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


Problems With Management and Money

It's amazing, talking to Jill and Julian Cope and other people who have known and worked with Balfe, everybody has got specific stories about him that STILL make their hackles rise.

ROSE: It's funny, Jill started going out with Balfey for a while as well. She had this little sneaky affair with him at one point. I think she really liked him actually. But that all fell apart. That was another thing, 'what's going on there?'. I'd have thought it was funny, except that David Balfe had this girlfriend at Warner Brothers and they'd just bought a place together and she was working for us at the record company. It was really close to the edge, she could really fuck things up for us inside if she found out about that. She was a really nice girl and both Jill and I liked her.

DAVID BALFE: Jill and I had a little bit of a fling romantically towards the end of the band. It started off that Peter was her boyfriend, but he announced to everybody that he was really gay, and I said 'haven't you guys had a physical relationship?' and he said no. Some drunken evening I'd ended up snogging with Jill and something had happened then, although I was living with a girlfriend at the time so it was all kept quite secret. We started having this thing that whenever we were away at work we'd share a bedroom.

ROSE: Balfey told all his friends in Madness that he'd had both of us, they had that really male crap. I got really angry with him for that, just a male chauvinist idiot. Once, we'd just come off stage at a TV show and as we got into the elevator he slapped or pinched my backside in front of all the audience. I was so fucking furious that I turned round and slapped him really hard across the face. I said, if you ever do that again Drew will slap you even harder. He said he was sorry and he knew not to go there again. It was so patronising cos we were young girls. It's like, fuck off, I don't care how friendly you are and how much I like you, you do not humiliate me in front of all those people.

He wouldn't do an equivalent thing for a male artist, it is blatantly sexist.

ROSE: It is completely. More than anything, it was patronising and humiliating in front of the people who were behind us. I was so angry with him for that, he never did do it again. And there were money things that I didn't trust him about.

That's the favourite subject with everyone who says things about him.

ROSE: Is it? He claims I owe HIM money cos I didn't pay rent at this flat. Which is true, for the last little bit I did owe him 500, but when we went to Japan and we worked out all the money - we were doing gigs and getting paid quite well - and we were going to make a certain amount of money, and that was going to go on the lighting and whatever we were going to take over, and in the end there'd be a certain amount of profit. And the profit never showed up anywhere.

This was just when we were splitting up, we were asking, where's all the money from the Japan thing? I started really getting interested in the money then. Before that we'd just give ourselves a wage and let the accountant deal with it. In the beginning I didn't realise that when you go on TV you get paid for it. I didn't know that, I really didn't. So all those times we went on TV, which was hundreds of times, we were getting paid for it. So hang on, we should have money. And after the Japan thing, where's the money?

Money definitely went missing. Or it was spent on something we didn't agree on. It was in our contract that if Balfey was going to come on tour with us, even as our manager, he had to pay his air fare out of his 20%. I stipulated that right at the beginning, and it was agreed on. I don't know if it ever happened though. We were so busy that we couldn't keep our eyes on everything.

DAVID BALFE: Now we get to the difficult more controversial bit. Things were still running on and the record company were losing their faith now, I think. Time goes on and you've budgeted for a year or eighteen months of costs. At some point I had to say to the band, 'I'm going to have to stop your wages in however many weeks, and also paying for your flats. You're going to have to think about what you want to do cos we're running out of money and I can't get any more money out of the record company'. They were saying 'we really really don't want to do this, what can we do?' They had some money put aside for tax, and I said 'you can spend your tax money if you want, but it's a big risk; you wouldn't have anything put aside to cover everything'. And they insisted that they did that, they didn't want to go on the dole. I advised them strongly against it.

The idea was that something would come together and we'd get a new deal and get some more money out of them in the end and it would work out and we'd avoid the horrible thing. But nothing did come through.

The girls would be arguing and I wasn't sure if they'd always had this tension between them and as they'd gone on they'd introduced me to it, or whether it was something new. As I said, Rose was quite a hard nut, not in a particularly nasty way but just very tough, I think she'd come from a background where you had to be tough, whereas Jill was very soft and very neurotic and agoraphobic and had real difficulty coping with everyday life.

They started arguing about things - I can't even remember the specifics, it wasn't any big musical differences. Although Rose was hanging out with people like Genesis P-Orridge who I found a little bit too weird even for my taste. They were each complaining of the other, although mainly Jill complaining about Rose.

About what?

DAVID BALFE: I can't remember specifically. It always happens, when things start going wrong people start having plans for how to fix it and people are less likely to agree about it. When things are going well people always have ideas but they don't really get upset, everybody says yes to everybody's idea. When things turn to difficulty then 'ideas' become 'solutions', and solutions are something you desperately have to get everybody on board for.

ROSE: Balfey would always be edgy ringing me up, cos he could never predict what I was going to say about any specific thing he put forward about the band. He said to Drew that it fucked with his head cos he never knew which angle to come at with me.

Imagine him being so scheming he's got think abut his angle to come at, rather than talk about something and just see what you think.

ROSE: Exactly. He'd say something to Jill in one way and say it to me in another way. If he thought I was going to object to something he'd fluff it all up, but I'm not stupid; I know Balfe and I'd know what he was doing so it didn't work.

