The late 1970’s was a bleak time economically in England. Working class youth were unemployed, living off of the dole with no sense of a future. Out of this frustration and boredom, came punk rock to save the day (or so the story goes). Most of you know that story. What you may not know is that these same conditions gave birth to another musical renaissance known as The New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Inspired by Motorhead’s stripped down no holds barred approach, a new crop of bands rose up that were heavier, louder and more straightforward than the likes of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The bands didn’t wear costumes. They didn’t have huge stage productions. They dressed liked the fans in denim and t-shirts. They drank hard and played harder. Prominent bands in this scene were Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Girlschool. Girlschool holds the record for being the longest running all female rock band. The fact that they were accepted and hailed as leaders of this scene attests to their power and musicianship.
In 1975, in the working class South London neighborhood of Claptown, Kim McAuliffe got a band together to play covers in the local pubs. Guys didn’t want to play with a female so she began to recruit other women and called her band Painted Lady. One of the women that floated through the band was an American bass player named Kathy Valentine. Kathy left Painted Lady to move back to The States where she started The Textones before winding up in The Go-Gos. When Kathy left in 1978, Kim recruited another bass player and changed the name to Girlschool. They began playing original material, put out a D.I.Y. single and began touring clubs in Great Britain, Ireland and France. The single got some airplay and grabbed the attention of Motorhead frontman, Lemmy Kilmister. He asked Girlschool to be the support band for Motorhead’s “Overkill” tour in the spring of 1979. At this time, Motorhead were on Bronze Records and the label was so impressed with the musicianship and stage presence of Girlschool that they signed Girlschool in December.
The best way that I can describe Girlschool’s sound is imagine The Runaways playing Motorhead covers. Unlike The Runaways though, Girlschool were not the product of a male Svengali (don’t get me started on that pig Kim Fowley) and they didn’t market themselves as sex objects. There was no need to dress this band up in corsets and lingerie like Fowley did with Cherie Currie. Their hard driving riffs were all Girlschool needed to win over metal fans. In an interview I found on YouTube, Kim McAuliffe jokes that the audience didn’t notice they were women because they were too busy banging their heads.
The first three Girlschool albums on Bronze are heavy metal classics. Their first album, Demolition, was recorded in 1980 and produced by Vic Maile who worked as a live sound engineer for Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Led Zeppelin. It was Vic who recorded The Who’s Live at Leeds. Demolition featured three singles “Emergency”, “Nothing to Lose” and “Race with the Devil.” The British rock press were quick to pick up on the novelty of a female heavy metal band and they got a lot of coverage and airplay. It was during this time that they acquired a rabid following of mostly male fans that dubbed themselves “The Barmy Army.”
Their second album, 1981’s Hit and Run, features (in my opinion) their best single, “Yeah Right.” The lyrics celebrate their hard drinking, hard rocking lifestyle and the chorus is “You can’t do that/ You can’t do that…Yeah Right!” The official video features Motorhead’s Philthy Taylor dressed up as an old woman chastising them for breaking traditional gender roles and not being proper ladies. Hit and Run was recorded at the same time as Motorhead’s classic album Ace of Spades. Both were produced by Maile and he suggested that the two bands team up to record an EP which became known as“The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, credited to Headgirl. On the EP, Motorhead covers Girlschool’s “Emergency,” Girlschool covers Motorhead’s “Bomber” and both bands gang up to cover Terry and the Pirate’s “Please Don’t Touch.” Since Motorhead drummer Phil “filthy animal” Taylor was recovering from a neck injury, Denise from Girlschool plays drums on all the tracks. “Please Don’t Touch” made it to number five on the U.K. charts (the highest for both bands at the time) and was featured on “Top of the Pops.” This appearance is readily available on YouTube. I’ve heard metal dudes say that Girlschool rode Motorhead’s coat tails, but it wasn’t until Motorhead teamed up with Girlschool that they made the top ten.
In 1981, Girlschool toured heavily. They sold out medium sized venues and hired Death Metal pioneer King Diamond’s band Mercyful Fate as their support act. They also toured stadiums opening up for Black Sabbath and Rush. In 1982, Girlschool released their third album Screaming Blue Murder. They followed this release by finally touring America on a triple bill with The Scorpions and Iron Maiden. The Girlschool tour t-shirt for this tour jokingly parodies an AC/DC lyric by proclaiming “Lock up your sons.”
After this, they signed to Mercury records but tried to pursue a more radio friendly sound on their fourth album ala Def Leppard’s Pyromania. The Mercury pressing of Hit and Run is an amalgam of the first two albums. Their original fans turned against them and they eventually began to focus on touring and playing the classics. Dojo Records has a nice double LP currently available on vinyl that features a career retrospective that relies heavily on their classic first three albums. I saw this in the bins of Shake It Records the other day which inspired me to let y’all know about these pioneering heavy metal women in rock.