Jill Bryson interview

9 June 01

Arrive at the Bryson household and it's kind of what you'd expect. Homely, with a cat, Nick Drake on the CD player and a small kilt belonging to Jill's daughter Jessie hanging up. Jessie's headmaster and his boyfriend are going to Pride dressed as Strawberry Switchblade and are borrowing Jill's original dresses and ribbons. When I was a kid I never had my headmaster dress up as my mum.

Jill and I decamp to a cafe to talk. The interview has a different vibe to the others on this site because it was the first one I did, so there were a lot of basic facts about Strawberry Switchblade that I didn't know and had to establish.

All her years living in London have not dented her Scottish accent, and her national loyalty is demonstrated when the interview is interrupted by her phone ringing with a Scotland The Brave ringtone. She still looks fabulous, with reddish tinted hair, dangly earrings and subdued gothy stylishness. She is clear, candid, funny and warm, and she talked for over three hours!

How long since you last did an interview?

So long I can't remember. It must be at least fifteen years.

Generally, how does it feel looking back? Are you proud of it?

Yeah. 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.

Got the credit it that it deserved?

[considers] erm, yeah.

Was it understood properly?

No, probably not.

In what way?

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.

What do you mean by 'one particular road'?

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.

Would it have lasted longer if you hadn't had that kind of constriction?

It might have done, but I think it was difficult because me and Rose had quite a strange relationship, we weren't really friends before the band started up. We were acquaintances and hung about in that particular group of people, and people would say why don't you start a band, that'd be great, it'd be a laugh, it'd be funny; do something together, maybe because we were the only two girls in this gang of people and we liked similar sorts of music. So I didn't really get to know her until we got together.

Weren't there four of you to begin with?

There was four of us to begin with. We wanted to be a girl group and rehearse as a group and play as a group. The first few gigs we did in Glasgow were as a four piece. But one of the girls was a teacher and she didn't have much time, and the other one was studying to be a marine biologist, so I don't think it [the band] was high on their list of priorities.

You came out of art school didn't you?


What were you doing there?

Fine art, mixed media. Which meant just doing a bit of everything. I did a lot of photography and film, painting.

What did Rose come out of?

Just the punk scene. She got married very young and she had a child at, I think, about nineteen. Her child was quite young when we started, only about a year or two old.

You say a teacher didn't have much time, but having a year old kid?!

Yeah exactly, it's quite amazing. But I think her husband wasn't working at that time so he could look after her as well, and she had quite a big family and they looked after her, so it was OK.

How did you and Rose meet? How long did you know her before the band started?

Not that long. 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.

There has been this revisionist history that everyone in 1977 between fifteen and twenty years old was a punk. It's a comparable lie to the one that says that everyone of that age group in the mid-late 60s was doing loads of drugs.

Yeah, it's a complete myth. It did expand quite quickly after, but by that time we weren't really interested in punk anymore.

This is ages before the band isn't it? We're talking 1977 and your first record was 1983.

The punk time was before Rose got married and had a baby. I saw her then, I didn't really know her, but I knew of her. Basically, there was a coachload of people into punk in Glasgow. Punk was banned in Glasgow, you couldn't hear it anywhere.

We used to all meet outside this record shop in Union Street in Glasgow with people looking at us disgusted. We'd all get on this coach to go to a club in Paisley outside Glasgow where - I think it was every week - they just played punk records and you could go and dance. And occasionally they'd have bands. Generation X played there, and a lot of the Glasgow bands. I didn't go that often because at that time I was recovering from agoraphobia. I'd been agoraphobic for a year and missed a year of school. I was sixteen and I'd left school and started going to college. I tentatively tried to go [to the club], I didn't often go, it was a bit far for me. It shows you how much I wanted to go that I actually did it, I wanted to go out so much and hear this music.

It's incredible that you had to go outside the city to find somewhere to hear this music.

You could hear records you liked and meet people who liked the same kind of music you did. It was so rare to find anybody into it. You could spot them a mile off! You kind of knew everybody, and there was a couple of record shops that we used to go and hang about in, we were that desperate. Most of us were quite young, around sixteen, seventeen, so we couldn't get into pubs. But we used to get into The Silver Thread Hotel in Paisley, near the Coates thread factory. It was the most unlikely place you could possibly imagine.

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

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 incredible. It was before punk, wasn't it?


Yeah, I was 15 and had agoraphobia. I'd heard it on the radio and got a friend to go out and get it for me. 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.