Friday , 21 June 2024

Formed in the ’70s, Girlschool was undoubtedly ahead of their time. This all-female band from South London came along a full ten years before the glam metal glory years of the late ’80s. The music of Girlschool was punk tinged heavily with metal (or visa versa), combining unforced aggression with an easy good-natured attitude. Their greatest successes occurred in Europe and their native England in the early ’80s. They never seemed to connect with a mass American audience, although Girlschool has many diehard fans here as well. Anyone who ever saw them in concert walked away impressed – for no matter what else you might say about Girlschool, they could most certainly deliver loud, glorious rock and roll with passion and virtuosity.

girlschool logogirlschool

Country: United Kingdom
History: 1978 – Present
Status: Active
Style: Heavy Metal

Formed in the ’70s, Girlschool was undoubtedly ahead of their time. This all-female band from South London came along a full ten years before the glam metal glory years of the late ’80s. The music of Girlschool was punk tinged heavily with metal (or visa versa), combining unforced aggression with an easy good-natured attitude. Their greatest successes occurred in Europe and their native England in the early ’80s. They never seemed to connect with a mass American audience, although Girlschool has many diehard fans here as well. Anyone who ever saw them in concert walked away impressed – for no matter what else you might say about Girlschool, they could most certainly deliver loud, glorious rock and roll with passion and virtuosity.

Back in 1977, Enid Williams (bass) and Kim McAuliffe (guitar) both lived on the same street in South London. Their friendship went back to their school days together, and 1977 found them board with their day jobs – Enid was still in school, but would later work for a small bakery, and Kim was working in a bank – and looking for something better. They decided upon a career change, and formed an all-girl rock act called Painted Lady, with Kim playing guitar and Enid on bass. Along with Deirdre Cartwright on lead guitar and someone remembered only as Tina on drums, the foursome sporadically played some gigs on the local club scene; however, the band never seemed to gel and soon broke up. Kim and Enid decided to try it again, and somewhere during this period they met up with American Kathy Valentine (guitar). Kathy, who reportedly lacked the requisite UK work visa, had to scamper back to the US to join up with fellow Austin, Texas guitarist Carla Olson and form the Textones, before eventually playing bass with the Go-Go’s.

Kathy’s departure created an opening at lead guitar which in March of 1978 was filled by Kelly Johnson. Denise Dufort joined on as drummer. The women changed their band’s name to Girlschool – and class was officially in session. Girlschool hit the road, touring smaller venues throughout the UK, as well as across the channel. In December of 1978 they released their first single, “Take It All Away,” on the independent City Records label. The record reached the ears of Doug Smith, then the manager of the hard rocking English band Motorhead, who contacted the women of Girlschool and signed on as their manager. Girlschool supported Motorhead on their subsequent tour promoting their “Overkill” album in the spring of 1979. Girlschool toured extensively in the UK and Europe throughout 1979, first with Motorhead, and then with bands such as the Welsh heavy metal troupe Budgie. In December, 1979, Lemmy, the front man of Motorhead and a good friend to Girlschool throughout their career, set up a rehearsal / audition for Girlschool which was attended by Gerry Bron, the president of Bronze Records, the home of Motorhead, Uriah Heep and Juicy Lucy, among others.

In an interview twenty years later with Dave Ling in Classic Rock Magazine (December 18, 1999), Gerry Bron stated, “I went to an early rehearsal and was surprised how well [Girlschool] played their instruments – how terribly chauvinistic of me. None of them were particularly good looking, although from a distance Kelly Johnson looked like that Charlie’s Angels’ actress, Farrah Fawcett, but there was something about them…”

Going into the ’80s armed with a solid UK fan base and a recording contract in their pocket, Girlschool went into the recording studio with producer Vic Maile and recorded their debut album, “Demolition”. Supported by four singles – “Emergency”, “Nothing To Lose”, “Yeah Right,” and particularly, “Race with the Devil” – “Demolition” charted in the top 30 in England. The album was not released in the US. The band’s earliest material might best be described as raw and aggressive. The lyrics most often turn the tables on the male metal bands by objectifying boys; however, there is an underlying theme of fun present – the band plays it serious, yet never takes itself too seriously nor acts too tough.

