Girlschool: Demolition - Album Of The Week Club Review

Girlschool didn’t so much sound like they might scratch your eyes out as boot you in the balls and nick your beer

Girlschool - Demolition
Girlschool - Demolition

Demolition Boys
Not for Sale
Race with the Devil
Take It All Away
Nothing to Lose
Breakdown
Midnight Ride
Emergency
Baby Doll
Deadline

When Girlschool came along in 1980, hopes for their success were not high, despite giving as good as they got on Motörhead’s Overkill tour of 1979. That is until you got a load of their fabulously fun and riotously rocking debut album, Demolition – like Thin Lizzy meets Motörhead meets the craziest girl in school that all the boys are a bit scared of. On hot-groove tracks such as Emergency and Demolition Boys, they didn’t so much sound like they might scratch your eyes out as boot you in the balls and nick your beer.

“We wore jeans and leathers – real ones, not made-up costumes. Our actual street gear. It was all about the music. If you couldn’t relate to us on that level, you could fuck off, basically,” says guitarist Kim McAuliffe. 

Well, yes. But that didn’t mean Girlschool lacked sex appeal. They had it most obviously in their striking other singer/guitarist, Kelly Johnson. A year older than McAuliffe, and a whole lot blonder, taller and prettier, Johnson had just turned 22 when Demolition came out in 1980.

“Overnight, Kelly became the one all the press wanted to meet and write about,” recalls Status Quo manager Simon Porter, who back then worked as Girlschool’s PR. “Not just the music press – the band was in Kerrang! and Sounds practically every week – but the national press. Of course, it was all that ‘girls in bands, shock horror’ stuff, as if aliens had landed from another planet. But mainly it was about Kelly, because she was blonde and good-looking and everybody fancied her.”

Background

With their roots dating back to 1977 and a Sarf Lahndun band called Painted Lady, Girlschool – famously dubbed the female Motörhead – were always closer to punk rock than the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Indeed, while Diamond Head were still playingshitholes in Stourbridge, Kim McAuliffe, Kelly Johnson (RIP), Di ‘Enid’ Williams and Denise Dufort were touring with everyone from Budgie to Black Sabbath, their burgeoning career under the hazy but watchful eye of Doug Smith, manager of themselves and the selfsame ’Head.

The male-dominated British metal community embraced Girlschool’s dreggy charms wholeheartedly and unreservedly, even if – or most likely because – their hair stank of a beguiling mixture of stale cigarette smoke and Newkie Brown.

The band had no feminist agenda. Unlike American contemporaries The Runaways, they didn’t set out to tease’n’please. (Blonde Bomber-shell Johnson’s stage presence could admittedly be described as smouldering, but only in a ‘fag burn on the inner arm’ sense.)

Girlschool had no fear and, some might argue, no class – a notorious interview with Sounds’ Garry Bushell had them freely discussing subjects such as cystitis. But did this matter? Not a jot. They were St Trinian’s with switchblades; the girls next door – as long as a barbed-wire fence separated your house from theirs.

Other albums released in June 1980

  • I'm a Rebel - Accept
  • East - Cold Chisel
  • Cultösaurus Erectus - Blue Öyster Cult
  • Emotional Rescue - The Rolling Stones
  • Rise Up - Peter Frampton
  • Danger Zone - Sammy Hagar
  • Saved - Bob Dylan
  • The Game - Queen
  • Metal Rendez-vous - Krokus
  • Defector - Steve Hackett
  • Endangered Species - Klaatu
  • Head On - Samson
  • Scream Dream - Ted Nugent
  • There & Back - Jeff Beck
  • Tomcattin' - Blackfoot

What they said...

"For a first album, this is incredibly consistent and personal too. For a band to have crafted a very personal sound, and nearly a dozen worthwhile songs, by the time they record their debut, is uncommon. Many other NWOBHM started off similarly strong, sure, because they were around for longer; but looking at bands like Saxon and Warfare, it is clear some still needed to home their craft. Girlschool was ready from the get-go." (Encyclopaedia Metallum

"One of the first all-girl rock bands, Girlschool distinguished themselves for their aggressive hard rock sound. After supporting Motorhead on tour, they signed with Bronze Records in 1980 and released their classic Demolition album. Their first single, "Demolition Boys" (which for once turned the tables on sexist rock & roll tradition by objectifying the boys), would also be their most successful." (AllMusic)

"It comes as no surprise that in our sexist universe, and under the prism of a musical genre not very keen on avoiding gender discrimination, Girlschool didn’t enjoy the slightest percent of the success or recognition male bands with less than one percent of Girlschool’s talent enjoyed... Tunes such as Race With The Devil, Emergency, Midnight Ride… The hole album to be precise, would make a lot of "hard" musicmen, cover their selves in shame; just like a cold shower of self-awareness would." (Sputnik Music

What you said...

John Davidson: I'll put it down to teenage snobbery back in the day but I definitely missed out on a great album by ignoring this. It is every bit as good as Def Leppard or Iron Maiden's early work with tightly played and urgent arrangements, hard-driving song structures, superb guitar, drum and bass. The only thing that lets it down is the vocals. With a proper blues belter or a throaty rasp this would have been magical, as it is it is competent and entertaining but just doesn't quite fly... until the instrumental sections at which points all is forgiven.

Mike Knoop: An absolute freakin’ revelation. I feel like I need to knock a number off all my previous album rankings to give this one the score it deserves. Ten short, sharp songs bristling with attitude and energy. I, of course, had heard of Girlschool, and I recognize Race With The Devil and Emergency from Judas Priest and Motörhead respectively, but beyond their duet with the motörheaded ones, never really listened to Girlschool. 

