Rose McDowall – Interview Part 1
Photo (c) Innes Reekie
This very insightful interview from Rose was conducted in 2016 for Teenage Superstars and The Glasgow School. It’s not the full interview so some of the questions and answers may jump chronologically a little. Although slightly edited, we decided to leave it as close to the original transcript as possible as felt more appropriate.
Rose discusses the early Glasgow punk scene, the Postcard Flat, The Poems, Strawberry Switchblade, Psychic TV and Icelandic Post-Punk. Part 2 will cover Felt, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Television Personalities.
c/o Rose McDowall
Rose:Sometimes you just meet someone and you just know – that person’s gonna do something. You know because they’ve just got the personality for it, you know? And not with everybody, but you can see that with some people. And, I don‘t know, there’s been a few people in Glasgow that I knew were gonna do something just by their personality and you know, it’s just like they’ve just got, they’ve got that wee…spark. You can see it.
Grant:Yeah, it’s the spark that, I think a lot of it stems from Britain’s class system, that it’s like ‘You can’t do that, you can’t do that.’
Grant:Especially when the Sex Pistols and like Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks came out, it just let people go, yeah actually, I can do that.
Rose:I know exactly. And my dad always took me…My biggest influence in music was my dad. When I was eighteen months old he would teach me to jive, and he would wake up in the morning and he would be singing while he was shaving. He would just sing all day long…He had loads of records; 50s, 60s, and I just grew up listening to melody. So I just think that I’ve got melody in my blood. You know, like some people have other things, that just are natural to them – what they’ve grown up with. Music, is, was always my…happy button, y’know? And some people say, “How can you say that like, [I’ll] put on Mary Chain ‘April Skies’, or, ‘Happy When it Rains’, and it really cheers me up.” And they go, “Cheers you up?!” Uh, yeah!” [Laughs] ‘It really cheers me up’And I’m like pure…I think that’s a beautiful song. And, like ‘Lightning Seeds’, especially cos it was written by a man. Because I think if a girl had written that…they would have been called ‘twee’and everything else because girls couldn’t get away with a lot of stuff – because it would’ve been twee. But if a guy did it, it’s “Oh, that’s a bit risky for him to sing something like that.” But I just do love that song and ‘This Is the Day’, was my 80s repeat song, repeat on the Walkman. I loved that, I loved the accordion, I just love melody.
Grant:So with music in your blood at what point did you realise that you could make music yourself?
Rose:I guess I was always, I always sang myself. When I was a little girl I used to…I had no idea that anybody could just be a singer. I just thought that it was really hard work to get to that stage in life. I remember writing letters, Santa letters to ‘the Manager’, and sticking them in Post boxes when I was a little kid. [And] I’d do things like that. But, it wasn’t really until my mum and dad…[they] were always the kinda people that say “You can do, you can achieve anything. If you want it and you really try.” And, although we came from a really, really working-class background, and I missed a lot of school, because I was babysitting; so my mum and dad had to work to feed 7 kids, y’know? But I was in the choir, so I sang a lot when I was a kid – I was always singing. But, it wasn’t until Punk, and I was just, like at the Apollo in Glasgow and, like Drew and I (my ex-husband) who was in the Poems with me. It was a massive gig, we went, there were loads of bands playing, and the Ramones were playing and they just got up there and they were just so thrashy, they were so fantastic. They melody was just so like…I just looked at Drew and said; “If they can do it, we can do it!” [Laughs] Although Drew was the front man of the Poems and I was the drummer, I did sing a bit. But, it wasn’t until Switchblade that I sang all the time, because that’s always what…the Careers Officer would come into school and go around the class, what everybody wants to do and I said I wanted to be a brain surgeon and a pop star, and , of course everybody wasn’t…the highest sorta ambition anybody had was a nurse, or working in the pipe-fitting. And I just said I want to be a brain surgeon or a pop star. Now, I really meant some sort of psychologist. I didn’t quite have the mental capacity to be a brain surgeon, but I was just interested in the human mind. [Or] a pop star, and I remember when, being on ‘Top of the Pops’, thinking, “I wonder if anybody remembers that!” [Laughs] Because everybody in the class just laughed. [And} Really I’d thought it was a bit of a pipe-dream myself when I was saying it. It was what I’d like to do, but didn’t really think it was going to happen, y’know? But it did. I remember being on ‘Top of the Pops’, and wondering if anybody remembers that. But, I was thinking about my granny the most: how proud she would be. [laughs] “Oh my granny’s watching!”
Grant:You mentioned the Poems there. What I noticed, from when we did the Edinburgh film, quite early on from like, when the Sex Pistols album came out [and] the Ramones came along [there was] a really sort of vibrant scene in Edinburgh. But at the time it was a lot quieter in Glasgow. You had the Poems and there was James King and the sorta early versions of Simple Minds…
Rose:Yeah, Johnny and the Self-Abusers. James King was in [Rev-olting?] and the Back-Stabbers. [Laughs]
Grant:I know that punk was banned in Glasgow, but why was…Glasgow, being such a big music city, why did it seem slower to start off there?
