Strawberry Switchblade

A Personal History by Peter McArthur

I don't know if they always planned to start a band, but the fact that everywhere they went people said, 'you two should be in a band' and the fact that everyone we knew seemed to be in a band could not have made the possibility obscure to them. Yet it still came as a surprise to me. Jill I knew was interested in music, but Rose - like myself - could take it or leave it, it seemed to me.

I suppose I took them for granted. Drew and I would stroll ahead talking literature, or more accurately Drew would be telling me about Lautreamont or Mishima or somebody, while the girls trailed behind talking clothes or something like, or so I thought.

When one day they announced they were going to form a band and it was going to be called Strawberry Switchblade it was news to me, although the name wasn't. I knew it as a song James Kirk had supposedly written (has anyone ever heard it?) and the proposed name of an aborted fanzine I had worked on with Edwyn Collins and Alan Horne. Someone has a copy.

Rose likes to pretend that the name was a foregone conclusion, but I distinctly remember us all having long discussions about possible alternatives.

Although Rose was already playing sort of Mo Tucker drums in Drew's experimental band The Poems, I was sceptical, if not mocking. I seem to remember saying something like, 'oh yes, very good, but there is a little thing called being able to play an instrument then there's songs, then there's being able to get gigs'.

Within weeks they seemed to have gotten it all. I don't know about Drew, but I was stunned.

Initially, they worked very closely together. To begin with Jill wrote most of the music and Rose wrote the lyrics, but that sort of evened out later. Rose became very serious about music, but to begin with Jill was the guiding influence behind their instrumental sound. Jill had been a music fan since she was fourteen. She'd gone from Donny Osmond to Led Zeppelin. When I first knew Rose, she liked the punk thing but was annoyed, it seemed to me, by the proliferation of bands you were supposed to know about. In the trainspotting aspect of music Jill was initially well ahead of Rose. Drew was the real music fan in that family. It was Drew who knew about the latest release of this or that obscure esoteric band.

Jill similarly knew what was what in the current scene, and she also had a knowledge of what had been. Also, I was amazed to hear she had been to see bands like AC/DC and Ted Nugent long before punk turned her head. At these pre-punk gigs she must have been the youngest person in the audience. So I guess it was unsurprising that it was Jill who first set out musically what Strawberry Switchblade were to be.

Probably the biggest revelation was Rose's voice. She could really sing, and her voice had personality. Jill, to be honest, did not have much of a voice, yet it worked really well with Rose's. They had a 'sound' immediately.

Once they had written a full set of songs they set about looking for some gigs. It was decided that they needed a rhythm section. This always seemed to me an odd idea. Duos were not unheard of even then. But on Rose's instigation they came up with a bass player, Janis Goodlit, and a drummer, Carol McGowan. Two women I never really liked. I say 'women' as opposed to 'girls'. I could never think of Jill and Rose as 'women', maybe only because we met so young. But Carol and Janis were most definitely 'women'. The kind of women who didn't shave their armpits. Carol was supercilious, I think her home had an inside toilet. And Janis was the type of woman who would munch her way through a fish supper while complaining about her period pains. When they started demanding writing credits on the set of songs Jill and Rose had already written they were promptly fired. I was not heartbroken.

After the event I thought about the odd decision to bring them in. I found it hard not to suspect it was an attempt by Rose to dilute Jill's power. At the time such a thought would have seemed horribly cynical, but as subsequent events developed it seemed to me more and more the explanation.

However, they lasted a few gigs. I guess because of the way Jill and Rose looked, and the fact that we knew a few people, it was relatively easy for them to get gigs. In fact too easy, they had no struggle in which their partnership might have been hardened. Their working relationship was never really worked out. Once things took off somehow, there was no space to work things out.

Anyway, their first gig was set up. It was in a West End restaurant called The Spaghetti Factory in Gibson Street. It was a low-key affair but all the Postcard crowd were there and a few Glasgow notables. I think Jim Kerr, I think Bobby Bluebell and Clare Grogan.

Within weeks of their first gig, which was, remember, within weeks of first picking up guitars, they were offered a Peel session and then a Kid Jensen session. Which was good, however in the interim they had sacked the 'women'.

Principally with the help of James Kirk of Orange Juice, they started preparing for the two sessions. James not only gave them the name, and Rose's first proper guitar, he was also their kind of spiritual inspiration. The music scene is full of fake eccentrics. James Kirk is the real thing. He may not thank me for saying that. Or he may. With real eccentrics you never know. James did all the bass parts and the guitar as yet too complicated for the girls to do. The drummer was initially the then-drummer of Del Amitri, but he son dropped out. The replacement was a young Indian called Shahid Sarwar, whom we called Shahid Starwars.

After the Peel and Jensen sessions which, thanks to James Kirk, went quite well, Bill Drummond and David Balfe turned up in Glasgow to offer them a publishing deal. I had heard of them through their work with the Zoo organisation, but beyond that they were strangers to us. They offered the girls a deal under the Zoo name, but it soon became clear they were just scouting for Warner Brothers. At the time publishing money seemed like money for nothing. Hopefully nowadays young bands know, it is only money for nothing for the publisher.

At the time the girls were being informally managed by a big fat American girl called Barbara Shores, or 'Ke-Babs' as Drew called her. She had been part of the Postcard crowd and was brought in on the instigation of Rose. Though she was practically useless, she showed a marked bias towards Rose. Which placed her, by then, on firm ground, that is until she queered her own pitch by trying to hit them both with one of the most draconian management contracts in rock n roll history, and there have been a few. I still have the actual contract, and it is a testament to her naivety. Any conman worth their salt knows there is enough bondage inherent in your average everyday management contract to keep a truckload of masochists happy, without resorting to the extreme. 'Ke-Babs' was sent packing.

But again, the incident was another example of how Rose was ordering things to suit herself even though they were backfiring on her.

This was the flaw that was to prove the downfall of the band. Rose, who was of course the lead singer, had assumed leadership, but worse she was acting like Strawberry Switchblade were her band. It was like in her head she was rewriting their history. She only had Jill to share with, and Jill had never been a pushy person. Jill began deferring to Rose, and to be sure, the band initially moved along on Rose's sheer willpower, but Jill ended up having to battle Rose just to get some credit for the work she'd done and was doing.