Rose McDowall/SorrowInterview with Rose McDowall (1999)
Review of Under the Yew Possesed
Review of Sleep Now Forever
Rose McDowell Links
Stop and Smell the Rose McDowallinterview by Tracy Twyman and Brian Albert
The following is an interview with Rose McDowall,.made famous in the 1980s for her pop girl duo Strawberry Switchblade and their hit, “Since Yesterday”, which is still played in clubs and which she did a great version of in recent years with Current 93. Since then she has worked with Coil, Boyd Rice (for their project, Spell), and Little Annie Anxiety, to name a few. She now has a band called Sorrow with Robert Lee of The Heavenly Bodies. Their releases include 1993’s Under the Yew Possessed (received on page 59), and the recently released Sleep Now Forever, available through Piski Disk, her current record company.
DR: What is your ancestry?
ROSE: I was born Scottish. My grandparents on both sides were Irish. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was German. His wife, my great-grandmother was a Romany Gypsy. Her caravan was donated to the Dublin Museum. I have yet to see it in all its crystal splendor.
DR: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
ROSE: In Glasgow, Scotland.
DR: I am curious to know what your educational background is.
ROSE: I was educated in various Catholic schools in Dublin, Glasgow, some with domineering scary nuns as head mistress, all in working-class areas.
DR: How did you get started in music?
ROSE: I always loved singing, but I was mainly the drummer in my band “THE POEMS.” DREW McDOWALL was the singer. Drew and I went to see THE RAMONES, and thought If they can do it, so can we, so The Poems were born.
DR: Have you had lessons?
ROSE: Very Few. Life and love of melody have been my teacher.
DR: Did you always want to be a singer, or did you have some other career in mind?
ROSE: I told my Careers Officer in school I wanted to be a pop star. The whole class laughed. Then I formed STRAWBERRY SWITCHBLADE and became a pop star. Ha! Ha!
DR: Who was that other girl from Strawberry Switchblade?
ROSE: JILL BRYSON. She was a friend. We used to dress up together, go to punk clubs, so I asked her if she wanted to be in Strawberry Switchblade. We also had a female drummer and bass player, Carol and Janice, so we were a four-piece for our first few gigs.
DR: What ever happened to her?
ROSE . Sadly, Jill parted due to record company pressures, and her inability to stand up to them. If we could not be who we were, then I decided we would not be. She is now a housewife and a mother.
DR: How did you hook up with BORIS WILLIAMS ?
ROSE: PHIL THORNALEY, formerly of THE CURE produced “Who Knows What Love Is?”, and got Boris in to play drums.
DR: How did you and BOYD RICE get together?
ROSE: We were playing in Tokyo with CURRENT 93, DEATH IN JUNE, NON, and SONIC YOUTH.
DR: What drew you to one another?
ROSE: Our mutual love of the 60s, girl groups and macabre pop.
DR: Do you know MICHAEL MOYNIHAN of BLOOD AXIS?
DR: Did you meet him at the same time you met Boyd Rice?
DR: I understand that you have been married to DREW MCDOWALL from COIL. Is that how your relationship with Current 93 and Death in June Began?
ROSE: Yes, I was married to Drew, but he met Coil, Tibet, and Death in June through my working with them.
DR: How did you hook up with this ROBERT LEE character?
ROSE: Robert and I met through a friend, ANNIE ANXIETY. We met on the 1st of May 1988, at midnight, then at the same date and time in 1989.
DR: You say that Under the Yew Possessed is dedicated to the sacred Yew trees of Ancient Britain. Would you mind telling us, for those who don’t know, what is so sacred about these trees, and what their significance is to Britain?
ROSE: The sacred Yew trees of Britain are part of our Pagan heritage. This was recognized by the Church. As the sacred gathering places of Britain’s people, they built their churches around them. How quickly people forget that the Yew tree regenerates itself, so many are older than the churchyards they stand in.
DR:I understand that there are three magical incantations buried within Under the Yew Possessed. Which ones are they?
ROSE: They are three silent tracks.
DR: In the song “Loki and Evil” you romanticize about Loki, the Norse god of discord, the one who will supposedly wage war with the gods during the final battle, called Ragnarok in Norse Mythology. Do you identify with this figure? Do you have a personal relationship with him?
