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| 18 February 2016 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

With new studio album Guilty As Sin (their lucky 13th) under their belts, pioneering and influential all-girl British heavy metal band Girlschool are thrilling faithful fans and winning over new ones. SHANE PINNEGAR got founding guitarist/singer Kim McAuliffe on the blower for a chinwag.

Chirpy, down to earth and full of laughs, McAuliffe couldn’t be a nicer interviewee as we talk about the new record, why it took so long to make, the time difference to Australia, and her memories of long-time friend Lemmy Kilmister, who died recently. Happy to talk about all facets of the band’s career, she generously and garrulously chatted twice as long as the originally scheduled interview time.

After small talk about the weather and time difference (“I thought for some reason it was completely like a whole 24 hours [difference] because you’re on the other side of the world!” she laughs), I start the ball rolling by declaring Guilty As Sin a classic Girlschool album which plays to all of the strengths of the band.

“Thank you. I think that’s sort of what we set out for, really,” Kim responds. “Especially because Chris Tsangarides produced – who we actually worked with in the ‘80s… so that was quite like going back in time again. It was so funny when we met him again, because we obviously hadn’t seen him – we’d probably bumped into him I suppose a few times over 30 years or something, but it wasn’t like working with him for any length of time. It was so weird just walking into the studio and seeing Chris. It was like yesterday, it was just so weird. It’s like that with some friends, you must have it as well, where if you haven’t seen someone for ages, but you just click straight away. It doesn’t seem like that time is gone.

“It was really funny, yeah. It was very comfortable, he’s very easy going anyway. Of course all the stories were coming out – it was a wonder we actually managed to get any recording done! With all the reminiscing and all the jokes and the stories, oh bloody hell, yeah, but it was great, yeah, really good.”

Guilty As Sin comes about seven years after their last all-new studio album, 2008’s Legacy, and four since they released the re-recorded version of second album Hit And Run. Did they have a lot of material ready to go for this album?

“Well no, that’s the funniest thing,” McAuliffe laughs, “because the record company & management kept saying, ‘don’t you think it’s time for a new studio album?’ And a lot of our fans were saying, ‘oh, isn’t it about time you released a new, original album?’ And I’m thinking, hang on a minute, we already released one a few years ago, Legacy. Me in my head, I thought it was about four or five years ago or something… [but] it was 8 years, apparently. I’m hopeless with dates and years and time and everything. Of course, then we realised, it was 7 or 8 years ago, blimey… The funny thing is, we were still humming and ha-ing about it, because I was thinking, ‘will anybody actually care?’ What are we going to write about, for a start, and does anybody really want it? It turned out they did.


“Basically,” she continues, clearly on a roll, “what happened was we got a phone call from our manager and he said, ‘oh, by the way, the record company, they’ve booked you in the studio, you’re in with Chris Tsangarides on the blah blah blah 23rd of January.’

“This was about October, just before Christmas – not last year, but the year before. We just went, ‘what?’ They just went and booked it, didn’t even ask us, they just told us. I think that’s probably the best way for us or otherwise we’d probably still be humming and ha-ing about it! It’s always been the way. I think they realised that was the only way they were going to get one out of us, was to go ahead and just book it and just say, ‘It’s done now so get on with it.’

“Having said that, you asked about starting from scratch. I mean over the years, obviously, I think all of us had different ideas jotted down. You never sort of switch off. Even though you’re not intentionally writing a song, you might see something, I don’t know, on the telly or in the paper or a headline and you think, ‘oooh, that could be something good to write about or a good song title or…’ you know? So over the years, me and Jackie [Chambers, lead guitarist], we’d all sort of been jotting down bits and pieces and sticking them away in a file just for a later date, or whatever. Jackie’s got a little home studio so she’s always putting down ideas and stuff, musical ideas.

“Basically,” she laughs again, “it was like panic stages when we realised that we had about two months or something, because Christmas was in the way, you know. When we realised we only had a couple of months to actually get it all together, we, on the phone to each other go, ‘well you’ve got one and you’ve got one, and I’ve got this and I’ve got this.’ It was a bit like that. We all, literally, after the panic subsided a bit, we all calmed down a bit and then got on with putting it all together.”

