Composite Strawberry Switchblade interview

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

Generally, how does it feel looking back at Strawberry Switchblade?

ROSE: Brilliant. I think it was a totally fantastic exciting period of my life.

JILL: It was a good thing to do. It wasn't planned and it wasn't expected, but it was a good thing to do. It was fun.

ROSE: Once things started to snowball it went really really quickly, which was also the demise of Strawberry Switchblade, because the more that's going on the less control you have over what you're doing, and the more other people are making decisions for you.

JILL: Being with a major label and being female, they push you down one particular road. I don't think they quite understood where we were coming from. They want to push you to be glamorous and they want you to be poppy and sell your stuff. I don't mind pop music, I wanted it to be poppy, and it WAS the 80s. I'm pleased with it. I think it was more the publicity machine behind the big record company that pushed us, there was a lot of fighting against that.

ROSE: Inevitably it ends up being not what you started out for it to be, so I didn't think it was worth continuing because it wasn't fun any more. It was arguing with the record company about everything, and I thought 'this was not what I wanted'.

What started you in music? What music did you grow up with?

ROSE: I had three sisters and they all liked different kinds of sixties music so I got to hear quite a wide range of stuff and picked out the things I liked the best, which tended to have lots of harmonies which were a bit psychedelic or the Velvet Underground - Lou Reed was just a total genius songwriter. He is god!

When did you start writing yourself?

ROSE: There was a big concert in Glasgow at the Apollo Theatre, which doesn't exist any more, I think it was a Stiff tour or something. There was loads of different bands, and the Ramones were playing. I was there with my boyfriend at the time and we just looked at each other an thought 'if they can do it we can do it!'.

Is that what led to forming The Poems, your band before Strawberry Switchblade?

ROSE: Yeah. Strawberry Switchblade and The Poems did gigs together, cos I used to organise a lot of the gigs in those days. That was good fun, but then The Poems fell apart basically cos Switchblade got busy.

You came out of art school didn't you?

JILL: Yeah. I did a lot of photography and film, painting.

How did you and Rose meet?

JILL: I met her through the punk scene in Glasgow which was tiny at the time, around 1977. There were so few, you knew everybody who was a punk. It was the first thing I'd ever been involved with, I was sixteen. But I didn't know Rose well, I just saw her around and knew her, she was quite a character.

ROSE: Jill and I were really good friends, and we were pretty notorious around Glasgow for going around all dressed up. Not really so much in the early days, but when I was in The Poems I used to be overdressed, outrageously dressed all the time. It was a really big deal being a punk then.

When punk happened it totally saved my life. I was a really fucked up teenager who really did not want to conform to the norm, never had even when I was a kid. I didn't want to be like everybody else because I didn't respect them. But I was at that age where I felt 'what am I supposed to do?', and then punk happened. 'THAT'S what I'm supposed to do! I'm supposed to be me!'. Punk allowed me to be me without feeling like a fake. It totally liberated me. I didn't have to be a girly girl and it wasn't expected of me, or if it was it didn't matter. I would probably have done the same thing anyway but been really outcast or locked up for being a nut. My mum was always telling me I was a bit crazy. Punk really was my saviour.

JILL: All the punks in Glasgow used to go to the cake shop she worked in and she used to give them out free pies and things. Her and her friend Lynda worked there and they were sacked for having blue hair. Nobody had blue hair then, nobody. They took them to a tribunal and got their jobs back!

By the time I knew Rose she'd stopped working there, and then having a baby and being stuck out in Paisley and being married, she was out of circulation for ages cos she had a baby to look after. Then she started to come out again and by that time I was living up in the West End and I was at art school. Her child was quite young when we started, only about a year or two old.

That's a phenomenal amount of drive isn't it?

JILL: Absolutely. She did NOT lack drive.

With that sort of background, if you feel insecure from it, and then having a kid and everything when you're still in your teens and finding yourself, and then you're responsible for the kid as well; to get out there and do a band on top of all that is utterly phenomenal.

JILL: Absolutely. Also with the lack of education, yet she was writing lyrics and doing well. I wish I'd been a bit more understanding at that time. But by the time we'd moved to London and it got huge I just wanted to punch her! It just went to her head and she just wasn't equipped to deal with it. She wasn't equipped to deal with success, and it WAS very difficult to handle. I spent most of the time in tears once we were signed and had to do stuff. It was no fun, I didn't want to do it any more. I was 'what's the point? I don't care whether I'm on TV, I don't care about that crap'. I wanted to do it because I liked her and I liked writing with her and it was funny and we had a laugh, we had a really good laugh. And yet we still managed to do stuff that meant something to us and that we enjoyed doing. There were some great times, some really good times.

Was it the punk thing that made you start playing guitar?

JILL: Yeah. Before that I would've thought you'd really have had to play it, be able to play solos and rock guitar and, shit, I'm not going to do that am I? Women didn't really form bands did they? At that time I really liked Patti Smith, I'd got Horses when it came out. It was just amazing. I wanted to be her, I wanted to look like her. I knew there was no way I could ever look, you know, wasted. I was always going to look, well, healthy.