1981 was a very good year indeed for Girlschool in England. Their follow up album, “Hit And Run”, also produced by Vic Maile, established Girlschool as a top rock act in the UK by hitting number 5 on the album charts. A collaborative EP recorded with Motorhead, “St Valentines Day Massacre,” (released under both the names Motorschool and Head Girl) peaked at number 5 on the singles’ chart. The song “C’mon Let’s Go” entered the top 40 before the end of the year. Girlschool also supported rock giant Rainbow on its European “Difficult To Cure” Tour.

“Hit And Run” was released in America – the following year – on Stiff Records. The US version was actually a compilation of the first two British releases. The album did not chart nationally in the US, where the only female-powered acts seemingly receiving any amount of commercial radio airplay were in the new wave/pop genre, e.g. Blondie and the Go-Go’s. Reviewers in the US, however, generally hailed the effort. Billboard Magazine had this to say (4/3/82):

One has the feeling from this LP that if Girlschool was in a battle of the bands with, say the Scorpions and Krokus, this four-woman group from England … would blow the Europeans right off the stage. This is an all-female band that doesn’t have to play second fiddle to any macho guitar heroes. They’re just as good, if not better. And when you turn down the volume a little, you can hear some really nice pop songs here. Best cuts: “Watch Your Step”, “Not For Sale”, “Yeah, Right” and “The Hunter”.

In early 1982, Enid Williams left the band, the first of several personnel changes which would plague Girlschool. Enid was replaced by Gil Weston-Jones, who had previously played bass for the punk band The Killjoys. Girlschool entered the studio to record their third album, “Screaming Blue Murder”, with a new producer, Nigel Gray, who had produced or engineered the first three albums by the Police. The result was a solid metal effort, but the album failed to chart as successfully in the UK as had their previous effort, “Hit And Run”.

In spring, 1983, Girlschool toured the US supporting the Scorpions. The group was finally making inroads in America. That summer, the band went back into the studio, opting for a more commercial sound for what would be their fourth album, “Play Dirty”. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea of the legendary rock outfit Slade were brought in to produce the effort, which marked a growing desire within Girlschool to gain a commercial foothold in the American market. The album would chart at a relatively disappointing number 66 in the UK, where Girlschool’s move toward a more commercial sound served to alienate their old fans, while ultimately failing to increase their exposure. Worse yet for the band, what was a strained situation already was about to become even more strained. Following the release of “Play Dirty”, lead guitarist and vocalist Kelly Johnson left Girlschool, effectively halting any plans to tour America in support of the new album. A successful US tour at this point for Girlschool might have served to elevate the band to American chart success, but it was not to be.

Adding insult to injury, with Kelly Johnson gone, Bronze Records failed to extend the band’s recording contract to include a follow up album. Similar situations have broken up many bands before and since; however, the remaining Girlschool members, Kim McAuliffe (guitar/vocals), Gil Weston-Jones (bass) and Denise Dufort (drums), carried on and soon replaced Kelly with two new members, both from the band She – Australian born Cris Bonacci (lead guitar) and Jackie (aka Jacqui) Bodimead (vocals & keyboards). As might be expected, the inclusion of a keyboard player was a giant step towards a more mainstream metal sound – this was the ’80s after all. The augmentation of the group with keyboards could easily be understood considering the band’s search for a label with muscle in America, not to mention the immense success being enjoyed by male bands that Girlschool could easily compete with, not to mention pop metal acts such as Heart and Pat Benatar.

Girlschool signed with giant Polygram’s subsidiary Mercury Records, past home of the Runaways. Their next album, 1985’s “Running Wild”, was produced by Nick Taubor, whose credits to that point included Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Marillion and UFO. “Running Wild” was meant for the American market, and in fact was released only in America, not in the UK. Girlschool spent the majority of 1985 on the road touring the US with Deep Purple, before embarking on a tour of India and the Pacific Rim. Upon returning home to the UK in the autumn, however, the band decided that what the band had become was not right – it was not what they wanted the band to be. Keyboardist Jackie Bodimead was bounced from Girlschool. The band was down to four members, not to mention a more guitar-based metal band feel, once and forever.

In December ’85 they toured Britain with Blue Oyster Cult. For what seemed to them to be for the first time in ages, the women of Girlschool enjoyed playing live again, and immediately regained a sense of passion and commitment to their craft. Said Kim McAuliffe at the time, “We took a long hard look at what we wanted and decided it was time to put some glam and razzamatazz back into our music, rather like it was the early ’70s. Everyone these days seem so pretentious and boring.”

