Online version: http://strawberryswitchblade.net/interviews/rose_01.php
Rose McDowall interview
29 Jan 02
Rose McDowall was all I expected her to be. She lives far from towns, among big old trees befitting her pagan instincts. Her cottage is painted in bold black and deep red, and is littered with gaudy Catholic art. She has a big cloud of black hair, boots with huge heels and an air of vibrant sparkle tempered with an earnestness and dynamic emotional drive.
She talks freely, vivaciously pouring out her feelings and memories in such a disarmingly engaged way. Friendly, wilful, radiant, magical, she talks until I run out of tapes.
Generally, how does it feel looking back at Strawberry Switchblade?
Brilliant. I think it was a totally fantastic exciting period of my life. We were just kids really. I mean, OK, we were twenty-something, but we were really just kids, and it just snowballed out of nothing, just wanting to form a band and have fun. And suddenly we'd got John Peel sessions and we only had eight songs, and we had to finish the eighth for the session cos we had a Kid Jensen session as well. We were getting these gigs, and then we were to do an album and we STILL only had eight songs! It was fun and it was really exciting, to the point that we had no clue what was going on because things went SO fast.
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. 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?
The stuff I grew up with was a lot of sixties stuff, like The Byrds, The Beatles, Tommy James and the Shondells, I really loved stuff like that. I was really into the Velvet Underground. I liked Roy Wood [giggles] from the seventies. Not a lot I liked from the seventies apart from punk, when punk set me free from my chains. So I grew up with a lot of that [sixties stuff] cos my dad was really into music and he liked Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly and all that sort of stuff as well. Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkel. 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?
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 playing, and the Ramones were playing. I was there with my boyfriend at the time and we just looked at each other and thought 'if they can do it we can do it!'. They were really trashy but really really good cos they had a real pop sensibility, and I just love melody. So we formed a band and he was the singer, I was the drummer, and we had a guitarist and someone else who would occasionally play violin.
Is that The Poems?
The Poems, yeah. We released a single and we recorded an album, we even mastered the album, but before the pressing the master went missing.
Are there any copies anywhere?
I must have a cassette copy somewhere, but I've got sooo many cassettes. I'm going to go through them all and see if there's anything salvageable on that cos it would be interesting for me to listen to it again. The music was quite interesting, the instruments we used were quite interesting, so I'd quite like to hear what it sounded like now.
Strawberry Switchblade and The Poems did gigs together, cos I used to organise a lot of the gigs in those days.
So you'd be playing in both bands?
Aye, and I'd get paid twice so it was quite good! And a quick change of outfits from The Poems to Strawberry Switchblade, which weren't really that different anyway; black lace frilly things for The Poems and then polka dots for Switchblade.
That was good fun, but then The Poems fell apart basically cos Switchblade got busy.
So when did Strawberry Switchblade get formed? How come one band wasn't enough for you?
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 went 'really?' and he said yes, have it. So I went, that's it, and basically I had the name Strawberry Switchblade so I had to form a band cos it was such a good name!
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.
I know! And then I said to Jill 'I'm going to form a band' and she says 'can I be in it?', I said, 'yeah, what do you want to do?'. She said 'sing', I said , 'nah, I'm going to sing'
You'd been playing drums with The Poems hadn't you?
I'd been playing drums, yeah. 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. So she was going to be the guitarist and I was going to be the singer. I'd do rhythm guitar and she'd do frilly bits.
Who were the other two?
The other two were Janice 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!
Where did you know the other three from?
Jill I met through her boyfriend, I used to hang about with him before she went out with him. The bass player I got through meeting her in clubs and stuff, I didn't know her that well. And Jill knew the drummer a little bit, so we got together that way. We didn't know them that much when we came together but we thought we'd try it out anyway.
Were you close to Jill before that?
Oh yeah, 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.
A lot of people forget what that meant THEN. Nowadays you can work in offices with multi-coloured hair and eyebrow piercings, people forget what it was like up until the eighties.
It was, like, dangerous! It was actually dangerous, we got beat up sometimes and stuff like that. Bikers beat me, my best friend, my boyfriend and her boyfriend up pretty severely. We all ended up in hospital just because we were punks and we were quite outrageously dressed. Some guy wanted to dance with me and tried to pull me off in a corner, I pushed him out the way, and he went off and told all his biker friends. I was five foot nothing and wearing flat shoes and these great big bikers come up. One had my boyfriend and put him against the wall and he was going to put a glass in his face, and I jumped on his back and was hanging on to his shoulders to try and pull him away, and another biker punched me on the nose and I was out for the count. Then I woke up and bouncers came and threw US out.
It's a really weird thing, that rigidity of fashion at that time, how scared people were of anything that was different. It was something the eighties really broke down and gave individualism the chance to come through. It's got to be emphasised that almost everyone was NOT a punk on the late 70s, and those who were ran real risks.
Exactly. And especially in a place like Glasgow which can be a bit violent anyway. I suppose if you were in a little village you'd probably get talked about and whispered about but probably not beaten up so much. But if you're in a big city like Glasgow you have to watch where you go. There were certain pubs you wouldn't even dare walk into. I couldn't really go into pubs anyway cos I was always thrown out cos they didn't believe I was old enough. Being thrown out of pubs when I was 27, that was quite funny!
But it was a really big deal being a punk then.
Jill said you had to go out to Paisley to find somewhere where someone would play the records.
That's right, yeah.
A city the size of Glasgow and nowhere would play the records, it was THAT MUCH of an outsider thing.
Right at the very beginning there was a couple of little clubs. There was one on Buchanan Street - there's a big centre built there now - and the DJ had two albums, one was the Damned and I think one was the Stranglers, and a few singles and he just played them over and over again all night. But that closed down because nobody wanted to put punk things on, it was an affront to society.
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. It sounds like an extreme thing to say, but for a pubescent teenage girl who's totally fucked up about life, it was really really really my saviour.
When did The Poems get together?
The Poems got together in 79, I think. My first daughter was born in 79 and I played a gig when I was pregnant, so it must've been 78 or 79. Strawberry Switchblade got together in 80...I don't remember awfully well!
There's a tape of one of the really early gigs and there's a reference to being there and missing the World Cup on TV, which would make that summer 1982. How long did Strawberry Switchblade last as a four-piece?
God, not very long at all. Until Strawberry Switchblade started getting really busy actually. 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.
Eventually The Poems thing just kind of fell away, cos also the guitarist got married and stuff and it just dissipated really. Drew had wanted to carry it on but it just didn't work, we wouldn't have had enough time to do it all. Didn't have time to do all the Strawberry Switchblade, never mind anything else!
How soon did you realise it was going to get that busy? Did you think at the start you were going to make a go of it as a really serious thing?
No, 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?'
But I remember when I was younger thinking you have to have a manager and you have to do all those kind of things, I hadn't a clue how you became a pop star or really thought about what that meant, I just wanted to sing cos I always liked singing. I was always singing at the top of my voice along to all my records that were blasting really really loud. None of the neighbours complained, in fact they used to borrow all my records cos I had the best record collection in the street. My dad started taking me out to buy records when I was twelve years old. He was so much into music he was glad he had a daughter he could take out and buy music for. My first seven inch was Monster Mash! I love it!
You'd gigged as a four-piece, but with the other two leaving did it put gigs out of the way?
We started using backing tapes.
Did you start doing that straight away or was that after the records had come out?
It was before the records came out, we had a reel to reel with basic bass and drums on it. My husband would take care of the reel to reel, he was quite technical, and Jill's boyfriend's a photographer so he's do slides and stuff like that. So, the first tour we did with Orange Juice and we used a reel to reel.
Later on we started getting people in, when we were doing bigger gigs. After the records we'd get musicians in to play, which was a nightmare, I used to hate having the whole audition thing. But we found musicians who we went on tour with and it worked out quite well. And some of the later sessions we did are with those musicians. It was good. We worked with the Madness rhythm section.
That single, Trees And Flowers, has got incredible personnel on it; you've got the rhythm section of Madness, you've got Roddy Frame on guitar, you've got Balfe and Drummond producing. It's laden with major figures from the time, this little first indie single.
I know! It was good actually. It was lucky, we just happened to be in a scene that was just buzzing with life, so much talent.
How does it happen to a new two piece with no releases that you can pull in people like that?
We sat down and thought 'we really want to concentrate on the band now, and practise a lot and do gigs'. And we sat down with the other two girls and said 'would you be willing to give up your job if we get really busy?' Jill was at art school at the time, and she was willing to give that up, but the other two girls weren't willing to give up their jobs.
What were you doing at the time?
Me? I was not doing anything except being in Strawberry Switchblade and The Poems and listening to bands and being a mother and having fun and going out a lot [laughs]. I wasn't working, work already was music, I was writing, spending a lot of time doing that.
So they decided they didn't want to commit themselves to the band, so we thought there's not much point in continuing [with the other two] cos we now have to continue on our own if we're going to take it a bit more seriously. And within weeks we had got a call cos Orange Juice had mentioned 'look out for Strawberry Switchblade'. And we did a John Peel roadshow as well. He used to do roadshows and bands would play. It was just BBC roadshows that DJs would do and there'd be a disco he'd compere or whatever. And he did one in Edinburgh and it was Strawberry Switchblade and Sophisticated Boom Boom, which were another Glasgow all female band at the time. So we did that and we did the John Peel session and then we did the Kid Jensen session. We recorded the Peel one first but Jensen went out first.
[BBC archives confirm the Peel session was recorded 5 Oct 82, Jensen 7 Oct 82]
Did you submit demos or anything?
No, we didn't! No, he just phoned my house - not even getting the producer of the show to phone - and said 'Hi, this is John Peel, do you want to do a session?' I said 'do you want us to send a tape?' and he said, 'no, that's OK'. Then David Jensen did it as well just cos John Peel had, they were both trying to be the first one to get us out.
It was mad, everything just happened like that, we weren't asking for anything, we weren't pushing. I was going to people and pushing for gigs and stuff like that but not for John Peel to phone up and say 'do you want to do a session next week? Can you come down?' YES! It was bizarre.
Then David Balfe and Bill Drummond heard the sessions, and they came up to Glasgow to meet us and propose that they two would be a management team for us. It ended up that Balfey was our manager solely cos Bill Drummond had to concentrate on running the Bunnymen and they didn't want him to spread himself out too much.
Then we had a lot of record companies start to get interested, a lot of the independents like Cherry Red and Rough Trade, and then some majors got interested. I think we went with WEA because, well, One: the advance [laughs] Two: the fact that they had a little subsidiary label that was quite cool to be on, it wasn't quite selling out to a major.
Was Korova just Bill Drummond's imprint on WEA? There was yourselves and the Bunnymen, I don't remember ever seeing anybody else.
I really don't remember. There probably was. I'm sure there was in fact, cos I remember people coming into Bill's office and stuff, but I just cant remember who they were now! The first single came out on Ninety Two Happy Customers.
Was there anything else ever on that label?
Well, that label was Will Sergeant's from the Bunnymen, I think he might've done something on it. [There was only one other release on the label, Sergeant's solo album Themes For Grind, released March 1982]. But basically he wanted to put our first single out as an independent before we went on to a semi-major. He liked Strawberry Switchblade so he wanted to put the record out, and we thought 'yeah, cool!'. We liked the Bunnymen, so it was mutual. We were lucky in that sense that we didn't get just thrown out into the commercial soup of pop straight away. There was a bit of dread, because of the people that we knew and that we were involved with at the beginning like Bill Drummond. It was good to put the first single out as an independent before we went to a major.
Do you think it would've been different if you'd stayed on a truly independent label?
It wouldn't have gone quite so quickly, it wouldn't have been as rapid as it was. We may possibly have lasted longer, not split up quite so soon.
I imagine that would be the case anyway, because it [splitting up] was a lot to do with the pressures of the record company and them deciding who was going to do the next video when we were quite happy with who's doing the videos right now thankyou very much - it was decisions like that which would really really piss me off. It would be trade offs, 'OK you can do this if you agree to try this', and then they started trying to get us to change our image. We came as a package, we were already everything that we were when we came to the record company, why are you trying to change us into something from Dallas? We don't want to look like The Bangles, we want to look like Strawberry Switchblade; that is who we are.
The Bangles when they started out were actually a lot like you, a good band in part of a really good independent underground pop scene, writing their own songs and everything, and then they got a makeover from CBS and became MTV corporate froth.
Exactly. And I was just totally opposed to that and didn't want to calm down the make-up.
Was it that direct, and that small details?
Well, they were saying 'you should get into leather' and stuff like that, but I was wearing PVC anyway. But it was 'settle down a wee bit' so we could reach a wider audience. Cos, although we were doing pretty well and we were quite happy doing what we were doing, we weren't quite straight enough for a lot of people who were watching it. People would watch it cos it was interesting, it looked kind of cartoony and fun.
Who was it that was into you?
Our audience was already really really wide. There were kids at gigs and there were old grandfathers at gigs, it was completely across the board. It wasn't just specific people, Cure-type fans and people from that scene. We had loads of kids come - like, little kids with their parents - and I had a man come up to us to sign these photographs and he was a grandfather. A lot of weirdos as well! I used to get loads of weirdo letters.
In an old interview for ZigZag there a reference to getting loads of weird letters, and you getting ninety percent of them.
I'd get the weird ones and she'd get the sensitive ones! [laughs]
Why was that do you think?
I have no idea!
How weird is 'weird'? Anything stick in your memory?