DAVID BALFE: The big problem that happened was they split up. They turned up at Eden studios one day - I can't remember what we were doing in the studio, mixing or something - and they said they were splitting up. They'd had a big discussion the two of them the night before and they announced it to me, and I started saying, 'well you're gonna have big problems you know, you've spent your tax money'.

I was telling them they were running out of money, they'd spent their tax money, and it is THEIR money. A manager is a very weird position in that you're essentially an advisor. You can't tell them you CAN'T spend this money. Following on from this situation, I wouldn't even MENTION tax money to bands, I would tell them 'you're out of money' and not even mention what's aside for tax. You put the right percentage aside for tax and you'd always get some deductions for various things and that would end up covering the accountants bills. This was a big lesson I learned from Strawberry Switchblade was that I should never have let them decide about their money. Basically it all went dreadfully wrong.

Jill, who ended up being fairly stationary in one place and a very good middle-class girl, ended up being hit by the accountant's bills to sort it all out and doing deals where they were paying off the VAT and various tax bills for years. Rose just ended up being a kind of gypsy and disappeared and wandered round all over the place and paid bugger all as far as I know.

I got very annoyed with Rose cos my management company had signed off on the leases of their flats because they were company lets. They needed a company director because the law was slightly different at that point about the rights of a tenant on a company let than the rights of a tenant who dealed direct. So I signed off on them and they used to pay me the rent and I'd pay it on. Then Rose stopped paying. She had a very good flat and she just kind of left it, she left stuff in there, locked it all up and just went wandering round. I'd be writing letters to her and ringing her for months, literally sitting outside the flat for hours waiting for her to come back when I didn't even know if she was living there or off on her travels. I was paying out a fortune and I ended up getting taken to court by the landlords and having to pay all the back rent, even though I said, 'look, this is the real situation'. And I never got any of the money back off Rose.

But I think Rose, being a tough cookie, would think, 'fuck it, Dave Balfe's got money, I've ended up out of pocket for this thing, he can have his problem'. Whereas Jill wouldn't do anything like that, so she was a nicer character who ended up with, I think, a lot of financial troubles for years.

I think that was also a difficult thing because it ended. Rose had left Jill in the lurch more than Jill had left Rose in the lurch and there was all this money owed. I was still organising, but essentially I wasn't going to pick up any of the bills, which might have been ungenerous of me but I wasn't that well off at the time and they'd made decisions against my advice which had left them in this situation.

I think Rose and Frog, who Jill ended up having a romantic thing with after the Japan trip, always blamed me. It's an easy blame to make, a manager. Musicians are always likely to say it, rather than 'oh I should have spent a little bit more time thinking harder about financial things', it's very easy to say 'the manager ripped us off' or 'the manager left us in the lurch' - it's a very easy thing to say to yourself and to the people around you.

And who knows - if I can accuse other people of kidding themselves maybe I'm kidding myself. But the logic I employed at the time was that I'd advised them not to spend this money and they'd spent it. They owed tax money, they owed money to accountants. I tried to organise it for a long time, I ended up leaving it direct between the accountants and the girls themselves.

I don't know how I discovered this, I think I spoke to Jill three or four years later, one phone call, and she was fairly embittered and Frog was very embittered. I think Frog was doubly annoyed with me cos I was somebody who had slept with his wife and left her with all these financial troubles, as far as he was concerned.

I didn't really have any communication with them after that, which I've always been sorry about. Maybe I should have done more. I really genuinely mean that, maybe I should have paid off the bills, maybe I too easily accepted that they had the responsibility for using the money I'd put aside and maybe I shouldn't have let them. At the time I just didn't want to take responsibility myself financially and on a straightforward level I did tell them it was their choice.

ROSE: Once he'd got all these badges done with photographs that I really didn't like and - this is really trivial, it was really petty of me to do this - but I said I'm not going out of the door, I'm not doing the gigs unless you bring the box of badges back. I wouldn't have made such a fuss but I'd said to him before that I don't want to use that picture, I really don't want to use it. Balfe came out with some thing about how they just came back like that and he'd told them I didn't want it with that picture. I said well, we don't use them then. He said we have to now we've got them, I said if you want to use those badges you take them on tour and not me. It was because I knew he had no intentions of ever listening to me when I said I didn't want those badges done.

It's like with the record company saying what to wear, the people around you being unclear about whose band it is, and whose band it isn't.

ROSE: And sometimes you have to do really stupid petty things like that.

It's not like there's only one picture of you available, so for someone outside to be deciding what picture to use irrespective of what the artist thinks, THAT'S where the pettiness kicks in, and you have to play on that level to get it stopped.

ROSE: I know. And it got so stupid. I didn't want those little stupid catfights, it was a waste of time, it was a waste of mental energy, it was just not worth it. So I ended up thinking I don't want this any more. It ceased to be fun, it ceased to be what it was supposed to be. And god knows where it would've gone had we continued.

ROBIN MILLAR: It just makes you wonder about the ineptitude of Warner Brothers at that time, doesn't it? How could they not have sat down and had a half-hour conversation with the two of them and thought, 'well it's completely inappropriate what we've got planned for them in terms of marketing and presentation'. But there we are, Strawberry Switchblade and the 1980s Warner Brothers dynasty; that's chalk and cheese for you.