Rose:Well, it was really weird, because there was a place at St Enoch’s Centre that used to be a train station: the Glasgow old underground… there was a little punk club in there. But, the guy (the DJ) basically had a cassette, a couple of singles, and a couple of albums. So we just listened to the same punk stuff all night long. We didn’t care cos it was the only place we could go. But, the Stranglers came and they played in the City Hall in Glasgow and there was a big riot. I guess lots of kids having fun, was a ‘riot!’[Laughs] And it got banned. Punk got…nobody would put it on, so basically the ‘go to’place for Glaswegians really was Paisley. The Silver Thread, cos that’s where we would go and see all sorts of people. That’s where I first went to see Alternative TV, where I first went to see Alex Fergusson and was transfixed to his guitar playing because I just totally loved it. We saw loads of people there, like the Rezillos, Billy Idol. Everybody went to Paisley because they couldn’t go to Glasgow. And that was just an amazing time. It was every Tuesday night at the Silver Thread. All the punks gathered. The whole Punk scene was amazing, because it was all those people who didn’t really belong to anywhere. Y’know it happened at just the right for me, because I was like, I was just growing up. And my dad was like “Mmmh”, because I was like the oldest of 7, and he thought…whatever he thought, that his ‘pretty wee girl’, was going to do this or that. And then I would come in with black lipstick on and he would go “Waaagh!” And he just thought “I want you to be happy.” Punk just opened the floodgates of the world to me. Because I couldn’t be any of those things that I was expected to be. I was completely lost, I was completely lost. I was never going to grow up… I was just like “I don‘t want…” Adults are just like concrete buildings and children are like flower-beds. And I’m always going to be a flower-bed! [Laughs] I am not going to be a concrete building. Punk just made that possible. It made it, y’know, I could’ve been myself, but I would’ve been bullied the hell out of. Without, already everybody was… a lot of punks got bullied. In the beginning everybody hated the punks. And it wasn’t until time moved on that people realised that, actually they’re just ‘rebelling’the same way that we are. Y’know the bikers came onside, all the different groups that were anti-establishment realised that, Punk was just that as well. So instead of everybody hating the punks, people realised that, “Well, it’s just the next generation’s thing.” But for a lot of people it just meant freedom – it was freedom from the constraints of society and that ‘9-5’thing. I never had that in my blood anyway. Y’know, I just couldn’t do it. I had three jobs punk. Before I got into music, really…] Three months was my limit. I used to think, a third of my life I’m sleeping; a third of my life I’m working, and; a third of my life I’m living. And that third that I’m working, I’m not giving it to someone I don’t respect, I don’t like what they’re doing. That’s a waste of my life. I rather be on the dole and not have to… I’d rather do something myself. Make stuff, art, something. I just did not want to be somebody else’s slave. So that third of my life was always going to be mine. I didn’t want to compromise that.
c/o Rose McDowall
Grant:And from that, y’know…I really don’t know how to describe it. From that big spark, that realisation, how did that lead on to you being in the Poems?
Rose:Well, I was going out with Drew. We met at the Silver Thread club. He had a friend Ian, who played guitar and we just sort of, kinda got together after a gig at the Apollo. The Ramones were playing along with loads of other bands and I just turned around and looked at Drew and we just had this ‘moment of clarity’ – “If they can do it, we can do it.” And it wasn’t because they were rubbish, because they were fantastic. They were just like wild and chaotic and it was just like, “we can do that.” and it just like came easy, really. I didn’t have a drum kit, so the first thing that we recorded, was recorded on Tupperware containers! [Laughs] A pair of drumsticks and some Tupperware containers. And then I got a drum kit – fell off the back of a lorry somewhere (as they do in Glasgow) [Laughs]. A lot of things fall off the back of lorries! … Then it was just…it was really good fun being part of…it was lively, it was energetic. The only thing I had other than punk was martial arts that saved me from…I mean punk would’ve helped get me more bullied like when I was a kid. But when I was walking around with my martial arts bag – people crossed the road. The ones that were bullying me yesterday would cross the road. It was like…Glasgow, honest to God, places I lived in Glasgow, it was survival. Even sleeping through the night, the door would get kicked in, or somebody would be getting murdered in the close, or something like that. It was like…it was like living in a war zone, it really was. It was totally traumatic. Punk really, really got me out of that, got me away from that and y’know, I don’t really know what. It’s funny cos it’s like, in the close that I lived in there was six families and four of them were bad and two of them were good. People keep saying that they’re victims of their upbringing and I know that’s true, I know that’s true. But I grew up there and none of my family got in any of that…the whole drugs scene, the whole gang thing, y’know. None of them did. So, I mean, I know if people’s mums and dads are alcoholics they have less of a choice. But, people still have a choice. It’s just that sometimes it’s not a very nice one.
