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
The partnership starts to come apart
DAVID BALFE: The Japanese success made them think, 'well maybe we can have something going on there', that's what also led to the record company carrying on beyond what they might have done if it was just a UK situation.
We did a first promotional trip, then we went back to do some dates. They were massive dates, 2,000 or 3,000 capacity theatres. I think we did two nights in a theatre in Tokyo and one in Osaka and one somewhere else. They were all two and a half or three thousand seater places, all sell-outs. That was when I hired [Farmers Boys bass player and Jill's future husband] Frog in and a guy who later became one of M People. I hired a couple of keyboard players, musicians to play with them just to make it look more like an act, although a lot of it was on tape and stuff. In those days that was quite a normal act, you'd have two musicians who played various things and then the focus in the middle. It worked really well, we had a bit of slide show that had been organised by Peter who was also a musician. It worked, it was a great thing.
Also Peter - who I liked a great deal but he was a very irritating personality, very opinionated, he had nothing going for him in life except that he was Jill's boyfriend - he was a smart guy and had some really interesting ideas but he could be very very opinionated and irritating. We were organising these dates and I got this tour manger in who I knew was a great tour manager, he'd done lots of big bands. I'd said, 'look, this'll be a week in Japan, it'll be really fun', and he organised it, got a quick crew together for lighting and sound and all this. I was going to be there as well to do work as part of the crew. He went off to the first rehearsal to meet the band and get everything organised, and he ended up - I can't remember if he punched or headbutted - Peter!
I'd warned him, I'd said, 'watch out for Peter, he can be a bit irritating but don't let him get to you'. I still don't understand what happened that made him do it, this big tough Irishman. He had to get the sack then and this was about three or four days before we left so I had to take over his duties, it was a real nightmare. But they did these dates and they were big in Japan, as the old saying goes. I think they always thought if they could get another good single they could get another deal together in Japan alone. I think that was always hanging over them.
BILL DRUMMOND: It was only a matter of time before it would implode.
Did you consciously realise that at the time?
BILL DRUMMOND: I suppose not. I suppose it's easy for me to see things after the fact. But with the difference in character between Rose and Jill and what they needed out of life...
Had that difference always been like there or had the working arrangements created or exacerbated it?
BILL DRUMMOND: It may have been always there, but I wouldn't be as exposed to it, to whatever was going on in their heads whenever they're off by themselves. It just became more and more apparent, Jill would need protecting from things.
Did you see this in the working relationship between them, did relations change or was there a shift in the power dynamic?
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.
As it went on with the commercial pressures coming in, was there any feeling that there should be a let-up in pushing them? At what point did you realise this was happening to them, that it was doing them harm?
BILL DRUMMOND: Probably too late. And also from a record company point of view there was no big commercial upside. If an act sells a fuck of a lot of records then the record company are gonna go, 'hey, take your time, as long as it takes, that's the most important thing, you as an artist'. If an act isn't selling that many records then a major record company isn't really going to give a shit. Although Since Yesterday got to number five in this country, it was obvious that was the only track on the album that in that day and age could actually be a big hit. There wasn't anything else there that could then take the album to create the financial return for a major record company.
Was it seen like that at the time?
BILL DRUMMOND: It's just an unwritten thing.
JILL: And at that point I was not getting on with Rose and her kind of losing proportion of the whole thing.
In what sense? What kind of thing?
JILL: We just kinda went off in different directions. She did lose proportion, she got a bit - Spinal Tap where the sandwiches aren't the right shape - she got a wee bit like that. There was obviously a lot of pressure and she just wasn't used to stuff like that and she didn't know how to handle herself and she was greedy. She was 'this is my thing, it's not yours, just keep in the background', you know? Which is tiring after a while, you need a bit of mutual respect if we're going to do this. I mean I know a lot of people in bands hate each other but there's still some kind of respect there that holds them together and makes them recognise what the other's doing is good. By the time it got to this stage I couldn't even recognise that, it was just silly.
I think you find out about people when you're under stress. It's not the best way to get to know somebody under those kind of circumstances, it puts you under a lot of pressure. I really enjoyed doing things with somebody else, with another woman, but it just didn't work out. I just didn't feel like there was any kind of mutual respect. After we'd done the album there wasn't really much co-operation, we were just kind of growing apart. I thought the good thing about it was to work together, to write together. It got to the point where she and I were writing separately, and I'm just not interested in doing that. That's why I didn't really carry on afterwards because I didn't want to work on my own, I want to work with other people. I think that's the kind of dynamic that works well with a lot of people in bands and that write together, there's a dynamic between two people that doesn't work on their own.
So it came to splitting up rather than being dropped? Your history is so undocumented that I wasn't sure.
JILL: Oh yes, we split up. We decided to split up and then the record company had an option to keep both of us on, but they'd had so much trouble with us, I'd just point-blank refused to do all the shit things, which I have every right to do. Not going out with some DJ. I remember him inviting us to his country retreat for the weekend. NO! Sorry, maybe he's lovely, but NO. That's so shit, it's not the way to do things. And they obviously had no faith in us or the record or anything, so what's the point? We'd have been better off on an indie label. It wasn't good, and Bill and Balfey were on that 80s huge-advance kick, they just wanted to go off and be mega, and they just didn't want to nurture it.
It was also when you were coming apart as a team as well.
ROSE: A lot of that was because I really felt really pressured. I mean, I'd come home at the end of the day and out of pure exhaustion of arguing a point with the record company, I'd just burst into tears.
