like that happens. You get freaks going to your doctor's, freaks telling you this about yourself or that about yourself which is total crap, things they've made up in their own head.
This Kelvin hated blondes; if he was a trucker he'd probably pick up blondes and murder them. His mum was a blonde and he really didn't like her cos she'd separated from his dad, and he hated his stepdad and his mum liked his stepdad more than she liked him, so he really didn't like blondes. I just thought thank fuck I'm not a blonde. But then he wouldn't have liked me then anyway, would he? He didn't go to gigs either. That's the weird thing, he didn't go to any gigs, he was too shy, he'd nobody to go with.
Too shy to go to gigs but not to shy to harass you on your doorstep?
ROSE: That's the way his mind worked. He wouldn't go to gigs cos he'd nobody to go with but he was quite happy to threaten you with a shotgun. He got sacked from two jobs because of me. He used to fix video machines, so he was always sticking Strawberry Switchblade videos in all day long, so all the guys he worked with hated Strawberry Switchblade. One of them said she's got legs that go up to wherever, Kelvin punched the guy and got the sack. He also fixed jukeboxes, so there was always a Strawberry Switchblade on his ones, which was to our advantage. He got the sack from that for following me when he was supposed to be working.
You're talking about this really easily and laughing about it. How easy was it to deal with at the time?
ROSE: I was frightened till I met him, actually. Thinking someone's been following you for a year, that was the frightening bit. But once I'd actually met him it was just annoying. I wasn't that freaked out cos I used to be quite confident in my own ability to defend myself. I was used to weirdos coming up and sitting next to me on the late night bus and heaving to deal with them.
I didn't like him following me around when Keri was there and I was a wee bit worried about that, that he knew where her school was. I always had to go and pick her up even when she was older, make sure she was escorted to and from school; I might not be frightened of him but he knows where Keri goes to school and who knows what he's capable of, really?
The guy who said I was responsible for all the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I was a wee bit more scared of that letter, I thought he might be going to do something about it or people might believe him. I wasn't that scared, I was annoyed more than scared cos it just kind of interfered with things. There are a million and one Kelvin stories. He was just SO weird.
He did once come to a gig. This is a funny story actually. I was working with Lawrence from Felt who was a really good friend of mine, and he had a stalker, his female stalker from New Zealand. She hung around him all the time like Kelvin followed me. We were at Creation Records one day, Lawrence and I, and we came outside and the two of them were there, so we introduced them to each other and sent them off in a cab together!
Any report back of how it went?
ROSE: All they did was talk about us all the time so it didn't work! Lawrence and I thought it'd be an ideal set-up! She came up to me and said I'd been saying things to try and put her off Lawrence. 'Look, Lawrence is my friend, who am I going to listen to, you or Lawrence? Just go away. What Lawrence does is his choice, don't bother me about it'.
She turned up at my door once as well actually. She came into the house and had this big sobbing session about Lawrence and if I was in love with him and all this sort of stuff. She was so scared that she was in love with him and she wanted him and all that. Lawrence was on an independent label, so it happens to all sorts! But our little scheme of cooking those two up didn't really work. They did keep in touch, but only to talk about us. Stalkers Anonymous!