It was a homecoming of sorts for Rose McDowall, former one half of bittersweet popstars Strawberry Switchblade, who in recent years has become more renowned for her contributions to the work of Death In June and Current Ninety Three, collaborations with the notorious Boyd Rice as Spell and, of course, her own melancholic musical vehicle Sorrow.
After her break-up with Robert Lee it was interesting to see whether Rose would continue as Sorrow. She was billed in the foyer of the CCA as Rosie McDowall, so it was apparent that Rose's all too short affair with the pop charts was perhaps forgotten in some parts of Glasgow. Tonight's return to a Glasgow stage was at the behest of Glasgow's experimental outfit the Telstar Ponies, featuring David Keenan, the author of England's Hidden Reverse, the official biographer of Coil, Current Ninety Three and Nurse With Wound.
With Rose on guitar aided by John Contreras (a Sorrow regular who has also performed with Panatleimon and Current Ninety Three) on cello and pipes, and, current beau, Clay on bass. It was in comparison with the intricate orchestrations of Sorrow a surprisingly pared down and low key performance which in many ways accentuated the intimacy of the evening.
The informal nature of the show meant Rose was without her 'Bad Fairy' wings preferring a more relaxed outfit of 'love' embroidered trousers, complementing her rose-crested guitar and new soft hairstyle. She appeared as nervous as hell as she took to the stage enquiring whether there were any crowns of thorns in the audience, 'if so they'll be bleeding - or at least your ears will be' she quipped.
'Ruby Tears' opened the set amply illustrating Rose's capacity to produce beautiful melodic pop music. A rare airing of the Strawberry Switchblade debut, 'Trees and Flowers', followed. It's a haunting song documenting ('that other scabby wee witch') Jill Bryson's agoraphobia and. a beautiful reminder of the polka-dotted post-punk pop outfit who added more than a dash of colour and a healthy dose of subversion to the charts during the eighties. It's been quite sometime since we've had popstars on children's television proclaiming Orange Juice and Throbbing Gristle as influences.
'Let There Be Thorns' the title track of the much under rated last Sorrow EP was next, followed by 'Night Scar' which echoed her work with Death In June and Current Ninety Three. Discordant cello, sweeping acoustic guitar reverberations and the lilting nursery rhyme-like melody, was not far removed from 'Happy Birthday Pigface Christus' or 'Black Flowers Please'. It recaptures a moment when Current Ninety Three and Death In June were equal parts soothing and sinister, but remained mysterious except to the devoted. It's her one token nod to her acquaintance with the 'apocalyptic folk' genre and criminally, at this moment, it still remains unrecorded.
A fragile reworking of the Velvet Underground's 'Sunday Morning' follows, and nerves appear to get the upper hand resulting in some inspired reworked lyrics from Rose for the flip side of 'Since Yesterday', Strawberry Switchblade's biggest pop hit. The short set ends with the touching 'Sleep Now Forever', the title track from Sorrow's intricate second album dedicated to the work of Vincent Van Gogh.
Obligatory time constraints meant that the audience failed to get the requested encore, and, undoubtedly, a welcome rendition of 'Since Yesterday'.
A short while later with her arm in a monkey sling (she'd twisted her wrist earlier that week), shades, and cap she returned to the stage, like a Satanic Ronnie Spector, to join the Telstar Ponies to duet on their illuminating ballad 'A Lambing We Shall Go', a track from their forthcoming Love In Earnest album, produced by Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk, on Streamline Records.
After the inevitable cancellation by Mirror (the second time in less than 5 months they've pulled out of a Glasgow performance), and the cancellation of the Telstar Ponies London show at the ICA, it was perhaps surprising that Rose performed at all. The short set provided a brief glimpse into the back catalogue of Rose McDowall. That the simple melodic, earthy and punk attitude of Rose McDowall slips easily into the musical lineage of a city that has birthed Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian all of whom I'm sure if not direct friends are undoubtedly influenced by her work. After a, by all accounts, flawed performance with Current Ninety Three at St Olaves Church, London, this was a flawless return to form.
I've witnessed Sorrow live on many occasions but I really hope Rose continues with these simple, informal performances, which can only reaffirm her position as one of the finest proponents of bittersweet pop music expressing beauty and sadness in equal measure. Perhaps next time she returns to her native Glasgow a booking at the Grand Ole Oprey would be more apt.
Sorrow - www.rosemcdowall.com
World Serpent - www.worldserpent.com