There was one that was quite extreme, one guy blaming me for all the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which was pretty weird coming from a fan, from someone who actually liked the band. It's very very hard to follow the letter, he's jumping all over the place, I think he was schizophrenic. I had quite a few schizos I got letters from, like I was reading a letter written by three or four people, it would jumble up. I used to get weirdos, or else people saying 'send me your details I want to make you a leather dress', something like that. I'd send them measurements for a three piece suite, see if I could get that out of them!
We had a fan club at the time, and the guy who was running the fan club was taking all the weirder obscene or cheeky or whatever mail out so the girls wouldn't have to look at it. I heard him talking to Balfe about it, my ears perked up and I went 'those are the ones I want to see!' and David was going 'oh no no no'. 'I want to see every single one of the weird letters', but we didn't actually get a lot, I think he binned them. Then he started not getting to them, because I wanted to know - the weird ones can be a lot more interesting!
It gives you a clue as to who's coming the gigs and what to watch out for.
Exactly. Which was kind of useful cos I got a stalker, I don't know if Jill told you about him. When we lived in Muswell Hill I was getting these letters from this guy saying he was suicidal and blah blah, and he really loved Strawberry Switchblade and he was going to kill himself cos he was so depressed. And stupidly I wrote back to him, saying 'you don't kill yourself over a pop band, that's really silly'. Then he sent me another letter saying he'd come from Wales and moved to Muswell Hill cos in an interview we'd said we lived in Muswell Hill. He moved into a street called ROSEbery Avenue and he said he'd been following me around for a year. I was like 'Shit! SHIT!' I was sitting on the bus going 'could be him, could be him'. I was always thinking, 'god, I don't know who this person is' and I went out a lot at night time and I'd be getting off the bus thinking 'who's the weirdo?'.
Then one day I was just pushing my bike up Muswell Hill and I had my daughter with me who was only five, Keri, and then I heard these footsteps behind me getting closer and closer until they were really uncomfortably close but had no intention of overtaking me. I thought 'what's going on? Am I going to turn round here?'. And I could hear a walkman tsss-tsss-tssss and I recognised the song; it was Since Yesterday. I just thought 'oh fuck', I was a wee bit scared to turn round cos I didn't know what I was going to see - it might be some big guy, it might just be some weasel. I turned round and it happened to be some weasel! Not very threatening. Of course he could have been threatening but I'd done martial arts and stuff so I wasn't really scared of him, I wasn't intimidated by him. He tapped my shoulder in slow motion - it wasn't just my imagination, it was really slow - tap. Tap. Tap. Then he said 'you know who I am don't you?' I went, 'yeah, I think I do. Kelvin?'. Then he was just going like that [looks slowly up and down], we went all the way up the hill with him looking me up and down. I was like 'get this guy off the street!' It was really freaky, and then I said 'don't you ever follow me when I'm taking my daughter to school,' I really told him off. That guy was a real fruitcake.
I once stepped out of a cab by accident in Muswell Hill and he jumped out in front of the car with me - not to push me out of the way of the car. I said to him, 'Kelvin, what the hell did you do that for?' and he said 'if you were going to die I wanted to die with you'. Why didn't you just save me? He was weird, he was really weird.
I had friends, this band called the Copyheads who came from Glasgow and wanted to stay over somewhere, so they stayed at my flat. And he was outside storming up and down, 'who are those guys in your house?' I said 'they're just friends from Glasgow, and it's none of your business anyway'. He came in and tried to put his arms round me and kiss me, I pushed him out of the door. When I started going out with my next husband he'd shifted houses to one that looked onto the roundabout so he could see whenever I was out so he could run downstairs and follow me around. He threatened to kill Robert, he said his stepdad had a shotgun. He was really furious that Robert was younger than him.
I was doing my driving lessons and he bought a car exactly the same a my car! Mine was a silvery green BMW and he got one that was a silvery blue, so it was slightly different but it was the exact same year and everything. I was doing my driving lessons, and if there's something gonna put you off it's this fruitcake following you! Honestly, it was a nightmare.
How long did this go on for?
Ages. Till I left Muswell Hill. I was there six years and it happened pretty quickly after I moved there, so a very very long time. He went to my doctor's so he'd have the same doctor as me. She called me in one day and said, 'I shouldn't really say this and I don't think there's a real problem, I was wondering if you were aware of this person?'. She'd referred him to the psychiatric hospital up the road for group therapy. And then he'd come to my door with this big manual about sexual deviants and say 'look at page number whatever, that's you' and then just disappear. And then one of the guys from his group therapy knocked on my door one day and said 'can I borrow your walkman?'. I didn't even know this person so I said you can't borrow my walkman. He said, 'can I have a hug then, cos my therapist said hug therapy's really good for me'. I just said piss off. Instead of it getting better it got worse, he would get people from group therapy sat in the café we used to go to, just looking over at us. Instead of one stalker there's a whole gaggle!
He was just a wee bit over the top. He'd phone me up and say he'd taken an overdose, I'd tell him to phone the Samaritans. My number was ex-directory, I don't know how he got it. He could've got my address from following me - wandering around Muswell Hill we're not that difficult to spot. A couple of people came to the door actually. I'd open the curtains in the morning and there'd be four goths sat there, I'd close them again! It was a bit mad really.
Kelvin would phone and say 'leave Drew and I'll look after you and Keri'. Drew would answer and tell him to go away, I wouldn't let him do anything other than that - he wanted to give him a smack. I'd be stood talking to someone and they'd ask what I'd been doing and Kelvin would be stood right behind me and say 'you went to the chinese for a takeaway'.
You were in a really weird position cos you'd got all the mainstream publicity which attracts random mad people, but you've also got the outsiderness that gets people who are really obsessional. The level you were pitched at was always going to get the worst of both worlds.
I know, exactly. I had this sixteen year old boy turn up at the door once with his auntie. He asked the shopkeepers where I lived - thankyou very much for telling him - he was from Sheffield I think, but his aunt lived in London. He turned up with a whole bunch of records to be signed and then one day he came back with some more and I let him come into the house. And then he had an epileptic fit! I went 'SHIT!' and sat on him, just to hold him down so he didn't hurt himself. Every time I said 'you have to go now, your aunt's probably waiting for you' he'd have another fit. I called my doctor round. He was there for three days, he would not go away. Eventually the doctor said he might be faking it. I phoned his mum and said 'I've got your son here and he keeps having fits'. I drove him to the bus stop, put him on a bus and he was in tears and everything. I said 'go home, your mother's waiting at the other end'.
That is REALLY far out. Imagine how different your life would have to have been for you to be like that.
I KNOW! Then his mum kept phoning me up all the time! Saying if he wasn't at home was he with me. Or, he's having fits again, will you talk to him? Stuff like that. I said I don't think it will help, it's just making it worse. His mum started sending me letters. I sent letters back saying they had to respect my privacy and it's really not my responsibility.
Things like that happened which were not glamorous, they're just a real pain and your life just comes to a stop sometimes because something like that happens. You get freaks going to your doctor's, freaks telling you this about yourself or that about yourself which is total crap, things they've made up in their own head.
This Kelvin hated blondes; if he was a trucker he'd probably pick up blondes and murder them. His mum was a blonde and he really didn't like her cos she'd separated from his dad, and he hated his stepdad and his mum liked his stepdad more than she liked him, so he really didn't like blondes. I just thought thank fuck I'm not a blonde. But then he wouldn't have liked me then anyway, would he? He didn't go to gigs either. That's the weird thing, he didn't go to any gigs, he was too shy, he'd nobody to go with.
Too shy to go to gigs but not too shy to harass you on your doorstep?
That's the way his mind worked. He wouldn't go to gigs cos he'd nobody to go with but he was quite happy to threaten you with a shotgun. He got sacked from two jobs because of me. He used to fix video machines, so he was always sticking Strawberry Switchblade videos in all day long, so all the guys he worked with hated Strawberry Switchblade. One of them said she's got legs that go up to wherever, Kelvin punched the guy and got the sack. He also fixed jukeboxes, so there was always a Strawberry Switchblade on his ones, which was to our advantage. He got the sack from that for following me when he was supposed to be working.
You're talking about this really easily and laughing about it. How easy was it to deal with at the time?
I was frightened till I met him, actually. Thinking someone's been following you for a year, that was the frightening bit. But once I'd actually met him it was just annoying. I wasn't that freaked out cos I used to be quite confident in my own ability to defend myself. I was used to weirdos coming up and sitting next to me on the late night bus and heaving to deal with them.
I didn't like him following me around when Keri was there and I was a wee bit worried about that, that he knew where her school was. I always had to go and pick her up even when she was older, make sure she was escorted to and from school; I might not be frightened of him but he knows where Keri goes to school and who knows what he's capable of, really?
The guy who said I was responsible for all the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I was a wee bit more scared of that letter, I thought he might be going to do something about it or people might believe him. I wasn't that scared, I was annoyed more than scared cos it just kind of interfered with things. There are a million and one Kelvin stories. He was just SO weird.
He did once come to a gig. This is a funny story actually. I was working with Lawrence from Felt who was a really good friend of mine, and he had a stalker, his female stalker from New Zealand. She hung around him all the time like Kelvin followed me. We were at Creation Records one day, Lawrence and I, and we came outside and the two of them were there, so we introduced them to each other and sent them off in a cab together!
Any report back of how it went?
All they did was talk about us all the time so it didn't work! Lawrence and I thought it'd be an ideal set-up! She came up to me and said I'd been saying things to try and put her off Lawrence. 'Look, Lawrence is my friend, who am I going to listen to, you or Lawrence? Just go away. What Lawrence does is his choice, don't bother me about it'.
She turned up at my door once as well actually. She came into the house and had this big sobbing session about Lawrence and if I was in love with him and all this sort of stuff. She was so scared that she was in love with him and she wanted him and all that. Lawrence was on an independent label, so it happens to all sorts! But our little scheme of cooking those two up didn't really work. They did keep in touch, but only to talk about us. Stalkers Anonymous!
It seems strange you weren't on Postcard Records, given that you were around all the Postcard bands. Did you plan anything with them?
We may have done had things not happened quickly, and we gone the other way. We did talk about stuff, but Postcard were really starting to wind up by the time we were really starting to do things, because Alan was losing interest.
I suppose Aztec Camera and Orange Juice had both moved on by then.
Yeah, and also Paul Quinn, he was concentrating on him a bit, trying to make something of him. He had a nice voice, nice guy and everything and his version of Pale Blue Eyes was gorgeous, but I don't really know what happened after that. Then we moved to London and Postcard was still in Glasgow. Probably by the time we moved to London they weren't really doing anything any more anyway. Alan had spent all his money and done all the stuff he was going to do. I don't know. I really can't remember what happened there. That WAS the crowd that we hung about with, but it escapes me why we didn't do something with Postcard. Even The Poems were going to do something with Postcard. And we just decided to it ourselves.
It is an odd thing, cos the links were maintained with Roddy Frame playing on Trees & Flowers.
Exactly, yeah. And Orange Juice promoting us to everybody, saying look out for Strawberry Switchblade. But I think because we really quite quickly started getting interest from other places, and then we went on tour with Orange Juice which was really good fun and we started playing gigs outside Glasgow and Edinburgh and getting a lot more exposure and more interest from outside. Cherry Red and lots of labels like that were interested, and Rough Trade as soon as they heard the sessions they were interested in us.
I think they knew us all too well at Postcard, they knew we only had eight songs, nobody else did! [laughs] So at the time we weren't really ready to be releasing things. Everything kind of snowballed and just went the other way. We were quite interested in Cherry Red and then we got talked out of that one for Warner Brothers.
It was a great time for Rough Trade, they'd signed your friends The Pastels and Aztec Camera.
Felt were on Cherry Red at the time, I think. Cherry Red had done that compilation Pillows And Prayers, it's got a lot of really good stuff on it. It WAS a good time. I really liked a lot of stuff on Cherry Red. I always liked a lot of stuff on Rough Trade but Cherry Red seemed to be slightly... there was a much wider range of things on Rough Trade, Cherry Red just seemed a wee bit more exciting, and I liked the name, very me - any colour you like as long as it's red!
When you signed to Korova/WEA, how did that change expectations of what was going to happen next?
The press were really bizarre actually. We did do quite a few interviews before we actually signed. We did a really early THE FACE right at the beginning and we'd done the NME, we'd done a few things. We did start to get the more cynical side of the interviewers coming out, trying to prod more things out of you, wanting to go into detail about the lyrics. I was like, 'you'll get what you're given and that's all. You'll get as much as we want to say and if we don't want to say anything else about it then that's it. The lyrics speak for themselves'. I don't really feel like I want to explain through all the lyrics in the songs.
The press were up and down, really. It was good, we actually got loads and loads of exposure in loads of good magazines that were hip at the time. And then when we did Top Of The Pops it was Smash Hits and those kind of magazines. We did women's magazines and everything, Women's Own and stuff like that, covering lots of angles.
Most of the stuff I've seen from after Since Yesterday is either trivial stuff about clothes, or it's being patronising.
We got quite a lot of that from the serious press, titles like 'Strawberry Tarts' in Sounds. Not that the interview was bad, but they'd just put stupid things like that which was a bit irritating. But when you're doing all those teen magazines like Smash Hits that ask you the most mundane questions then, then it was much much better doing an interview for Rolling Stone or Sounds or something like that, something not quite so 'what's your favourite colour? Where do you buy your ribbons?', stupid things like that.