Rose:I think that sometimes when you live in the dark, it’s kinda nice to look out the window and see the flowers, D’y’know what I mean? So, I think a lot of people…West of Scotland, it’s very wet, very dreary: people have to lift themselves up someway. [And] I mean, bands like Orange Juice, they were fantastic at it. They were just so inspiring for a lot of people, a lot of people who were just listening to dark stuff. I mean even dark stuff like the Velvet Underground, which is amazing. But, it’s pretty dark when you listen to it. Orange Juice would be singing songs like ‘Felicity’. It was just that wee bit…glitter. It was just really nice to have that and to not just have everything really dreary all the time. Even though my lyrics themselves tend to be quite dark. They’re dark and light at the same time. A bit of a…kinda schizophrenic my lyrics! [Laughs] But I just think that most people have more than one…personality in them. We’re not just one thing, we’re a multitude of things. It just comes out of people in different ways. On one hand you had Orange Juice, then a wee bit later on you would have like The Backstabbers. Or even Simple Minds back then when it was Johnny & the Self-Abusers. They were quite chaotic and wild. In fact, Jim Kerr, I don’t know how he did it, but he could get himself inside a bass drum! [Laughs] A contortionist – that’s another job he could’ve done – really wrapped up inside the bass drum. I was like, ‘Fuck sake!’ But that was it, it was just really cool at the time. I think people didn’t…the boundary thing just wasn’t there. The ‘walls’ had gone. It was coming out of the 70s. The 70s in Glasgow was really, really violent. I mean gangland violence was rife: it was really bad. I know it went on beyond that, but that was probably when it hit its peak. I think a lot of the people that did not relate to that at all. There was a lot of us. It was like…music was our salvation. I think going to gigs and connecting with other like-minded people… Not just hanging around street corners and doing all that sorta shit. I mean I was always a bit of a practical joker. Me and my best friend would go out at night-time and tended to pick on the drunks really – we were only, fourteen/fifteen really; pushing loose bits of hedge out of the hedges to sorta freak the drunks out, like he’ll think twice about getting drunk again! That kinda thing, y’know? So we were kind of making our own entertainment even when we were teenagers. But, I think the music for me was just a ‘dream come true’. Cos it’s all I ever wanted to do, y’know. But when I got into music, I didn’t get into music for fame. I got into music for fun. It was nothing to do with money; not that money was ever a thing, anyway. That’s a fallacy, that whole thing. Most musicians are struggling, do struggle. [But] The thing is…they’re doing it. You’re doing it, you do what you want, your dream. Whether you’re doing painting, whether you’re doing music. I actually just think that music is the language of the soul. It communicates to everybody, wherever they come from in the world, or the planet, or the universe. Music is the thing that reaches people. I think that’s a magic in itself. Bands like the Mary Chain, they don’t write songs, they make potions! [Laughs] I think to me, that’s what music’s like. It can touch you in places like nothing else can.
Grant:I’d just like to talk about how The Poems single came out and how you got involved with Alan Horne and Edwin, the Postcard flat.
Rose:Well, we were all mates, we all hung about together, we went to the same places. We were all just a bunch of friends. Actually The Poems and Orange Juice just did…The Poems supported Orange Juice at Glasgow College of Technology. [And] part of the night both bands merged and it was The Poems and Orange Juice as one band…We just swapped around instruments. I remember I was on keyboards and I think that James Kirk was on drums. I guess it was…there were so few punks that you knew everybody. It was hard not to know somebody who was a punk because they gathered in the same record shops, they gathered at the same places. We would have cake fights in Union Street, Renfield Street going into Greggs and having a big lemon meringue pie and just stuck it in Jim Kerr’s face! [Laughs] You know we were just kids having a laugh. I think that’s why we all came together. There were loads of places you just couldn’t go: you’d get your head kicked in, you know? There was loads of places…like I got beaten up when I wasn’t even the height I am. I mean I’m tiny now, but I was inches smaller and I was wearing flat shoes. Just a skinny wee thing and bikers would beat me up. They tried to glass Drew, and I jumped on his back to try and get him off. I got punched in the face and knocked unconscious. We all ended up in hospital…with stitches and various things. I mean I was okay because I’ve got a really ‘bendy’ nose! [Laughs] I just had black-eyes; nothing broken. But, we used to get beat up all the time. There were loads of places, there were loads of ‘territories’ you couldn’t go, y’know? There was all the ‘gay-bashing’. It was rife back then. I was always having to pretend my pal was my boyfriend, because somebody’s trying to beat him up and stuff like that. Just push him up an alleyway because there’s loads of people walking the street…nobody gave a…nobody cared. That used to make me so angry, that there’s hundreds of people in the street and they’re just letting this bullying go on. That sort of thing just outraged me. The whole punk thing, it was a real sense of freedom and I’m not quoting the Jimmy Boyle book, though it is a good book: the film’s crap, but the book’s good. That just personifies how violent Glasgow was. I think the punks kinda had to…stay together. It was our…it might have seemed ‘cliquey’, but that’s what things like that are, what movements like that are. You sort of hook up with people who are like-minded and inspire each other. It’s good because if you were doing all that on your own it would be a very lonely place to be, whether you’re a loner or not. It’s just really nice to have…the whole Postcard thing was great because we used to go out, and hang out in Alan and Edwin’s flat and Just have a laugh. I remember like just making the Orange Juice singles and drawing on them. All the ones with somebody sitting on the toilet – they were all me! [Laughs] I shouldn’t say that should I? But there you go! [Laughs]