Having been bandmates with drummer Denise Dufort since 1978, bassist Enid Williams on and off since 1975 (Williams left the band twice but has been back in the fold since 2000), and Chambers since 2000, do these trailblazing metal maidens hang out socially when not recording or touring?

“Well, me and Denise do,” says McAuliffe. “We all used to live together in London in the same place, but then obviously as you all get older you all sort of go all over the place. I mean Kelly [Johnson – founding lead guitarist] lived for ten years in L.A. at one point.

“Of course now we’ve all got a bit older and stuff, we’ve all sort of moved out to the countryside for a bit of a quieter life. Basically Jackie’s moved back up to Leeds now. Enid’s moved down to the south coast. I’ve moved up onto the east coast and Denise has followed me, she’s now living in my old house that we moved from to this one which is only about 20 minutes away.

“So me and Denise see each other all the time, yeah. We’re the two that’s actually been in it right from day one, so we can’t seem to escape from each other!”

That’s a far healthier work environment than, for instance, a band like Motley Crue who insist they all hate each other’s guts!

“Oh I know,” McAuliffe concurs. “I don’t see how you can go on the road or anything if you’re like that. I suppose if you’ve got that much money you can just go separately I suppose and not even speak to each other or see each other. No, I think that’d be very odd – you’ve got to get on, haven’t you? Yeah, so we all get on, we all get together if there’s do’s or something, you know: get-togethers, but Jackie does live quite a long way away up in Leeds, it’s halfway up the country. It’s good for her because her family’s up there. Well her mum’s up there: her dad died a couple of years ago so she’s up there near her mum and stuff.”

2008’s Legacy album was named in memory of Kelly Johnson, who died in 2007 after a long and painful battle with spinal cancer. With that in mind, does McAuliffe contemplate Girlschool’s collective legacy a lot?

“Well, I mean, people have sort of said to us these things,” she says with typical understatement. “We don’t actually think about it ourselves – for a start I can’t believe we’ve been together 37 years or whatever it is. I’m in shock, basically! No, we don’t really think about it. We just get on with it really.”

When Girlschool released their first albums Demolition and Hit And Run in 1980 and 1981, an all-girl heavy rock band stood out like a sore thumb amongst the plethora of leather, denim and spandex-clad hairy blokes. By default almost, the band became as much an inspiration to young girls to pick up an instrument as The Runaways were in America and Japan a few years earlier.

“Well the funny thing is, when we first had our major success back in the early 80’s and stuff, we were expecting loads of girl bands to suddenly appear,” she says with genuine hope. “We thought we’d sort of paved the way then. We were expecting loads of girls to come out of the woodwork, all these bands to form and stuff and for whatever reason it never really happened. It didn’t really happen at that point in time, when we were all over the place. We were quite shocked, really. It was only sort of now, or in the past 10 years, that there seems to be loads more female bands and female musicians come up. It’s taken a while. Of course a lot of the young girls now, though they’ve probably heard of us, they weren’t even bloody born when we first hit!”

As staunch supporters of rock n’ roll as played by ANY gender, we hate the, “they’re pretty good for a girl,” rubbish. Kim and her bandmates must have got sick of hearing that, in the early days especially?

“Yes, in the early days we did,” McAuliffe sighs, “because I suppose we were sort of a novelty act. I mean the weirdest thing was in the early days we didn’t actually set out to be an all-girl band. We didn’t do it on purpose – it was an accident, honest. Basically the thing was, that Enid and I, because we lived on the same street, my cousin played guitar and her brother played guitar and so we sort of got influenced by that. I’ll never forget when my cousin, because he was about a year or two older than me, he got his first guitar, because we literally lived next door to each other and we were both close, so we sort of grew up like brother and sister, really. I still remember the day when he got a guitar saying, ‘oh look at this guitar mum and dad got. Don’t you get any ideas!’ And of course a couple of years later I ended up getting his cast off guitar when he got a better one.

“I mean, the thing was, we wanted to form a band and learn to play but of course all the boys we knew didn’t want us. I mean a) we couldn’t play at all anyways, so I can’t really blame them, but b) they just didn’t want girls in the band. The only option we had was to find other girls that were interested in playing because we had the idea that if we were all together in a band it would be better and give us more intention to learn. It’s more fun learning with other people.

