After forming in 1978, an enduring love of rock music drove Girlschool to overcome hurdles including sexism, lineup changes, musical trends and even death (of original guitarist Kelly Johnson, due to spinal cancer in 2007) during a riotous, beer-soaked and fascinating 45-year ride.
They might have started out in the 70s, but the 80s was their decade. Regarded at first as kid sisters of Motörhead, with whom they toured and shared both record label and management, Girlschool grew up to become staples of the rock scene, influencing many female players. Okay, maybe the words ‘grew up’ are a little bit strong…
With the recent release of theirfourteenth studio album, WTFortyFive?, co-founding guitarist and singer Kim McAuliffe and Jackie Chambers, the band’s guitarist since 1999, compare and contrast Girlschool’s world back in the good old days
No women allowed
Kim McAuliffe: The sole reason we formed a female band was because boys wouldn’t let us play with them. The only way of being in a band was finding other girls. Of course there was a lot of sexism. The situation with groupies was quite unbelievable.
We toured with one massive band, that I won’t name, who chained this poor girl who had been following them around to a radiator and, for a laugh, left her there. And at the next show in a different town, there she was again. The other bands treated us fine, but god knows what they said about us behind our backs.
Jackie Chambers: I came from the punk scene, where it was a bit different.
McAuliffe: Punk helped us in a way because anybody could get up.
Chambers: Things have changed a lot now. We meet plenty of girls that tell us Girlschool inspired them to pick up a guitar.
McAuliffe: Mainly young girls, which is even better still.
McAuliffe: In 1978, had somebody predicted Girlschool would still be around forty-five years later, I’d have told ’em they were stupid. In our twenties I remember the four of us promising that when we hit forty, no matter where we were in the world, we’d all meet up again and celebrate – nobody thinking for a moment that the band could still be going.
McAuliffe: We played the Marquee club in Wardour Street so many times, squelching along the carpets [always sticky with beer]. The bar was always full of musician friends. And then we moved into the Hammy Odeon. From seeing Deep Purple and Black Sabbath there as a sixteen-year-old to our own gigs, it holds so many treasured memories.
Chambers: Obviously we lost some venues due to the pandemic, but there are newer places, like the Waterloo Music Bar in Blackpool and Chesterfield’s Real Time Live. Once covid was over, the fans went straight back, which was a huge relief.
McAuliffe: Touring with Lemmy was always brilliant. We shared a bus with them on our first major tour. Imagine my surprise upon opening my case just before going on stage and Lemmy had put half a pig’s head in there just to get a reaction. I gave it back to him with the words: “I think this belongs to you.” There were so many gigs with Motörhead and Saxon, and we also supported Rainbow in Europe which was fantastic.
Chambers: I was so excited to play with Alice Cooper. Denise [Dufort, drummer] knew how nervous I was so she told Alice: “She’s your number-one fan.”
McAuliffe: Lately we do a lot of package tours. Recently it was with Alcatrazz and Tytan, before that Saxon and Uriah Heep. Those are so much fun because you get to hang out with a load of people.
Chambers: Audiences enjoy it too because they get the greatest hits from each band.
Beverages of choice
Chambers: Do Girlschool have a reputation as a heavy-drinking band? You could say that.
McAuliffe: How on earth did anyone reach such a conclusion? It was all down to Lemmy and his bloody Special Brew. And then there was Elephant beer. Remember that? It was horrible stuff. One of the worst stories was in Germany when our crew introduced us to Jägermeister and we lost two hours of our lives.
Chambers: I remember being somewhere in Europe at eight o’clock in the morning, still drinking and wearing our stage gear, as people came down to breakfast. Things are a bit more moderate now.
McAuliffe: They have to be. We can’t do it at those levels any more. Sometimes we try, but it’s just too much.
Where did all the record shops go?
McAuliffe: I feel sorry for the younger generation. Saving up pocket money, buying a single and putting it onto the turntable was an experience.
Chambers: Vinyl even smells great. And you can read the credits without glasses. With Spotify the sound is compressed to make an MP3. Why spend time and money in a studio getting an amazing sound, just to compress it to an inch of its life? And that’s before getting into the finances. Good job we’re not in this for the money.
Making music is in our blood
McAuliffe: WTFortyFive? is our first new album in eight years, and we’re really pleased with it. It’s great to have some new songs to put into the set.
Chambers: Early feedback has been amazing.
McAuliffe: To a degree you make music for yourself, but you want others to love it too.
Getting older sucks
McAuliffe: I had to sit out some dates on our last tour, but I’m back to full health. I’ve never felt so bloody ill. I lost about a stone, which I’ve now put back on. I hated missing gigs but I wanted to be completely fit for the Underworld. All of the gigs are special, but London is our home town.
Rock’n’roll will never die
Chambers: We don’t have any plans to retire. Why should we? We’re still playing music that people enjoy.
McAuliffe: The response to this album makes us very happy.
Chambers: When people don’t want to see us any more, that’s when to call it a day.
Girlschool’s new album WTFortyFive? is out now via Silver Lining Music.