Strawberry Switchblade was Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall—two girls from the opposite ends of the city of Glasgow.
Jill was at art school with ambitions to be a painter. She loved music and dreamt of maybe one day being a singer in a band.
Rose was from the deprived working class side of the city where violence was endemic. Her father had once been hit in the head with an axe in a case of mistaken identity. Rose felt different and wanted to do something more creative than just tick a box of the choices of life offered.
She therefore started her first band with her boyfriend after seeing the Ramones in concert. Her attitude was if they can do, so can we. She took up the drums and the pair formed The Poems.
After punk, it seemed every teenager in Glasgow was in a band. In 1977 there was Johnny and the Self Abusers, who became better known as Simple Minds; Edwyn Collins formed a band called Nu-Sonics that evolved into Orange Juice; Paul Haig and Malcolm Ross were in TV ART which became Josef K; and so on so on and so forth….
Come the 1980s, the next generation of post punk, new wave, new pop artists were coming through: Roddy Frame and Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Bobby Bluebell and The Bluebells. It was in this milieu that Jill and Rose formed Strawberry Switchblade in 1981.
Rose and Jill in all their finery.
Jill quickly learned how to play the guitar and started writing songs. Rose had the voice and moved from drummer to singer. Together their voices created beautiful uplifting pop harmonies. Over a short period of time, they wrote songs, appeared on John Peel and Kid Jensen radio shows, which was quickly followed by a management offer from Bill Drummond (later of the KLF), who also offered the girls an indie record deal. They move to London and released their first single “Trees and Flowers” in 1983. This led to their signing with a major label—Warner Brothers.
Theirs was the kind of whirlwind career that only happens in books or in movies or on TV. Dressed like they had woken up in a haberdashery for dolls, Jill and Rose’s beribboned polka dot chic was soon everywhere.
A second single “Since Yesterday” came out in late 1984 which propelled the girls to even greater success.
“Since Yesterday” hit number five in the charts and the Strawberry Switchblade were suddenly on every TV chat and music show. The song’s upbeat sound belied the serious intent of the subject matter—which according to Rose is about nuclear war.
Strawberry Switchblade became a sensation in Japan—their look, their sound made hundreds of thousands of Japanese weak at the knees. Sell out concerts, traveling in limousines, mobbed by fans wherever they went—it should have been the start of an even great career—but things were falling apart.
Jill suffered from agoraphobia which stymied much of the pleasure she could have from the band’s success—it was also something that had inspired the song “Trees and Flowers.” There were also problems between Rose and Jill that led to a “cold war” between the two. They worked together professionally but in private had little in common. It was business, but it was no longer a fun business.
On the eve of a second album, Jill quit the band. She returned to her first love painting. Rose carried on with Strawberry Switchblade with a different line-up, but the magic had gone. She then went on to collaborate with Genesis P. Orridge and Psychic TV and later Primal Scream. Last year saw Rose’s album Cut With The Cake Knife. Jill is now a successful artist. In 2012 she returned to music with her band the Shapists.
For a time in the mid-1980s, Strawberry Switchblade gave the world magic and beauty and the sound of perfect pop.
Bonus: ‘Let Her Go’ - Strawberry Switchblade.
H/T Paul Darling.