We'd get so bored with interviews like that that I started lying every time we did an interview. We did some women's magazine, Women's Own or something like that, and they said 'what do you do when you entertain guests?' I said 'usually we have something healthy to eat, we'll get some chips from the chip shop and some mineral water cos we're really into healthy living. And then we'll mudwrestle'. They said 'how do you do that at home', I said you just get a big plastic pool, fill it with mud and have mudwrestling parties. They were 'REALLY?' and we're 'YEAH!' 'and then what do you do?' 'Well, we shower off and have a glass of wine'. 'Do you shower off together?' I just said, 'well, some of us shower together, some don't, whatever's easiest'.
Did they print this stuff?
Yeah! They printed it, they PRINTED it! In another one I said I was so exhausted I had to be carried out on a stretcher. My mum phoned me up cos they printed that. I used to just think, it's time to have a laugh cos this is getting SO boring. People can be so gullible - I would never have believed that in a hundred years - but they printed it! I thought they might leave out some of it cos it's a bit risqué for Woman's Own.
Was there any opportunity to get taken seriously, if the proper music press is being patronising cos you're not blokes and the rest is Smash Hits and Beeb?
We did some interviews that were intelligent reading - I can't remember what the magazines were - where there were some feminist themes coming at it from the angle of women in music rather than girls in short skirts.
It's an interesting angle to look at Strawberry Switchblade cos while it's two intelligent articulate women writing their own songs, you're also all ribbons and frills, and feminist politics at the time still had a big streak of not dressing up cos its got overtones of doing it just to please men, being a bit dungarees and crewcuts.
Well exactly. I remember we did a gig with The Slits in Glasgow. They were out doing their soundcheck and I was in the dressing room putting my make-up on and their manager comes up to me and says, 'what are you doing putting that make-up on? Who are you putting it on for? Are you putting it on for men or are you putting it on for yourself? Have you asked yourself these questions?' I said to her, 'being a feminist is not being a man. I celebrate the feminine side of my personality, and who are you to tell me what to do? And anyway one of your band is wearing make-up! Just go away. I'm not going to dress down for men, I won't let what men do rule my life'.
To begin with, in The Poems when I was an anarchist I went through a wee phase where I thought I shouldn't wear make-up and stuff. Then I just thought 'NO'; that's not me being who I want to be. I'm doing this because I like being extravagant and I like to paint my face like a picture. I'd do lots of colours or draw flowers on my face and things like that. I just like it, it's an art form. Dressing up and doing this whole thing, it's great fun. Kids love dressing up and I just never grew out of it!
If you're a feminist it doesn't mean that you have to be like a man, it means the exact opposite. People just got it wrong and thought you have to be as macho as possible or whatever. I was brought up with lots of brothers, I was a real tomboy when I was a kid; anything a guy could do I could do anyway, and I used to prove that throughout my growing-up years. I was always a feminist. If I want to wear make up and false eyelashes and whatever, so be it, nobody will tell me what to do.
I think a lot of feminists got it wrong, and because they got it wrong they probably lost a wee bit of the fun out of their lives cos they were taking it too seriously.
The 80s was a time when individualism was coming through, and feminism was probably helped by that because feminism demands that people be judged as individuals rather than eulogised or dismissed on grounds of their sex.
We actually had quite a feminist following as well, and quite a sizeable lesbian following as well. We did a club in Edinburgh, a gay club, and there were all these women coming backstage trying to chat us up, 'are you two girlfriends? Are you seeing anybody?'. We did have a lot of a gay following male and female. A lot of gay men liked Strawberry Switchblade, cos we're not conventional women, we are flamboyant. The amount of gay guys who've said to me 'I'd turn for you!'
At this summer's gay Pride in London, the headmaster of Jill's daughter's school borrowed some of Jill's old polka dot outfits and went with his boyfriend as Strawberry Switchblade. Imagine your headmaster and his boyfriend dressing up as your mum!
At least sometimes when people know who you are it needn't be a stalker.
When I came out here [rural Oxfordshire] I came out here to get away from the Kelvins. I thought London's totally doing my head in, it's too chaotic, it's driving me insane. Which it actually was, literally. I moved out to the country and dropped out a lot, I didn't really keep in contact with a lot of people, like a hermit in the woods for a while. I just needed the tranquillity. The woods were my Valium, basically.
When was that?
I've been here for nine years. I lived in Canada for one and a half, and then came straight here, after going to Scotland to have a baby cos I wanted it to be Scottish. It sounds terrible doesn't it? I wanted to do that with my last daughter as well but nobody would let me, it would've been hitch-hiking up the road at nine months pregnant! So she was born in Oxford. I dunno, I just like it out here, I like the peace, I like the quiet.
We go to the pub one night, a little country pub. I walked in and asked for a Red Witch and they just looked at me. They don't even sell mineral water, never mind cocktails or whatever. I sat down and this guy said, 'I know you'. I thought I came out here to get away from everybody that knows me. He said 'I worked with you in the studio once', and he was an engineer on a Strawberry Switchblade session! His name's Pete Brown, he lives locally. His dad's Joe Brown and his sister's Sam Brown.
And then a girl moved a couple of cottages down from me with her boyfriend who was a photographer. She said to him one day, 'I know that girl' and he asked me. I said 'I know her as well, is she a make-up artist?' She did Strawberry Switchblade's make-up and she moved here! For two years she was a neighbour. I thought god, it's SUCH a small world, it's bizarre. You can't run away from yourself!
How did you write the songs? You were already writing with The Poems.
It was mostly vocal stuff I was writing with The Poems, I wasn't really playing any instruments except the drums. I taught myself to play twelve-string guitar. Basically either Jill would come up with a guitar line and I would put a vocal melody on it and the words, or I'd come up with both and occasionally she'd come up with both. The majority of the time it was... well, it's difficult because if you actually looked at the whole thing, the whole album, I probably tended to write most of it as a whole, but Jill wrote quite a lot of the music. She'd write one song, I'd write another song, but when I did it I tended to write the vocal melody and the lyrics as well, with a couple of exceptions. We used to write like that and then come together with an idea.
Working with Jill was great, it was really really good because our personalities together were perfect for writing songs. She'd do something that would really excite me and I'd do something that would really excite her. The enthusiasm that came off each other was completely electric, it was SO exciting and SO much fun. And all we ever did was laugh. We were just really happy and we worked together really really well. I haven't ever worked with anybody like that since then.
I kind of miss that, I miss our working relationship. It was really good for most of the time, it's just that there became stresses towards the end. It was actually really good fun when we were sitting down and one of us would come up with an idea. We were good for each other, I think. We were good for each other's confidence - we were learning guitar AS we wrote the songs, 'I've learnt this new chord' 'Oh that's really nice, let's see if we can fit it in with the other ones we know'. It was like everything drew out of the same pot. We worked well together, we worked really well together.
Although it was really collaborative, you were writing the lyrics on your own. Did you ever do much explaining of what they were about? In a format like the three minute song there's bound to be so much left unsaid, but yours tend to be really uncontextualised. It feels like being dropped into the middle of a situation, like a snapshot of a relationship where although there's clearly history and consequences, the lyrics have just picked a moment and described the feeling and feelings of that moment. Did you ever explain to Jill where the lyrics had come from and what they were describing?
A lot of the lyrics were just straight out of my life, basically. It was a memory and I'd just put it into words like a poem. Little parts of my life that were stuck in my head, I'd write songs about them. Things like Little River, the reason I wrote that song is because it was one of my favourite story books in school when I was a little girl. Things like Go Away, my cousin had taken me out into the countryside and he used to play really nasty tricks on me. He'd take me for great big long walks - cos he lived in the country and I'd go and visit them - and then he'd dump me somewhere. He'd tell me to sit on this wishing stone, close my eyes and count to ten and make a wish. I'd close my eyes, count to ten, make a wish and open my eyes and he'd be nowhere to be seen, and I would have no idea where I was. That stuck in my head, and that was what Go Away was about, basically.
10 James Orr Street obviously, it was really my favourite place that I've ever lived and I really didn't want to leave it. But they were knocking the buildings down to extend the hospital and we HAD to go. I was really heartbroken when I left that house cos my first love lived there as well, this little ten year old boy who used to run away from me all the time. I was giving him sweets and he was going GO AWAY. I was ten and he was nine. I just loved that place. So 10 James Orr Street was about having to leave somewhere you just really don't want to.
The place I moved to afterwards turned out to be an absolute nightmare, an awful place. My little brother died within six months of us moving to that place. I just hated the place that we'd moved to, so 10 James Orr Street just seemed like the perfect place in the world looking back on it. The place we moved to afterward, I was there till I was sixteen. It was horrible because in was in sort of a gangland part of Glasgow, so it was really violent. When I moved there I was ten years old, or just turned eleven I think, and I was totally, like, the world is a wonderful place. I used to find all these places that I'd call fairyland, I was just an innocent little kid who thought everybody could be saved if they only knew. Even bad people, if you talked to them and stuff they'd be fine, if they just knew what you knew they'd be fine. Then my little brother died, that really changed my perspective on life.
And living in that area, where I could see people running down the street with an axe in their back. I found people dead; I found a man who'd been stabbed with a sword when I was about fourteen. It was a forty-two year old man, it was in the paper next day that he had a family. The guys who stabbed him with the big sword were just up the hill and they saw me and my friend, and because we were witnesses they chased us. We were only about from here to that door over there from her house but we were too scared to run in there cos they'd know where she lived, so we just ran and ran. We ran through people's gardens, we eventually had to stop running cos we were knackered. We were hiding under a hedge and these guys, we could hear them walking about looking for us and they were patting the hedge with the sword. To come out of that a sane person is impossible.
And that was just one story, there were loads of them. My dad got hit over the head with an axe twice because he's deaf in one ear and somebody had asked him a question, they'd asked him if was Paddy McCormick and my dad thought they'd asked 'do you KNOW Paddy McCormick?'. The man who was meant to be hit, his wife carried my dad up the stairs, he was unconscious. I remember she had a camelhair coat on and it was just covered in blood. My dad went off to the hospital, and the guy that did it came to the door an hour later or something. I have no idea who let him into the house, there was loads of neighbours in the house cos my mum was panicking and stuff like that, cos we didn't know what would happen to my dad with two great big gashes across the top of his skull, he was in hospital and we hadn't heard anything yet. And this guy came to the door to apologise, to say 'you're OK, it's not going to go any further, I apologise, just a case of mistaken identity'. He thought that was it, that's all he had to do.
I flew at the guy, I was screaming at him, I thought 'if I can kill this guy right now I'll kill this guy right now'. I was trying to punch him and the neighbour was pulling me off. I was only a kid and this guy was early twenties, there's quite a big difference. I just could not see why this guy was in the house apologising, he should be dying under my hand. And then I realised when he'd gone that basically my mum had to accept his apology, because if she hadn't and she had pressed charges, then he was one of the top guys in the gang, and they'd have put petrol bombs through the window or something like that. She was protecting her kids and I didn't realise that, I just thought an eye for an eye. I didn't even think that, it was just an emotional thing, I was distraught and I just wanted to kill that guy.
I realised afterwards that there was all that sort of stuff goes on, if you see things you turn a blind eye and all that, and I couldn't stand that attitude. I really really disliked that attitude. If you turn a blind eye then they will always get away with it, you just HAVE to stand up to them. It was really difficult cos my mum and dad were, like, 'don't cause any trouble,' and I was 'you can't let them bully you like that,' it was awful.
This one guy stabbed his girlfriend through the stomach when she was pregnant, in the street. They were about seventeen-ish. A lot of things like that happened, it was not uncommon. I saw a little boy who was just jumping on the side doors of a bus for a ride to the next bus stop and he fell off and went under the back wheel of the bus, and his head and his teeth flew all over the road. I saw some really gruesome things, it's a wonder I'm not locked up somewhere. I did see some really awful things cos it was quite a wild place and the children were really wild. We lived in a tenement and there were six families and only two of them had never been in trouble with the police; us and the people directly below us. There were armed robbers on the bottom floor, murderers, someone was in for manslaughter.
In the other house there was a manslaughterer and a murderer; two guy in prison. And one of the other brothers tried to kill me once. He got me by the throat and he picked me up. It was such a stupid thing - my three year old brother was fighting with his three year old brother over a biscuit. His mother came up to the door to complain and my mum and dad were out working and I had to look after my siblings cos I was the oldest. I said, 'my mum and dad aren't in right now'. Obviously that's why she came up, she knew they weren't in, she knew where they worked. She was trying to push into the house, and I tried to close the door and say 'come back when my mum and dad come back'. I pushed the door and she stuck her foot in the door, I pushed the door on her foot really hard. She pulled her foot out and started screaming at the top of her voice and ran downstairs and her son came up who was twenty two or something like that - early twenties - and he kicked the door in. I told my friend who was with me to take all the kids into the living room and put things up against the door. This guy was strangling me, he lifted me up off the ground, my feet were about a foot off the ground, I was just standing there being strangled until somebody came and pulled him off me. And his sister shouted something about 'you're pretty, I'll spoil that for you, I'm going to throw acid in your face,' and they're the kind of people who WOULD do that.
There was a boy who was about the same age as me, he was always trying to trip me up and push me, and that's when I took up martial arts. When I used to come round the corner with my martial arts bag that guy who used to bully me all the time would cross the road. I'd only done a couple of lessons, I hadn't done anything much yet, but because my mum and dad know someone who was a black belt and a really good person who worked with them, and also the guy who was teaching me was a world champion. It was also at the time when Kung Fu was on TV and everybody was into kung fu, so although I was only about four foot eleven at the time they thought 'she could probably take out about twenty guys with one swing'! I was 'don't try me out please!', I was only just learning the right stance and stuff, but it really worked; nobody bullied me, nobody tried to.
