Strawberry Switchblade

A Personal History by Peter McArthur

David Motion made a great job of the album. Despite the girls history of conflict and still unresolved 'cold war', he managed to maintain a more or less happy ship. He had done a huge amount of work himself, but had maximised the girls playing ability on all the tracks. Since Yesterday was released as the single and reached number five in the charts, if only like a drunk man ascending a stair. Still, it sold nearly quarter or a million copies.

Paradoxically, when things should have been at their best, I was never more sure they were living on borrowed time. Success had predictably not mollified Rose's need to have more than her share of the cake. Which actually was one of the analogies that Balfey used on one of the very few times he tried to get Rose to behave.

SCENE (Air Studios, Oxford Street): He said, 'Now this whole thing is like one big Christmas cake. There is enough for everyone. Now we can calmly and fairly cut everyone a slice, like civilised human beings, or we can all fight each other for it and see how much we can claw into our respective corners. So Rose, what's it to be?'

It didn't work. But I was impressed. Rose on the other hand probably thought, a man with the morals of a polecat and the single vector of avaricious advantage telling her how to behave was a bit rich, even for Christmas cake!

Although Jill and I, and Rose and Drew, had come down to London together we soon developed different sets of friends. Rose and Drew had taken up with Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV fame who, although he had a fearsome reputation, was perfectly nice when we met him. Rose also began a relationship with the lead singer of a band called 'Getting The Fear' called Bea. A very beautiful boy, so pretty you had to really stare at him to be sure he was in fact a boy. Drew seemed okay with this, in fact in many ways Drew seemed to have a closer relationship with Bea than Rose.

Jill and I had a different set of friends. She had linked up with an old college friend, Lucinda Sieger the singer, who had an art school squat in Kings Cross. She gave the best parties, and we became part of that set. We were also friends with the brother photographers and a young couple called Caroline Crawley and Jemaur Tayle. They were signed to Rough Trade and recorded under the name Shelleyan Orphan. Caroline was some kind of pre-Raphaelite beauty, but never has the term 'free love' been more aptly applied. [Caroline's present partner is Cure drummer Boris Williams who played on the Strawberry Switchblade album]. Added to this was a pair of young men from Watford called Barrington Seabrook and William Learmonth who had a duo called Tracey Island. For a time we were inseparable.

These were roughly the two sets we belonged to, not that we never mixed And it was not that we were antagonistic camps, the was a degree of cross-pollination. Drew especially was always popular, and Caroline for slightly different reasons, but generally the two parties stood separate from each other, like Jill and Rose in analogy. A stand-off.

The next period of time for the girls was pretty hectic. Like any couple running away from the fact that their marriage was over, Jill and Rose filled their time up with activity. They did radio, and TV. They did personal appearances and gigs. They went to Japan. They met Ryuichi Sakamoto. He was interested in producing the second album. Rose asked him, seemingly a propos of nothing, whether he had ever 'eaten a dog'. We had dinner with Mr Yamamoto who was the head of Warner Brothers Japan. He asked the girls to relocate to Japan. 'We will make you big stars,' he said. I was in favour. I hoped in the move we'd lose Balfey. The girls declined. (It was maybe their last chance).

After Since Yesterday, Let Her Go and Who Knows What Love Is had been released in quick succession. Neither made much impression on the charts. The Smash Hits audience proved to be a fickle bunch. To break the spell I suggested they record a punk, disco version of Dolly Parton's country and western classic Jolene.

Things were so blocked by then, that only got through by me pretending it was Rose's idea. It kind of went like this, 'Rose, remember that Dolly Parton song you really like,' (she'd never mentioned it before) 'well it might be a good idea if Strawberry switchblade recorded your favourite Dolly Parton song'. It was that silly. And Rose knew it.

I had pictured a real hard arsed disco/punk/country hybrid. When Balfey got Clive Langer in, the Madness producer, my heart sank. As it turned out it was not half bad, and with the addition of Larry Adler, actually quite good. But it was hardly the genre-smasher set to shake up the apathetic public I'd envisaged, even if it did make The Face single of the month or whatever.

This was probably the lowest point of the whole doomed adventure. Jill had a mild flirtation with Finlay, one of the brother photographers, which was okay with me cos I liked him. Rose and Drew finally parted. Drew moved into a house-share with Bea. We were all desperately short of money. They did a couple of ads just to keep going. They got some music and I did some naff lyrics for Shock Waves or something. They hoped no-one would notice it was them but their voices were so distinctive people were singing it to them on the tube. But it paid the bills for a few months. Jill and I, although still living together, were no longer a couple. It all reminded me of that Blondie line, 'I sold my one vision for a piece of the cake, I haven't ate in days'.

At about this time Balfey had a brief affair with Jill. He seemed upset I was not upset. Rose was understandably put out. It was hard not to see part of Jill's motivation as a slight to Rose. At any rate it was all over pretty quickly.

There was a strange dead period then. Then one day the air seemed to clear. I had an odd feeling of optimism. I felt like, if they've come this far they might be alright. For whatever reason, Rose seemed to be somewhat relaxed. I kind of hoped she'd finally understood she needed Jill.

They were still working on songs for the second album. The demos were sounding good to me. Then one day Jill announced, 'I'm splitting the band'. Jill and I had been spending a lot of time apart, so I am not sure what precipitated it. I tried to persuade her to record the second album, if only to qualify for the next advance, I was aware she had no money. But she was adamant. 'I've had enough'.

Rose seemed to take the news pretty calmly. However, ending a partnership is always more complicated than starting one. It soon became evident that although they never had much money, they owed loads. Like a rat deserting a sinking ship Balfey left them to it (Never trust a hippy, eh?).

Initially Rose hung around. I remember going with her to some accountants meeting in an office overlooking Regents Park. He was demanding several thousands of pounds. He claimed he had never been paid. All we could say was, 'we never knew you had never been paid'. It was all rather pathetic.

On the way out, overlooking what in London passes for a park, Rose turned to me and asked, 'do you think Jill blames me for all of this?'. I was not sure what she meant by 'all of this'. All I said was, 'you'd better ask Jill, Rose'. It was sad. It seemed to me the closest Rose could get to voicing regret.

Soon after Rose disappeared. She had been seeing a very unpleasant Korean man called Robert. He wore a little swastika medal next to his chest. It was an actual piece of Nazi memorabilia. I could not see him without thinking about concentration camps. I couldn't see what Rose saw in him. Later, they married.

Jill was left alone to sort out the financial mess, and the subsequent court cases. They went on for years, long after we finally split in 1988.

I am still friends with Jill. I am kind of sad uncle to her perfect little daughter Jessie. Jill has returned to her first love, painting. My life has gone on. I have had happier times and sadder times since Strawberry Switchblade. Over the years I have thought about Rose, and wondered why she never really did much. She was driven enough. I think it is because she never met another Jill. A collaborator who gave her work dimension, that is made her look 3D.

I've met Rose occasionally over the years, bumped into her on the street. She is always very friendly, very sweet, just like she was when I first met her.