Strawberry Switchblade

A Personal History by Peter McArthur

I first met Rose in 1976 at some punk gig or other. Glasgow had a small, disparate, rather pathetic punk scene. We'd meet up at various venues around town. We'd come in our ones and twos. What it was that brought us together I don't know, maybe only disaffection. Whatever we had in common was strong enough to have us hang around with nothing to do other than be in each other's company. Though Jill and rose were very different people they had this in common, it all began with punk.

I'd seen Rose around, but had never spoken to her. She used to run around with a tall wild-looking girl called Lynda. One day she came up to me and said, 'Hi, I'm Rose Up,' (her punk name), 'and this is my friend Lynda Laid'. We soon became friends.

Rose in those days was particularly distinctive, not only because of her height - she is barely five feet tall - but because of the way she dressed. Rose was one of the most fully realised punks I'd ever seen. She made most punks look half-hearted, me included. What happened later to 'Lynda Laid' I am not sure. I do know she is the subject of Rose's lyric on the 'love song' Let Her Go.

At the time I had just begun studying photography at the printing college. Rose and Lynda worked in a small cake shop in Glasgow's East End called The Wee Scone Shop. It was comic to see these two, blue and spiked haired punkettes, in their gingham pinnies serving cakes. I used to go down there at lunch time and they'd give me cakes and pies for free. I remember Lynda had a flick-knife to 'frighten the Neds away' she said.

Rose was very sweet in those days, you'd say innocent. She seemed eager to please, which is kind of hard to believe when you consider what a wilful little minx she became later. But at the time I remember her as sweet and smiley, always good fun. I think punk had opened her eyes to a different possible future. She was like someone just woken up and looking around.

I think at the time she had a little crush on me, but I saw her as just a friend. One night, I remember, she nursed me through some teenage alcohol crisis. She was very gentle, almost motherly, which is kind of odd cos we were both just barely seventeen and, as the song says, 'we had a lot to learn'. From those days, I developed an affection for Rose that never left me even when things got bad.

I met Jill about six months later at a punk rocker's birthday party. I remember there was a margarine fight in the kitchen. I'd seen Jill once before, on a bus going to Paisley, a small town just outside Glasgow, we were both going to a punk disco. For some reason the city fathers had banned all organised punk events inside Glasgow and you had to travel to pogo. I was disappointed to see she seemed to be with a big burly Ned that night, but at the party she was with a girl called Marge Broni, who is still a friend of Jill's to this day.

What struck me first about Jill, apart from the fact she was very pretty, was the way she dressed. I remember her getting a little bit of a hard time from some 'punk by numbers' type who was saying, 'you don't dress like a punk should'. What she dressed like was hard to say. I remember a black and purple padded dressing gown, white plastic knee-length boots and a purple bow tie. She was sixteen. She seemed to know a lot about music. She had punk records I'd never heard. She read the music papers from cover to cover. We both agreed, when punk degenerated into merely a uniform, punk was dead.

By 1979 punk was dead. By then Rose had met a boy called Drew McDowall. I had never met Drew before Rose introduced me to him. He was instantly likeable. Very intense, a ball of nervous energy. He was always either reading or writing in a book. A very interested person. Although Drew and I were never great friends, he would later save me from getting thumped twice. He had the greatest facility for 'witty violence' of anyone I ever knew, that is, the instantaneous response. He was quick.

Once Jill and I gave up on punk we kind of lost touch with Rose and Drew for a while. I finished my photography course, though I never really got the hang of it. And Jill applied for and was given a place at Glasgow's very prestigious School Of Art (probably the best art school in the world).

While I'd been studying photography I met and became friends with Edwyn Collins, then of the Nu-Sonics, later of Orange Juice. He introduced himself by saying, 'come and photograph my band, we rehearse in a ballroom'. Edwyn introduced me later to Alan Horne who was to be the future inspiration behind the 'Postcard Records of Scotland' thing, which was (hard to believe it now) vaunted far and abroad as the 'next big thing' by people like Paul Morley. Postcard, which I named (my big claim to well deserved obscurity) was to prove instrumental in the future formation of Strawberry Switchblade.

By the time I met and started going around with Edwyn and Alan, Jill had already gone into this weird polka dot obsession. She never really explained it to me, but I gathered from her art school work that is was something to do with dots as camouflage, like leopards spots, only Jill changed her spots two or three times a day.

Though Jill was getting out and about on her own these days, she was still, unbeknownst to me, battling with the agoraphobia that had first struck her in her early teens.

It was at this point, a year on or so down the line, Rose and Drew came back into our lives. Rose was still strikingly dressed but still in a sort of neo-punk style. Surprisingly, for a pair of professed anarchists, they had gotten married and Rose Porter became Rose McDowall. They also has a little girl called Keri, whom Drew always referred to as 'your baby' when talking to Rose. And we always referred to as 'Rosemary's Baby' when talking to Drew, even though she was the cutest curly haired wee thing.

We started hanging out together again. Jill and I had a flat now in Glasgow's West End, on the Great Western Road. Rose and Drew became loosely part of Alan Horne's ever expanding 'Postcard Family' which was based in West Princes Street just around the corner from us.

The post-punk Glasgow music scene was much more interesting than the punk scene. Glasgow never really produced a decent punk band. Post-punk there was the beginnings of such bands as Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Texas, The Pastels, The Bluebells, Lloyd Cole, etc. And through Postcard, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and Josef K. There were others besides.

Once Jill and Rose started 'stepping out together' they soon became famous for being 'that odd polka dot couple'. Rose had quickly adopted Jill's style and together they developed it further. Jill was happy with this, she was never proprietorial. In fact she gave a polka dot dress, replete with bows, to my sister of the all-female band Sophisticated Boom Boom for their debut gig. Rose was furious.