Photo courtesy of Girlschool
As pioneering figures in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Girlschool have left a storied trail of madness and mayhem through rock history. They were one of the first all-female bands to rise to commercial success and rock stardon, with a legendary reputation for partying, hard rock anthems, and unsentimental anti-love songs that soundtracked countless sleepless nights that more than a few 70s and 80s metalheads till can't remember. Straddling as they did the punk/metal line, they formed an early, natural alliance with Motörhead, and were soon invited to support Motörhead on tour. They later shared a manager, a label (Bronze Records) and collaborated on the hit St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP. Like so many of metal's legends, the South London-bred quartet never really stopped, partly because their die-hard fans, the Barmy Army, won't let them.
Though the band has had many lineup changes, its founding members—vocalist and guitarist Kim McAuliffe, bassist and singer Enid Williams and drummer Denise Dufort—are touring, recording, and playing massive heavy metal festivals together 37 years after forming the band as teenagers. When revered lead guitarist Kelly Johnson lost her fight with cancer in 2007, Jackie Chambers joined the band on guitar.
Girlschool are now preparing to release Guilty as Sin on November 13 (preorder the vinyl here). This one marks heir first album of new material since 2008's Legacy, before embarking on a tour of Britain and Europe with Motörhead for their old allies's 40th anniversary. The new album finds them raging as hard as they ever have with beast-on-rails “Take It Like a Band” and pushing the envelope more than ever with songs like “Awkward Position,” a dangerous mix of double entendres and emotional honesty. Sample lyric: “You've got me in this awkward position/Like so many times before/The kitchen sink, the bathroom floor.”
In light of all this, Kim McAuliffe got on the phone to talk a bit about the new album, the old days, and rescuing rabbits in Colchester.
Noisey: Where are you living now?
Kim McAuliffe: I've just moved out of London to a place called Colchester. I've got a half an acre of land and I've got my rescue rabbits. I've got four. I can't take any more for now. We grow our own veg and that sort of stuff. It's very un-rock'n'roll here at the moment.
You're rescuing rabbits?
I fell into it by accident. Where I was living before, these new neighbors moved in across the road and it was in the middle of winter, and suddenly this hutch appeared. They'd never go and see it and it was covered up with this mat. I said to my other half, “Oh, god, I think there's a little animal in there and it's being neglected.”
I'm a cat person, I never thought I'd wind up a mad rabbit woman! Anyway, I got if off them and I wouldn't give it back. The first time she came out into the sunshine, she was just rolling over and jumping about. It couldn't be by itself so we had to get another rescue rabbit to go with her. Then my boyfriend, a bloke at his work had another rabbit, this time sweltering heat with no water no food in a shed, all by itself in a tiny cage. So, he brought that home. Then we had to get another one from a rescue center.
Do you have any good stories of touring with Motörhead?
I don't know how long you've got. Our first tour with Motörhead, we'd only been on tour by ourselves at that time, sleeping on top of gear in our van by the roadside all over Europe. With Motörhead, we were on bigger stages, but we still had no money. We each had a pound a day; so, we decided whether to eat or have a pint of beer; it was that sort of situation. Anyway, Motörhead used to bring us in crates of beer from their rider and look after us. There could have been some ulterior motive there; who knows? [Laughs.]
Oh, we had some great times. Lemmy used to play tricks all the time. Once he was hanging about the dressing room a bit longer than usual before we were supposed to go on stage, and we were thinking “This is a bit odd.” About five minutes before we had to go on, he sort of left. Well, I opened my guitar cased and I just screamed. There was half a pig's head in there. We realized that's why he was hanging around, because he wanted to see the reaction.
Lemmy's health problems have been in the media. How do you feel when you hear about that? Do you worry about touring with him again?
Well, you know, people sort of forget, he is nearly 70. It's well documented about his lifestyle, all of our lifestyles. I mean, bloody hell, I'm amazed I've made it to my age, let alone Lemmy. Obviously it's something he loves. I'm hoping that after 40 years he might put his feet up a bit more. He deosn't have to keep touring, but if he wants to, who is going to stop him? But, you know, he's so huge, he's like a god to people and I think that's a lot of responsibility for him. I don't think he wants to disappoint anybody.
“Awkward Position” off the new album Guilty as Sin is very frank. Girlschool's songs have never been reserved about relationships, but do you feel that, over time, you've been able to be even more honest?
Well, yeah! I was singing it in the studio going, “I can't let my mum hear this.” We were joking about it. To tell you the truth, I probably wouldn't have sung those lyrics a few years ago, because you're supposed to be, I don't know, hard, heavy, whatever. But now I don't care! I just thought “No, this is how I felt at the time.”
Do you feel like your music has become more politically outspoken over time?
We've always in our past albums tried to have more than just getting drunk and falling over songs. Right from the beginning, we had a song called “Not for Sale” all about women being used to sell cars. We had another called “Baby Doll,” which was about putting young girls in pageants and all the rest of it. On the recent one Legacy, we had “I Spy” about surveillance. We've always tried to put forward our views on things.
How has Girlschool existed in relation to feminism over the years? Is it a word you've always been comfortable with?
Well, yeah, I would say we're feminists, definitely. There's no shame in that, that's for sure. Of course we are. We stand up for ourselves. We have done all our career. People say, “It's really difficult. You're in a man's world,” but we just do what we do and get on with it.
They say that about the music industry, for sure. Do you feel that the music industry has changed for the better for women since you started out?
The thing is, when we had our big success back in the 80s we were expecting loads of other females to come up behind us, but they never did. It's seems to be only recently in the past few years that they've started to emerge, which we couldn't really understand. It's taken all this time, but I think, finally, now it's more accepting. Crucified Barbara are incredible and they've got a massive fanbase across the world, and they're very strong women as well. I really try not to think about it too much. We don't want to be defined by our sex. We just want to be known as being a great band, really.
How has losing Kelly Johnson affected you and the band?
I still find it incredible. When she was dying, she was in the same hospice where my father had died recently from cancer as well in Clapham on the Common. She'd been there with me a few years earlier. Little did we know that we'd be back in there with Kelly, but the best thing was that we could actually stay with her. We'd stay all night with her, take it in turns, cuddle her in bed, when it got really bad at the end.
It still makes me feel awful today. And now, you might think we're really weird, but she really wanted to be on the Legacy album, but she was too ill and she died before we actually went in, but she left us her ashes in these little urns. One night we're all in the pub afterwards and we went “Well, what can we do?” We decided we were going to shake her ashes as percussion! So, we put it on a track, “Everything's the Same.” And we put on the album, “Special ghost appearance: Kelly Johnson,” as opposed to “guest appearance.” A lot of people tought it was a bit weird but we thought it was brilliant. Kelly would have thought it was brilliant as well.
Beverly Bryan is racing with the Devil on Twitter.