Rose McDowall switches Strawberry for Sorrow

What’s in a name? For Rose McDowall, it’s about finally striking out with her own identity following a string of nom-de-plumes and collaborations.

Over the years, the singer, best known as one half of Strawberry Switchblade, has worked alongside a wide range of people. And her latest effort harks back, although not quite to her 80s pop persona when the duo’s polkadotted outfits were as much a feature of Top of the Pops as the area around Glasgow’s Art School.

‘Under The Yew Possessed’ is a re-release of a 1993 album made with husband at the time Robert Lee, and released under the name Sorrow. Its brand of psychedelic folk is regarded as something of a cult classic.

”I still wrote the songs but he’s a really good engineer – we produced it together but he did all the knob twiddling, and I got in with the weird noises,” she laughs.

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    That ‘odd-but-still-pop’ music has been a big part of McDowall’s career, and even while under the radar was still feted in more alternative circles, while working with a host of names both big and ‘seminal’. “I’m all over the place – I like variety in my life,” she says, before matter-of-factly reeling off a list of those she’s collaborated with: “Bronski Beat, the Pastels, Felt, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Damned, Primal Scream, Bjork…”The latter and possibly biggest international icon was also part of a collaboration with underground experimentalists Current 93.

    “She was nearly my wife,” McDowall casually adds. Er... “She asked me to marry her. And I said yes, I could hardly refuse.” She laughs a rich belly laugh before I can ask if she’s serious.

    “It was a while ago... We just hit it off, we had the same childish, but not stupid, mentality.”

    And although her new material may not be shooting for the mainstream success of her Icelandic pal, she is set to hit the small screen again soon.

    Or her voice will, at least.

    “‘Gem’ will be out in November – the band name is Rose McDowall and Shawn Pinchbeck, and Grant McPhee’s used six tracks in his new film.”

    McPhee is behind the acclaimed Scottish indie pop documentary ‘Big Gold Dream’, and those half-dozen tunes will soundtrack ‘Far From The Apple Tree’, with Sorcha Groundsell, star of Netflix hit The Innocents. “She’s doing really well, so it’s good for Grant and her. And obviously me!”

    With this talk of the mainstream, we inevitably come to her past success. But is McDowall bored with harking back to the duo she formed with Jill Bryson in the 1980s? “I don’t really mind, there’s life after it,” she replies. “It was a big part of my life and was fun for the most, I guess.”However I get the feeling she is more comfortable with her new sound.

    “It’s not strictly pop, but I prefer Sorrow to Switchblade,” she admits. “I like to use my voice as an instrument rather than rapidly singing words. I do miss not having harmonies, but you can get round it by using other people in. Adele Bethel (of Sons and Daughters) is doing backing vocals with me.”

    But despite that, McDowall will be taking centre stage – for now at least. “Loads of people change their band name so many time no-one can keep up,” she laughs. “But I’m Rose McDowall, and anyway, I’m not going to think of a better name than Strawberry Switchblade!”

    ‘Under The Yew Possessed’ is out now. More at