“Of course, the guys we knew, obviously a lot better players than us anyway, but they sure weren’t interested in having girls, ‘oh we don’t want girls in the band, no way.’ So we had no choice but to find, as I said, other girls. There was a girl at Enid’s school that used to play snare drum in the girls’ brigade. What we call the girls’ brigade over here, I don’t know if you have it over there [in Australia]. She was up for playing drums so we bought this old drum kit for a fiver and we used to set it up in my mum and dad’s shed at the top of the garden and I said, ‘right, Enid you be bass player, I’ll play guitar.’ We had Tina [Gayle] on drums. We were bashing away, the three of us and that’s sort of how we started off. And then of course we got better and better and better and then we got another guitarist who was actually really brilliant, Deirdre Cartwright. Then we got another drummer in by that time, then Denise [Dufort] came along. Then we sort of formed a covers band and started playing pubs. We weren’t actually old enough to go in the pubs, but were playing them.”

That band was called Painted Lady, and they played the UK pub scene between 1975 and 1978. Cartwright went on to become a TV presenter on the hugely popular show Rockschool, and another lead guitarist, Kathy Valentine, returned to her native America and joined The Go-Go’s as bass player.

“Then, of course, we got a lot of attention,” McAuliffe resumes her story, “because we were all girls and we suddenly felt, ‘hang on, this is quite all right, this,’ so we carried on as a girl band, but that’s just how we started, really. We didn’t mean to be.”

Having changed members a few times over the years – including a couple of guitarists leaving and returning again – did they consider auditioning males for the roles at any time, or was it a case of, ‘no, we’re an established girl band, let’s stick with that’?

“Yeah, because basically I think it would have thrown everything off kilter as well because we’d have had to get an extra hotel room and the traveling… Plus, we were quite established at that point. Having said that, when Kelly was away, she had to go somewhere – I think she had to go back to L.A. or something for a few weeks or whatever – we did actually have a bloke play guitar. It was my boyfriend at the time, actually, Nick Lashley. We did quite a few festivals with Nick so we did actually have a bloke in at one point.

“But the weirdest thing is, he actually looked very much like Kelly! He was very tall and skinny and had the same hair do, the same blond hair and from a distance, we’re pretty sure they didn’t even realise! The funny thing, as well though, was he played a couple of clubs with us. We did one in Athens as well. He was a pretty good looking bloke, tall, dark blond, really good and we had these girls at the front looking at him like this – we thought, ‘oh, actually, that’s not a bad idea. We’d be playing to both [girls and guys] then!’ But then Kelly came back and we went off again.”

Does McAuliffe have any advice for young girls who might want to learn an instrument and join a band, and will undoubtedly face some kind of sexism along their way?

“Basically I would just say keep at it. If that’s what you really want to do just don’t listen to anybody else and just be true to yourself. That’s all you can do really, isn’t it? Yeah, just be true to yourself and ignore all the idiots out there, basically. Try to stay clear of them.”

With Girlschool only actively recording or touring sporadically, does Kim need a day job to sustain herself?

“Oh no, no, I’m a lady of leisure!” she exclaims. “In fact I’m a lady of leisure right now. I’m looking out on my garden. I’ve got half an acre out here so it’s actually lovely and in the middle I’ve got fields out the front and I’ve got, I’m looking down there now. The sun’s actually coming out, it’s looking quite nice now. I’ve got 4 rescue bunnies that I’m looking at now, they’re just about coming out in their run so I’ve got to let them out in a minute. They keep me busy a lot of the time, looking after them, the little buggers.”

So the band did well enough to set you up for life?

“Basically, I’m all right because I bought my first property basically when we were doing really well,” she explains. “I bought my first flat in Clapham Common in London for something like 18,000 pounds or something and kept moving up the ladder and up the ladder… So Girlschool enabled me to have a good life.”

That’s excellent news as we’ve interviewed people who despite selling millions of records, have ended up down and out, working menial jobs or DJing in strip clubs to make ends meet.

