Girlschool: The School Report 1978-2008
5 CD boxset
Out 27 January 2023
NWOBHM stalwarts Girlschool demonstrate on this 5 CD retrospective why they’re still the greatest all female rock band Britain has ever produced.
Rock in the 1970s was very much a male preserve, and that was true of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) until all female four-piece Girlschool smashed aside the old school sexism of some of their cock rock contemporaries.
They did it not just because they were women, but they proved to rock fans just how bloody good they were at what they did. They were also prepared to put in the hard work touring relentlessly winning over open minded rockers to their punk inspired metal.
Sure, they got a break when they came to the attention of rock god Lemmy resulting in a top 5 hit with Motorhead covering Johnny Kidd’s Please Don’t Touch. Once again, they showed how good they were more than holding their own with Motorhead – who at that time were rock’s most fearsome trio.
Disc one Demolition Girls covering 1979-83 features the classic and best Girlschool line-up – Kim McAuliffe on guitars/vocals, Kelly Johnson on lead, bassist Enid Williams, Denise Dufort on the kit – as they played the punk tinged, heads down rock energy that was the feature of many NWOBHM bands as they slayed the rock dinosaurs.
This CD is based around their classic Bronze Records debut Demolition, the follow up Hit and Run and then Screaming Blue Murder as well as the chart topping collaborations with Motorhead. Their debut single Take It All Away is typically short and caught the ear of John Peel who played it. The big chorus of Emergency is still a classic NWOBHM track full of attitude and Nothing To Lose showcases Johnson’s excellence with a big solo.
Hit and Run is a natural progression full of short, sharp tunes without losing their energy. Yeah Right is a pop/rock single finger to sexist rockers, (I’M Your) Victim has echoes of The Ramones and their cover of Tush captures the spirit of ZZ Top’s original. By album three Enid had left to be replaced by Gil Weston and they’d slowed down a bit on the title track, channelled Angus on You Got Me and there’s even a bit of glam rock on the punchy 1-2-3-4 Rock And Roll. According to the detailed sleeve notes by NWOGHM expert John Tucker the band hated that song so much they didn’t even hang around to finish it.
The second CD Playing Dirty covering 1983-88 is devoted to their Play Dirty, Running Wild, Nightmare at Maple Cross and Take A Bite records as their musical palate broadened along with other NWOBHM stalwarts like Def Leppard. Play Dirty is Denise’s favourite as they got to work with two of their heroes in Slade’s Jim Lea and Noddy Holder, and the relaxed sessions produced a really strong album despite a pointless cover of T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy. The title track is classic rock with hints of Pat Benatar and synths make an appearance on the very 80s Going Under. They even had a decent stab at Slade’s Burning In The Heat, but this new slicker sound turned off their fans as the album bombed.
By the time of Running Wild the band had suffered a hammer blow as Kelly had decided to decamp to the US to be replaced by Aussie guitarist Cris Bonnaci and Jackie Bodimead on vocals/keys. With their American label trying to repackage them as a British Heart this wasn’t a particularly happy period, and although it’s interesting to hear tracks like Are You Ready? and Nasty Nasty they feel a bit half hearted.
The failure of that record saw Bodimead depart and the now four piece swap to new label GWR with their old producer Vic Maile on the desk for the back to basics rock of Nightmare at Maple Close. Back For More is old school Girlschool and despite the cheesy special effects You’ve Got Me (from Under Your Spell) rocks. The band’s personnel merry go round continued as former Rock Goddess Tracey Lamb had taken over the bass duties on Take A Bite, which proved a strong return to form. Head Over Heels has a big chorus, and is co-written by their old mucker Lemmy who was inspired by some words he’s seen on a pub wall.
The third CD Still Not that Innocent covers 1992 to 2008 taking in four albums. Yet another bassist Jackie Carrea makes her only appearance on Girlschool, which was swiftly followed up with 21st Anniversary – Not That innocent, which in the notes Denise says she has very little memory of.
Despite all the line-up changes this was a tight knit unit, and in 2007 Kelly Johnson passed away after six years being treated for cancer of the spine. A shaken Girlschool returned with Legacy, which they say is a tribute to both Kelly and their own long career. A number of big names signed up to pay tribute, including Phil Campbell, Neil Murray and as always Lemmy. Motorhead’s ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke offers a blistering solo on a cover of Metropolis, and Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio add their considerable weight to a version of I Spy. The most moving song is Legends dedicated to their late bandmate, including the poignant line: “She was the one everyone loved.”
The fourth CD brings together a lot of B-sides from across the band’s career and demo versions of some of their best tunes. There’s a rudimentary demo of Just Don’t Care from their early days and a rocking sketch of Nothing To Lose that has a Pistols feel to it. Completists will enjoy hearing Girlschool’s take on Motorhead’s Bomber from the 1981 St Valentines Day Massacre EP, and Lemmy who was an early fan and his gang respond with a wicked version of Emergency from their joint record. The live B-sides recordings of Tonight and Demolition demonstrated just how good they were onstage after all that touring as headliners, and supporting some very big rock acts.
Hardcore fans will be delighted when they hear the fifth CD which is a previously unreleased recording of the band when they were doing covers in London pubs as Painted Lady. The recording is rudimentary, and sounds like it was done on a handheld cassette record as the crowd chat is very loud at times, but it’s a useful indicator of how good they were even at this early stage. It’s pre-Kelly Johnston so you also see how critical she was to their sound and amongst one or two badly misjudged efforts there are some spirited covers, including All Right Now, Tush and a Hendrix inspired All Along The Watchtower.
Girlschool are still out there gigging with some of the original line up because they remain our best ever all female rock band, and this cleverly curated collection demonstrates why fans are still prepared to pay good money to see them after all these years of ups and downs.
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Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here
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