My little brother got killed. Some guys said that they were going to kill him, and I said, 'you touch him and I'll get you', cos that's what big sisters do. I always wished I had a big brother so I wasn't the one that had to do that. And we went off, my little brother was only six and we decided to go home. He ran into these guys on the way home, two of them held an arm each and the other one kicked into his stomach. That was on the Thursday, he died on the Sunday of peritonitis; ruptured appendix.
The doctor had been called out lots of times but because of the kicking he thought it was just internal bruising. So he was lying there for days dying and I was actually sat with him as he died. I was laughing my head off cos he was telling me these funny stories - he was lying on the sofa and he was telling me there were these little men on the top of the sofa, little men with funny hats on who were coming to take him away. I was going 'what do they look like? What do they look like?' and he was describing what they look like and they just sounded like pixies. He said, 'they're coming to take me away'. I said 'where are they taking you?' and then he just stopped talking and he was staring at the ceiling. And I remember him making this funny noise when he just stared at the ceiling and I was going 'Michael, Michael' and he wouldn't talk, he was just staring at the ceiling. My other little boy noticed the boy that had hit him so we ran out to get him. All we did was get his ball off him and kick it over a fence and say, 'if anything happens to my little brother you're going to be in trouble'.
I went back and when I got to the bottom of the stairs I heard this really loud shriek, this SCREAM. I thought that sounds like my mum, I ran up the stairs and before I got to the last flight she was saying 'don't come up don't come up', and of course that just said to me 'come up'. So I looked in the house and there was a long corridor with the living room at the end of it. My dad was just lifting his head away trying to give my little brother the kiss of life. He didn't know I was there, he turned round and shook his head to my mum. I just completely freaked out, I leaped down all the stairs. A neighbour stopped me at one point and slapped me to try and calm me down. I ran for eight miles to my granny's and told her what happened, that he was really sick. I didn't say he was dead cos I didn't want to believe that. I told her about the hallucinations and she said the last time she knew someone who did that, they died. I started screaming cos I didn't want her to say that word. I was only eleven and I was so freaked out by it. Just as we got back the ambulance was pulling away. It was the worst time of my life. From eleven years old I got a wee bit more cynical with people.
Since we moved to that place I thought actually, some people are not saveable, you can't change them. You see all these little kids who run around and their mums and dads are alcoholics, you feel really sorry for them and up until a point they're probably saveable. But beyond a certain age when they become teenagers and late teenagers, you're not going to change that person's mind, they're gonna thieve, they're gonna mug you. I've been mugged a couple of times, I've been assaulted a couple of times, not seriously. Somebody thought I was a boy once cos I had really short hair and he came running over to beat me up, and when he realised I was a girl he thought he'd just touch me up instead. They were guys who went to the same school as me. Other guys who went to the same school as me held me and my friend up in an elevator and told us to take our knickers off. I said no, I looked at one of the guys who was in my class and said, 'you know you're not going to do this don't you? This is really stupid, I know exactly who you are'. They were holding a knife up to us and my friend was so scared she took her knickers off. I just bluntly refused. Eventually they just let us go and didn't do anything. It was a horrible place, it was a really horrible place to grow up.
It was a horrible place for somebody who.... It was a horrible place for ANYBODY, but I was somebody who was really optimistic and believed in all the beautiful things in life, in trees and...trees and flowers, haha. I just love nature and I love life, and then I saw that and thought 'this is SO awful'. I really really believe that some people are just scum. It's not a PC thing to say, but when you live with them you don't care about that, you just think, 'that person is the complete scum of the world and we'd be better without him,' cos there were a lot of people like that.
Also I turned away from religion at that age as well, cos when my little brother died I thought that was a really cruel thing for God to do.
Had religion been a big thing for you up until then?
Oh yeah, we were brought up Catholics and we went to chapel all the time. Just before we were moving my cat ran away because we were moving and it was scared. My mum sent me off to church on my own. I was really really shy when I was a little kid and I was too scared to go on my own cos I didn't know anybody. She gave me tuppence for the plate, and I was all dressed in a little white dress cos you used to do that in those days; Sunday best of little white dress, little white shoes and a hat and a handbag with tuppence for the plate in it. I decided to buy sweets with the tuppence and sat waiting for time to go home. My cat ran past me with its hair sticking up and it was foaming at the mouth and really rabid looking. I started running after it. It fell over and got up and ran away again and I couldn't catch it. Then this boy picked it up and said 'is this your cat?' and he was swinging it by the tail and he dropped it into the dustbin and said 'it's dead'. I said it's not dead cos it was making noise. He set the bin on fire and I could hear my cat screaming. I was totally one hundred percent convinced that was God punishing me for not going to chapel. I really though it was my fault that that happened.
Then when the thing happened with my little brother I thought no. How can you possibly love somebody you're terrified of? How can you force children - out of fear - to believe in something? I just thought there's no way. I don't believe in God, I'm not going to love something that I'm scared of who tells me I'll burn in Hell if I don't love him. So I turned away from God.
I had a vision when we first went to London and we were looking for a flat and living in a hotel and Jesus Christ appeared over the top of my bed. This was really real - whether it was a hallucination or whatever, and I wasn't on drugs - and he hung over my bed and I thought 'Jesus wants to have sex with me', and I just said FUCK OFF. And that was a Catholic saying fuck off to Jesus Christ. Although I was a lot older then, for two weeks I had this impulse, every time I walked past a church or a chapel I wanted to go in, but going 'no no, be strong, don't give in to him, don't give in to THAT'. You stub your toe and you think, 'well what have I done, what am I being punished for?' That's what Catholicism does to you. I just thought it's sick and I'm not having anything to do with it. If I go to Hell that's OK cos all my friends are going there anyway.
Eternal heaven with Cliff Richard or eternal hell with Jimi Hendrix, who do you want to spend eternity with?
I'll go to Hell thankyou very much, that's where the party is!
Did you move away fairly quickly?
I lived there until I was sixteen, as soon as I was old enough to leave home. I left and went to live in Paisley where my boyfriend lived, also where there was a punk club. I moved there and never wanted to go back to that place again. I hated it. Kids would set flats on fire, a highrise flat, people would die. One of the wee boys that set the fire was ten years old, he died as well. And his brother and other brother died joyriding. His mum and dad were complete alcoholics who never knew where their kids were anyway. It was a hellhole, it was SO awful.
The only reason we stayed there is cos we were poor. It wasn't cos we were bad, we were just a large poor Catholic family, and cos we were moving out of one area into another we had three choices of council house, and that was the third choice. My mum had turned down the other two, she didn't like them. Turned out it was a bad choice we were stuck with for ages. I'm sure it moulded me quite a lot, the way I think about things.
It's extraordinary how you can have gone from such a happy optimistic child to a place that forces you to see the other end of the spectrum. Something that always draws me back to Strawberry Switchblade is that bittersweet thing, the way it is dark and melancholy yet very delicate and beautiful. Self-contained partly to keep the world out but also because there's enough inside to sustain, looking outside and reaching inside.
My whole life's been like that.
It's that mix that makes the greatest and most moving pop music.
The Mary Chain are like that as well.
Oh yeah, Tim Buckley, wow.
That sort of thing that soars and yet there's an ache, a worldly-wise ache, underneath it. The greatest pop music hits that, emotions that you can't quite name from simplistic lists. It interesting seeing your growing up as so directly and intensely feeding that mix, that emotional blend that characterises the music.
I guess it's that kind of influence that still influences my lyrics now. They're still like that. I'm a kind of happy-sad person. I'd like the world to be a nice place, but it's not. So I chose to live somewhere like this where it's really beautiful and it's really isolated and you sort of create your own universe out here. You can ignore things. I never buy newspapers and it's not because I'm stupid and I can't read, it's because I don't want to read it. I don't really buy into this society, I really don't. I keep as far out of it as I possibly can, and I just don't want any connections with it. If I could completely drop out I would, but I can't cos I've got kids that go to school. If I was on my own I could easily see myself being an old woman in the woods. A witch in the woods who'd do potions for everybody, that would do me!
There's a little grotto down there on this property and it's fantastic. In fact Boyd Rice initiated Marc Almond into the Church of Satan in the little grotto that's just a walk down there! It's in that book Marc Almond wrote [Tainted Life], he mentions that he comes out to Rose's to go down to the grotto to be initiated into the Church of Satan by Boyd Rice. I don't think the landlord would appreciate that!
[Change of tape - comes back in on...]
It was like this when I talked to Jill, four hours of tape!
We're a pair of gabs, I tell you!
Totally! It's uncanny, it's so obvious that you worked together. And when you were talking about writing the songs, you used almost identical words to hers about the process.
Yeah, really emphasising how much of a laugh you had doing it.
Yeah, and bouncing enthusiasm off each other was just great.
And like her I've got a list of questions but I just need to look at it once in a while and cross off the ones you've answered in the course of just talking.
It was great, we used to get together and think, 'the theme is red and black today' and throw everything that we possessed on the floor - beads, jewellery, earrings, everything that was red and black - put it all on then go out, jangling everywhere we went! People would hear us coming from half an hour before we got there!
Recording the album, then.
We actually recorded the album in quite a few different studios which, instead of going into one studio and recording the whole album, we travelled around and did different songs in different studios.
Jill said you did two songs with Robin Millar. What was that?
Yeah, he didn't like women.
Really? He produced Sade and things at the same time.
I think it was Jolene we did with him, was it not?
No, wasn't that with Clive Langer?
It was HIM that didn't like women. He didn't even talk to us. His engineer did most of the work, he just put his name on it. The engineer did most of the work, I can't remember his name. What tracks did we do with Robin Millar?
You recorded Secrets and...
Oh yeah, Secrets and Lost In Space. We changed that to...I think it was called Lost In Space then, actually. Secrets and, it could have been Poor Hearts.
Yes, it was those two. [Robin Millar believes there was a third track, known as Lost In Space]
You know the guy I met in the pub up there? That's the session he worked on. I liked his studio actually. All the other studios were had green carpets and stuff, his had a really nice blue carpet!
Why didn't it work out with Robin Millar?
I don't know what happened. We weren't continuing any further, that was quite near the end, we were recording new songs for the next album, doing demos for it and stuff like that.
The Robin Millar stuff? I thought it was before then. In Jill's memory you did two songs with him as a trial producer with a view to him doing the album, but it didn't go down well.
Well it couldn't have been Poor Hearts then cos Poor Hearts was written much later.
[This appears to be incorrect: it was recorded for a Janice Long BBC session on 11 Feb 84, which is almost certainly earlier or contemporaneous with the Robin Millar sessions]
It's definitely Secrets and Poor Hearts.
I liked working with Robin Millar, I think it was afterwards, I'm SURE it was afterwards.
Why would you re-record Secrets?
It's all a jumble in my head. I've probably got the date on a tape somewhere. I actually quite liked working with Robin Millar, so that [not using him for any released material] would have been a record company decision. I liked those demos.
Did the record company hold that much sway?
Well, we met loads of producers. We met all these guys, they'd come in and say 'this is what we're going to do', and I'd think, 'no, that's not what we're going to do, these are our songs, we have a concept, we created them and we want to see it through to the end, so we don't want to just hand them over to you and say Here you go'. There were a lot of producers we knew who were completely like that, who were completely the producer's more important than the artist sort of thing, like HE'S the artist. We met a few like that who we didn't want to work with.
Then we met a couple that we tried things out with, and the one that we ended up with, David Motion, he was meant to be a try-out as well, to see how it would go. I was quite unsure - I really liked David Motion, a really nice guy, he was really easy and pleasant to work with but I was really unconvinced at first because I didn't like some of the sounds that were coming out. They were going 'give it time, give it time,' but the more time you gave it the more money was being put into the project and the more fighting you would have to do with the record company. So in the end we ended up caught in that trap, basically. And in a sense as much as I love Motion I probably wouldn't have gone that way.
What would you have preferred to see it come out like?
I would have rather it sounded less dated, I would have rather we used more real instruments, like Trees And Flowers for example with oboe and french horn. I know we did have that on some of the other tracks as well, people like Andrew Poppy did a couple of arrangements and David Bedford did another couple where we'd have an orchestra and that's really nice. I would have rather worked with real instruments to be perfectly honest and not all synths and stuff like that cos it was not my passion at the time.
Having heard the tapes of the Radio 1 sessions and other early versions, the bombast of a lot of the released versions is quite overpowering by comparison.
I know. It was quite weird really, cos it was a medium that I wasnae that familiar with - synthesisers and stuff - not being very technically minded. I could work the mixing desk, I'd engineer for him and stuff like that cos I really liked doing that. I do like synths a lot more now than I did then, I buy them now and I use them now. But I kinda always really liked the sound of Trees And Flowers, the fragility of it and the beauty of the pure sounding instruments that are played well, it just sounded really really nice. I would have liked to have done a bit more of that, especially when you get little hook lines in something like On The Journey From Home [Being Cold] with the melodica parts, melodies like that. If you have really strong melodies, OK we played them on melodicas and we were playing harmonies over each other, but I would have been so nice if some of the other songs could have been that rich. They wouldn't have dated quite as much. I know loads of people are back into 80s stuff again.
It's in a revivalist way though, superficial and nostalgic rather than creative.