“Blimey. Well, Enid does astrology as well, that’s her other thing. She does that. Denise does sod all, she’s a lazy swine!” McAuliffe laughs affectionately. “Jackie, she’s up north, she does bits and pieces but mainly music. She’s got herself another band now so she’ll be gigging with them. We’re not exactly rolling in it, but we’re, well I’m comfortably off.

“Yeah, [I’m] lucky enough. I did have a proper job at one point, right in the beginning. I worked at a bank for a year through the [start of] Girlschool. That was mainly to pay for my gear because I was going to stay on at school and do A levels and stuff and then right at the end I finally went to Dad, I went, ‘I want to do the band full time,’ I said. ‘I need a proper guitar now. I need this, I need an amp and all that. Can you lend me any money?’ He says, ‘All right, I’ll lend you the money but I want it paid back such and such.’ A tenner a week, I think it was, quite a lot.

“So I had to get a job at the bank so I could pay my Dad back for the gear! That’s how we were into it. So, I took two buses there in the morning, two buses home at night, did gigs in the evening as well. We had two residencies then with this band, on Thursdays and Sundays. Bloody hell, go to work in the bank, then pay me Dad off and then I went ‘that’s it, all right now,’ and I left, and carried on with the band.”

That’s what Dads are for – to teach you a good work ethic!

“It did, yeah!”

Girlschool’s career was inextricably linked to Motorhead’s from almost the very start. The bands had a hit with a joint cover of the Johnny Kidd & The Pirates song Please Don’t Touch in 1981, and toured together many times in the ensuing decades. The band were on tour for Motorhead’s Fortieth Anniversary tour of Europe at the tail end of 2015, and were expecting to rejoin Lemmy & Co, and other support band Saxon, when the news came through that Lemmy passed away on 28th December, 2015. I make sure to pass on my commiserations for the loss of her long-time friend – a loss also felt by the metal and hard rock community at large.Kim was generous enough to share her personal feelings about the loss.

“Yeah, I mean of course we were actually touring with Lem…” she starts, an understandable sadness now enveloping her voice. “It was the 40th anniversary tour. In fact we were supposed to be on tour with them again now. We were supposed to have been up in Scotland, I think at the moment, now.

“The first gig was supposed to be in Newcastle on Saturday. Of course we left the first part of the tour before Christmas, you know, ‘we’ll see you in Newcastle in January.’ I didn’t actually get to say goodbye to Lem the last night because we left while they were still playing so that was a bit sad but everybody, all the crew, ‘see you.’ Saxon, you know, we had drink with them, a last drink with Saxon and then ‘see you soon. Have a good Christmas, see you in the New Year.’ Then of course we had Christmas and sadly… that was a terrible way to end Christmas. Having said that, of course, the tour didn’t start off that great because of Philthy [Phil Taylor – drummer from Motorhead’s ‘classic’ line-up] dying.

“That was quite a shock because we knew he hadn’t been very well and of course chatting to Lem, he was really upset about it. But the thing is, Lem, you could tell he wasn’t well, you really could. I mean at the start of the tour he was great, he didn’t look well at all but he was in good spirits and everything. We had a good laugh, I was so pleased that we were able to have a good old laugh with him for the last time. Chatting away about the old days, he was, and about the first tour that we did with him. He was talking about all that. It was quite amazing, and yeah, having a laugh. I think it was great, really nice. I said, ‘Lem, it’s brilliant, thanks for inviting us,’ because he invited us on the tour obviously, like Saxon and them go back almost to the beginning again, you know?

“He went, ‘yeah, it’s a great line-up,’ he was saying. Gave me a big hug and it was lovely, really nice to be able to spend that time catching up.

“Then there was the 40th anniversary party in Berlin in this great club, so after Saxon we went there and saw it and he was there again. We didn’t know if he’d make it or not because he didn’t have a lot of energy. But by the end of that particular tour, about three, three and a half weeks, whatever it was, you could tell he was flagging a bit. How on earth he got up there and did it, I’ll never know, but he did and it was brilliant.

“And they were sold out shows of like 6,000, 8,000, you know, and they had the Bomber [lighting rig]… It was brilliant, really great. It was a bit of a shock because even though we knew he was really ill we thought after having a rest at Christmas, you know a few weeks, he’d be all re-energised again. Then I thought he can have a really, really long rest and look after himself. Obviously it wasn’t to be. Very shocking, it was a bit of a shock.”