In February 1986, Girlschool signed to GWR Records and soon after teamed up with the original Brit glam rocker himself, Gary Glitter, to record a new version of his 1973 UK #1 hit, “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am).” For their first GWR album, Girlschool reunited with producer Vic Maile, who had been behind the controls for their first two albums. Fans of the group’s older, rawer sound were made ecstatic by 1986’s “Nightmare At Maple Cross”, as the new album contained nine new and powerful Girlschool originals. The album – and American fans – would have to wait almost a year for a US release.

In 1987, bassist Gil Weston called it quits, leaving Girlschool after five years in order to get married. As usual, Girlschool carried on. Her replacement on bass was Tracey Lamb, who had previously played with the bands Rock Goddess and She (with Cris Bonacci and Jackie Bodimead). Girlschool played some US gigs and appeared on television here and in Europe.

In early 1988, Girlschool began working with producer Andre Jacquemin (best known as Monty Python’s record producer) on their next album, which would be called “Take A Bite”. The album was released in Europe in November and early in 1989 in the US. As the band braced for the inevitable promotional tour of North America, commitment dwindled and following a trip to Russia with Ronnie Dio and Black Sabbath, the band broke up.

In ensuing months Kim McAuliffe would work with punk singer Beki Bondage and present the UK cable television show Raw Power. Kim and original Girlschool bassist Enid Williams teamed up with Brit punk rocker Toyah Willcox under the name She Devils for the Women In Music Festival in London in 1990. In the summer of 1991, Kim McAuliffe and Enid Williams, joined by Toyah and Girlschool drummer Denise Dufort, toured the UK billed as the Strangegirls.

In 1992, Girlschool reunited with yet another bass player, Jackie Carrera (ex of the Flatmates). The resulting album, 1992’s self-titled and self-produced “Girlschool”, released on Progressive Records, was more polished than their late ’80s efforts, but definitely still in the metal vein.

The 1990’s would see numerous Girlschool compilation albums – and no less than three live albums – released. The King Biscuit Flower Hour: In Concert, a live recording of a January 12, 1984 Nashville, Tennessee Girlschool show, released in 1997, is highly recommended, as is “The Collection”, a re-mastered 2 CD set featuring some classic Girlschool music.

In 1995, founding member Kelly Johnson returned to Girlschool for some gigs throughout the UK and Europe and recorded the CD “Girlschool: LIVE”, which features the new cuts “Little Green Men” and “Knife”. Kelly departs again, and in 2000 original bassist/vocalist Enid and lead guitarist Jackie Chambers joined and in ´2002 they released the “21st Anniversary – Not that Innocent” album, recorded three years earlier with the previous line-up, now with the addition of two new tracks, “Coming your Way” and “Innocent”. Since releasing their latest album “Believe” Girlschool have been playing headline europian gigs, festivals and with Alice Cooper in Spain, and support to Motorhead on tour in the U.K.

2008 saw the release of their new album “Legacy” featuring some special guests including Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Ronnie James Dio & Tony Iommi amongst others and an around the world DVD in 2009 for the 30th anniversary of the original and longest running all female rock band in the world. The band spent time in studio re-recording their classic 1981 album “Hit and Run”, during 2011. The new version of the LP, titled “Hit and Run Revisited”, was released on 26 September 2011 to celebrate the original album’s 30th anniversary.

Sources: Girschool official, Girschool at the wikipedia

Kim McAuliffe – Guitar, lead and backing vocals
Enid Williams – Bass, lead and backing vocals
Jackie Chambers – Guitar, backing vocals
Denise Dufort – Drums, backing vocals

Former members:
Kelly Johnson – Guitar
Ghislaine ‘Gil’ Weston – Bass, backing vocals
Cris Bonacci – Lead guitar, backing vocals
Jackie Bodimead – Lead vocals, keyboards
Tracey Lamb – Bass, backing vocals
Jackie Carrera – Bass, backing vocals

1980, “Demolition” (LP)
1981, “Hit and Run” (LP)
1982, “Screaming Blue Murder” (LP)
1983, “Play Dirty” (LP)
1985, “Running Wild” (LP)
1986, “Nightmare at Maple Cross” (LP)
1988, “Take a Bite” (LP)
1992, “Girlschool” (LP)
2002, “21st Anniversary: Not That Innocent” (LP)
2004, “Believe” (LP)
2008, “Legacy” (LP)
2011, “Hit and Run Revisited” (LP)

Related links:
Girschool Official
Girschool @ MySpace
Girschool Forum
Girschool @ Facebook



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  1. Great band who also come across as enuine people.

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