Grant:I think that when you’re talking about the violence. A lot of that would seem at home with the London fashion sense of punk, Sid Vicious, y’know like leather jackets and stabbings. But what I think is even more ‘punk’ at that time in Glasgow is the look of Postcard. Like if you’ve got like floppy fringes…
Rose:I know, like guitars up to here [she places an imaginary guitar under her armpit] I love… I’m not a ned…okay some of Orange Juice came from Bearsden; which is pretty posh. It’s like it’s not really ‘Glasgow’, but it is, y’know? [Laughs] The fact there was no ‘class’ thing in punk, there was no ‘gender’ thing in the punk scene. I remember going to the Silver Thread ‘disco’, and gay clubs in Glasgow then. I mean it was like you had to knock on the door and someone would look through a peep-hole to see, if y’know, you looked okay for them to let you in. Like when we went to the Silver Thread in Paisley, there was this guy who used to come every week and he would just wear really messy lipstick. I don’t know, he really didn’t know how to put in on well, and a nice, old, long, granny’s dress. And he just had a ball. Nobody cared! If he had gone anywhere else in Glasgow he wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes…before he got beaten, or something like that. But, he could go to the punk clubs and nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody cared, because everybody’s a human being. Because we were all alienated by the rest of society; or they were alienated by us. I always knew what it was like since I was knee-high to a butterfly; to be picked on because you were different. So, I’ve always stood up for people who were…I can’t stand a bully. I always stood up for people who got bullied. I got myself into more trouble standing up for other people than I have standing up for myself. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, or harming anybody. Y’know you make your own choices and you only live once, so enjoy it!
Grant:So, what time, from hanging around the Postcard flat did the genesis of Strawberry Switchblade come about, how did that happen?
Rose:Well, the whole Orange Juice gig that I was talking about, with The Poems and Orange Juice playing together. James Kirk and I were on the bus together going out to Drew and my flat in Darnley, in Glasgow. He was talking about this fanzine that he was doing, and he was giving it this “I can’t be bothered doing it anymore, it’s called ‘Strawberry Switchblade’.” I’m going, “That’s a fantastic name, you’ve got to do it.” He’s going, “ I’m just going to give it up.” [I said] “You can’t waste that name,” and he said “Have it!” [And] I’m like, “Really, Really?” I was just so excited! So basically the band came from the name. I was in a band already and I just thought, I’m gonna start a female band. This name can’t go to waste, it’s the perfect name for a band. So that’s how Strawberry Switchblade came around in the first place. It was a good thing that it did. [Laughs] It was a better band name than a fanzine.
Grant:So when did Jill come on to the scene?
Rose:Well Jill…I had been friends with Peter for a long time. Before I even knew Drew. So when Peter started going out with Jill, I kinda got to know her a wee bit. They just came out to our house in Darnley once, and we were just sitting in the bedroom going through wee ribbons [and] things, and I told her about…the band. It was like she wanted to do that as well. It was like, “And what do you want to play,” and “What do you want to play?”. Basically that’s how Jill came into the thing. She knew a drummer, a female drummer, and I knew a female bass player. Loosely; we didn’t know them very well. [But] They came together and we were a four-piece for quite a while, until we got quite busy. I mean even at the same time Jim Beattie from Primal Scream met me in the town and asked me to join Primal Scream, to be Primal Scream’s singer. I was just thinking, “I’m in The Poems and Strawberry Switchblade. We’re getting kind of busy. I don’t have time. I just can’t split myself that much.” And, obviously just as well I didn’t because look where they are now! [Laughs] Bobby’s a great front man, I mean he really is. Strawberry Switchblade just took off, so The Poems had to take a back seat. Strawberry Switchblade when it did take off it was just like a rocket – and off…Basically a lot of it was a blur because it happened so fast. A lot of the…the punk ethic never left me. It still hasn’t actually. Then I didn’t take from punk what a lot of people did because a lot of people in those days did read the papers and did believe that’s what punk is. And that was a load of bollocks! Some guy took my hand once and spat on it. I just looked at my hand and slapped him in the face with it. Little gobshit! [Laughs] That’s not what punk is. Some girl told me that because I wasn’t wearing a string vest without a bra on, I wasn’t a real punk. And I just thought, “These people are idiots!” But then there are idiots in all walks of life, y’know? It’s your attitude, it’s your attitude to the whole of life. It’s not what The Sun thinks, not what they’re telling you to do. I never read the newspapers, they’re full of shi… I’m swearing a lot! [Laughs] Is there going to be a lot of bleeps?! [Laughs] …I thought there are punks that read the paper and think: this is the 80s, this is Punk by numbers. No, that’s not it, it’s Punk by attitude, by life and by your…your life’s drive. That’s what it is. It’s that freedom: it’s standing up for your rights. It was a political movement – not just a musical movement. It was that. It was like standing up for the right to have a voice…and whether you do it through music, whether you do it politically, however you do it…fashion, challenging everything. It’s like loads of people remember me like walking down Sauchiehall Street with a kettle for a handbag saying, “I remember seeing you with a kettle for a handbag,” and I‘m like “Yeah, I was a punk, anything goes!” [Laughs] . Nobody would have thought of doing something like that, you would get locked up for doing something like that. But when Punk happened. You could get away with loads of stuff. It was nice to have that freedom to be…who you wanted to be.
