‘Of course, Girlschool!’, went my thought process tonight. When, after the recent sad news I didn’t fancy listening to any more Motörhead for a while and I fancied some rock kicks, I reached for Girlschool Hit And Run, their hand grenade from 1981. Always associated with that band by dint of sharing bills, beds and bands, for their brilliant ‘Please Don’t Touch’ single released as Motörheadgirl*, they were much more than the ‘Motörhead with tits’, label that they got stuck with.
You see why within seconds of the needle hitting the beautiful red vinyl and ‘C’mon Let’s Go’ hitting your woofers and tweeters. A cocky squall of guitar noise is overtaken by some frantic drumming and every muscle, every note is straining forwards, you don’t need the lyrics to tell you that – everything is momentum and flash. It really is a great opener and there’s a neat touch of glam rock about it too**. Then things turn a little slinky for ‘The Hunter’, with its’ great slow-burn guitar solo and before you know it, you’ve hurtled through the rest of Side A bumping up against their cover of ‘Tush’, which for me is the only real misstep on Hit And Run.
The band really fire on all cylinders here, the guitars of Kim McAuliffe and Kelly Johnson really combining and hitting out hard, the rhythm section of Enid Williams and Denise Dufort keeping it revved up. Vic Maile, a bit of a hit or miss producer in my experience, really gets it right here keeping things just raw enough and just smooth enough to hit the bull’s-eye.
Girlschool light up their rock with a nice shot of punk energy and a great sense of melody, just check out my snotty fave on the LP, ‘Yeah Right’ – basically, just imagine if Runaways^ were as good as I always wanted them to be then double it, then you’re almost scoring the same on the Righteous-o-meter. Cue this one and the downright mean ‘Watch Your Step’ up and I’m starting to get all tingly inside, 1537-faves The Donnas owe Girlschool a fuck of a lot. You want some classy structure and melody? just pick out Hit And Run‘s title track, or ‘The Hunter’. Great playing, all the rock any sane person would need, really good song writing chops, what went wrong? sadly, I think it was, mostly, chromosomal^^.
Girlschool evolved out of covers band Painted Lady long before they made their play for stardom, there’s a good interview I saw somewhere where they were asked why they didn’t write more girlie songs and, to their credit rather than just shouting ‘For fuck’s sake!’, they answer that they spent their days gigging on the pub circuit covering Hendrix and Deep Purple tracks and they just liked and wanted to write good rock songs. The very fact that someone asked them that shows the problems they had, they were really good musicians, writers and performers but their insistence on being resolutely normal and honest, rather than playing the sex angle for all its’ worth pretty much hamstrung them in terms of their time. If you look back at old articles on them there really is a sense that they were regarded as a strange novelty item, the metal equivalent of a skateboarding duck; in terms of sexual geography, the early 80’s were a very different world.
Hit And Run was a Top 5 LP in Britain. Statistically though, if you want a full-on metal career, you need all the fan boys you can get, idiots like me who’d buy every LP, T-shirt and 4 versions of every single you release and support the band like a football team; it’s not an exclusively male phenomenon, just almost so. My theory is that, certainly back then, maybe still, an all-girl band weren’t going to get this, without a bit of overly obvious pandering to our reproductive urges anyway. Sure punk was making some inroads here but, for all our vaunted outlaw credentials, rock is an inherently conservative metier.
Girlschool were brilliant, at least for a few hard years and you can tap straight into that through this LP, a good, sweaty, honest heavy album, lacking nothing – I can’t recommend it enough. My uncle Alastair saw Girlschool on the tour for Hit And Run and tells me they were brilliant, played a blinding set, dealt with a couple of bellowing morons in the crowd easily and ten minutes after the show, they were signing things and drinking with their fans downstairs. That’s proper rock – Yeah, right!
PS: Here’s a last word from Lemmy, I found an interview in old copy of Mojo from 2011 I picked out of my attic at random today on the late Kelly Johnson,
‘Kelly Johnson from Girlschool – she died young as well, which was a terrible, terrible shame. I had a small affair with Kelly, she was a good-looking girl and a great guitarist. People used to say, ‘She’s all right for a girl’, and I’d be like, ‘She’s better than you motherfucker!’. On a good night Kelly played like a young Jeff Beck’.
*their cover of ‘Bomber’ rocks harder than the original, with a better guitar solo too.
**as in Slade/Sweet I mean, none of your Hollywood nonsense here!
^ironically as Kelly Johnson later moved to LA to live with Runaways bassist Vicki Blue.
^^albeit aided and abetted by a few dubious career decisions here and there; most notably smoothing their sound and image to appeal to a notional US audience, think Saxon Innocence Is No Excuse but with even silkier leggings.