The modern rock scene owes a massive debt of gratitude to bands like Girlschool, The Runaways and Fanny. Without them leading the way, the proliferation of ass-kicking all-girl combos that exist today may not have been around, not to mention the countless female musicians who have more than equalled their male peers in the rock world.
The London quartet certainly kicked down the doors in the UK, smashing the idea that it was only the boys who could play Metal and, in the process, gained ranks of fans, both male and female.
Girlschool – The School Report 1978-2008 (Cherry Red Records)
Release Date: 27 January 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
This new five-CD box set from Cherry Red brings together their incendiary seminal albums, taking us into the new millennium and even gives us a disc of live numbers from their pre-Girlschool days as Painted Lady.
When the original band line-up of Kim McAuliffe (guitar/vocals), Enid Williams (bass/vocals), along with Denise Dufort (drums) and Kelly Johnson (guitar/vocals) started on their journey, little did they know the seismic effect the band would have and that the band would still be making waves some four decades later.
Whilst the early recordings may lack the polish of today, there’s a visceral excitement in every feral note they play, and you can see why Lemmy championed them so much. As with Motörhead, there was a punky, roughshod edge to their own brand of souped-up rock ‘n’ roll that demanded attention, and their don’t give a toss attitude, one that was a middle-fingered salute to the naysayers.
There was a fire and passion here that was raw and authentic, the band not just proving to the testosterone-fuelled world of Metal that they were worth a listen but also always pushing themselves.
Most of the solid gold highlights come early, rammed into the shiny grooves of first volume Demolition Girls (1979–1983) and include debut single Take It All Away, the urgent riffing of Emergency along bristling covers of Gunn’s Race With The Devil and ZZ Top’s Tush.
Also, here is their biggest hit, the breakthrough Please Don’t Touch, as performed as Headgirl with Mr Kilminster & Co, the joyful interplay between the bands still a thing of joy today. On a side note, Girlschool drummer Dufort played sole drums on all three tracks of The St Valentine’s Day Massacre EP that formed the joint project, Head drummer Phil Taylor having been out of action at the time due to a broken neck.
Discs two and three, Playing Dirty (1983–1988) and Still Not That Innocent (1992–2008), contain their fair share of heavy hitters, too, despite the band not quite seeing the commercial success of the first albums. With switching line-ups and record company interference, along with constant roadwork, the band had a lot of plates to spin, and missteps happened, despite best intentions, particularly when they were being pushed into a more AOR sound to capture the American market in the mid-’80s. Theirs was a journey, though, and it’s carefully curated over the discs, the fighting spirit, great songwriting and performances are always there at their core.
Whilst the change in sound lost them some of their original core supporters, Girlschool brought out a number of very fine albums, with the Noddy Holder/Jimmy Lea produced Play Dirty being a particularly great release, the Slade boys adding their own polish to proceedings.
There’s much to explore and love here, from blazing originals to a smattering of metallicized covers, Black Sabbath legends Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio even making an appearance on I Spy. Throw in a disc of singles and B sides, a variety of demos and the Painted Lady live set, and you get a real treasure trove not just of Girlschool but a potted history of hard rock from the nascent pre-NWOBHM days onwards through three decades.
From the wonderfully carefree early era of those pub gigs, captured with a raw-edged vigour on the covers packed live disc, through to their world-conquering height and settling into purveyors of high class, high octane hard rock, Girlschool have always led the field.
For newcomers discovering what all the fuss has been about or long-time fans seeking out rare nuggets, The School Report is the perfect set, and with the band going on tour again shortly, there’s never been a better time to catch up on their history. C’mon, let’s go.