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
DAVID BALFE: I think Rose always had the vision of herself going on and doing whatever she went on to do. Jill I think always felt that Strawberry Switchblade was her thing and that would be it. So Rose had a slightly different perspective, and also Rose was happy to go off and do weird things. Rose was also pretty unreliable, she would say she was going to do something and then change her mind at the last minute.
Jill was very different. We had some success in Japan, we did gigs there. It costs a lot of money to go to Japan and put somebody up and we did take her boyfriend. It was a weird relationship because although he was her boyfriend he later came out as gay, or declared himself as gay although he wasn't having any gay relationships, he was a bit of a Morrissey character in that respect. [Peter says this story was a wind-up that Balfe took seriously]. She kind of relied on him, but we said, 'look, he can't come with us to Japan, the record company won't pay for it'. Rose wasn't taking anybody, Rose was completely independent.
We tried to go and at the airport she had a freakout and wouldn't get on the plane and we had to organise for him to come and lost the flight and all this mad stuff. That was kind of typical of Jill, that she'd be panicking and having fits about things. I mean, she was a lovely lovely girl, and she was trying her hardest, but she was very very very neurotic and had real difficulty with panic attacks and stuff like that.
I think because of these different attitudes they started rubbing each other up the wrong way. There wasn't any specific big issue. As I said, in general Rose was into a more angsty indie gothic thing and Jill was doing soft and fluffy cats. But I liked both of them a great deal.
Afterwards, did you do much on your own? Is there much recorded and unreleased?
JILL: I did a few demos, it must've been late 1986. I did it with a friend called Robin Brown, he sang with me. We just sat in a bedroom with a DX7. I'd written the songs and he did some backing vocals and we recorded it on a little 8 track in somebody's front room in Muswell Hill, and he put some other things on to it, keyboards and stuff.
What are you playing on them?
JILL: Just guitar and some really hamfisted keyboards. After that I did a few gigs with a band made up of most of Primal Scream, Robert and Andrew Innes. That happened cos I played Alan McGee [head of Primal Scream's label Creation Records] a demo and he liked it and he said 'do a few gigs and I'll get you a band together'. I had a guy who I was singing with who I don't think they liked very much, a young gay guy, they wanted to be a bit more rock and he was a bit fey, but I liked him. It was a bit of a strange band. You had Robert from Primal Scream and Andrew Innes and the drummer they had at that time who I think was [Julian Cope collaborator] Donald Skinner's brother.
How many gigs did you do?
JILL: I think we did about three or four, we did University of London Union and Hammersmith Palais where I was supporting somebody.
Can you remember who?
JILL: It was all done through Alan McGee so it'd probably be someone of his.
How did the gigs go?
JILL: Pretty well. We had a few reviews and I was wearing a hat and it was all one of them mentioned, basically just reviewing the hat.
Like the ribbons and make-up fixations you'd had from the press with Strawberry Switchblade.
Were you still doing Strawberry Switchblade songs?
Just new stuff?
JILL: Yes. And I enjoyed it but, you know, not that much. I'd rather have done it with somebody else, with Rose if she'd been OK, if she hadn't gone off the rails. I'd rather it was more fun. So I didn't want to carry on, and at that point Alan McGee was going through a lot, I think his marriage broke up, I'd just split up with my boyfriend, it was a really weird time and after the review of my hat I just thought it might be nice to do something a bit.... I just didn't want to do it, you know? I mean there was one review, somebody at Record Mirror which was actually a good review, an intelligent review, it was really nice. But because it was just me it was 'who's going to be in the band? What are you going to do? Who's going to produce it?' and I didn't want to do it without an ally, somebody that's going to help.
Have you done any music since? Have you written any stuff?
JILL: Yeah, I do it for the sake of it yeah, just for myself. And occasionally I think maybe I'd like to do something. But I think it's been tainted by the crap that went on with the record company.
