The 1980s were the pinnacle for perfect pop music. And one of the main reasons for that was the fact that genuinely creative and weird people made brilliant pop music. These days pop music seems to have turned into a conveyor belt of boy band wannabes and porn influenced fembots churning out soulless pop. Which is not to say there wasn't some crap back then but there were also bands like Soft Cell and Adam and the Ants who weren't afraid to step out of their art school ghettoes and make popular music for the masses. IT WAS FABULOUS.
A perfect example of this was Strawberry Switchblade, a duo of Glaswegian girls, Jill and Rose, who'd met up on their home town's burgeoning punk scene and bonded as much over their outrageous appearance as their love of music. They were best known for their love of polka dots and their look seemed like a home-made forerunner to the Gothic Lolita style now popular in Japan. They had back-combed hair adorned with long ribbons, thick black eyeliner, loads of cheap jewellery and polka dot dresses which only seemed even more strangely asexual when combined with the skyscraper stilettos and fishnets which the girls favoured. They resembled cute Kabuki witches. Nobody else could have invented that look and only they could have perfected it.
Their music was every bit as striking --- bittersweet pop music that produced a strangely unsettling effect while never distracting from some beautiful melodies and harmonies. Although they released several singles and one album, their only big hit was Since Yesterday. However, it was a UK Top 5 hit and bizarrely enough, this was all it took for the girls to keep Band Aid (the charity single that went on to be one of the biggest selling singles of all time) off the cover of Smash Hits (then the biggest selling pop magazine in the UK). But sometimes that one moment of pop perfection is all you need. Some bands will go their whole career without ever reaching that pinnacle. I don't care if Strawberry Switchblade never had a string of number ones or won awards, I think they're an amazing band.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Strawberry Switchblade are a sparkly sequin in my memory of the 1980s. All I'd ever heard was Since Yesterday but that was enough to convince me of their genius. I managed to track down a Japanese CD reissue of their album and I wasn't disappointed. Who could forget their plaintive ode to agoraphobia, Trees and Flowers or jaunty pop numbers with an underlying threat of menace like Let Her Go or Jolene. I think the internet has been the saving grace for bands like Strawberry Switchblade. Before it existed obscure bands would be easily forgotten and there was no way for fans to easily share what resources they did have. Ebay and Amazon have made it easier for people all around the world to obtain rare and out of print items and programmes like Napster meant people could trade music files. And people were able to set up fan sites that people could access and interact with from anywhere in the world.
I think Strawberry Switchblade have one of the best fan sites I've seen on the Internet. It's easy to navigate and has a pretty design that reflects the band's image. Merrick (who set it up) has done an amazing job in finding loads of press cuttings and rare music downloads as well as loads of photos, lyrics and more. But the most amazing thing on the site is an in depth interview with both girls and some other people associated with the band like Bill Drummond (later of The KLF) who was their manager. And when I say in depth I really mean it. But God, what a story! I don't want to spoil the surprise but it makes fantastic reading from Rose discussing her childhood growing up in violent slums and the death of her brother to Jill talking about how agoraphobia affected her life covering their rise to fame complete with violent stalkers leading to their eventual breakup amidst accusations of Nazi sympathies and occult obsessions. I wish more people could read it as it's such an interesting story and Merrick has done a good job in getting everybody to talk about the various issues so openly.
ALL IMAGES FROM THE STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE WEBSITE.
ORGINALLY PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2005.