Yeah and kinda kitschy. I would love to do that album again, I think those songs just weren't done justice to. I don't want to say anything that would reflect badly on anybody that was involved in it cos I liked everybody that we worked with, but I really think they [the songs] weren't done justice to, they could have been SO much better.
It's difficult with new technology to spot what's going to date badly, you can't tell what's going to be superseded and what's going to stick around.
Well of course, I know, of course. And there were some great sounds actually- I love that whale sound on Deep Water which was a synth sound. I love that sound, it gets you in the gut. I really liked quite a lot of it but there were bits of it that are too rinky-dink for me. You know what I mean? Like, press the sequencer and everything just goes dut-dut-dut-dut-dut, there's nothing organic in there. Where's the breath? Where's the human in that? Everything's digitalised. I like analogue, although I use digital now as well, I do like that REAL feeling about music when you can actually hear somebody's breath or you can hear them play the guitar, you can almost hear the fingers touching it.
I love acoustic stuff where you can hear the fret squeak as the fingers move on the wound strings.
When they squeak and it's a good squeak in the right place I like it, but if it's a squeak that's 'that wasn't supposed to be there', I don't like that actually. Although I'm guilty of it sometimes. I like deliberate ones though. Music's just one of those things, it does something different to everybody. I think those songs could have been SO much better if we'd gone with the same approach as Trees And Flowers and done it with real instruments, and we should have blended it a bit, but it all went dut-dut-dut-dut-dut. And some of the songs, my voice is so shrill, it's really high and I just think, god, I sound like a chipmunk.
But it's that which gives it the fragility, the delicate touch. Harmonies build it up but it's the high voice that creates that gorgeous fragile bit, that's the thing that gives it its real sensitivity, its real power.
I like them, but I like them when they have a bass harmony down there somewhere. I like harmonies that are really close, that kind of resonate almost, like they're the same organic thing. A lot of things I do now I like to put really close harmonies so it has almost a Gregorian feel. Then I like to put really high things over the top. But some of the first album I did in Sorrow I went overboard on harmonies, harmonies everywhere, put on another one! The second album round I thought, 'you're being too predictable putting harmonies everywhere just because you can,' so I pulled back from that a wee bit.
But it's good to experiment. I want to record an album that's all vocals, all the different melodies are vocal melodies. Maybe just a bit of simple heartbeat drumming a bit of flute or something like that, but mostly all vocal melodies coming from all directions. I really want to do that, something to completely surround your head and get drowned in.
I did a gig recently and a guy came up to me and said 'your songs really haunt me,' and I thought that's a real compliment. And we did this gig - this is not about Strawberry Switchblade - we did this gig in America and the whole audience started crying, it was amazing, it was totally amazing. First of all this girl started crying, then someone else started crying, her boyfriend started crying, it was fucking amazing. What a compliment, to make all these people cry, you know? A whole bunch of them - ten of them - got a plane and came over when we played Whitby last year.
We did one gig in Germany, the venue had a lot to do with it, it was this massive big monument and it was circular. We opened with a vocal piece and then bagpipes came in, really really soft and gentle at the beginning. There was a little glass dome at the very top of the monument and just as I started singing the sun came through this dome and put a ray of light where I was stood, it was fucking angelic! And this girl who was in one of the other bands, the cellist with Backworld, she came back afterwards and said when the ray of light came through her eyes just filled. If somebody tells you that you can make them cry it's really touching. You're touching people then.
The thing that separates good music from bad whatever the genre is a thing Mick Jones from The Clash said. He said he was sick of seeing all these big bands doing enormous gigs that just took your money and put you in a field while they played and at the end of it you were exactly the same but older and poorer. They just take your money and time, they don't GIVE you anything. He said he wanted to be in a band that gives more than it takes, something that move people, make them feel different at the end than they were at the start. That power to affect is the thing that separates all good music from the bad. Whether you're listening to Dead Can Dance or Nirvana, they both pass that test.
I totally agree with you. Music is there to move you, it's there to play with your emotions. Even when I was growing up the stuff I was drawn to was the stuff I could FEEL, it's the passion in music - whether it's tragic or beautiful or whatever - it's that passion in music that makes music so powerful, which gives music the power over you as a human being.
I remember I just love Jah Wobble's bass playing cos it used to thud you right in the gut, right in the solar plexus. Some people's music just has that. This Is The Day by The The, that accordion part, god, I used to play that over and over on my walkman all the time. Whenever I was feeling shit or depressed I'd put that on and I'd go [sings melody] I just loved it so much. I got an accordion, I needed to play that melody! There are just some things so brilliant that will stay with you forever.
This is why people still want to talk to you about Strawberry Switchblade or why people still listen to the Mary Chain, when nobody wants to interview a contemporary like Nick Kamen about his records. It's the difference between who means it and who doesn't.
People keep asking me to release this demo I did just after Switchblade split up, the Sunflower Demos. A lot of the songs are like the Switchblade album, and some of them aren't quite so 80s sounding. I thought, 'I don't want to release it, I sound like a chipmunk,' and then I just thought OK, so I'm going to release it quite soon. It's ready to go out, I've just got to do the artwork for it, and that'll be stuff that I was working on that might have been on the second Strawberry Switchblade album. Loads of people have been writing to the website saying they've heard about it and want to hear it, I've been nagged so much by lots of people to release it, so I'm going to put it out.
We've talked about how much control you had over choice of producer. How much control did you have while the album was being made?
We could say yes and no to things. If we really didn't like something we did have the power of veto. But also, there were so many bloody cooks in the kitchen, d'you know what I mean? At first there was just me, Jill and David Motion, but then Balfe would come along and put his tuppence worth in and Drummond, and then the head of the company. But we did have a lot of control over it in the end actually, about how it was mixed and stuff like that, but if you're having control over something you're not a hundred percent in love with it doesn't mean as much.
The one thing I don't like about that is that the guitars are hardly audible at all. There are guitars on that album believe it or not, but they were mixed so low cos David Motion doesn't like guitars, so low that Jill and I were almost mixed out of the album, apart from vocally. Not all, there are obvious bits where our presence is there, but I think that I would've done things a wee bit different. But it was that 'just give it a chance, give it a chance,' and then the album's finished and you're listening to it, and then what do you say? 'I hate it, we've spent £250,000 and I want to do it again'? We'd just been round all these different studios and that would have really fucked them off.
I was objecting to some of the stuff we were doing, right at the beginning of the recording sessions, thinking, 'hmm I don't think I like the way this is going', and it was all 'keep trying, give it a chance'; acquire a taste for it, basically.
For your own record!
Exactly! And I was 'hmm, I still don't like it', and at the end of the day there were so many layers of things on. There were a lot of things I DID like about it, but, you know. But if I'd been recording it myself it would've been very different. I've a recording studio through there now, so what I do, I do it myself so I've got complete control. And that's the way it should be really. I mean, if you write a song you should see it through to the end.
OK, once it's on vinyl or CD it belongs to whoever buys it, that's my opinion anyway. Send your baby off out into the world and people will listen to it and get what they get from it or not, but you've done your bit then and you're happy with it when you send it out, and it's a much better feeling than not being happy with it when you send it out, or being doubtful.
It was so confusing, everything was going so fast, we were off doing this, off doing that, then back recording something else. It was kinda hard to be focussed on 'DO I like this or not?', do you know what I mean? It was really confusing. A lot of pushing and shoving was going on and I think Jill and I were wiped out by the workload we were doing. Especially when we were doing crap stuff, spending the whole bloody day doing a photo session, it was the most boring thing in the world. I didn't mind interviews so much but I hated photo sessions.
How did Jill's agoraphobia affect having to travel and go out to do gigs and interviews and stuff?
Some times it was worse than others. I mean, there were times where the tour van was sat outside and she would not come out of the house, and there'd be all sorts of bribes but she just couldn't get out of the house. Eventually we'd get her into the van.
She'd had valium given to her from the doctor once when we were going to Japan, and she had a fit in the airport. She just started screaming and saying 'I'm not getting on the plane'. She didn't like planes anyway, that's a whole part of the agoraphobia as well. 'It's unnatural for something that big and heavy to fly, I'm not getting on it'! So I ended up getting on the plane myself, off to Japan the first time. Well, I wasn't by myself, David Balfe the manager was there and our translator from the record company was there. Jill was left at the airport. We were supposed to be doing gigs as well.
The record company had to buy her boyfriend a ticket cos she could travel with him sometimes. He got a ticket and they flew over the next day or the day after that. But I had to deal with the press stuff and it was just madness, I was so exhausted, it was so mad and I couldn't wait till she got there, cos it's better when there's the two of you.
It affected quite a lot of things quite a lot of times. Sometimes I'd have to go down to London on my own to do meetings with the record company or do auditions and stuff like that which I really didn't enjoy doing. I don't like saying to somebody 'you're not what I'm looking for,' especially when they're well respected in a circle of musicians. It was things like that that were really difficult.
We were going to do the second album - or we were talking about doing the second album - with Ryuichi Sakamoto. We had the big meeting in Japan with him and he was really up for doing it but we had to go to Japan to do it and stay in Japan for two months, and Jill wouldn't do it. She wasn't having any of it, 'can he not come here?'. David Balfe was a massive fan of his and he was like, 'can you sign this album?' ! But Jill couldn't go to Japan and stay there. So that was a hindrance. We couldn't play New York, we couldn't play Hong Kong, cos we had gigs in places like that. We were supposed to go to New York on bloody Concorde and come back on the QE2! I was, 'oh wow, that'd be so fantastic!', but Jill would say 'I can't go'.
And then there was supposed to be some big opening or something in Japan and we were supposed to go to that, and we couldn't do it. I would have gone myself cos one of us is better than none of us, but at that point there was a wee bit of ego shit going on in the band, so it wasn't gonna happen.
It kinda steadily got worse, the agoraphobia, because we were being asked to do more things and go further afield. Someone said to Jill once - the guy who supposed to be doing the sound on tour, the road manager - he said 'I think you're in the wrong profession if you're agoraphobic,' and she got really really upset and her boyfriend got really upset with this guy and there was a massive big row. The guy punched Jill's boyfriend on the nose.
How was everyone else about it, how tolerant were people?
I think most people were really pretty tolerant, actually. She'd always had agoraphobia as long as I'd known her. It's a horrible condition to have, when she was panicking she was REALLY scared. It's not like 'I don't want to do this,' she was really really scared, scared for her life, that kind of fear. And I know what that feels like from a different kind of angle, being scared for your life - I've felt that before but not through agoraphobia. Most people were pretty tolerant I think. Her boyfriend was really good cos he'd go places with her.
At the end she was seeing hypnotists and stuff, we'd tried everything, the record company had tried. She'd meditation tapes and all sorts of stuff, and she went to group therapy where people had all sorts of different phobias. And sometimes she would get better. It was completely unpredictable, that was the worst thing about it, it was so completely unpredictable. If it was like PMT and you knew it was coming then you could avoid it!
From my point of view it would be really disappointing. I was really disappointed we couldn't go to Hong Kong, but I completely understood why. And maybe we could do it later. And New York, I really wanted to play New York but, well, we've hundreds of other things to do. But I did want to go on the QE2 and Concorde!
Surely you must've been aware at the time that that kind of opportunity isn't going to be there forever?
I know, I know, exactly. But it [agoraphobia] had always been there, so we'd lived with it from the beginning. But there were real opportunities missed, like going to Japan for two months and doing the album with Ryuichi Sakamoto, which would've been really interesting. We had a really funny time when we all went out to dinner with him and we were chatting about it with him. We were all talking about different things around the table and that end of the table was talking about food, this end of the table was talking about something else. That end of the table started talking about dogs that were popular in Japan as pets and I turned to Ryuichi Sakamoto and said 'do you eat dogs?' and David Balfe just looked at me and went completely bright red, cos he was the Big Fan.
I was always saying inappropriate things to people, not deliberately but things would slip out. Like we were at the Rock and Pop Awards and all the big guys in the business were there and I'd go 'I'm just off to the toilet to touch myself up'. I was only talking about my make-up, but everyone was chins dropped to their chests. [laughs] I'd go 'oh!', realising what I'd just said. I used to do stuff like that all the time.
So, Balfe was like, 'there she goes again! You've completely humiliated us now!'. But the Japanese eat dogs anyway. It's no big deal.
I didn't realise the second album had got as far as sorting out a producer.
Oh yeah, yeah definitely. He [Sakamoto] looked like the one we were going to go with. Balfe REALLY wanted to go with him.
How close did it get to starting?
We split up quite soon before. We were supposed to go back to Japan really soon and do a tour there, a couple of months or something like that. We had songs ready, the next single was going to be Cut With A Cake Knife. We had a whole year or two's plans ahead of us.
We were working with [video director] Tim Pope. That was one of the major upsets for me. I loved his videos and I just thought Tim Pope and us were a perfect combination, we had good fun working together. We talked to other video directors and they came up with the naffest ideas like Jill sitting on a bed with a box of chocolates and real girly sexist shit, real crap, no sense of art or anything, just boring video.
Then the Jolene one came up and we talked to Tim Pope about it. With Tim Pope we put ideas together, jumbled them up and came out with something good. But we went with this other company - well we were forced into it basically; 'just try it', famous last words. So we did this video with somebody else, because if we do THIS then the record company will let us do THAT, something we want to do that they didn't want to do. It was like that all the time. We shouldn't be in that situation, we should be calling the shots because this is our art form, it's what we DO. Then we did the video and I loved bits of it but a lot of the best bits they didn't put in cos they thought they were too risqué for 1985.
What sort of stuff?