ROSE. As a God of Mischief and a Changeling I identify with him. I have a deep respect for him. He is the mischievous imp. For me he represents challenge, change, rebirth. Fire can be an all-consuming power, as can passion, possession, and love. Never take either for granted. He is my demon guide. He keeps me on my toes. But in fact the song is about my two little marmoset monkeys, Loki and Evil, who were both very mischievous. They very sadly died. The song is a poem to their memory and my sadness in loosing them.
DR: In the song “Emptyness”, you talk about “The snake that circles time.” Is that the serpent Draco?
ROSE: The symbolism of the serpent who eats his own tail is ancient, and exists in most Indo-European cultures. This represents the parody of life and the entrapment of temporal existence, the Mortal Coil, as it were.
DR: Have you always been into magick and paganism?
ROSE: Yes, I was born into it, and from it, and will continue to do so. I believe I have magick in my soul, and my soul is so much more than my life. My Great-Grandmother passed on her intuitive powers, but I believe it goes further back than this. I have had dreams of former lives. Fire plays a large part in those dreams. I have witnessed myself burn at the stake. In hysterical laughter I knew I would return.
DR: Have you any interest in the Holy Grail?
ROSE: Don’t we all want to know the truth? I was brought up Catholic, so yes it was a big deal, but the quest for knowledge goes back further than Christianity. I have and will continue to explore. There are many secrets before as behind us. Seek and ye shall find.
DR: What is you interest in Runes?
ROSE: My interest in Runes lies in the power of magick, and in the magick of words.
DR: What have you been reading lately?
ROSE: Spencer’s Fairy Queen. I have not had as much time to read lately. Other things possess my time. But I have a passion for fairies, the good, the bad and the ugly.
DR: Fill us in on your new record, would you?
ROSE: Sleep Now Forever is a collection of songs possessed with deep melancholy, beauty and sadness, a voice through the journey of a moment in time.
DR: What are your plans for the future?
ROSE: World domination. But maybe before that we’ll do a few concerts: a JOHN BALANCE / ROSE MCDOWALL collaboration, another SPELL L.P., a project with an electro-acoustic Canadian composer, Shawn Pinchbeck, a very incestuous rendition of Spencer’s Fairy Queen, and much more.
Sorrow - Under the Yew PossesedRarely do I get to write a positive review with such enthusiasm. Ever since my friend Brian brought his Strawberry Switchblade record over to my house one day, I’ve been a huge Rose McDowell fan. I immediately made a tape cassette copy of the entire album, and did not stop listening to it for weeks, so sucked in was I by their adorably sentimental and syrupy-sweet love songs, sung in the tradition of T’Pau or Prince’s “Wendy & Lisa,” with electronic instrumentation reminiscent of A-Ha. Every track was a gem, lyrical poetry dripping with lugubrious pathos and frolicsome cheer. And they were so cute! Even the excessive mousse and make-up had its charm.
Well, now Rose has grown up, the deluxe synthesizer with effects and sequencer has turned into a variety of traditional stringed instruments (with the help of her partner, Robert Lee), and the lyrics have taken on a more sanctimonious gravity: same soft, emotive singing laced with the proper mixture of joyful mirth and doleful anguish, but now she’s gotten religion. These are hymns of pious devotion to the gods of European folklore, the gods of life and death. The promotional package that accompanied this CD forewarned that it was “adorned with Runic inscriptions from Europe’s Pagan past, and includes three magical incantations.” This I can believe, for this marvelous music is definitely capable of evoking divinity; it’s folk music for fairy nymphs. I can just imagine Ms. McDowell walking through the woods, calling up all the elemental spirits with her lovely, delicate, wistful singing, leading them about like the Pied Piper. Rose seems to be full of wonder for the mysteries of the Universe and for the spirit which animates all living things: the grass, the trees, Nature herself. In fact, she has dedicated this album to “the sacred powers of the ancient Yew Trees of Britain.”