Grant:You mentioned that nobody had thought to have a kettle as a handbag. [And] That’s interesting because, before we get on to the music of Strawberry Switchblade…the image inspired so many people. Where did that come from? Y’know it’s such a…it’s almost like something in a film. It’s such a strong visual image People would go, “Wow!”
Rose:When I was really small I was madly in love with Mickey Mouse, when I was a little kid. I was like, “I’m going to marry Mickey Mouse when I grow up, cos he’s so dark and handsome; he’s everything I love.” So I loved Minnie Mouse and I loved her red polka-dot dress and her ribbon. I loved flamenco dancers… basically that’s where the image came from: it was the love of flamenco dancers and Minnie Mouse and the 60s. All the polka-dot stuff from the 60s. I just loved the 60s era for fashion. For men and women. I think it’s the best, the most flattering era ever. Nothing’s come close to it since. I know there’s been loads of even more outrageous things, when men dressed up more than women in the past. But nothing in my opinion was as flattering to both male and female than the 60s fashion: the hair, the eyelashes, the suits, everything. I just loved that. I used to think that if I could chose a time to grow up it would be the 60s. Now I don’t agree with that, cos I know more about the 60s now. I’d rather take what I like from the 60s. …I’ve taken that somewhere else. That’s just where the image for Strawberry Switchblade came from. When you think about it the hair was up like that [shows an imaginary Beehive] If it wasn’t so punky it would be kind of ‘bouffanty’. The 60s with the polka-dots and Mickey Mouse, the flamenco, it was all a bit of a ‘mesh’ of stuff like that. And just fairies as well. Honestly I was obsessed with fairies and witches and magic. So it was just a whole combination of things like that.
Grant:So just before we get on to the music of Strawberry Switchblade it would be great if you could backtrack a little and talk more about the Postcard flat and the bands who formed there after Orange Juice like the Bluebells and Pastels.
Rose:Yeah. We played with them, we did backing vocals for The Pastels. That was fantastic. We did it on record and live. I love Stephen Pastel. He was just this little icon image wandering around Glasgow with his duffle coat; always teasing his hair. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a film called ‘Peeping Tom’? I’d don’t mean in a bad way, but Stephen Pastel really reminded me of that guy! [Laughs] In the best possible sense! [Laughs] But people say, “You can’t say that!” But he does! That guy in the film was cute, [but] he was a wee bit mental, but he was cute! Stephen Pastel was cute. He was always teasing his hair. I love Stephen Pastel. He was just like one of those people that you could just watch; being a people-watcher. He was an interesting person to watch. [And] Brian Superstar, he was totally opposite to Stephen; he’s a big like tall thing. But they were just really, really interesting people. They were interesting people who were into…I mean Stephen had his ‘Juniper Berry Berry’ fanzine. So everybody was really, really active. Everybody was buzzing, everybody was full of life. Great characters came out of that scene and Stephen still…I know that it’s a long time ago, but Stephen’s still Stephen. He still plays with his hair – I’m surprised he’s still got hair! [Laughs] I love Stephen Pastel, he’s great. He was inspirational as well. The fact that his stuff was…I think even more like…I don’t know how to explain it, but even less ‘rocky’ than Orange Juice. It was more like “La-la-la-la-la”. The Pastels were even more avant-garde in that kinda way, than Orange Juice were. Orange Juice could play all the stuff really well, [they were] bloody good musicians. The Pastels were kinda learning as they went kind of thing. And that was what Punk was like, y’know? It was like, you pick something up and you might not be an accordion player, but you could learn a song on accordion. Quite a lot of punks were multi-instrumentalists. They weren’t particularly brilliant maybe at one specific thing, but they could play a lot of different things. That was the magic of it: not being scared to try something, y’know?… Not saying, “I can’t”. ‘I can’t’ is a bad word. Little children get told, from when they’re really, really young people telling them they couldn’t – they could do all sorts of things. I think that when you’re born all the natural sort of things that a human has; like mentally, like psychically, whatever. The minute you’re born it just gets beaten out of you until you just…grow up. You’re just a shell of an adult who might as well be a drone. I just think that has to not happen. It has to not happen. You have to let those kids grow. You have to let them grow the way that they want to grow, y’know, and stop putting constraints on them….the most powerful thing we have as human beings is our imagination. That’s what drives people to invent amazing things, or create amazing things, discover amazing things. That drive and that ambition…not necessarily just the ambition, but the imagination, y’know? That’s just like, that’s my favourite thing that I’ve got: is my imagination.
(c) The Pastels
Grant:From 1982-83 ‘I wonder Why?’ it was you did backing vocals on The Pastel’s single wasn’t it? That would have been when there was a big, massive media focus on Glasgow after like Orange Juice and Aztec Camera and all those bands. From doing that and on to the Peel Sessions, you said it all started becoming a blur, what was the next step for Strawberry Switchblade?