ROSE: People keep asking me to release this demo I did just after Switchblade split up, the Sunflower Demos. A lot of the songs are like the Switchblade album, and some of them aren't quite so 80s sounding. I thought, 'I don't want to release it, I sound like a chipmunk,' and then I just thought OK, so I'm going to release it quite soon. It's ready to go out, I've just got to do the artwork for it, and that'll be stuff that I was working on that might have been on the second Strawberry Switchblade album. Loads of people have been writing to the website saying they've heard about it and want to hear it, I've been nagged so much by lots of people to release it, so I'm going to put it out.
After you split with Jill, she said you did some gigs with someone else.
ROSE: I did a couple of Strawberry Switchblade gigs, but it wasn't with someone instead of her, it was me with two of Primal Scream, Lawrence from Felt, two of the Weather Prophets. It was kind of a wee bit like a Creation supergroup!
One was the best gig I've ever done. I took a tab of acid before I went on stage, which I would never recommend to anybody, and I would never have thought that I would've done it myself. First gig after Strawberry Switchblade have split up, so what does Rose do? Something completely fucking off the wall!
Before I went into the venue it was a full moon that night, and I thought, oh COOL. It was in Brighton, and there was the full moon reflecting off the ocean, it was just gorgeous. I went into the venue and I was really nervous, and I took this acid. I went out on stage and I swear I don't know HOW I remembered the songs! I think it was because of the moon, because I looked at the back of the hall and there was a spotlight, and I was thinking WOW! COOL! The moon's come to my gig! What an honour! Because I was so elated about the moon being there, I wasn't thinking about the songs, I just played them naturally. It got reviewed as being the best pop band ever!
The trick with doing anything on acid is to distract yourself from thinking about the process of doing it. If you're running and you start thinking about your legs and the ground you'll stumble, but if you're concentrating on what you're heading towards then it's fine. It'd probably be easier cos it was songs that have been part of you for so long.
ROSE: A lot of the songs were new songs, they weren't old Strawberry Switchblade songs like Jill and I would've done. It was me moving on and still keeping the name, basically. Cos it was my name in the beginning, cos I got it from James Kirk. But Jill didn't like me to use it because it was associated with both of us, and so I ended up not using it. Although I should've still used it if I was going to keep doing that sort of stuff. I thought it was silly to fight over it. I know people associated it with Jill and I, but things change and people change and bands change, and sometimes bands keep the same name but the people in the band are different.
Anyway, I only did two gigs, one in London and one in Brighton, I think it was the Escape Club in Brighton. The one in London was a bit of a nightmare, I'm afraid. MTV were at that one. They only filmed one song, Angel, and they did that mostly in the soundcheck. It was just those two gigs with a bunch of people from Creation Records that were in bands that I liked and were mates, basically.
And it was really good fun, and it sounded brilliant cos they were all brilliant musicians, the guitars, it was just orgasmic. The keyboards and everything just sounded brilliant, they all fell into the songs really really well. It was good fun being on stage with a REAL group, not a machine, not a bunch of session musicians. Being in a group, you could turn and look at your friend and smile, you were all there together, it was really good fun. I loved it, it's one of my best memories of playing live.
JILL: She didn't want the band to split up, and she actually tried to continue after I'd split the band up. She got this girl from Glasgow and they played a couple of gigs as Strawberry Switchblade. I had asked her not to, but it was that kind of final thing, 'well you've got nothing to do with it, this is my band'. She used to do a lot of shouting, in studios especially, she would be 'IT'S MY BAND! IT'S MY BAND! I'LL DO WHAT I WANT!' and people would really be taken aback. She'd get to a point where she felt that I was doing something that she liked that she wanted to do, she'd build up like a pressure cooker and explode. I remember her throwing things in one studio, just throwing things about in this little room next to the control room and thinking 'uh-OH, this is scary'. That wasn't all the time, but to deal with it at all was quite tricky and it wasn't much fun. I remember coming back from studios in taxis nearly in tears because of another ridiculous outburst.
