The punk movement expanded rapidly in the United Kingdom in 1976. At the time, Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson were 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 byEdwyn 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 Sergeantfrom 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", one of two tracks on the album produced by Phil Thornalley of The Cure.
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.
Rose McDowall continued in music, playing with many industrial folk music bands.
In July 2013, after a break of almost 30 years from music, Bryson returned to songwriting in a new band called The Shapists.