From the moment the wailing sirens give way to the snapping, snarling guitars on Demolition Boys to the final guitar echo of Deadline, it’s one blast of adrenaline after another. The songs’ choruses are generally just the band barking out the song titles but nothing more is needed. 

Drummer Denise Dufort keeps time effortlessly and Kelly Johnson’s solos are showy without overstaying their welcome. Rhythm guitarist Kim McAuliffe and bassist Enid Williams propel the songs forward, ever forward. The vocals don’t get lost in the racket either, with three out of four members taking lead on at least one song. Demolition Boys, Breakdown, Midnight Ride and especially Baby Doll stand out for their vocals. They’re not Robert Plant or Ian Gillian – and they don’t need to be. Their vocals are perfect for these songs. 

Like many a NWOBHM band, their glory days appear agonizingly brief but Demolition is like an excellent thrill ride at an amusement park, the moment it’s over I want it to start again.

Paul Nadin-Salter: Great debut and kindred spirits to Motorhead, inspired many bands and were gritty and full of killer tunes.

Judith Wardell: Still a favourite in my book, and if it was now they'd have been huge. The industry was against the rise of women groups that were not singing about make-up and fashion etc. Go Girlschool!

Uli Hassinger: Glorious album only topped by the follow-up Hit And Run. Badass rock'n'roll from girls for the first time. Way harder and faster than Joan Jett etc. The first two Girlschool records are the benchmark for every female hard rock band. Every song rocks like hell. Best ones are Not For Sale, Nothing To Lose and the excellent cover Race With The Devil.

Shane Hall: Screaming Blue Murder was my introduction to Girlschool, after which I picked up Demolition and Hit And Run.

Being a Girlschool fan in The States is like belonging to a small club. For reasons I've never quite understood, they never went over that well this side of the pond.

All that being said, Demolition is a bad-ass album that fused metal with the energy of punk. Race With the Devil, Demolition Boys, Emergency and Take It All Away are the standout tracks for me. Race With the Devil has one of my favorite riffs. It is hard to believe Kelly Johnson is no longer with us.

Hai Kixmiller: The album Demolition by Girlschool has more big, heavy metal hooks than a butcher's meat locker! Bad ass guitar riffs... check. Fist pumpin', head bangin' grooves... check. Top down, speeding way to fast, middle finger in the air, radio blasting, feeling damn good music... fucking check!

First time hearing this band. I. Dig. This. Rock'n'roll.

Carl Black: This album is like rock'n'roll valium, it's like getting into a warm bath after a cold day, it's that first pint of cold crisp beer after a long walk to the Battle Cruiser on a hot summer evening. 9 songs, 9 riffs, good fun, and good times. Big, bold sound and no problems at all. I've seen Girlschool, supporting Motorhead about 10 years ago at Portsmouth Guild Hall. They were great fun then and by the sounds of this album, and from what I can remember of them, nothing really changed in there attitude and ethos. One the easiest albums I've had to listen to for this club. And I'll definitely be playing it again.

Roland Bearne: Well, if ever the phrase "all killer, no filler" was deserved, it's for this. Punchy, taut, lean rock'n'roll deliciousness. In my teens, while others may have been going misty-eyed over the latest supermodel, my "pinups" were Kim, Kelly, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Lee Aaron et al. They looked great and sounded great. I find the sound on this album timeless. Great rock'n'roll stays Great!

Gary Claydon: Listening to this album I was pondering how many all female or female-fronted rock bands I've seen this year. It's a fairly long list. Just in the last couple of weeks I've been lucky enough to see The Amorettes & Rews while among the ones from earlier in the year were the current incarnation of Girlschool. Compare that to 1979 when I first saw them on the Bomber Tour. I can't be 100% certain but it's a fair bet that the number of all girl metal bands I saw that year totalled exactly one.

So yeah, Girlschool were a bit of a novelty back then. However, I think that saying "hopes for their success were not high" as it does in the introduction is slightly misleading. Sure, the debut single Take It All Away ( incidentally released before NWOBHM was even a glint in Alan Lewis & Deaf Barton's eyes) was a chunk of pedestrian boogie but it wasn't without merit. I'd bought the single on word-of-mouth recommendation and was delighted when they were announced as support to Motorhead. They'd already earned their stripes on the tough London pub and club circuit, and what came across most when I first saw them was how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was an attitude they certainly appeared to take into their debut long player. 

Lead-off single Emergency upped the anticipation. It was a raucous slice of punk-tinged hard rock that encapsulated what was to come from the album. Forget about them being four girls, this was, quite simply, a rock band and a damned good one at that. The album captures the zeitgeist of the metal scene at that time. It rocks from start to finish. It's not perfect, it gets a little bit 'samey' at times but none of the tracks ever overstays their welcome. Vocals were never really the band's strong suit but all three vocalists on duty here fit well with the material, so it never becomes an issue. The muscianship is top notch, but above all this album was and still is great fun. Mention should be made of the fine job that Vic Maille did on production. Clearest evidence of his influence comes on the aforementioned Take It All Away, which is transformed from the slightly plodding boogie of the original into a bonafide hard rocker here.

This is an album that still gives me a great deal of enjoyment so to use the band's own catchphrase - Leers Chew Lot!

Brian Carr: Reading the comments prior to hearing the album, I was afraid it was going to be very punk-like. Instead, I hear a mix of 70s era hard rock bands. Nothing flashy, nothing complex, but plenty enough riffs and melodies for me to like it. The rhythm guitar on Demolition Boys and Emergency definitely remind me of Motörhead. The vocals (and guitars, for that matter) have punk attitude, but are more melodic to my ears. Not sure how much I’ll revisit Demolition, but I enjoyed it enough this week.

Final Score: 7.10 ⁄10 (85 votes cast, with a total score of 604)

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