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

Rose, magic, paganism, Nazism and Genesis P-Orridge; continued

Jill said it got a lot darker round the time the band split.

ROSE: What do you mean 'IT got darker'?

Your involvement in magic.

ROSE: Well, I was always into magic, but I just got into it more, just started practicing it much much more, proper rituals and stuff like that. I did get into it quite heavily really. It was fine for a while, and then I decided not to do it any more cos there were some bad repercussions coming back. When I got pregnant I thought it was not a good thing to do, I had some mishaps, magically. I thought, I can't bring this on two little unsuspecting creatures. I still did tarot and crystal gazing and stuff like that, and I'm still into palmistry and everything.

My great-grandmother was a Romany gypsy so I've always been into stuff like that. I always had tarot cards when I was in Switchblade and crystal balls and runes and everything like that. Me and Jill fell out over that cos she didn't like it cos she thought it was black magic, which it wasn't. She didn't understand what it was, really. I was doing magic to fulfil myself and to better myself, to become wiser about certain things. I was doing it to enrich my life and to become more knowledgeable about things. I was not cursing people or anything!

That's the stereotypical thing you get, not just magic but anything remotely pagan, that it must be dark and dreadful and full of human sacrifices.

ROSE: I'd class myself as pagan, certainly. Really I'm just into the earth and everything around me and all the natural things which ARE pagan, the things from before Christians came along and swept it all under the...yew trees! You know, which they pretended came AFTER the churches when the yew trees were there BEFORE the churches, they built churches beside the sacred trees and people forgot the trees were there first.

It's not just the sacred trees, there are loads of churches built next to standing stones. Churches were originally built inside the sacred stone circles and the spaces between stones was walled in. Even now there's still a load of churches with standing stones in their walls. This not only gave rise to the tradition of circular churchyards, but the very word 'church' comes from the nordic 'kirk', the same root as 'circ' in 'circle'. Their assimilation of pagan sacred places even pinched the name! To replace paganism they had to demonise it, so loads of old standing stones and wells are called things like 'the Devil's Stones' or 'the Devil's Well', and anyone into pagan ideas and magic is a spooky and dangerous.

ROSE: There's a well in the east of England - I can't remember exactly where now - not so long ago they found deep in the well all these runes and stuff, all about the Mother and a pagan goddess, whose name is very similar to another goddess. They just changed it very slightly, just to confuse. After a couple of generations, the real meaning of the word's forgotten and people accept the new one cos that's all they hear. And because back then people weren't that educated, not everybody could read so it was very easy to manipulate people in that way.

With modern historical research it's easier to see where religious beliefs have come from, but before all the research had been done and published, you could just take a goddess name and put the word 'saint' in front of it, and a few generations later it's believed to have always been christian.

ROSE: That whole thing did fascinate me, and that was a part of the magic I was into. It was discovering who I was and why I was.

Also, I did do things to contact people, like my friend who'd killed herself. Her ghost did come to me, her spirit came to me on a few occasions quite close after he had died. I saw things, I conjured things. I was just completely open to all of that and welcomed it into my life, but then it got a wee bit out of control at one point and I was getting a wee bit too obsessed with it all. I was completely like, with runes like The Dice Man or something! It was like, Rose! You don't have to ask the runes if you can have this bar of chocolate! You can decide that yourself!

It wasn't quite that bad, but it got so I never went anywhere without my runes or my tarot cards or something. It was just like my whole life was a wee bag of magic somewhere. I'd disappear off into the woods at night time when everybody was sleeping in a gypsy dress with my crystal ball.

There was this little wood up in Muswell Hill and it'd be poring with rain one night and I'd just run into the wood with nothing on but a T shirt and a pair of knickers and just stay there until the morning. And then I'd go on the bus that the commuters were on, and my hair would be all full of leaves and stuff and my legs would be all scratched up cos I'd been running through the brambles! I just completely completely wanted to be in the woods. I had a really good time at that point in my life. But then after my friend died I got really depressed, really quite manically depressed, I wasn't very well for a while. Which is what made me decide to leave London, it was getting too much.

The reason I used to function much better at the night time - I used to write at night time, used to go out in the woods at night time, do a lot of things at night time - was because everyone was asleep and all those negative vibes weren't there, so that whole buzz that IS London was kind of less of a buzz at night time. I felt much better for it, the buzz was really starting to bug me.

I'd started to distance myself from people, and that was a lot to do with Strawberry Switchblade. When we went to Japan and we'd get mobbed and stuff like that, and then I really started to resent people coming too close to me, just expecting that they could, invading your privacy like that, like you're public property.