Rose:Well, it was like…Edwyn was saying stuff to us when we did our Orange Juice tour: that was our first tour that we did. For 2 weeks. It was a mega…mammoth tour for us! [Laughs] Edwyn had being saying to people like Peel, “Look out for Strawberry Switchblade”. So Orange Juice had been spreading our name about a wee bit…. Then John Peel actually phoned me up himself (usually it’s the producer that phones). John Peel phoned and I was like…[gives a gob-smacked expression] “Do you want to do a session?” [again gives a speechless/gob-smacked expression] [Laughs] “YES!” And then the next day Kid Jensen’s producer called and asked us to do a session. It was like there was a wee race between the two of them; to see which one of them would get us on first. Now, John Peel’s session we did first although the Jensen one was played first. After that, after the sessions, it just went mental. It just kinda went crazy after that. We had Dave Balfe, we had Bill Drummond coming up to sign us to management. Just before the sessions…at that point we were starting to get more gigs and stuff. The drummer and the bass player, because that’s what we were before, a four piece. Jill was still at Art School, she had one year to go of her degree course. I was a mother, but the child had a father and a granny [Laughs] So I could still do stuff and I was really held down. But Jill was more flexible. But one of them (the bass player and drummer) was a school teacher and the other had a clerical job. It just came to the point where we have to make a choice because we could only do one of the things….It’s getting to be really demanding of us…The bass player and the drummer decided not to leave their jobs. ..Jill said that she would leave Art School, she had to. But she would continue doing it as long as she could. So we all pulled together, so that she could get through her degree show. All of us, like her boyfriend, me, we all pulled all of the stuff we had together to get her through her degree show…and she did it. Which was great. Then Strawberry Switchblade just got…I mean Warner Brothers did plug us quite a bit. They put a fair amount of money into pushing us. Which was insane, because the minute we sort of ‘made it’, they would put just as much energy into trying to change us! [Laughs] We were going – This is what you signed, this is what you got. Like I said, I wasn’t into it for the fame. I was into it for the fun. The fact that somebody liked us was just a bonus. It kind of all fell apart when the record company were just taking too many liberties, Also there was a lot of things we couldn’t do, because Jill had agoraphobia. But that was something that we went into knowing. So it wasn’t like it suddenly become a problem, it had always been there… it was just par for the course; the things we couldn’t do because of that….Loads of things that…even if I could’ve gone off and done on my own to represent the band, which I had done in the beginning. I had to sort of go off and do things…for me would be a far bigger deal now, than it was then…. I had way more ‘fight’ when I was a wee punk, than you know the world out there; being way more disillusioned with it now than I was then. It got to the point where, if we didn’t do it together, we didn’t do it – which was detrimental to the band in the end. Also the fighting with the record company. I guess I thought I was banging my head against a brick wall and I thought…this is not what I want. I want to come home from a record company meeting feeling we should be at the top of the world… we should be really, really happy. [Rather than] Coming home at the end of a record company meeting and just…crying. I hadn’t signed up for this, I don’t want this, I just don’t care… When they want us…we were working with Tim Pope, the video director – loved his work. We loved his work, and then they thought it was time for a change. “Time for a change girls!”, condescending like they are. “Time for a change, girls”. “No we’re quite happy with Tim”, and it was like…that was the sign of compromise to me. I just thought that if you’re going to make us go down the route that you want us to, and not the route that we want. This is our Art, this is our…us, y’know? That was the beginning of the end for me. Okay, everything in life has compromises as soon as anybody else is involved. But that was just too much. It’s like you’re not going to turn us into…something we’re not. Then it caused rifts between Jill and I as well… the pressure was just too much for everybody involved. In a sense it was better just to say “STOP!” than to say…I don’t know, sacrifice yourself and become? I’m not going to say the name of the band… We are quirky, we are this, we are that, y’know? We’re a pair of personalities and that’s who we are. You can’t just send us to finishing school…I finished school when I was sixteen! [Laughs] It was not going to work after that. There was too many compromises that I was totally not prepared to make.
Grant:….Dave and Bill were at Warners and put out the first single but then David Motion came in for the album?
Rose:Well that was…we had a meeting about which route we were going to take the album and ‘Trees & Flowers’was all acoustic and I think that sounded beautiful, with the oboes and the French horns and everything else. I was quite happy going down that route. But then we had a meeting with the record company going, “We’ve got this guy, David Motion, he’s really, really ’it’right now…everybody wants to work with David Motion.” He’s the nicest guy, he’s a really, really nice guy. But, y’know we went in and did the album that way, and…I think at the time I was thinking…it’s not exactly right, but like 250 grand into the album we were going, “Well, you said we would try it out. But, I’m sure they’re not going to go and chuck that one in the bin and do another one.” So, we were kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place. Although, in retrospect I love the album, and I loved working with David Motion. It was fantastic. But, I know it’s very 80s sounding, but I still don’t think it sounds that dated. I mean you can hear all the different instruments…all the new synths that were around at the time, that everybody was using…I don’t know…it’s something to be celebrated because there was a lot of good stuff going on at the time…So it was like…I don’t regret it now. Although at points I had I thought that, “We should’ve, we should’ve.” There’s no point in life doing that, because if you should’ve, you should’ve! [Laughs] So, we didn’t. Working with Motion was a really good experience to have and we travelled to lots of studios around London and outside. We had a really good time recording that album. So, I guess…stuff that I’ve done since then has been very different, again, But, then as I’ve said before, we’re not just done one thing – we’re a multitude of things, y’know? Most individuals…
Rose:Yeah, Strawberry Switchblade, that’s like…that’s it, it’s like the ups and downs of life: the happy, the sad, the good, the bad, the me, the me, the her and the her. [Laughs]
Grant:But it was successful. What was it like, I mean, that’s the dream of so many people to have a top ten single and be on Top of the Pops?