Many of the songs are quite obviously based on esoteric subjects. For instance, “Emptynes” (sic), a tribute to the Great Void, in which she invites “sweet madness” to “come share my wine, and bleed the snake that circles time”, perhaps a reference to Draco, the serpent that swallows its tail and envelopes the constellations. “I am spellbound, yet to be possessed by this lonely tower of Emptyness.” In “Dew of the Sea”, this Void is personified (or, perhaps, deified) by an awesome creator-destroyer goddess called “Mother of the Deep, may she lay there in pace, lest she whisper a breeze to dance on the waters of chaos.” She is the Queen of the Abyss, that indeterminate nothingness that gave birth to us all, and “In her great womb, she cradles the burdens of her sorrows.” Even the ones that seem like simple love songs could just as easily be addressed to some præterhuman intelligence, like “Darkness, in which she mourns, “Fate touches me. Oh how empty life can be.... I softly weep, For to love him is to grieve.” Is this just some guy she’s stuck on, or is it perhaps a higher power she has given her heart to? Or possibly an infernal one? This is certainly the case with the song “Loki and Evil”, about the Norse god of discord and mischief. He was a handsome giant, very smart, very cunning, and was indirectly responsible for the death of Balder, the god of light and joy. According to that collection of Scandinavian mythology known as The Eddas, Loki and Hel goddess of the Underworld, will be the ones to battle Aesir, the gods of heaven and earth, during Ragnarok, the Norse version of Armageddon. Rose romanticizes this wicked gargantuan with the words, “Loki, I remember your sad eyes. In spite of everything you were a King. I’d crown you a king. Evil your smile. And you did smile... I miss you, my little demons... I miss living in your world”
Hexed as I may be after exposing my ears to it, and forever marked with the lucky curse of the fylfot cross, I must say that this is one of the most superlative items I’ve ever had the pleasure of adding to my CD collection. The entire thing contains nine magnificent songs, after which there three extra tracks, each containing nine seconds of silence, until you get to the 13th. This mysterious, unnamed piece centers around that foghorn-ish drone familiar to ragas and bagpipe music, with Rose humming the words “Under the Yew Possessed” and someone chanting incoherently in the background. This must be one of those “magical incantations” I was told about. Well, whatever it is, it worked on me. The sounds contained in this CD are absolutely sublime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Sorrow - Sleep Now ForeverInspiration comes in a flash, but perfecting your work can take many tireless years of dedication. Thus it is with this new CD from Sorrow (Rose McDowall, Robert Lee), recorded veeery carefully between the years of 1994 and 1999. The results are nothing less thatn spectacular, another shimmering example of Rose’s ability to channel the communications of tutelary powers into her own sylph-like singing. The first track, “Soldier” is a sad story about being in love with a man whose heart truly lies with the armed forces, to whom he is duty-bound to return. “Soldier, Soldier, you’ve broken my heart, and then left witht he sun”, she sings. “Love Dies” is another downtrodden sulk through dashed hopes and blighted expectations, as is “Turn Off the Light”, albeit with a slightly more bitter and angry tone to the lyrics, because, “You killed the only one I love, God go away... You crippled the mind of ano innocent child... Your sick twisted mind, my tormented youth.” So it’s a “Dear God” letter. I guess I would be angry and bitter too. In “Fear Becomes You”, Rose talks to the sea, and to other natural phenomenon like moonlight and darkness. “Rise as you will, Ocean to me, Take me from Shore, Drown me in Dream.” The song “October Faul” is another pagan hymn, paying tribute first to “The Morning Star” (Lucifuge Rofocale?), then the Sun, the sky, the Dark, the Dawn, and those sacred Yew trees we heard so much about on the last album (Under the Yew Possessed.) At the end she bids us to “Remember Druids Grove” because “Beauty is the Dark.” The next song, “Wishing Stone”, is very mysterious, as Rose claims to “embrace the Silent Realm (the Otehrworld, perhaps?) and asks, “Let Heaven cherish the Heathen Song.” (The music on this track sounds strangely like the intro to the Nickelodeon program The Little Koala. Song # 8, “Nomadic Man”, seems to be about the fruitlessness of man’s quest for knowledge, and how we can never really understand God’s true nature or the meaning of existence. “For knowledge be a dangerous thing, To man in all his ignorance, To fear a God he cannot see... For he be dust and nothing more.” In “Angel”, she asks the Moon to send her an angel, and “Wrap his wings round me, never unfold them”, with the stars singing gloriously above, something that is no doubt a very pleasant and comforting experience. “Sleep Now Forever”, the title track, is just what you’d expect: a grief-torn young woman’s last words to her dying beloved, as she heart-wrenchingly entreats him to “Go now, in peace, I won’t forget your love, don’t forget me.” The whole album is a magnificent masterwork of artistic, emotional and spiritual expression. The front cover is graced with a copy of Vincent Van Gough’s “Sorrow”, after which the band is apparently named. Sleep Now Forever is dedicated to him, and 15 cents from each CD sale will go to the Van Gough Foundation.
Rose McDowell LinksSince Yesterday - A Strawberry Switchblade site with good pictures.
Piskidisk - all things Rose McDowall
Current 93 on the Dagobert's Revenge site.