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USING POP TO HELP CONQUER YOUR DEMONS

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Strawberry Switchblade are often held up as one-hit wonders, thanks to their second single, Since Yesterday, hitting #5 a few months after its release in late 1984. But I want to tell the fascinating story behind their relatively little known debut 45………………

Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson, two of the earliest punks in Glasgow, made up Strawberry Switchblade. Their name came from a James Kirk song that was never recorded by Orange Juice. The girls were friendly with everyone in the Postcard Records scene and received a lot of encouragement to make a go of things musically, with John Peel (who certainly had a thing for attractive female Scottish singers) offering them an early radio session while also persuading his mate David Jensen to do likewise given that the pop approach and sound of the girls was more likely to find favour with listeners earlier in the evening.

All of this led to Bill Drummond showing an interest and he arranged for them to record a debut 45 on 92 Happy Customers, an independent record label run by Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen. The debut, entitled Trees and Flowers, sold around 10,000 copies, was voted in at #47 in the 1983 Festive Fifty and led to Drummond signing them to Korova Records which was bankrolled by the giant WEA  and on which they would enjoy the chart success in late 84/early 85.

mp3 : Strawberry Switchblade – Trees and Flowers

A lovely little ballad which included a contribution from Roddy Frame on guitar, it’s worth looking closely at the lyric:-

Dawn cracks the dark
And it breaks the silence
Of my waking hours
And my heartbeat’s licence

For I hate the trees
And I hate the flowers
And I hate the buildings
And the way they tower over me
Can’t you see
I get so frightened
No-one else seems frightened
Only me, only me

I can’t but see
That the sun has risen
To my window, my world
Of my home sweet prison

For I hate the trees
And I hate the flowers
And I hate the buildings
And the way they tower over me
Can’t you see
I get so frightened
No-one else seems frightened
Only me, only me

They were penned by Jill Bryson who, despite appearing to the world to have a carefree attitude and approach to life which was best demonstrated by her dressing flamboyantly in a city where you were openly ridiculed in the streets for doing so, suffered dreadfully from agoraphobia with long spells in her life where should couldn’t leave her house.

I find it impossible to imagine what living with such a condition must be like and Jill’s sad lyrics capture just how heartbreaking it is to face up to and how difficult it is to explain what many will consider to be an irrational fear. I remember once, many years ago, seeing someone take an awful panic attack in the street as a result of this condition. It was scary watching a young woman, probably aged around 25-30, just grip onto a lamp-post and suddenly start screaming loudly; she had a friend with her who was obviously au fait with the condition and knew how best to handle the situation, which included reassuring those of us in the immediate vicinity that things were OK and that the fear would pass. It troubled me though to think what would happen to any agoraphobic who was struck down while out on their own….it didn’t bear thinking about.

Most singer-songwriters will have a great deal of autobiographical content in their early songs – Jill Bryson was incredibly brave to do what she did.  And in such a lovely and understated way too.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 106)

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I liked this description of today’s Scottish pop combo:-

“From the ominous shadows of Goth suddenly appeared two young girls in polka-dot dresses, flaming red lipstick, and hair ribbons. Looking like the brides of Robert Smith, Strawberry Switchblade made a brief splash on the U.K. charts and then abruptly vanished in the mid ’80s, leaving their fans with a handful of collectible singles and one LP of deceptively sweet-sounding dance pop.”

Here’s wiki:-

Strawberry Switchblade was a female pop rock/new wave band formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1981 by Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall.

The punk movement expanded rapidly in the United Kingdom in 1976. At the time, Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson were classic Glasgow punks. As the punk rock scene electrified Glasgow in the late ’70s, they were a part of the bohemian art scene who adored the New York Dolls and who followed Scottish punk band Nu-Sonics during their career, with McDowall playing and recording with Paisley punk band The Poems.

Bryson studied for four years at the Glasgow School of Art where she achieved a BA honours degree in mixed media.

As friends, McDowall and Bryson socialised in Glasgow pubs, catching many local bands at the time. One of these bands was Orange Juice, fronted by Edwyn Collins. Members of New Pop and Orange Juice had recorded a live version of “Felicity” as a flexi-disc and intended to release it. A fanzine, to be titled Strawberry Switchblade after a James Kirk song, was planned to promote the flexi-disc but never materialised. The “Felicity” flexi-disc was eventually released in conjunction with the debut Orange Juice single, “Falling and Laughing”. McDowall and Bryson adopted the fanzine title as their band name.

Strawberry Switchblade played at a John Peel gig in Scotland, and he invited them to record a session for his BBC Radio 1 show in October 1982.They also recorded a session for David Jensen’s Radio 1 show three days later. On both sessions the band were augmented by James Kirk from Orange Juice on bass and Shahid Sarwar from The Recognitions on drums.

The sessions were heard by Bill Drummond (a Scottish musician who went on to form The KLF) and David Balfe, respectively manager and keyboard player with the recently defunct The Teardrop Explodes, who became the group’s managers.

The band’s first single, “Trees and Flowers”, was released in July 1983 through 92 Happy Customers, an independent record label run by Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen,and sold over 10,000 copies. It was featured at number 47 in John Peel’s 1983 Festive 50. “Trees and Flowers” was written by Bryson about her medical condition agoraphobia.

Drummond signed the band to Warner Music Group subsidiary Korova in 1983. They got a full backing band with whom they toured and began recording an album with producer Robin Millar. However, at the record company’s behest, they reverted to the duo of Bryson and McDowall and for production duties they hired David Motion, who would soon go on to produce hits for Red Box.

In late 1984 their second single, “Since Yesterday”, was released. Having been given a large marketing push over the festive period, it became a UK top ten hit in early 1985, peaking at number 5, and also met with success in Europe and Japan.

Their cover version of “Sunday Morning” (originally by Velvet Underground) was released as an extra track on the 12″ of “Since Yesterday”. It was not included on any of the Strawberry Switchblade albums.

The track’s opening fanfare came from Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, which had also featured prominently in the coda section of the earlier hit “Beach Baby” by The First Class. The band’s’ strikingly contrasting black and white wardrobe, including the polka dot rah-rah skirts worn for the sleeve of “Since Yesterday”, attracted coverage at the time. Their somewhat ‘gothic’ appearance was also of note.

In March 1985 they released their next single, “Let Her Go”, a tune in a similar vein to “Since Yesterday”.

Following the release of their eponymous album in April, in May 1985 they released a further single, the ballad “Who Knows What Love Is”,[6] one of two tracks on the album produced by Phil Thornally of The Cure.

Their fifth single, an electro-pop cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, was issued in September 1985 in the UK and Japan.

Although their commercial success had waned in the UK they remained popular in Japan and two later singles, “Ecstasy (Apple of My Eye)” and “I Can Feel”, were only issued in that country.The second of these only featured McDowall as by this time the partnership had irreparably fractured. By early 1986, the group had disbanded.

In December 2005, Warner Bros. Platinum Records released a career retrospective of the band, made up of sixteen different tracks from various recordings on one compact disc.

And here’s the 7″ version of the hit single with the bonus 12″ track:-

mp3 : Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
mp3 : Strawberry Switchblade – By The Sea
mp3 : Strawberry Switchblade – Sunday Morning

I really do love their quite gorgeous take on Sunday Morning.

Enjoy