Girlschool – three classic albums – Album Reviews
Girlschool – Demolition, Hit And Run, Screaming Blue Murder
Released 17th March 2017
Reissues of the first three albums by ground-breaking Hard/Heavy Rock band Girlschool, with demos and single sides as bonus tracks. LTW’s Ian Canty feels the power of a band for whom backing down was not an option…..
Coming together in the London borough of Wandsworth in 1977 under the name Painted Lady, Girlschool went to carve out a unique position in Heavy Metal circles and in Rock generally. While not the only all-female band of that type ever, they did blaze a trail for others to follow, on a scene which did have a bit of a reputation for sexist imagery to say the very least. And just how did they go about confronting these negative elements? Well they appear to have had a two-pronged approach, the first being to employ a “kick them in the balls if there is any nonsense” attitude and secondly by just being superior individually as musicians and as a band to their male detractors.
The fact that they got the name Girlschool from an old Wings b-side tells you straight away they had little time for “the rules”, hip cred or divisions, they just did what they wanted to. At the end of 1978 they recorded their debut single “Take It All Away” for the Punk label City (who had already released two records by New Wavers the Stoat and the first UK Subs EP, I wonder what happened to them?). At this stage in their development they seemed finely balanced between both Punk and Rock camps and used the freedom this opened up to release some great singles, including perhaps their defining number, the much covered “Emergency” (Motorhead and Oi! band Infa Riot did versions of the song, among others). They also during this time laboured long and hard to build a fine reputation on the live circuit and in singer/guitarist Kelly Johnson they had one of the most talented individuals on the scene.
All this activity built up to an excellent debut album (if you can forget the rather naff cartoon sleeve picture cover) in “Demolition”. Featuring a re-recording of their debut 7″ along with other singles tracks, this was a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end and cracked the Top Thirty of the Album Chart in Britain. Apart from the cover of Gun’s hit “Run With The Devil” (which gave them their first taste of the UK singles chart) it was all self-penned, with the slightly saucy “Midnight Ride” and the uncompromising “Not For Sale” showing up well. At this point of time Girlschool’s sound probably had far in common with the later recordings of Penetration than say someone like Whitesnake.
This is one of the key records of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal without doubt, but GS transcended that scene with their unpretentious but adventurous approach and thus reached out so that Punks, Post Punks and pretty much anyone else could enjoy their craft. Another good thing about them is that they were pretty inventive and mostly shied away from the obvious, even when starting out playing a sort of standard Blues riff (like on “Not For Sale”) they soon took it to another place by changing the pacing, rhythm or structure. They were smart, were Girlschool.
One thing I have to say here is this edition does unfortunately cut down the number of extra tracks that were present on the 2004 reissue – it misses out four songs from “The Friday Rock Show” that were included the last time around. Bit of a shame missing out on these (and it will become a theme as we progress onwards), but the original album is well worth anyone’s time and the bonus tracks too more than pass muster.
With typical grace, generosity and plain common-sense Lemmy heralded the band as one of the best on the scene and their sociability with Motorhead resulted in the biggest hit Girlschool were involved in, the joint “St Valentine’s Day Massacre” EP released under the Headgirl nom de plume. The version of the Pirates’ “Please Don’t Touch” was wonderful and found both bands playing up to the max on “Top Of The Pops” as they bashed their way into the Top 10. 1981 found the band at the height of their success and to consolidate how far they had come they released the “Hit And Run” album which nestled comfortably in the UK Top 5. The crowning glory of this record was the excellent single and title track – at once both brilliantly catchy and as tough as leather – Metal fans could not have found fault and everyone else could enjoy it too – probably their best ever and booked them a return ticket to the nation’s TV screens on “TOTP”.
The rest of the album is no slouch either, a step further towards HM values in production but not enough to alienate fans not of the Metal persuasion. It just generally sharpened their already potent musical arsenal to a fine point. Indeed “C’mon Lets Go” was as Punky as Girlschool could get, full of snotty punch and vigour, with a smart hook-line. Bar the ZZ Top cover “Hush” (which was good, but there seemed little need for outside material in truth), it was near flawless with the inspired chaotic guitar break on “Watch Your Step” and the more mid-pace but tense “The Hunter” being highlights
Again differing from its previous CD version, this one has four numbers from a Richard Skinner session from March 1981 missing from the bonus tracks – again a shame as it would have been interesting to hear these recordings. It does however possess the Girlschool tracks from the “St Valetines” EP which are highly entertaining, a good b-side in the punchy “Tonight” and a hot live take of “Demolition Boys” with was only available on the “C’mon Lets Go” 10″ inch version.
Though coming off the back of their most successful year, not everything in the Girlschool garden was rosy. Founder member Enid Williams left, with the age-old “musical differences” offered as the reason, but also their hard-gigging lifestyle, combined with constant promotion and recording may have taken some toll. Her replacement was ex-Killjoy Gil Weston, who had been kicking her heels since Kevin Rowland had junked his Brummie Punks in favour of the sixties Soul direction he was going to take with Dexys. The album that followed “Screaming Blue Murder” didn’t do quite as well as “Hit And Run” and to be honest does not quite have the consistency of the first two LPs. In its own right it is not necessarily a bad record at all, though it seemed that all the hard work in the previous three years may have taken its toll a smidgeon.
While maybe not quite the equal of what proceeded it, there is plenty on this record to enjoy. Girlschool showed their spirit of imagination and adventure again with “Flesh And Blood”, its partly weird spoken word/percussion heavy sound being far more just New Wave than NWOBHW. “Hellrazor” is a catchy “Son Of Emergency” which again demonstrated their cheeky sense of humour – this bunch were not po-faced in any way and often, like in this song, seemed to be subtly sending themselves up a little. “It Turns Your Head Around” is a real late Glam stomper with a touch of the Pistols, which really works very well. At the controls Nigel Gray (who also produced the Police and the Banshees) does tend to favour the fade-out here, but otherwise all sounds good. This time round we miss out on 10 “In Concert” numbers, practically an album in itself, with “Don’t Stop” being the only bonus track here. It is a tear-arse bit of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but one can’t help feeling a little deflated and short-changed.
Without wanting to harp on about it, it is a real shame that the BBC sessions that saw release with these LPs 13 years back have been cut from these issues. I’ve no idea why this should be, but it does detract a little from what are three great albums, because they would have been handsome additions. Nevertheless “Demolition”, “Hit And Run” and “Screaming Blue Murder” are well worth your attention, because not only they are landmarks in Heavy Rock, they are still darn fine listening to boot.
Totally unlike what was already there at the time, Girlschool always looked to do things a bit differently. They were very inventive and possessed a great imagination which was all the more effective given they chose to work in what at the time was quite a restrictive musical field. Girlschool went onto record many more albums, but the impact of these first three cannot be overstated – they stand as great documents of a really special band.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here