Did Lemmy change much over the 35 years they were friends?

“No not at all. Not at all. Exactly the same. Exactly the same. Lemmy never changed,” she laughs heartily and affectionately. “Well not in himself he didn’t change at all. I mean, obviously, physically he’d lost a lot of weight and everything but mentally he was just as funny as ever. He was hilarious, Lemmy, absolutely hilarious.

“All the Australian fans over there, I just want to let them know he was absolutely just Lemmy to the end, just so actually brilliant and he got up there for the fans and it was incredible. Really incredible man. Just so funny and so lovely.”

Back to the album, the girls do a rocking cover version of The Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.

“Yeah. I had nothing to do with that, I’m afraid, but I really like it,” she perks up. “Basically what happened is over all the years on all our albums we always tried to cover one of our favourite songs. Mostly they were sort of glam rock songs because that’s what we all grew up on really, until we got into heavy rock. This time, I’d run out of covers that I wanted to do or ones that I’d like. I thought, oh we couldn’t possible do [this one] because they were too brilliant in the first place. We already exploited a few of them, over the years. I thought, ‘we’re not doing it again.’ Of course Jackie and Enid were coming up with a few ideas and things like that. We all couldn’t agree on one, basically. Then suddenly our manager come up and he says, ‘don’t shout, don’t go mad, but what about Stayin’ Alive?” And we all went, ‘what?’ as you can imagine – because, of course I have to admit, I actually really liked the original. I used to like The Bee Gees in those days. I actually went to see Saturday Night Fever.

“I was young at the time, obviously. I loved those films, I loved the tracks and everything. So I thought, ‘oh God, there’s no way,’ but Enid and Denise, funny enough, they could really hear a rhythm thing going. Of course Chris Tsangarides thought it was a great idea so we went in the studio and played around with it a bit and there it was. Yeah we love it, absolutely love it now.

The song translated really well as a straight ahead Girlschool rock song. Dweezil Zappa and Donny Osmond did a version way back in the ‘90s, but that was very tongue in cheek.

“Oh did they?” says McAuliffe, surprised. “Bloody hell, I’ll have to look that up. Great, thanks, yeah. Well of course the main thing as well was we’re not all going to be singing, ‘ah ah ah ah’ whatever. He goes, ‘of course not. We’ll just do it on the guitar.’ We all go, ahhh yeah, of course.’ [laughs] Yeah, why didn’t we think of that?”

Despite all their success over four decades, Girlschool have never made it out to Australia, but there MIGHT be a light at the end of that tunnel for Aussie fans.

“A couple of times we’ve come really close,” McAuliffe explains. “Because of course at one time, one of the line-ups, we had Cris Bonacci who was from Melbourne. Actually we’ve still got recently back in touch with each other. I don’t know where she’s been. I have to ask her, but she’s just suddenly popped back up again. I think she’s been in Australia for a while, but then she came back again. Anyway at one point she was over there visiting her family and she was doing interviews and everything because we actually had a tour set up. We thought, ‘oh, it’s really happening this time.’ I can’t remember what happened but I think it had something to do with the pound going funny or something happening and then it became cost prohibitive in the end because of something happening with the pound versus the Australian dollar. That was really close.

“There are talks actually of us coming there in June or July… whether it comes off or not, of course, [I don’t know.] Typical of us, it would be bloody winter, wouldn’t it?”

Yes, of course, but our winter is a bit different from your winter.

“That’s true. I’m thinking ‘oh we’ll go there and there’ll be snow!’ [It won’t!!] I mean it’s lovely out here now because I think it’s about 4 degrees out there now. I’m thinking, ‘oh, it’s really nice today, it’s quite mild.’

“I was actually in the house for two days, not going out. It was minus 4 or something, it was ridiculous and then it was minus 2. Now it’s got a bit warmer, it’s like positively lovely out there. Yeah, I’m looking at the rabbits. I might go for a nice walk, actually, get some fresh air.”

And she’s off to wander the English countryside. Let’s hope Girlschool make it to Australia finally in 2016!

Category: Interviews

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