It affected her very badly, the whole thing. In some ways she was quite an innocent. Although she'd been brought up in such a terrible area she had a lot of the innocent about her. I don't think she could handle it, and also being taken up by somebody like Genesis P-Orridge and manipulated which was just a shame. And I thought you've got to be kind of sad if you're hanging on to this Strawberry Switchblade thing. That's it, you know, we've split up, do your own thing. You're capable of doing your own thing, you're capable, you're not stupid, you can write your own songs, do that. Don't try to hang on to something else that's been and gone and isn't anything like you any more.
I went to a lawyer to write them a letter and she told them to fuck off and she'd do what she wanted. And she'd gone to a huge music biz lawyer to fight me about how it was her name and James Kirk had given it to her. What's that about? Just do your own thing, you know? Probably now I wouldn't bother, but I didn't want her to do it, at that time it was important especially with the Nazi stuff and I didn't know what she was going to do. I was saying 'you can do what you like, you're your own person and you can do anything, Rose'. As you said, the drive she'd got was phenomenal, and if she wanted to do something she'd do it. She didn't need me, she didn't need the name. That left a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth. It's a shame cos I still like the records but I didn't want to do anything with her, I don't want to get in touch with her again. I just wanted to get on with my life, I got married and had a kid and I do my artwork.
What is it you're doing?
JILL: I'm working in glass at the moment, doing stained glass panels and painting and sculpturing. And I'm enjoying that, it's something I feel I can do. It's something I did and put on hold, cos the minute I finished art school that was us off.
Have you heard any of the stuff she's done since?
JILL: She sent me a copy of her CD which I thought was quite nice, but I didn't listen to it much. I thought her voice sounds nice, but there's too many things tied up with it, too many images of having things thrown at me! [laughs] I do have some happy memories of recording the album and some not so happy. It just depends what mood she was in. You couldn't really say what was going to happen, you didn't know when she was going to...go. And it was obviously all about control, and I wanted to be part of a partnership, not be fighting with somebody the whole time. That does seem to be what happens unfortunately, it's not unique is it?
At that point I used to shake if somebody mentioned her name, now it doesn't bother me. I don't want to remember Nazi flag in the bedroom or whatever. It's a shame cos I don't think she's like that, I don't think she's a bad person at all. It's just bad influences. It's a shame cos she'd a lot of the innocent about her and to come from that kind of background and do what she did is pretty good. She'd a lot of good points and it's a shame to ruin them all. She'd a lot of creativity, but she wouldn't allow anybody else to have any credit, it was 'me me me, I don't like that, I'm not having that', it really gets you down after a while. We'd do interviews and she'd be 'I do this, I do that' where I would always say 'we'. You can only do it so long.
Have you seen Rose recently?
JILL: I saw her a couple of years ago. We'd got some money, there was a cheque written to the band and we don't have a band bank account so we couldn't cash it. I said I'd speak to them [the cheque's issuers] and see if they can split it and send it to each of us. Rose said she needed the money sooner than that, so she came up to London to see me and we tried to open an account together. She'd kept an account in that name and she wanted to put it in there and give me the money, but after everything that had happened I didn't want to do that.
You say you didn't trust her with money 'after everything that had happened', but you've not given any implication of any dodgy dealings in the past at all.
JILL: Rose's partner came with her that day and was saying he'd be the manager and deal with everything. I don't know him so I'm not making any judgements about him, but why should he be managing anything I've ever done? There's no need to - it turned out it was easy to sort it out so we'd get separate cheques. The last time of contact had been her saying the band was nothing to do with me, 'it's my name and I'll carry on'. You can't trust somebody who does that, so I didn't want to trust her with the money, and more to the point I didn't trust her partner who I'd never met before. That's the only time I've seen her in a long time. It was weird because she was very very friendly. She wanted to be friends. She was very open and very nice.