I thought Patti Smith was fantastic but she looked like a boy and her band were men. But then when punk started there was X Ray Spex and Siouxsie, and The Adverts had a girl bass player, just loads and loads of women started appearing in bands like The Slits. I thought it was great. It was about enthusiasm and not about ability, it was about IDEAS. And also I thought, well, if I just hammer something out and have the confidence to get up and scream into a microphone I could do it. At the time I was a bit too young, I didn't have a guitar or anything, didn't know anybody else who was in a band. After that there were two or three punk bands in Glasgow and I remember singing with some of them in rehearsals and stuff.

So when did Strawberry Switchblade get formed?

ROSE: I was sitting on a bus with James Kirk from Orange Juice. He was coming out to my house and he'd done this fanzine called Strawberry Switchblade. He said he wasn't going to continue doing the fanzine, I said that's a fantastic name, it can't just die, and he said 'have it'. I had the name Strawberry Switchblade so I had to form a band cos it was such a good name!

JILL: I was at art school when we started to do it. I had a flat round the corner from Alan Horne, the guy who ran Postcard Records in Glasgow. They were just a real strange bunch of people who shared a flat. It was such a weird, strange, great place to go. And then Edwyn who was the singer in Orange Juice lived round the corner, and David McClymont the bass player lived up the road.

Knowing Orange Juice and that lot, they were just like, 'oh yeah, you should be in a band, you should do this, you can do demos with us'. It was actually the guitarist in Orange Juice that came up with the name Strawberry Switchblade. I think it was going to be the name of a fanzine or something, which he'd got from a psychedelic band called the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and it was just his punk version.

Did you play any instruments in any bands prior to Strawberry Switchblade?

JILL: No, just did some shouting into the microphone and that was about it.

So you decided to start a band and THEN started writing songs? There's so much in this story that's the other way around from normal - having a Peel session without sending in a demo, having sessions booked without having the songs, having a name but no band.

ROSE: I know! So I bought myself a 12 string guitar and taught myself to play a few chords - which is all you need to do to write a song - and Jill bought a guitar.

Had you been playing guitar before that?

JILL: No! My sister had a classical acoustic guitar that she knew a few chords with, and she had a Learn To Play Guitar book, Burt Weedon or something like that. A classical guitar's got such a wide neck and I thought, 'never!', the action was so high you were like [straining face] even to play G. So I learned a few chords - literally about three - and thought, well we can do it, I know three chords.

Who were the other two?

ROSE: The other two were Janis who played the bass and Carol who was a drummer, her brother taught her to play drums. She had two rhythms she could play, one was for the slow songs and one was for the fast songs. Which was OK, cos if you've only got eight songs it means you don't have time to get bored!

How quickly did it develop?

JILL: Really quickly. We got together, wrote a couple of songs then booked a gig!

Did you think at the start you were going to make a go of it as a really serious thing?

ROSE: We just thought 'let's join a band and have fun', cos Orange Juice were our friends, all our friends were in bands, I was in The Poems at the time and it was just really easy. Punk made it really easy to be in a band as well. When I was a kid growing up that's what I always wanted to do. I remember in school when the careers officer came round and was asking everyone what they wanted to do, and they were saying they wanted to be a nurse or work in a steel factory or a shipyard, and I said I wanted to be a brain surgeon or a pop star, and everybody in the class just started laughing. I remember when we were first on Top Of The Pops thinking 'I wonder if any of them are watching now?'

How long did Strawberry Switchblade last as a four-piece?

ROSE: God, not very long at all. Until Strawberry Switchblade started getting really busy actually.

JILL: We didn't actually play that many gigs with them. I think we must have been together about six months, nine months maybe. I can't actually remember what happened.

ROSE: We became a two-piece when we started doing the Peel sessions. I was still going to do Poems things but it was getting a bit silly cos I was practising all the time with Strawberry Switchblade. And also I had a daughter so Drew, my partner at the time, he would be babysitting while I was doing Strawberry Switchblade things.

Were the band any good at this time?

JILL: I don't know. People liked us, but I think it's just because we were women and we did little short pop songs. It was the same songs, Since Yesterday and stuff.

So the very first stuff you were writing was the stuff that ended up on the album?

JILL: Yes. Most of them. They went through change as we progressed and learned an extra chord. The lyrics got a bit more refined. Some of them changed even at the stage when we were doing the album, and we had a producer saying 'work on that bit there'. But to begin with it was still those songs.

You've just picked up a guitar and you've just started to write songs and it's THOSE songs!

JILL: It was literally, 'we've GOT to write some songs! How many have we got now?'. We started doing a few little gigs around Glasgow which kind of pushed us each time cos we'd have to rehearse for them. I remember sitting at home, at my parents, sitting in the back room till god knows what time just strumming, trying to come up with something.

Who did what in the songwriting?

JILL: When we started off I used to just do the melodies and write the music and she did the lyrics. I wrote Trees And Flowers on my own. Sometimes if I was playing I'd come up with something [lyric-wise] to fill it in, to help with the melody and the flow, and we'd just stick with it. And as we went on Rose decided she would learn to play guitar as well - if I could do it in three months she could! Then she started to write her own music as well.

So did it get more collaborative or did it make you develop ideas separately?

JILL: It did get more that one of us would come in with a finished thing. To begin with I came in with the tune and the melody and she'd tape it and go off and write the lyrics, but as soon as she learned to play a few chords she did her own stuff. But then we'd kind of get together to rehearse it, thrash it out a bit.