I actually now - Jill's got agoraphobia - I've got people-phobia. I actually do. Sometimes I have a panic attack if I'm in a place with too many people, especially if they're all moving in the same direction. Like the Underground, people get off the train and it's really mobbed and they're all moving in the same direction, I will just automatically turn round and go the other way, because it just freaks me out going in that sea of people, I know they're not...going where I'm going and I don't want to go where they're going, I have to just go the other way.

I think it was a thing about when I was a kid, going against the grain, being different from other people, being into things other people weren't into and they'd call you a weirdo for being into. I think it was just a physical way of that coming out when I felt panicky with all these people, all this dead energy and I just had to get out of there. I had to get out of London. I just think it's much nicer out here where you can see the birds, it's much better medicine.

I was diagnosed with manic depression and that was after Kelvin as well - anybody'd be depressed after him - I just thought I had to get out of London, it wasn't a good place for me to be at that time, because I was a wee bit self-destructive as well.

In what way?

ROSE: Well, I went through this whole phase of challenging fate, doing dangerous things and challenging fate. We were supposed to go to Switzerland one day and I was in the woods at Hampstead. Just a couple of friends who were doing a ritual and stuff like that, and I climbed up this tree. I was taking something off all the way up the tree. Then I fell out of the tree and I broke three ribs. I thought I was going to die cos I looked down and my chest was just black; it was dark and I thought 'oh my god, my heart's falling out cos it's all opened,' but it was mostly just green stuff off the tree. I had scratches, a couple deep enough to scar, but not terrible. But I was in so much pain cos I'd broken three ribs. The ribs snapped and a splinter came out and it was right beside my spleen. They were worried they were going to rupture my spleen. And anyway, I couldn't go to Switzerland the next day, so that was like a magical thing that came in and interfered with Strawberry Switchblade I guess. After falling out of the tree I was in bed for two months cos I just couldn't do anything.

Even laughing's off the cards when you've done your ribs in.

ROSE: Exactly! My ex-husband was on tour with Psychic TV and I'd just fallen out with Genesis P-Orridge not very long before that and he punched Genesis P-Orridge! He was driving for them and Gen was slagging me off or something and Drew just stopped, turned round and punched Gen right in the nose. He comes up with this and I'm saying 'don't tell me! Don't tell me' cos I couldn't stop laughing!

But I did go through a really bad phase of being depressed and dicing with danger. Like, running into the ocean when it was really really dark every time I went to Brighton, which was a lot. This is all the late 80s really, long after Strawberry Switchblade had split up. I was just being self-destructive, I would cut myself to see if I would bleed to death or if fate would win. I would do really mad stuff like that cos I was really fucked up cos when my friend killed himself I really thought it was my fault, blamed myself for it. Although it wasn't my fault, he jumped in front of a train, and he always said he was going to die when he was 23. But I said I'd visit him that night and I didn't. I didn't cope with death very well cos of what happened to my wee brother.

I started getting into magic again - well I was still into it - but I'd do ritual magic where I would cut myself at a point in the ritual to energise it and sacrifice some of yourself. In order to gain something you have to give, basically, and I was cutting myself a wee bit too deep sometimes, deliberately, just to see what would happen, cos I just didn't really care what happened. That was a pretty negative part of my life, which was when London was doing my head in. I just thought, 'this city is going to swallow me up, I'm going to have to get out of it'. It was a mad time.

It's really difficult to ask you about this stuff. It's so easy to seem sensationalist or prying. I'm really glad there's nobody who wants to look back over twenty years of MY life and get me to talk about all of it, all the bits I'm really glad to have left behind. Coming back to the Strawberry Switchblade era, the magic was something Jill talked about and said it was a factor around your splitting up. I get the impression she didn't ask to much though, she didn't try to understand it.

ROSE: Understand what?

What you were doing magically.

ROSE: Oh no, she didn't. She wouldn't ask about it, she never mentioned anything except that she didn't like it and it was scary. She didn't like a lot of the people around the time I was friends with Gen, she didn't like a lot of those people, she thought they were freaks and weirdos, she thought they were all evil really. I still hang about with a lot of those people, like David Tibet and there's nothing evil about him. In fact, he's a Christian now, weirdly.

She didn't really know any of them, she just knew they were kind of... dark, and into things that were not to her liking. They were absolutely fine by me, I thought they were all very interesting, I was interested in those things anyway. I enjoyed meeting and talking to these people and seeing their points of view on things and putting my tuppence worth in and having good conversations.

JILL: I've nothing against magic, but I had no time for what Rose was doing. It wasn't scary, it was more reckless and silly.