I don't know if you saw the Jolene video. You know the cage bit? There's a bit where I'm dancing in a catsuit, a full-body catsuit with hands and feet and everything. I was dancing in a cage with flowers. There was a camera on rails, and I had shackles and handcuffs on and chains, and I was following the camera; it was really pretty fetish actually. And they just cut out all the best bits that I thought were really really good and that said 'this is Strawberry Switchblade'. We have people who like that side of us as well, it's not just people who just like Strawberries; some people like the Switchblade.
They cut out all the bits that would make people's heads turn round and make them stop saying 'they're twee'. THIS is how we get out of that, it's not by turning into someone who looks like she should be singing in the West End or on Dallas or something like that. This is how we get out of people calling us twee, just by letting us be who we are, because we're not twee. Just let us express ourselves completely. But that wasn't going to happen.
Also there was this dance scene that was supposed to be shot in a club, the cage was in a club. I thought, if we're gonna have all of these extras let's get all our friends. Actually I don't think Jill wanted to get her friends, because I think she thought some of my friends were too weird. We ended up getting all these extras who looked like a bunch of wankers. It was so cheesy, a bad cheesy eighties club thing with guys dancing about in tights.
Jolene's a fairly cheesy song to have done though, isn't it? What was the idea?
It was Bill Drummond. Loved the song, loved Dolly Parton, thought 'you have to do this song'. And that was another thing - we should have gone for the Marianne Faithfull one when they wanted us to do that. They wanted us to do a cover.
Which Marianne Faithfull song?
The Marianne Faithfull one was put to us much earlier on, it was As Tears Go By, which is a beautiful song and I love it. I actually have done a version with Dave Ball which was not released, but we did a version of it. Rob Dickins loved that song and wanted us to do a version, but we at that point didn't want to do a cover. It was too early in our career to do a cover song. I think it was just after Since Yesterday or something like that, so we didn't want to do a cover that soon cos then we're going to get into the covers thing, and we want to our own songs, so we bluntly refused that.
But then after a couple of other singles the Jolene thing came up and that was one of those 'you do this for me I'll do that for you' things. Things were all falling apart by that time, we couldn't use the video director we wanted. I actually liked the song Jolene and I liked Dolly Parton, but it was still a trade-off and I was anti it purely on the principle that it was a trade-off. They wanted it to be a club thing and I wasn't into that scene at all. I didn't care if the records got played in clubs. We're not releasing records to be played in clubs, we're releasing records cos we're musicians and that's what we do. They wanted to do it cos it would make more money and blah blah blah.
So that's when it started falling apart basically. That whole Jolene era was too many compromises and not enough comebacks.
Did both you and Jill feel like there were too many compromises?
Yeah, I think so.
It was also when you were coming apart as a team as well.
A lot of that was because I really felt really pressured. I mean, I'd come home at the end of the day and out of pure exhaustion of arguing a point with the record company, I'd just burst into tears.
I was SO frustrated and angry cos I always made sure we had group meetings every Friday and made sure we talked about whatever we thought was the right thing to do. And Jill and I would sit down and agree on everything, we'd agree we have to tell Rob Dickins and we have to tell the record company what we don't want to do. But then we'd get in there and Jill would be too shy to say it, and she'd also be too shy to say 'I agree with Rose,' even though we'd said it at home. So I felt like I was bashing my head off a brick wall all the time, cos I was like the baddie going in going 'no no no no,' looking for back-up and it wasn't there. Jill would've probably just gone with it, rather than face the conflict.
I couldn't stand it any more. I couldn't stand always being at a battle, and actually knowing that Jill WAS on my side - on OUR side - but not being able to say something. Sometimes her boyfriend would say something on her behalf, but the record company really didn't like that. It was hard work - I was having to push our point of view but they were saying it was my point of view cos they could probably get Jill to agree if they pushed hard enough, and I was the troublemaker.
I said 'if I can't use Tim Pope it's the beginning of the end for me,' and Tim Pope was saying 'don't do that on my behalf'. I said, 'I wasn't, I was doing it on OUR behalf. We started out this band. Why fix something if it's not broken? We're really happy the way things are and we're not just standing up for you, we're standing up for OURSELVES, it's cos WE like this arrangement'.
The record company were just getting the better of us more often than not. I thought, this is not why I wanted to be in a band, to be stressed and go home at the end of the day feeling that bad, to sit down and burst into tears and think 'shit, I hate this, I can't stand it and I'm going to have to do it all again tomorrow'. I started being really really short with people, being really blunt and telling them exactly what I thought.
I said to Jill, 'if it's going to continue like this I don't want it to continue at all'. It was one of the Friday group meetings, she came downstairs and I said I'm really not happy with the way things are going and if we can't change it, if it's not going to change then I'd rather we split up, I'd rather we just didn't do it any more cos it's not what we wanted to do. She just said that she agreed, or something like that.
It could've been easier you know, we didn't HAVE to break up, we could've sorted it out somehow but there just wasn't the... I don't know. Also we'd just sacked our manager as well, we sacked David Balfe because we didn't trust him because he was manipulating one of us off the other. That's why I always had the Friday group meetings cos when we were a four piece we had the meetings in front of our manager, so that everything was said in front of everybody and nobody could be grouping off into little groups. Cos Balfey's gonna talk to me and say things how he knows Rose likes to hear things, he's gonna say it to Jill how he knows Jill likes to hear things, and I'd say let's get together and hear how we all like to hear things.
It's amazing, talking to Jill and Julian Cope and other people who have known and worked with Balfe, everybody has got specific stories about him that STILL make their hackles rise.
It's funny, Jill started going out with Balfey for a while as well. She had this little sneaky affair with him at one point. I think she really liked him actually. But that all fell apart. That was another thing, 'what's going on there?'. I'd have thought it was funny, except that David Balfe had this girlfriend at Warner Brothers and they'd just bought a place together and she was working for us at the record company. It was really close to the edge, she could really fuck things up for us inside if she found out about that. She was a really nice girl and both Jill and I liked her.
Balfey told all his friends in Madness that he'd had both of us, they had that really male crap. I got really angry with him for that, just a male chauvinist idiot. Once, we'd just come off stage at a TV show and as we got into the elevator he slapped or pinched my backside in front of all the audience. I was so fucking furious that I turned round and slapped him really hard across the face. I said, if you ever do that again Drew will slap you even harder. He said he was sorry and he knew not to go there again. It was so patronising cos we were young girls. It's like, fuck off, I don't care how friendly you are and how much I like you, you do not humiliate me in front of all those people.
He wouldn't do an equivalent thing for a male artist, it is blatantly sexist.
It is completely. More than anything, it was patronising and humiliating in front of the people who were behind us. I was so angry with him for that, he never did do it again. And there were money things that I didn't trust him about.
That's the favourite subject with everyone who says things about him.
Is it? He claims I owe HIM money cos I didn't pay rent at this flat. Which is true, for the last little bit I did owe him £500, but when we went to Japan and we worked out all the money - we were doing gigs and getting paid quite well - and we were going to make a certain amount of money, and that was going to go on the lighting and whatever we were going to take over, and in the end there'd be a certain amount of profit. And the profit never showed up anywhere.
This was just when we were splitting up, we were asking, where's all the money from the Japan thing? I started really getting interested in the money then. Before that we'd just give ourselves a wage and let the accountant deal with it. In the beginning I didn't realise that when you go on TV you get paid for it. I didn't know that, I really didn't. So all those times we went on TV, which was hundreds of times, we were getting paid for it. So hang on, we should have money. And after the Japan thing, where's the money?
Money definitely went missing. Or it was spent on something we didn't agree on. It was in our contract that if Balfey was going to come on tour with us, even as our manager, he had to pay his air fare out of his 20%. I stipulated that right at the beginning, and it was agreed on. I don't know if it ever happened though. We were so busy that we couldn't keep our eyes on everything.
Balfey would always be edgy ringing me up, cos he could never predict what I was going to say about any specific thing he put forward about the band. He said to Drew that it fucked with his head cos he never knew which angle to come at with me.
Imagine him being so scheming he's got think about his angle to come at, rather than talk about something and just see what you think.
Exactly. He'd say something to Jill in one way and say it to me in another way. If he thought I was going to object to something he'd fluff it all up, but I'm not stupid; I know Balfe and I'd know what he was doing so it didn't work.
Once he'd got all these badges done with photographs that I really didn't like and - this is really trivial, it was really petty of me to do this - but I said I'm not going out of the door, I'm not doing the gigs unless you bring the box of badges back. I wouldn't have made such a fuss but I'd said to him before that I don't want to use that picture, I really don't want to use it. Balfe came out with some thing about how they just came back like that and he'd told them I didn't want it with that picture. I said well, we don't use them then. He said we have to now we've got them, I said if you want to use those badges you take them on tour and not me. It was because I knew he had no intentions of ever listening to me when I said I didn't want those badges done.
It's like with the record company saying what to wear, the people around you being unclear about whose band it is, and whose band it isn't.
And sometimes you have to do really stupid petty things like that.
It's not like there's only one picture of you available, so for someone outside to be deciding what picture to use irrespective of what the artist thinks, THAT'S where the pettiness kicks in, and you have to play on that level to get it stopped.
I know. And it got so stupid. I didn't want those little stupid catfights, it was a waste of time, it was a waste of mental energy, it was just not worth it. So I ended up thinking I don't want this any more. It ceased to be fun, it ceased to be what it was supposed to be. And god knows where it would've gone had we continued.
Jill says that before it came apart you were writing totally separately and bringing completed songs to each other, that the writing collaboration had stopped.
That did start to happen a wee bit but it didn't happen completely cos we did actually still do a couple of songs together. We did do things separately, then Jill wanted to sing on the ones she'd written and it was splitting it into two singers now. Well, there was always two singers cos we always both did harmonies and stuff like that. But we did start to write separately, that's because we were communicating less and less.
What caused that?
I don't know what caused it, it just kinda happened. I don't think it was a deliberate thing, I really don't. I can't remember there being any point where one of us decided to do that.
I think actually Jill wanted to sing and she wanted to sing Who Knows What Love Is? and the record company thought if it was going to be released as a single then I should sing it, although she had sung it live. It always reminded me of that band where one guy would start singing and then the other would come in. Was it Tears For Fears?
I don't know; fortunately my Tears for Fears trivia isn't that extensive.
I only know of them cos they were on the same management company as us. Anyway, it just got a bit like that.
It has worked well for some people, like the Clash, or The Beatles.
We did start to write stuff separately, which is why I've got demos of songs that would've been on the second album. I think it was also because we were really really busy and there was less writing time. Time at home was more precious. We did still write together but we did start fighting a lot then as well though, we did have a lot of petty wee stupid little arguments over who was singing what harmony, really daft things.
Actually, very embarrassingly, we were in the studio once and we had a massive fight about who was going to sing a harmony of one bloody note and it was sooo embarrassing, cos there were tears. It was with this producer, the one who didn't like women [Jolene session, produced by Clive Langer & Colin Fairley] and what do we do? We go in and react like a pair of daft women!
I was going, basically we do what's best for the song and if it's part of the lead line then that's where it goes so I'll sing it. But then Jill's saying 'I want to sing it, I sing the harmony lines and I'll sing these ones,' or 'I'm not singing enough', then it got a bit 'you can't play on the thing cos I'm the lead guitarist'.
Like on Deep Water there's the guitar bit 'di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di di di-do', - that was probably the first song I wrote actually - I wrote that little lead line, and things like that became problems when Jill was 'the lead guitarist' and I shouldn't be doing the lead lines cos that's treading on her territory and it got a bit daft like that. Her boyfriend used to say, 'you're letting Rose do too much,' stuff like that. The reason was that Jill was actually ill, she was agoraphobic and quite often couldn't do the meetings or whatever. There was a legitimate reason why I was doing more, why I was travelling to London while she stayed in Glasgow, because she COULDN'T, so it was a necessity.
But then at the end, well, my ex blamed her ex for mixing things and making her feel insecure. I don't know if it's true. But stuff like that was happening, and we just got to the stage where we started to argue with each other about who was doing what and I didn't want her to sing for the band, basically.
How we do it, it works well, we do harmonies and stuff and it's good. And I don't mind that there's a couple of songs that Jill always sang and I did harmonies and I did the lead line on the guitar in some sessions and we kinda swapped roles around a wee bit, which was really good fun cos then you got to do the other side and I quite enjoyed that, I like little toppy lead lines. But then when we did start writing songs separately it was 'I wrote it so I want to sing it,' and it was splitting down the middle anyway, right at the very end. That was the very very end and we were falling apart then anyway cos there was all this stuff that was...
Jill says your social lives had become very different.
She said you were off with Genesis P-Orridge while she was at home with the cat.
She was a bit freaked out by a lot of the people that I was hanging out with.
She said you bought Nazi memorabilia and that really freaked her out.
She said that I bought Nazi memorabilia?
What's the story with that?
I had a Hitler Youth dagger. Somebody bought me a Hitler Youth dagger for my birthday. I've collected weapons since I was really young, starting pistols, ornamental swords and things. I had a crossbow, a slingshots, nunchakas, and stuff for martial arts, butterfly knives. I practised with those things so I had them on that level.
Somebody bought me a Hitler Youth dagger as a ritual dagger, because I was into magic, which Jill was also freaked out by. I've always been into it, since I was a kid I've been into stuff like that.
