Strawberry Switchblade

A Personal History by Peter McArthur

We moved to London in the summer of 1983. For the first few months we stayed in a Chinese hotel called the Keio in Sussex Gardens in Paddington. It was great.

Though Balfey was much less impressive than Bill, it would be a lie to say he was charmless. He was even then quite good looking, in a goofy kind of way. Though having seen him on TV not that long ago, it is clear he has no portrait in the attic. Rose quietly developed a crush on him, though that is not now something she would admit even under torture. Anyway it made Rose, it seemed, a little bit easier to handle, at least for a short while.

Sad to relate, though things were on the up Jill and Rose had gone into a kind of cold war phase, this is how they got by. They were still working, but not working together. It amazed me how they both could play at being friends in front of others but have nothing much to say to each other in private. They had come to an understanding, but it was stand-off not reconciliation. For me, brought up on the paradigm of The Monkees, 'four mates in a rock n roll band', it was all a bit depressing.

However, we were new to London, and there was still a lot of fun to be had from the situation. As things developed it quickly became clear that Balfey did not have an original though in his head. His idea of promoting them was to get them into rubber dresses. It was kind of pathetic. He'd recommend they work with people because, 'they worked with Thin Lizzy'. All you could do was grit your teeth and not laugh in his face. Bill was sometimes around, and Bill was always refreshing, he would leave you with hope but it never stuck around, a bit like Bill.

Things between me and Balfey soon became difficult. He, I think, saw me as a threat to his authority, but he had no authority, especially where it counted, over Rose. At the very least he thought I was in his way. And I guess I was sometimes a pain in the neck, but it was hard for me to keep my mouth shut having seen the girls come so far only to be mis-managed by a kind of oaf, someone who seemed to neither know what to do with them or, more importantly, who they were.

To be fair to Balfey, he never just gave into Rose as most of them did. Though I think this was more to do with his view of himself as 'the man' rather than principle. Also, I always got the impression that Balfey thought Rose was low class.

Balfey was then part of a bigger management organisation called Outlaw. It was a kind of unreconstructed lads affair (like Spinal Tap without the jokes). I think Balfey was kind of embarrassed that he was managing a pair of 'girlies', as he saw them. That is why, I think, he was so happy when Zodiac Mindwarp came along later. Zodiac was Dennis to Balfey's Walter.

Again to be fair to Balfey, I guess it would have been difficult for anyone to understand the complexity of Jill and Rose'' relationship and their respective histories. For a middle-class Englishman with no hinterland, practically impossible. This was an intimate affair. Add to this the fact that we all kept him at arms length, and he knew it, with recourse to Scottishness and a more or less constant stream of disinformation.

Gathering that he was kind of sexually confused, out of mischief I told him once I was gay. Then lived to regret that one when he started making passes at me. However, it was pure mischief on my part. It was obvious underneath that cash-crazed businessman was some slack old hippy who just wanted to fuck the world. Oh, and call it love. On the subject I asked him once, 'why are you such a tart?'. He answered, 'I find everyone worthy of interest'. For a brief moment I thought 'have I misjudged this man?'.

Though it was obvious that Balfey was artistically clueless, the void that I was really worried about was the one between Jill and Rose. I knew they were both talented, and I knew they did their best work together. I'd seen this stand-off developing, but how to bring them together? I hoped time would provide the answer.

Meanwhile, Balfey's big idea was to record Jill's agoraphobic paean Trees And Flowers and release it on a fake indie label for credibility (?). Then follow that up with the big major signing. They had already signed to Warner Brothers for a measly 20,000. Balfey got the Madness rhythm section in (strangely and unexpectedly snooty people) and they recorded a good, if slightly too bucolic, version with Roddy Frame on guitar.

One of my photographs was chosen and Warner Brothers paid for a big poster campaign around London. They got some pretty good press for this single. It topped the indie charts, and Annie Lennox and Boy George cited it. They had a very good press man at the time, a gut called Mick Houghton. He was kind of measured, and seemed to have a very good idea of who they were and how to present them. For me, he had it just right. But Balfey thought he was 'too classy'. He and Warner Brothers wanted them on the cover of Smash Hits. To be fair to Balfey the girls wanted this too. But once you go there, there is no way back. I think Mick knew this, and later he was proved right. When Mick was sacked, I felt kind of sick.

After a number of months stay in the Chinese hotel the novelty began to wear off. We started looking around for a more permanent address. Someone came up with a two bed flat in Muswell Hill. We moved in in late summer. Rose and Drew in one room, Jill and I in the other. For a short while it was happy families.

I found and rented a part share of a photographic studio in the B2 studio of Metropolitan Wharf in Wapping. There I made friends with a couple of photographers, brothers Innis and Finlay McAlister who became part of Jill and I's wider circle.

After an abortive series of musos Balfey was to produce, someone came up with the name David Motion. I think it was Jean Mulhearne, Balfey's then-girlfriend and PA to Rob Dickins, the man who had signed them to Warner Brothers.

He turned out to be one of those top business men who is also a top guy. It was he who stuck by the girls, and financially indulged them, for instance letting them record the song Poor Hearts three times because the implacable Miss McDowall, and no-one else, thought it was a single. It wasn't.

'The beautiful Jean', who incidentally has a writing credit on the Strawberry Switchblade track Black Taxi, knew David Motion through his work with the band Intaferon, I think.

Motion and the girls met and got on instantly. More importantly Motion knew how to handle Rose. He had a natural calm authority and, though I did not know it at the time, was some kind of genius.

By this time, late 1984, Jill and I had been together for more than six years. I'd known her since she was sixteen. We had grown up together, but we had grown into different people. Although we were still fond of each other and would remain so, we were no longer a couple in the real sense. All this time Jill had been having an on and off battle with agoraphobia. One of the by-products of the battle with Rose and an ongoing source of bitterness for Jill was that it made her more and more insecure and thus more and more reliant on me.

One of the tactics of agoraphobics is to fixate on an individual. They sort of convince themselves that they will still be okay as long as that person is around. The person Jill fixated on was me. This was okay as long as we were a couple, but when our relationship broke down it became kind of absurd. And, once I began to get photographic work in my own right, more than a little inconvenient.

However, Jill would demand I go with her everywhere. And, since neither of us was about to explain ourselves to the hard-faced females who populate the lower floors of record companies, more than a little uncomfortable. Rose's reaction to Jill's increasing oddness was bizarre, she seemed to be developing phobias of her own. Balfey, true to form, got the wrong end of the stick. He thought, or maybe preferred to think, I was exerting some sort of sinister influence over Jill. He decided to force Jill's 'independence'.

I remember one horrendous scene at Heathrow Airport with Jill in tears refusing to get on a plane without me and Balfey screaming, 'That's it, your career's over, you're finished, you'll never work again'. If that was not comic enough, I distinctly remember a young fan standing by patiently unmoved, as if pop stars in crisis was what you expect to see at airports, all part of the show, a real rock n roll drama.