I was SO frustrated and angry cos I always made sure we had group meetings every Friday and made sure we talked about whatever we thought was the right thing to do. And Jill and I would sit down and agree on everything, we'd agree we have to tell Rob Dickins and we have to tell the record company what we don't want to do. But then we'd get in there and Jill would be too shy to say it, and she'd also be too shy to say 'I agree with Rose,' even though we'd said it at home. So I felt like I was bashing my head off a brick wall all the time, cos I was like the baddie going in going 'no no no no,' looking for back-up and it wasn't there. Jill would've probably just gone with it, rather than face the conflict.
JILL: The pressure from the record company got bigger and what we were getting out of it got smaller, and I just couldn't be bothered fighting any more.
ROSE: I couldn't stand it any more. I couldn't stand always being at a battle, and actually knowing that Jill WAS on my side - on OUR side - but not being able to say something. Sometimes her boyfriend would say something on her behalf, but the record company really didn't like that. It was hard work - I was having to push our point of view but they were saying it was my point of view cos they could probably get Jill to agree if they pushed hard enough, and I was the troublemaker.
I said 'if I can't use Tim Pope it's the beginning of the end for me,' and Tim Pope was saying 'don't do that on my behalf'. I said, 'I wasn't, I was doing it on OUR behalf. We started out this band. Why fix something if it's not broken? We're really happy the way things are and we're not just standing up for you, we're standing up for OURSELVES, it's cos WE like this arrangement'. The record company were just getting the better of us more often than not.
TIM POPE: I'll tell you a story. I was on this video panel about four or five years ago and Rob Dickins was there. I was on the panel with him and Baby Spice or somebody. I tackled him about it - we had a laugh about it, it was like twenty years on - but we came to real fisticuffs about it at the time cos they thought I was wrong. Also the girls' leverage was not that strong, they weren't having international hits. It wasn't like with The Cure, where people tried to separate me there the band could fight back a little. I think by the time it had got to that point in their career they couldn't particularly fight.
Can you give me the specifics of Rob Dickins' response when you talked a couple of years ago?
TIM POPE: We laughed.
Did he concede at all that he was wrong?
TIM POPE: I don't think he bothered. Rob Dickins was the kind of guy who was into a band that would sell eight million records. It was that kind of label and I'm not sure they were the right label for a band like that. The girls by nature of what they were, they were subversive people, I think Rose more than Jill, they knew the nature of what they were subverting. I think it was the wrong label for them. I never used to do work for that label.
I don't think Rob Dickins gave tuppence about them to be honest. We laughed, but the last time I'd seen him, twenty years before, we'd come almost to fisticuffs and I probably called him a cunt, as I remember.
ROSE: I thought, this is not why I wanted to be in a band, to be stressed and go home at the end of the day feeling that bad, to sit down and burst into tears and think 'shit, I hate this, I can't stand it and I'm going to have to do it all again tomorrow'. I started being really really short with people, being really blunt and telling them exactly what I thought.
I said to Jill, 'if it's going to continue like this I don't want it to continue at all'. It was one of the Friday group meetings, she came downstairs and I said I'm really not happy with the way things are going and if we can't change it, if it's not going to change then I'd rather we split up, I'd rather we just didn't do it any more cos it's not what we wanted to do. She just said that she agreed, or something like that.
It could've been easier you know, we didn't HAVE to break up, we could've sorted it out somehow but there just wasn't the... I don't know. Also we'd just sacked our manager as well, we sacked David Balfe because we didn't trust him because he was manipulating one of us off the other. That's why I always had the Friday group meetings cos when we were a four piece we had the meetings in front of our manager, so that everything was said in front of everybody and nobody could be grouping off into little groups. Cos Balfey's gonna talk to me and say things how he knows Rose likes to hear things, he's gonna say it to Jill how he knows Jill likes to hear things, and I'd say let's get together and hear how we all like to hear things.
The songwriting credit for Black Taxi. It's credited to you, Jill, Balfe and Mulhearne. Who was Mulhearne?
ROSE: Mulhearne? I have no idea.
Jill has no idea either. She said a lot of the songs near the end she didn't have a lot to do with and maybe it was one of those, which kind of implies it would have more to do with you.
ROSE: Black Taxi I remember because we were writing it in the studio as we were doing the session, like finishing the lyrics in the studio. Balfey came up with the keyboard stuff. Drew, my husband then, did a lot of the sequencing stuff. I wrote the lyrics and sang it. I don't know a Mulhearne! I have no idea, unless it was the engineer or something. Maybe it's Balfey's alter-ego so he gets half the money!
There is actually stuff like that with him! There was a 7 inch EP that came free with some Littlewoods promotion, four retro hits like Thin Lizzy Whiskey In The Jar, and one was Reward by the Teardrop Explodes. That was written by Alan Gill and Julian Cope, yet the EP credits it to Gill and Balfe. Let's not name names, but somebody made sure Balfe got the money instead of Cope! It's amazing that neither of you know of anyone called Mulhearne yet you allegedly wrote a song together.
ROSE: I don't remember anyone else even being in the studio apart from the engineers, cos it was a radio session.
The writing credit for Black Taxi is Bryson/McDowall/Balfe/Mulhearne. Neither Jill nor Rose have any idea who Mulhearne is. Have you?
DAVID BALFE: I cannot remember that writing credit or the song at all. But Jeanne Mulhearn was my girlfriend at the time, so I presume we wrote something together and gave it to Jill and Rose who developed it into something. But that's a total guess.
On a tape of late demos there's Beautiful End, Cake Knife, Dark 7, Michael Who Walks By Night. Whose songs are whose?
JILL: Beautiful End, Cake Knife and 60 Cowboys were Rose's songs. Michael Who Walks By Night and Dark 7 are mine.
Did you do the lyrics as well?
JILL: Yeah, and I'm singing on them, and it's terrible. I don't think Rose wanted to sing them cos she hadn't written them. That's why I didn't think it was going to work. I didn't really want to sing. I don't mind doing backing vocals and harmonies and layering things up.