INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Girlschool is an all-female British rock band formed in the new wave of the British heavy metal scene in the late ’70s. The year 2018 marks the group’s 40th anniversary, which still has three original members; Kim McAuliffe, Enid Williams, and Denise Dufort in the line-up. Girlschool has released fourteen studio albums and reached a worldwide cult following. The band is an inspiration for many female rock musicians, including The Donnas and many others. Girlschool performed at the Sweden Rock Festival in June. I had the pleasure to sit down with the vocalist/guitarist McAuliffe and discuss the anniversary, the early days of the band, the loss of Lemmy, and the group’s future.
THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF GIRLSCHOOL
This year, 2018, marks the 40th anniversary of Girlschool, which is just amazing. Congratulations!
Kim McAuliffe: Thank you!
When you were starting this group, what kind of goals did you have in mind? I mean, how long did you think that the band would continue?
Kim McAuliffe: Oh, yeah. I don’t look like it at the moment [laughter]. But yeah, I think– I mean, we wouldn’t have thought when we started that we’d still be doing this 40 years later. In fact, what we used to say when we were in our 20s, we used to say, “What we should do is when we all reach 40,” because of course being 40 was so old than for us in our 20s. “When we will reach 40, no matter where in the world we all are, let’s all get together, and meet up, and have a drink, and have a bit of a party.” Little did we know that we’d still be all here altogether, so– apart from Kelly, of course, who sadly is no longer with us.
Girlschool is one of very few, if not the only, all-girl band which has lasted this long. So, what’s the secret of the longevity of Girlschool?
Kim McAuliffe: I don’t know? Stubbornness, I suppose [laughter]. Just pure stubbornness and madness. I don’t know. I would say that I just think time goes so fast that one year goes, and then suddenly comes another year. So, it’s a bit like– we don’t think about it. It’s just like, the following year just comes around.
But the band also had periods when it wasn’t that active. I mean, there were times when you weren’t doing much together as a band?
Kim McAuliffe: Well, sort of. I mean, I kept going. Right now, I’m doing it when I’m doing it, and when I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it, whatever. The band goes on. Well, you’ve got to do for the– you’ve got to do it for the 30th anniversary. And then, I got to do it for the 40th, so it just goes on and on, doesn’t it?
THE BIRTH OF GIRLSCHOOL
Girlschool was of the first all-female bands in the rock scene. Was it something you decided to make on purpose to get attention, or what?
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah. Well, I mean, it did happen a bit by accident. I’ve said this load of times before, but it was literally because any boys we knew playing in bands didn’t want girls in the band. It was simple as that. We couldn’t find any boys. No boys wanted to play with us because we were girls. So, the only other thing we could do was find other like-minded girls to form a band. And that’s how it started. Then, of course, we got quite a lot of interest in the press, but we didn’t think about that in the first place. We just wanted to be in a band, ANY band. But those boys didn’t like us. They didn’t want to play with girls.
It was like the same kind of situation if you wanted to play football with the boys. It wasn’t possible for girls then either, I think?
Kim McAuliffe: Yes, exactly. Yes, “Oh, yeah. You can’t have girls playing with boys on the football team.” It’s the same, really, yeah, in a heavy rock band. So, that is literally really how it started. There were only two of us in the beginning because there were Enid and me. We lived on the same street, and her brother played guitar, and my cousin, who lived next door to me, played the guitar. So, that’s how we sort of got into it, really, as well. Plus, there was always music around in the house. And so, yes, so then Enid knew somebody in the school who played drums in the local Girl’s Brigade — so that’s how we started off. And so, yeah, she played drums right at the beginning, so there were rehearsed at my mum and dad’s shelter at the bottom of the garden, much to the neighbors’ annoyance. And so that is just how it started. And of course, then we met other girls along the way, and we just went from there. Of course, we weren’t stupid because then we realized that we started to get a bit of attention. So, of course, we started to go, “Ah, this is probably quite a good idea.” It suddenly clicked a few years down the line. “Oh, this is probably quite a good idea.”
So, when was the band born?
Kim McAuliffe: At first, we used to, we were a covers band called Painted Lady. It was about from 1975 until 1978. We used to play together in clubs and things like that. But anyway, our first proper sort of gig was in a pub and we couldn’t drink or whatever because we were 16 or whatever, and people didn’t really know what to think about us because they had never really seen an all-girl band before. And we were a terrible band; we could hardly even play. We just got together, and we thought the best way for us to learn how to play was to learn together and play. Sort of help each other along with it and that was the way we did it. So, we were a cover band, but we started to write our own stuff. Then, Kelly, we got Kelly and Denise also in the band, then we changed our name to Girlschool, and then we were thinking, “Right, this is it. This is what we’re going to be doing from now,” and I think that was in April 23rd of 1978, something like that.
So that’s the official birthday of Girlschool?
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah, but I probably got the date wrong. I’m terrible with dates, times, years, anything. I don’t know anything about that. I just do one day to the next. I think it’s amazing that some people can remember dates, particular dates, times, “How’d you remember that.” I remember the events, but I don’t remember the exact date or exact time.
THE OTHER GIRL BANDS
In the UK, there was Girlschool and Rock Goddess, and in the States, they had the Runaways. How much did you follow what they were doing, and did you like their music and image?