Did it not freak you out, the Hitler Youth dagger?

ROSE: No, because it's only like army memorabilia, d'you know what I mean? At first I thought, 'has this been used?'. I did think that, because the one I got had a nick on the end. But a lot of those were never used, they were for boy scouts; they are exactly the same as the boy scout dagger except for the emblem. So really it didn't have any significance in a Nazi way. There's no way that I'm a fascist or a Nazi. I think Hitler was a very interesting man but he was totally off his fucking rocker. It's fascinating to think that he could control a whole nation like that. How the hell did he do that?

There's something a bit simplistic in the way we're told it was just him, the way history is boiled down to a few bogeymen when in fact they were just part of a massive team.

ROSE: All the things he stood for; a super-race tall, blond and blue eyed - he was short and dark! It's was a headfuck, how can he be promoting that when it was everything he wasn't? He was obviously a twisted little man right from the beginning. He was obviously very twisted and sick. It is all completely sick and awful.

Somebody actually sent me some bones from Auschwitz that they found when they went to visit there, in a little box. I took them out and I gave them a burial, a proper burial in a place that's somewhere special to me and said said something to put them to rest. I couldn't do that, I couldn't pick up something like that and take it away cos I think it's disrespectful to the dead. I have complete respect for the remains of someone who isn't here any more, and especially something like that. People send me significant things, like that and a piece of the Berlin Wall and whatever.

Jill mentioned that Rose had some Nazi memorabilia. Do you remember anything about that?

DAVID BALFE: It doesn't ring a bell. I wouldn't put it past her. She was into quite heavy stuff. And I think it was a bit embarrassing to Rose the way Strawberry Switchblade was this frothy poppy thing and all her mates were into weird stuff.

Jill said you had a Nazi flag banner as well.

ROSE: I never had a flag. I knew someone who had one, but I never had one and I don't believe there was ever one in the house. She's talking about a flag isn't she? I didn't have a flag.

But yeah, I had an interest in the Second World War, my grandfather fought in it, d'you know what I mean?

It does grab people because it was so audacious, Nazism wasn't like any other militarism, it was done with such showbiz.

ROSE: It was so cunning and well-planned

and yet so ostentatious with the big banners and Hugo Boss uniforms, clearly interested in style and dazzle as well as practicality, so overt, and that still astonishes us today like no other regime ever has.

ROSE: I'd never thought about that, when you said showbiz, but it was really, wasn't it?

Absolutely! Putting a really distinctive symbol on everything that everyone will recognise wherever it goes, you read about the rallies with the deafening music as the speaker marches on, rather than just someone walking on to a stage.

ROSE: It is fascinating, because it happened at all. How could that have ever happened?

We forget how prevalent things like militarism and eugenics were at the time - they were common right across the world, but as we forget all of them except the Nazis it makes the Nazis look even more extreme.

ROSE: And I think there's a cultural thing as well. The Japanese army could be limkened to the German army with mishima and all that, the whole pride and honour thing, it was another big showbiz thing. If you were dishonoured in any way you had to kill yourself. I know it wasn't the same thing, but the way it was so serious, it was everything, your honour was everything.

It's so weird for us because our culture only really values individual happiness and money, it's so difficult for us to deal with ideals outside of that. Out of the two cultures, I think we're more fascinated by Nazis because the Japanese honour thing is more to do with your internal workings whereas the Nazis was more to do with how other people see you, and that resonates deeply with the consumerist advertising culture we all live in, yet it was for a genocidal military regime that we can't imagine living in.

ROSE: It fascinated me that it had ever happened at all, and in a time that there were people still alive from. My grandfather was there, my mother was four when the war ended. It's such a horrific thing to imagine being in, especially if you have kids, your perception on things changes, you get this instinct to protect.

It's totally bizarre, I just can't imagine being in a war, I'd kill myself rather than have to face that horror, cos it would destroy me mentally. That's the whole thing about humanity; why does someone want to kill somebody else? Maybe that's got a lot to do with my upbringing, seeing how people can be so brutally cruel to somebody, chop off their arm with a sword. I didn't tell you even half the stuff I had to experience; some guy being killed with an ice-skating boot when I was coming out of the ice-skating, got it stuck in his back. I put my grandfather's scarf that he gave me, it was a real treasure, round this guy's neck and my coat on him to try and keep him warm till the ambulance came but he died on the way to hospital. I came across that kind of thing a lot in Glasgow. The idea that someone could willingly want to do something so awful to somebody, another human being, makes me feel sick, it really actually makes me feel sick. I hate violence.