As if unleashed from a time-capsule, Strawberry Switchblade’s1982 4-Piece Demo is just what it says it is. Their first release in thirty years, it is an interesting glimpse into their past and also what could have been.
Before becoming the most famous spotty duo in pop, Strawberry Switchblade were a four-piece girl band. In these recordings Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall are joined by Janice Goodlett on bass and Carole MacGowan on drums. The fact that we still find all-female bands a noveIty shows how little we have travelled, you only have to look at the attention given to Warpaint to see that.
The music does sound very stripped back and there is a warning that the photography is grainy on the promotional pictures. It’s the proper amateurism of the eighties. There has been no intervention to glam this up in anyway. But it is full of ragged charm, like a discarded doll strapped to the front of a bin lorry.
Fans will be familiar with one or two of these three tracks. The lead song, ‘Spanish Song (Don’t Go)’, has a careful balance of Bryson’s guitar and McDowall’s vocals. It reflects what was an enduring friendship and creative partnership. Rose’s voice seems deeper and displays a wider vocal range than that represented on their later recordings. The song is very simple, getting the guitar and tambourine in time with each other seems to be the most musically complex thing about it. It has that sweet mix of sixties’ girl band and gritty reality that only Glasgow knows how to do. The song ends with a touch of Spanish flamenco, on an electric guitar, of course.
The second track is an early recording of ‘Trees and Flowers’, proving that Strawberry Switchblade and The Jesus And Mary Chain are indeed different sides of the same sharpened coin. Unusual in that the lyrics are by Bryson, this is more fragile that the later version with its oboe accompaniment. The song documents Bryson’s agoraphobia and the vulnerability is obvious. Rose’s vocal curls around the words in this Alice in Wonderland place where ‘The trees and flowers tower over me.’
The final song, ‘Go Away’, passes the lyrical baton back to McDowall. In this short two and a half minute track, she is lost, sitting on a rock in a strange world. Again the instruments are stripped back but the sound is softened by the dreamy harmonies.
As a release, it is really just a curiosity. But it is an opportunity to find out just who is still interested in Strawberry Switchblade. Lots of people, I’ll hazard.
It will be very interesting to see what they release next. New stuff, please!
1882 4-Piece Demo will be released on 27th January 2017 through Night School Records.