Rose:It’s really weird, about that because there was a big debate about when we should release it when we did. … We released it in November which is a really bad time for a new band. Especially in those days when Indie music wasn’t right up there in the forefront. To get on Top of the Pops you had to sell ‘x’amount of records. We were competing with Michael Jackson and all the really big people that sell at Christmas, cos everybody’s granny is going out to buy you a record, and they’re not going to buy you a Strawberry Switchblade record that nobody’s ever heard of. So we were competing with all that. Warner Brothers made an advert and the advert was on TV because of the image and stuff. [It] Actually went up and down the charts from November, until, I think…I don’t know, I can’t remember if it was February? It was in the charts for three months before it hit number 5. Which was kinda like, quite an achievement to hang around that long. I guess we were really, really excited about it because we were like a pair of kids. We would just jump up and down and scream and laugh and just have fun all the time…we were really, really excited about it and it was good, but…after that, on Top of the Pops. I guess we did every TV show there was, I thought. The only one we didn’t do was ‘Wogan’, then I saw something just recently and we were on something with Wogan. I think that the only one we didn’t do was ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test.’Maybe we weren’t serious enough for them. [Laughs] Or they weren’t ahead of the time enough for us! [Laughs] But, we did everything: we did all the shows, all the children’s…The kids loved us because of the way we looked, y’know? We kind off appealed to a whole range of people. We appealed to…there were people coming to our gigs that were like kids and then we’d have really elderly people coming to our gigs. So, we our market was really, really…You’d think that that would be a niche market, wouldn’t you?. I didn’t even think that that would happen. We were just like…In Japan, they just loved us in Japan. I mean there’s still millions of wee Strawberry Switchblade people running about Japan right now! And, it’s just like we’d go to Japan and then you’re like, “Am I looking in a mirror, y’know?” because there’s hundreds of these little girls all dressed up, just like us! They just loved Strawberry Switchblade over there, because the Japanese like, they work really hard, but they play really hard when they’ve got playtime as well. They just love all that Disney stuff, all that flamboyant stuff. So, they kinda…and also because we were small [Laughs] Y’know, you’d go into a shop and buy something off the peg, and it fitted! [Laughs] Which was very good for us. love Japan. They’re weird, because the first time we went there it was like ‘Blade Runner.’It seriously was. It’s massive, massive, massive; I was just waiting for ships to fly around the corner or something. It was really good. So good that I went back a few times after Switchblade.
Grant:Another thing I want to back-track on, something you mentioned at the start when talking about Postcard. You mentioned Alex Fergusson. I know he produced two of the Postcard singles that they did and at the same time he had, it’s‘I Confess’or something…
Rose:Oh, the Dorothy one, yeah.
Grant:And, how did he become involved with Postcard? It seems such a diverse…
Rose:D’y’know what? I don’t even remember the start of that. I remember seeing Alternative TV in Paisley, supporting Chelsea…They came on, everybody was there to see Chelsea, and I just thought: that guitarist is just amazing. I just watched him all night. Chelsea came on and I just thought, “Bring back that guitarist!” I just wanted to watch him all night. Then, suddenly we were doing a session. One of the sessions we did…I don’t know if it was the ‘Peel’ one, it might have been…Alex was playing piano on it and I met him again…I never thought I’d ever, ever see him again…Then when I worked with Psychic TV, which I did…the album I worked on Alex wrote, basically. And I just thought; never did I think when I was a wee punk rocker, stood there watching this guy’s fingers he was playing on guitar, would I be in the studio singing songs that he’d written and writing vocal parts for them. Then Alex and I did some work together after Psychic TV as well. He’s a pop genius. That guy is a total pop genius. He’s hundreds of songs and they were brilliant. But, he just didn’t get…You know there are so many fantastic musicians out there: sitting in their bedrooms, and they are way better than loads off people that are on Top of the Pops. Well, Top of the Pops is shite these days. But, y’know they are way better than the people that are out there, making it, slogging around the world. Cos, quite a lot of the time it’s perseverance that gets people noticed. A lot of it is luck as well. But, there’s millions of brilliant musicians and talented people that are sitting in their bedrooms that are too shy to go out there. Or don’t know how to do it. Y’know that punk ethic not’s really there anymore…but a lot of it’s luck. Alex, he had opportunities, but he never got the credit for a lot of the work that he did with Psychic TV. He actually wrote that album, the one that I worked on with him. It was like, he never got the credit for that. I really want to drag him out the corner because, he is…he is a little pop genius. And he’s one of those ones that just slipped away. He shouldn’t have cos he’s way, way more worthy than a lot of people that survived it, y’know?
