Writing songs for teenagers who want to kill themselves is like shooting fish in a barrel. Keep it bleak, keep it sad and keep it just one chord short of a life support machine because teenagers don’t really want to die. Which is a shame. Young people are so lame. Writing songs to inspire those same teenagers to run riot through the streets screaming blue murder is, however, a far more fantastic talent altogether. Girlschool’s first three albums cluster-bombed an incendiary path between the jumble of Punk and NWOBHM. Raw, ragged and razor-sharp, they inhabited a rarified planet in some booze-fuelled corner of hyperspace and yet delivered everything with a loveable menace and knuckle-hard aplomb. Tough hit singles (with and without Mötorhead) cemented the girls’ reputation as chart-busting pioneers and a hooligan force of sheer exuberance. Slade’s Noddy Holder described them as “uncontrollable” when he foolishly agreed to produce the band’s fourth album. Jimmy Page remains a fan. Guitarist Kelly Johnson is sadly no longer with us.
Girlschool have never actually split up. After more than 35 years that is no mean feat. Various personnel may have come and gone but guitarist Jax Chambers has played alongside Denise Dufort and Enid Williams for more years now than Kelly herself. Kim and Denise have remained the only constant. That’s because Girlschool without Kim McAuliffe would be unthinkable.
So it’s been a while. Kim and I used to be neighbours back in South London. These days Kim lives out in the countryside and I live in Greece. I miss her infectious laughter. I miss the ridiculous nights out that would inevitably end in a shambles. I miss her giant heart and even greater soul. And, fuck it, what’s the point of being friends if you can’t occasionally pop round for a cup of tea…
This year’s performance at the Wacken festival was something of a triumph. Who cut your hair?
“We always have fun playing Wacken. It’s got so big now it’s mind-boggling. As for my hair – what do you mean!?!! You’ve made me paranoid now! I’m going to ask my mate to come round and cut it on Monday.”
Legend has it that Girlschool signed their first record deal with City Records on the back of a beer mat in a pub. True or false?
“I can’t actually remember whether we signed anything at all, to be honest. But if we did then it was probably a beer mat because we spent a lot of time in the pub back then. So – true, I’d say. I wonder where it is now? Ha!”
You were once badly electrocuted on stage in Scandanavia. Have you forgiven them yet?
“That was in Denmark actually and, yes, I have forgiven them. But I haven’t forgiven those so-called mates of mine who left me in the hospital (the doctors made me stay in overnight). The band said they’d come for me early in the morning but they didn’t turn up until 1 in the afternoon because they were all hungover after partying all night. Their excuse was that they had to drink because they were so worried about me. Bastards! Ha-ha! But apparently I’ll never have problems with arthritis because I had so much electricity through me. So silver linings and all that.”
You celebrated turning 40 by getting your kit off with Kelly Johnson for Forum magazine. Any regrets about that?
“That was your fault, Chris! I blame you. No, no regrets about that. It was good fun.”
The UK press has always been kind to Girlschool. Except Julie Burchill. Why do you think that is?
“We’ve done OK with the UK press – apart from Julie Burchill ages ago but she wrote something really nice about us years later. I love Julie really! And Garry Bushell, of course, who wrote a 3 page slag-off about us in Sounds, I think. But he now loves us after we threw a big chocolate cake in his face during a US tour with Iron Maiden. I saw him recently and he said he still has those photos.”
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read about Girlschool?
“That we are in fact all men. Only joking!”
My ex-girlfriend once shop-lifted a copy of Race With The Devil. Taking inflation into account she probably owes you about 20 quid by now. Are you a vindictive woman?
“She certainly would not owe us anything as we certainly didn’t get paid anything! This was back in the good old days when, yes, it was great to be signed to a record company and everything but not so great when you sign it all away for life for 8% or something stupid. So I’ll let her off. Anyway, as far as I can tell no one pays for music anymore.”
Human beings: overated or underated?
“It all depends on which human beings you’re talking about, doesn’t it? Mostly, though, I prefer animals. Bloody humans going round messing up the planet. Idiots!”
You once bought a house on the Black Sea coast after a few too many shandies. What was the best party you’ve ever been to?
“Yeah, I was really hungover at the time and it seemed like a good idea! As for parties – the last good one I can actually remember was my 50th at the Tower of London. It was amazing just being there after dark in the Beefeaters Bar with my family and mates. Even Saxon made it! Ha!”
You spent some time as a mystery shopper in London. That was something of a sideways career move for the High Priestess of NWOBHM?
“It was actually great fun being a mystery shopper. Me and (legendary Girlschool associate) Nirm used to get paid for being fed and watered in various restaurants and pubs. I even had a night in a hotel with my ex where we got drunk and argued for most of the night! Actually, I seem to remember you waving us off that afternoon, Chris, and telling us not to argue!”
Cats or bats?
“Both of course! I got a bat detector from the other half for Christmas last year. We had loads of Pipistrelles in the garden this year and I wouldn’t be without my pussy cat!”
Courtney Love said that Rock was dead and Neil Young thinks it will never die. Who’s right and why?
“Of course Rock is never going to die! We have fans bringing their babies to our gigs. You can now buy Mötorhead baby-grows or whatever they’re called, so the kids will either be scarred for life or they’ll stick with it!”
If you could select an all-male celebrity tribute band called Böyschool, who would you cast as each member of the band?
“I have no bloody idea! The only thing that springs to mind is when we were working with Noddy Holder and Jim Lea. They used to call us the Bash Street Kids. Among other things! But Denise was called Plug, which Kel, Gil (Weston) and me thought was bloody hilarious. I don’t think Den was too pleased.”
Do you look back at Girlschool’s long career with a sense of wonder or bemusement?
“It’s all a bit mad that we’re still going. What is it? 38 years or something, I think? When we were young, Kelly, Den and me used to say that when we reached the age of 40 we’d all meet up again no matter where in the world we might be. Ha! Well we didn’t manage to get very far from each other, did we? Although Kelly did manage to escape to LA for a few years. She came back eventually though. She’s so missed every day.”
For more info and upcoming tour dates, please visit Girlschool’s official website: http://www.girlschool.co.uk