I was always interested in the supernatural from when I was really really young, cos weird things used to happen, and continued when I was older. Like I set a tape on fire, mentally, because I didn't like a song that we were recording. We were doing this song and I really didn't like the beginning of it, but everybody else thought I was wrong. I thought, the first note's out of tune, I know it's out of tune. I was waiting for the head of the record company to come in and say yeah, it's out of tune. and he came in and said, well done girls it's in the bag.
What song was this?
It was Let Her Go. I thought the first note is REALLY out of tune and I was staring at the tape machine and it started to smoke and it went on fire. Even though I saw it I didn't tell anyone until it was really obvious and they could smell it.
I used to do stuff like that. It started to scare ME actually! I stopped being really into magic when I had my son Bobby, because if bad spirits come in they'll just go for the weakest easiest person to possess. So I stopped being really into it then, because I was bringing spirits into the house.
Jill said it got a lot darker round the time the band split.
What do you mean 'IT got darker'?
Your involvement in magic.
Well, I was always into magic, but I just got into it more, just started practicing it much much more, proper rituals and stuff like that. I did get into it quite heavily really. It was fine for a while, and then I decided not to do it any more cos there were some bad repercussions coming back. When I got pregnant I thought it was not a good thing to do, I had some mishaps, magically. I thought, I can't bring this on two little unsuspecting creatures. I still did tarot and crystal gazing and stuff like that, and I'm still into palmistry and everything.
My great-grandmother was a Romany gypsy so I've always been into stuff like that. I always had tarot cards when I was in Switchblade and crystal balls and runes and everything like that. Me and Jill fell out over that cos she didn't like it cos she thought it was black magic, which it wasn't. She didn't understand what it was, really. I was doing magic to fulfil myself and to better myself, to become wiser about certain things. I was doing it to enrich my life and to become more knowledgeable about things. I was not cursing people or anything!
That's the stereotypical thing you get, not just magic but anything remotely pagan, that it must be dark and dreadful and full of human sacrifices.
I'd class myself as pagan, certainly. Really I'm just into the earth and everything around me and all the natural things which ARE pagan, the things from before Christians came along and swept it all under the...yew trees! You know, which they pretended came AFTER the churches when the yew trees were there BEFORE the churches, they built churches beside the sacred trees and people forgot the trees were there first.
It's not just the sacred trees, there are loads of churches built next to standing stones. Churches were originally built inside the sacred stone circles and the spaces between stones was walled in. Even now there's still a load of churches with standing stones in their walls. This not only gave rise to the tradition of circular churchyards, but the very word 'church' comes from the nordic 'kirk', the same root as 'circ' in 'circle'. Their assimilation of pagan sacred places even pinched the name! To replace paganism they had to demonise it, so loads of old standing stones and wells are called things like 'the Devil's Stones' or 'the Devil's Well', and anyone into pagan ideas and magic is a spooky and dangerous.
There's a well in the east of England - I can't remember exactly where now - not so long ago they found deep in the well all these runes and stuff, all about the Mother and a pagan goddess, whose name is very similar to another goddess. They just changed it very slightly, just to confuse. After a couple of generations, the real meaning of the word's forgotten and people accept the new one cos that's all they hear. And because back then people weren't that educated, not everybody could read so it was very easy to manipulate people in that way.
With modern historical research it's easier to see where religious beliefs have come from, but before all the research had been done and published, you could just take a goddess name and put the word 'saint' in front of it, and a few generations later it's believed to have always been christian.
That whole thing did fascinate me, and that was a part of the magic I was into. It was discovering who I was and why I was.
Also, I did do things to contact people, like my friend who'd killed herself. Her ghost did come to me, her spirit came to me on a few occasions quite close after he had died. I saw things, I conjured things. I was just completely open to all of that and welcomed it into my life, but then it got a wee bit out of control at one point and I was getting a wee bit too obsessed with it all. I was completely like, with runes like The Dice Man or something! It was like, Rose! You don't have to ask the runes if you can have this bar of chocolate! You can decide that yourself!
It wasn't quite that bad, but it got so I never went anywhere without my runes or my tarot cards or something. It was just like my whole life was a wee bag of magic somewhere. I'd disappear off into the woods at night time when everybody was sleeping in a gypsy dress with my crystal ball.
There was this little wood up in Muswell Hill and it'd be poring with rain one night and I'd just run into the wood with nothing on but a T shirt and a pair of knickers and just stay there until the morning. And then I'd go on the bus that the commuters were on, and my hair would be all full of leaves and stuff and my legs would be all scratched up cos I'd been running through the brambles! I just completely completely wanted to be in the woods. I had a really good time at that point in my life. But then after my friend died I got really depressed, really quite manically depressed, I wasn't very well for a while. Which is what made me decide to leave London, it was getting too much.
The reason I used to function much better at the night time - I used to write at night time, used to go out in the woods at night time, do a lot of things at night time - was because everyone was asleep and all those negative vibes weren't there, so that whole buzz that IS London was kind of less of a buzz at night time. I felt much better for it, the buzz was really starting to bug me.
I'd started to distance myself from people, and that was a lot to do with Strawberry Switchblade. When we went to Japan and we'd get mobbed and stuff like that, and then I really started to resent people coming too close to me, just expecting that they could, invading your privacy like that, like you're public property.
I actually now - Jill's got agoraphobia - I've got people-phobia. I actually do. Sometimes I have a panic attack if I'm in a place with too many people, especially if they're all moving in the same direction. Like the Underground, people get off the train and it's really mobbed and they're all moving in the same direction, I will just automatically turn round and go the other way, because it just freaks me out going in that sea of people, I know they're not...going where I'm going and I don't want to go where they're going, I have to just go the other way.
I think it was a thing about when I was a kid, going against the grain, being different from other people, being into things other people weren't into and they'd call you a weirdo for being into. I think it was just a physical way of that coming out when I felt panicky with all these people, all this dead energy and I just had to get out of there. I had to get out of London. I just think it's much nicer out here where you can see the birds, it's much better medicine.
I was diagnosed with manic depression and that was after Kelvin as well - anybody'd be depressed after him - I just thought I had to get out of London, it wasn't a good place for me to be at that time, because I was a wee bit self-destructive as well.
In what way?
Well, I went through this whole phase of challenging fate, doing dangerous things and challenging fate. We were supposed to go to Switzerland one day and I was in the woods at Hampstead. Just a couple of friends who were doing a ritual and stuff like that, and I climbed up this tree. I was taking something off all the way up the tree. Then I fell out of the tree and I broke three ribs. I thought I was going to die cos I looked down and my chest was just black; it was dark and I thought 'oh my god, my heart's falling out cos it's all opened,' but it was mostly just green stuff off the tree. I had scratches, a couple deep enough to scar, but not terrible. But I was in so much pain cos I'd broken three ribs. The ribs snapped and a splinter came out and it was right beside my spleen. They were worried they were going to rupture my spleen. And anyway, I couldn't go to Switzerland the next day, so that was like a magical thing that came in and interfered with Strawberry Switchblade I guess. After falling out of the tree I was in bed for two months cos I just couldn't do anything.
Even laughing's off the cards when you've done your ribs in.
Exactly! My ex-husband was on tour with Psychic TV and I'd just fallen out with Genesis P-Orridge not very long before that and he punched Genesis P-Orridge! He was driving for them and Gen was slagging me off or something and Drew just stopped, turned round and punched Gen right in the nose. He comes up with this and I'm saying 'don't tell me! Don't tell me' cos I couldn't stop laughing!
But I did go through a really bad phase of being depressed and dicing with danger. Like, running into the ocean when it was really really dark every time I went to Brighton, which was a lot. This is all the late 80s really, long after Strawberry Switchblade had split up. I was just being self-destructive, I would cut myself to see if I would bleed to death or if fate would win. I would do really mad stuff like that cos I was really fucked up cos when my friend killed himself I really thought it was my fault, blamed myself for it. Although it wasn't my fault, he jumped in front of a train, and he always said he was going to die when he was 23. But I said I'd visit him that night and I didn't. I didn't cope with death very well cos of what happened to my wee brother.
I started getting into magic again - well I was still into it - but I'd do ritual magic where I would cut myself at a point in the ritual to energise it and sacrifice some of yourself. In order to gain something you have to give, basically, and I was cutting myself a wee bit too deep sometimes, deliberately, just to see what would happen, cos I just didn't really care what happened. That was a pretty negative part of my life, which was when London was doing my head in. I just thought, 'this city is going to swallow me up, I'm going to have to get out of it'. It was a mad time.
It's really difficult to ask you about this stuff. It's so easy to seem sensationalist or prying. I'm really glad there's nobody who wants to look back over twenty years of MY life and get me to talk about all of it, all the bits I'm really glad to have left behind. Coming back to the Strawberry Switchblade era, the magic was something Jill talked about and said it was a factor around your splitting up. I get the impression she didn't ask to much though, she didn't try to understand it.
What you were doing magically.
Oh no, she didn't. She wouldn't ask about it, she never mentioned anything except that she didn't like it and it was scary. She didn't like a lot of the people around the time I was friends with Gen, she didn't like a lot of those people, she thought they were freaks and weirdos, she thought they were all evil really. I still hang about with a lot of those people, like David Tibet and there's nothing evil about him. In fact, he's a Christian now, weirdly.
She didn't really know any of them, she just knew they were kind of... dark, and into things that were not to her liking. They were absolutely fine by me, I thought they were all very interesting, I was interested in those things anyway. I enjoyed meeting and talking to these people and seeing their points of view on things and putting my tuppence worth in and having good conversations.
Did it not freak you out, the Hitler Youth dagger?
No, because it's only like army memorabilia, d'you know what I mean? At first I thought, 'has this been used?'. I did think that, because the one I got had a nick on the end. But a lot of those were never used, they were for boy scouts; they are exactly the same as the boy scout dagger except for the emblem. So really it didn't have any significance in a Nazi way. There's no way that I'm a fascist or a Nazi. I think Hitler was a very interesting man but he was totally off his fucking rocker. It's fascinating to think that he could control a whole nation like that. How the hell did he do that?
There's something a bit simplistic in the way we're told it was just him, the way history is boiled down to a few bogeymen when in fact they were just part of a massive team.
All the things he stood for; a super-race tall, blond and blue eyed - he was short and dark! It's was a headfuck, how can he be promoting that when it was everything he wasn't? He was obviously a twisted little man right from the beginning. He was obviously very twisted and sick. It is all completely sick and awful.
Somebody actually sent me some bones from Auschwitz that they found when they went to visit there, in a little box. I took them out and I gave them a burial, a proper burial in a place that's somewhere special to me and said said something to put them to rest. I couldn't do that, I couldn't pick up something like that and take it away cos I think it's disrespectful to the dead. I have complete respect for the remains of someone who isn't here any more, and especially something like that. People send me significant things, like that and a piece of the Berlin Wall and whatever.
Jill said you had a Nazi flag banner as well.
I never had a flag. I knew someone who had one, but I never had one and I don't believe there was ever one in the house. She's talking about a flag isn't she? I didn't have a flag.
But yeah, I had an interest in the Second World War, my grandfather fought in it, d'you know what I mean?
It does grab people because it was so audacious, Nazism wasn't like any other militarism, it was done with such SHOWBIZ.
It was so cunning and well-planned
and yet so ostentatious with the big banners and Hugo Boss uniforms, clearly interested in style and dazzle as well as practicality, so overt, and that still astonishes us today like no other regime ever has.
I'd never thought about that, when you said showbiz, but it was really, wasn't it?
Absolutely! Putting a really distinctive symbol on everything that everyone will recognise wherever it goes, you read about the rallies with the deafening music as the speaker marches on, rather than just someone walking on to a stage.
It is fascinating, because it happened at all. How could that have ever happened?
We forget how prevalent things like militarism and eugenics were at the time - they were common right across the world, but as we forget all of them except the Nazis it makes the Nazis look even more extreme.
And I think there's a cultural thing as well. The Japanese army could be limkened to the German army with mishima and all that, the whole pride and honour thing, it was another big showbiz thing. If you were dishonoured in any way you had to kill yourself. I know it wasn't the same thing, but the way it was so serious, it was everything, your honour was everything.
It's so weird for us because our culture only really values individual happiness and money, it's so difficult for us to deal with ideals outside of that. Out of the two cultures, I think we're more fascinated by Nazis because the Japanese honour thing is more to do with your internal workings whereas the Nazis was more to do with how other people see you, and that resonates deeply with the consumerist advertising culture we all live in, yet it was for a genocidal military regime that we can't imagine living in.
It fascinated me that it had ever happened at all, and in a time that there were people still alive from. My grandfather was there, my mother was four when the war ended. It's such a horrific thing to imagine being in, especially if you have kids, your perception on things changes, you get this instinct to protect.
It's totally bizarre, I just can't imagine being in a war, I'd kill myself rather than have to face that horror, cos it would destroy me mentally. That's the whole thing about humanity; why does someone want to kill somebody else? Maybe that's got a lot to do with my upbringing, seeing how people can be so brutally cruel to somebody, chop off their arm with a sword. I didn't tell you even half the stuff I had to experience; some guy being killed with an ice-skating boot when I was coming out of the ice-skating, got it stuck in his back. I put my grandfather's scarf that he gave me, it was a real treasure, round this guy's neck and my coat on him to try and keep him warm till the ambulance came but he died on the way to hospital. I came across that kind of thing a lot in Glasgow. The idea that someone could willingly want to do something so awful to somebody, another human being, makes me feel sick, it really actually makes me feel sick. I hate violence.