Grant:Yeah, cos I mean ‘Godstar’is a perfect pop single.
Grant:It really, really is. How did you get involved…it seems…the name Strawberry Switchblade. How did you get involved with a whole different area of music?
Rose:The dark side…[Laughs] The ‘Switchblade’side. You know, it’s like meeting like-minded people. Not all were like-minded, but meeting people. I didn’t actually like some of the people in that scene, to begin with. I really didn’t: then I met some of them and, I thought…give them a chance. [And] then, Alex was doing this album, and I just thought…I’d love to work with him. Then I met loads of really, really interesting people (during that era). I went on to work with different people. A lot of people go ‘how did you go from pop, with Strawberry Switchblade, to working with Psychic TV, or Boyd Rice?, or somebody who is like, way, way over there?’And I just thought, I didn’t go from Strawberry Switchblade: I went from The Poems. And The Poems were actually quite ‘avant garde’, really different. So, really my roots were not just in Switchblade. And they weren’t really just in The Poems…it was just who I was., y’know? It was like; there’s always two sides to one coin. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I mean that’s the whole thing about punk: ‘we won’t be pigeon-holed.’We’re all humans and, we’re all individuals. Whatever…wherever that takes you. So, to me it doesn’t seem like a leap. If you knew about The Poems in the first place, you wouldn’t think, ‘That’s so strange, It wasn’t that strange…it was the people that I met, that I liked. [And] I got into working with them, like ‘B’from ‘Into a Circle’, and people like that. I got to know the people, and then got involved with the songs. It wasn’t always because I loved the music they were doing. It was always because I liked the people. [Laughs]
Grant: It’s like what I said at the start: people though they’re not as big as Michael Jackson but they are stars. That first Spell album, it’s got ‘Big Red Balloon’, and stuff like that…
Rose:Yeah…That’s as cheesy as hell, that Big Red Balloon. But, it was fun! D’y’know, I loved recording that album because it is so much fun doing covers: I love doing covers! Because…you’re not so precious about it. I stayed quite true to the originals when I was doing it, because the originals were really good. I I loved doing that and I’m going to do it again; I’ve got a whole list of songs that I’m gonna do. My favourite songs no matter how cheesy everybody thinks they are– even songs that my dad sang to me when I was a little kid. I don’t care [Laughs], I’m gonna like, record another album, because…I can’t stand musical snobbery. Y’know it’s like with music, live and let live. I don’t like certain types of things, but there is something good in everything. You might find a genre that you really don’t like. But, some good tunes will still come out of that. [And, it’s really] It’s not for anybody to tell anybody what to like. It’s what you get out of it yourself. So I would just like to do more cover…do another cover album. Just for the fun of it, because it’s fun.
Grant:Yeah, I saw that somebody, somewhere talking about ‘guilty pleasures’…either you like a song or you don’t. There’s no need to be guilty about it…
Rose:I know, I know, what does that mean? What does that mean, ‘guilty pleasure’, a bar of chocolate? [Laughs]
Grant:Did you do ‘Kukl’? The band that Bjork was in, before the Sugarcubes?
Rose:Klook? I can never get it either!
Grant:II worked with a boom-operator called Tony Cook and I think he produced, or was an engineer on that album. Cos, it was done in Iceland where he lived at the time. He used to talk about it.
Rose:Yeah. There was an album I worked on with someone called…Megis. He did an album in Iceland and Bjork and I both did backing vocals on that, and we did the live show with him as well. Current 93 were working over there as well. Bjork and I did…I was working with Current 93 anyway, so Bjork and I did some backing vocals on that. I’ve never actually worked with ‘just’ Bjork but I’ve worked with A & R and [Hilmar Hillmerson?] who has various connections, who works with all sorts of people; in film and everything. I’ve worked with them, so we kinda all like…came together through friends, and ended up working together. I don’t have the Megis album myself, I need to get it – I found the CD of it and I was listening to it on the way up to Glasgow. It was just fantastic; y’know Bjork and my voices together were just…they really complimented each other really, really well. I remembered that time and how much fun it was. We went off on a camping trip in Iceland as well and it was just amazing! Bjork proposed to me in Hilmar’s garden, and I said ‘yes!’ But then I went home! [Laughs]
Grant:There’s a great documentary that I haven’t seen in years called ‘Screaming Masterpiece’. It’s all about Icelandic post-punk music which you’ve just reminded me off
Rose:Well, Einar from The Sugarcubes. I worked with him on the ‘Ornamental’ thing. The first release of ‘Crystal Nights’, was Ornamental (that was the name of the band). It was Hilmar, and some of the Sugarcubes who played instruments on it. Hilmar produced it: Einar was singing and playing the trumpet…that was just really good fun doing that. But, it was a one-off project. A lot of us had so much going on at the time.Even if we wanted to do something else – when could we fit it in? [But] I’m still in touch with a lot of those people. I guess as life goes on sometimes things get quieter. Recently , for me, it’s got a wee bit busier; which is good.
You can get Rose’s latest album (with Shawn Pinchbeck) on Glass Modern here-