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah, well, the funny thing is, when we were going as well, we were going around the same time as the Runaways. We didn’t even– they didn’t influence us at all because we didn’t know about them, apparently. We only heard about them when they had “Cherry Bomb” out, and that was when we were already out and running by then. But yeah, we didn’t expect to see that there was an American all-girl rock band.
Was it surprising that there was somebody else doing the same type of thing overseas? “Laughs”
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah, yeah, yeah! “What the hell? Somebody else is in on this as well.” Yeah [laughter].
The last time I saw Girlschool live was in Helsinki at the end of 2015, supporting Motörhead. Do you still remember that particular show?
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was the last show on the 40th-anniversary tour, yeah. And Helsinki, that was one of the last gigs we did with them. Yeah, that’s right. Lemmy wasn’t too good by then. I mean, when we first started that tour with him, we thought he didn’t look well. Understatement. But we thought he didn’t look well, but at least he was sort of quite jokey and laughy and reasonably in all good spirits, but by the time we got there, he wasn’t well at all. How on earth he got up on stage by the end there, I will never know. But he did it. And we were fully expecting because he would have the break over Christmas, and we thought he’d recharge his batteries again just to carry on to do the next bit. So, it wasn’t a shock, well, it was a shock because we thought he would have a rest, but obviously, he was a lot sicker than anybody knew. We didn’t even get to see him that much by the end. You couldn’t really get near him. He was really protected.
But you probably have some good memories from that tour also, don’t you?
Kim McAuliffe: Well, this is the best thing. On the second gig of that tour, in Saarbrucken, we had a good laugh. I was so pleased that we could have a good old laugh with him for the last time. We were chatting about the old days and about the first tour that we did with him. He was talking about all that. It was quite amazing, and yeah, we were laughing. I think it was great, really nice. I said, ‘Lemmy, it’s brilliant, thanks for inviting us,’ because he invited us on tour obviously, like Saxon, and then going back almost to the beginning again, you know? “Oh, do you remember blah, blah, blah,” and we would talk about Filthy cause he’d just died. So, we’d chat about him. Lemmy was in great spirits, so; I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to sit down with him and have one last good laugh about everything and chat about everything.
Overall, what’s your best memory of Lemmy and Motörhead?
Kim McAuliffe: Well, actually being on Top of the Pops with him, I think, because he’d never been on Top of the Pops either at that point? Although he had, he’d been there with Hawkind. That’s right, “Silver Machine.” He’d done it before. But in the dressing room, he was having his hair slicked back, and he had the jacket on, and I remember him very well from there. I’ve got photos of him in the dressing room with his hair slicked back into a quaff. He loved that. He was excited about it. He was really proud of that record. That was a great memory, but there are so many. There are so many of them. We used to get in some right states. Parties in those days, when we were young, weren’t we? I’ve got some great photos of us in the old days. It was just nuts. It was just great fun.
And Lemmy, he was always a big supporter of Girlschool.
Kim McAuliffe: Yes, he was, yeah. He was brilliant. But there were a lot of other female musicians as well. He supported, did a lot for women, I think in rock. Obviously, he started off with us, but then he was great with other bands as well.
NEW GIRLSCHOOL MUSIC?
It’s been three years since you released the latest studio album, GUILTY OF SIN, an excellent record. So, do you have plans to release some new music at some point?
Kim McAuliffe: We might do an EP, but at the moment, we’re concentrated on getting this DVD together finally. But we want to cover the whole 40 years, so it’s a lot of stuff to go through, and we’re filming new stuff to link the old stuff. We’re digging out all sorts of bits and pieces, so that’s taking a bit of time at the moment. There’s possibly going to be an EP. But now, of course, the record company is thinking the 40th anniversary, which probably keeps us going into the next April. So, the anniversary tour will probably go on until April next year. I’m thinking, “Here we go again.”
With which record company you’re currently working?
Kim McAuliffe: Silver Linings is the company now. Yeah, they’re good, with Serena and everybody. They’ve not got offices in London, so it’s a bit easier now to do everything. Yeah, they’re sorting out this DVD at the moment. Yeah, they’re good. We’re happy. Things are good.
Overall, what do you think the music business state is like nowadays and what has changed the most?
Kim McAuliffe: It’s completely changed obviously when we started. I loved it when we started. I’m pleased that we did that we started when we did because we had a proper record label. It was a different time. I wouldn’t have a clue how to do it these days. But it’s good for fans, I guess, these days.
As you said, the album sales figures are nowadays entirely different, but fortunately, people still like to go to see the shows. This sold-out Sweden Rock festival is a perfect example of that!
Kim McAuliffe: Yeah! This is how you make your money now, from gigging and touring. We only went to number five in the charts with “Please Don’t Touch.” It sold probably sold a quarter of a million. On these days, to get to number five, you don’t have to sell a quarter of a million. These days I think you only have to sell like 10,000, and you get to number one. So, it’s completely different. You’d make money in those days from records; everything was completely different. Nowadays, you basically… the more you tour, the more you earn. If you can’t be bothered to gig, you don’t make any money.
GIRSCHOOL LIVE PHOTOS FROM SWEDENROCK 2018