Did you ever talk about any of this stuff with [NON mainman, Spell collaborator and Jeremy Clarkson lookalike] Boyd Rice when you worked with him [on the Spell records], cos he's got pretty outspoken views on racial issues.
He has or he did have or he's always had?
Well, has had certainly.
I actually asked Boyd about this cos I didn't want to be tarred with that. Boyd is a really fascinating guy, he's super intelligent, he's a really interesting guy. He says he's not a Nazi. It's not politics, he just believes in the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest, basically.
But Darwin wasn't talking in social terms at all. By 'fittest', he meant which traits promoted physical survival and reproduction. Having loads of kids would be closer to Darwin's idea of fittest.
Well he's had two! He's never said anything racist to me. I've talked to him about it and he's said he now has to be careful about things he says because people will misconstrue things. I'm sure he did wear swastikas when he was a punk, a lot of punks did.
There's a picture of him with the leader of the American Front, both of them in the AF uniform. [click here]
I haven't seen that. I saw pictures of him in rallies where he used to do things for shock value, and with Monte Cazazza, another guy who'd do performance art things purely to shock people. There's a lot of guys that, when I first knew Boyd, were on the same kind of scene and would all be in the same magazines like Monte Cazazza, one guy who made all these mad metal things, one guy who blew his hand off, it was all mad performance art stuff and Boyd would do things that were outrageous as well.
Boyd collects Barbie dolls, you know. He's really kitsch in a lot of ways. His idea of Satanism for example - he was spokesman for the Church of Satan when Anton LeVey was alive. The idea of the Church of Satan is not to sacrifice things, it's just living your life how you please; if you're into 60s girl bands - which they both were - to celebrate that. To celebrate LIFE, not to do something that was evil. Just to be who you are and do what you want and have that freedom. It was like a kind of anarchism in a way. The way they looked at the Church of Satan is was FUN. There were rituals and all this, but they had fun doing it and they weren't harming anybody when they were doing it. There are other Church of Satans and I'm sure a lot of them are pretty dodgy, but their one seemed pretty harmless to me. And I know Boyd well enough to know that he's not evil.
I don't like people who want to harm somebody just for the sake of harming somebody. I always get asked these things about Boyd. People ask me about Doug Pierce and Boyd Rice from Death In June and NON, cos I've worked with both. The two people that I know personally and quite well are not what other people have perceptions of. The thing about Doug is he is a man of honour, if he says he'll do something he will do it. Honour and self-respect and the idea that someone's word is worth something, that friendship really means something. I have a small group of friends that I've known for a few years that I feel that close to. Tibet and Coil, those are the people that I'm really that close to, that I will always be that close to, they're like my own blood and they feel the same way.
When I met Doug I really liked the fact that he was a really strong person, a strong character that really believed in honour and self-respect and self-discipline and stuff like that. He never struck me as being a fascist. I don't know where he's going with his life right now cos I haven't been in contact with him a lot, so I've really no idea what he's up to. And it's not my place to talk about anybody else's politics anyway. I can't speak for Doug, I can't speak for Boyd, I can't speak for anybody but myself.
I talked to Boyd recently, but I haven't saw Doug for a long time, but there's no way that I would condone any of that because I think it is completely sick and my family would have been persecuted as well, because they were Romany gypsies. Doug is gay, so he would've been persecuted. There's all these contradictions - how could he believe that if he'd be front of the queue for the gas chamber? It just doesn't make sense. I'm not for people persecuting anybody.
So much of this stuff is written accusing people, it's good to give the opportunity for you to respond. We could move on and even talk about some Strawberry Switchblade stuff if you like!
Ah, the letters were S.S.! What's that all about then? Subliminals in there.
Imagine the SS in polka dot uniforms, there's an image to conjour with.
With flowers in their hair.
The songwriting credit for Black Taxi. It's credited to you, Jill, Balfe and Mulhearne. Who was Mulhearne?
Mulhearne? I have no idea.
Jill has no idea either. She said a lot of the songs near the end she didn't have a lot to do with and maybe it was one of those, which kind of implies it would have more to do with you.
Black Taxi I remember because we were writing it in the studio as we were doing the session, like finishing the lyrics in the studio. Balfey came up with the keyboard stuff. Drew, my husband then, did a lot of the sequencing stuff. I wrote the lyrics and sang it. I don't know a Mulhearne! I have no idea, unless it was the engineer or something. Maybe it's Balfey's alter-ego so he gets half the money!
There is actually stuff like that with him! There was a 7 inch EP that came free with some Littlewoods promotion, four retro hits like Thin Lizzy Whiskey In The Jar, and one was Reward by the Teardrop Explodes. That was written by Alan Gill and Julian Cope, yet the EP credits it to Gill and Balfe. Let's not name names, but somebody made sure Balfe got the money instead of Cope! It's amazing that neither of you know of anyone called Mulhearne yet you allegedly wrote a song together.
I don't remember anyone else even being in the studio apart from the engineers, cos it was a radio session.
How much did you have to do with any of the 12 inch remixes?
[assorted can-of-worms oh-dear-me phonetics] I had an incredible massive fight with Balfey and Bill Drummond and one of them cos they said, 'ah we'll just go in the studio and mix it'. I said you won't, I want to hear it. They said, 'you don't need to be there'. I need to be there! It's my song! So I go down to the studio and they were completely blanking me out. I was saying things and they were just, 'be quiet Rose'.
Do you remember which one it was?
It was more likely to be something like Jolene or Let Her Go or something like that. I tried all I could to muster up the energy to destroy that tape but it wasn't happening. So I put a spell on Balfey. And it's still sealed in the notepad I had then that I used to write my lyrics and stuff. I'm too scared to let it out in case it happens, cos I was so angry! So if Balfey ever gets hit by a car, it's my fault. Especially if I'm driving it!
With Let Her Go they did that Kitchensynch Mix which has five names credited for remixing. Balfe and Drummond got Youth and others in for that.
I wasn't there for that session, they did that one without even telling us they were doing it. So I probably put my foot down at that point and said I want to know, so the argument would probably have been Jolene.
The others don't give any credits for remixers so we can't tell. It was such a weird thing in the 80s, you couldn't just release a single, you had to put a seven and a twelve inch out, and the twelve inch would have to have a longer version. It doesn't matter how good and perfect the seven inch was, it doesn't matter how rubbish the twelve inch was. It didn't have to be any better, just LONGER, just turn everything off and leave the drum machine going for a while.
Have a little prelude, and instrumental part. Twelve inches are for albums, seven inches are for singles. I was heartbroken when there stopped being seven inch singles.
It's the definitive pop format.
It is, it is. I've still got lots, and I still buy lots of seven inches from Oxfam and that, cos I love them. It's a perfect little art form.
It's perfect - like Echo Beach - do you want the album, do you want four extra tracks or remixes that you have to program your player not to play, or do you want to put it on, it plays Echo Beach, then it finishes?
Or you get one of those old players where you stack them up - I've got one of them, so you can play them like you used to when you were a wee lass. I mean CDs are great for what they are
For ambient stuff especially
But for artwork, they lack, they don't come anywhere near a really good album sleeve which is a really good size that you can see and you can touch.
When did you find out about the Japanese CD reissue of the album? Did they tell you in advance?
No. They didn't tell anyone. Someone just told me they saw it and said, was it a bootleg? I saw it and it wasn't a bootleg it was Warner Brothers. I even advised people to buy that one, because it's got more tracks on it.
Have you seen which extra tracks they are? Trees And Flowers extended mix, Since Yesterday extended mix even though the normal version's on there. And yet no Sunday Morning! They're in the vaults and they choose the 12 inch mix of Since Yesterday over Sunday Morning! Who was that person and can I please slap them?
I know, it's true. Especially the Japanese singles.
What's that, apart from Ecstasy? Did I Can Feel only come out in Japan too?
I've always thought those two are really anomalous. What are they?
They're nightmares. Ecstasy was basically an advert for something, I can't remember what it was now.
I thought that was the one they put Since Yesterday over. But it could have been. They used Since Yesterday just as it was over a car advert. Ecstasy, they called it 'Apple'.
'Ecstasy (Apple Of My Eye)'.
'Apple of My Eye'? Where did that come from? It was nothing to do with me. The song was called Ecstasy, that was part of the joke of it. They don't know what I'm talking about but I know what I'm talking about; some people will know, some people won't know.
How did you end up doing that? Did you understand what it was like?
It was a nightmare, that period. We did another stupid jingle for Shock Waves hairspray, and that was fucking atrocious as well. With Ecstasy they actually sent us the lyrics, and asked us to write the music for it. I said I'm not singing those lyrics. So I rewrote the lyrics which were just silly, but whatever. We just made a few bad mistakes at the end of our career, basically. Mostly Balfey pushed from behind, dollar signs popping up in his eyes. All that money that we didn't really see from those adverts. You get paid for doing stuff like that.
Of course, why else would you do it?
Exactly. And when I saw the advert I just thought [incredulous wince]. It's got these Japanese girls sprawled over the car like in those horrible car magazines where they have a dolly bird. It was like, oh Jesus, another nail in the coffin.
What's the story with I Can Feel?
What d'you mean 'story'?
Well, Ecstasy was basically an advert turned into a single, but I Can Feel was another Japanese-only single.
I Can Feel was a song that was actually properly written as a song. It's a good song, but the production left a lot to be desired I think. That would probably have been on the second Switchblade album, but done completely differently.
There was this other thing that we did, we did a bit of a soundtrack for an Ursula Le Guin story called Rigel 9 [David Bedford album 'Rigel 9', see discography]. The guy that did some of the orchestration on the Switchblade album asked us to do it. There's this part in the book where there's a procession of little aliens, it's a funeral procession and they're mourning, and he got us to do the vocals for it, these high little alien voices. I don't actually know if there's a movie or anything, but you'd wonder why there was a soundtrack if not.
After you split with Jill, she said you did some gigs with someone else.
I did a couple of Strawberry Switchblade gigs, but it wasn't with someone instead of her, it was me with two of Primal Scream, Lawrence from Felt, two of the Weather Prophets. It was kind of a wee bit like a Creation supergroup!
One was the best gig I've ever done. I took a tab of acid before I went on stage, which I would never recommend to anybody, and I would never have thought that I would've done it myself. First gig after Strawberry Switchblade have split up, so what does Rose do? Something completely fucking off the wall!
Before I went into the venue it was a full moon that night, and I thought, oh COOL. It was in Brighton, and there was the full moon reflecting off the ocean, it was just gorgeous. I went into the venue and I was really nervous, and I took this acid. I went out on stage and I swear I don't know HOW I remembered the songs! I think it was because of the moon, because I looked at the back of the hall and there was a spotlight, and I was thinking WOW! COOL! The moon's come to my gig! What an honour! Because I was so elated about the moon being there, I wasn't thinking about the songs, I just played them naturally. It got reviewed as being the best pop band ever!
The trick with doing anything on acid is to distract yourself from thinking about the process of doing it. If you're running and you start thinking about your legs and the ground you'll stumble, but if you're concentrating on what you're heading towards then it's fine. It'd probably be easier cos it was songs that have been part of you for so long.
A lot of the songs were new songs, they weren't old Strawberry Switchblade songs like Jill and I would've done. It was me moving on and still keeping the name, basically. Cos it was my name in the beginning, cos I got it from James Kirk. But Jill didn't like me to use it because it was associated with both of us, and so I ended up not using it. Although I should've still used it if I was going to keep doing that sort of stuff. I thought it was silly to fight over it. I know people associated it with Jill and I, but things change and people change and bands change, and sometimes bands keep the same name but the people in the band are different.
Anyway, I only did two gigs, one in London and one in Brighton, I think it was the Escape Club in Brighton. The one in London was a bit of a nightmare, I'm afraid. MTV were at that one. They only filmed one song, Angel, and they did that mostly in the soundcheck. It was just those two gigs with a bunch of people from Creation Records that were in bands that I liked and were mates, basically.
And it was really good fun, and it sounded brilliant cos they were all brilliant musicians, the guitars, it was just orgasmic. The keyboards and everything just sounded brilliant, they all fell into the songs really really well. It was good fun being on stage with a REAL group, not a machine, not a bunch of session musicians. Being in a group, you could turn and look at your friend and smile, you were all there together, it was really good fun. I loved it, it's one of my best memories of playing live.
Do you see any influence of Strawberry Switchblade in anything that's come subsequently?
It's happened a few times actually, but I can't remember what. There's that band that quite blatantly called themselves something like Strawberry Switchblade. What was it? Some American band [Switchblade Symphony?] You always see little interviews in goth magazines and stuff like that. And they used to wear polka dot dresses right at the beginning of their career. They said that they weren't influenced by us, they weren't copying Strawberry Switchblade. The polka dot dresses would have given it away, really.
The one that really got me, I remember the first time I heard Linger by the Cranberries, the way she's put the harmonies on herself, it's so Switchblade. The gentle swoony guitar is similar too, but the vocals are spot on. If you see Strawberry Switchblade as part of that Postcard Records thing, there's certainly an influence from that scene. There's a big indie sub-genre of bands that clearly love their Postcard records, the most prominent I'd say is Belle & Sebastian, where there's a delicate and intelligent pop thing going on. It's really noticeable when Belle & Sebastian put the two female voices together.
I've heard a couple of Belle & Sebastian things, I got them on a compilation that came with a fanzine. I do want to go and see them, I've heard they're a really good band.
My mum has called a couple of times when she's heard something on the radio saying it sounded like me! There have been a couple of things where I thought, 'that really sounds like me! I don't remember doing that track! What was I on that day?!'.