The gateway single for most of us was the blistering Girlschool/Motörhead (Headgirl) 10-inch collaboration Please Don’t Touch, three slabs of blistering hard rock released on Valentine’s Day 1981, known as the St. Valentines Day Massacre EP. Lemmy loved the idea of women playing hard rock (“Don’t call this heavy metal,” he said), and figured Girlschool could rock as hard as any man. And he was right. It was the biggest hit either band had, reaching No.5 in the singles chart.
The fact that Girlschool were an all-female band could have been a handicap in the male-dominated rock scene of the time (the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, as championed by music paper Sounds). However, the fact that Girlschool could clearly rock so hard (like The Runaways a few years earlier) meant gender wasn’t a barrier to success, for once.
The storming 1981 album Hit And Run was a Top 10 hit in the UK, and its slightly disappointing follow-up Screaming Blue Murder did okay too. Girlschool headlined the Friday at the Reading Festival in 1981.
Unlike The Runaways, however, who were put together by Kim Fowley to tap into adolescent teenage boys’ bedroom fantasies, Girlschool were never marketed as sex symbols. Vocalist/ rhythm guitarist Kim McAuliffe formed a covers band Painted Lady at school in Wandsworth, South London with Enid Williams (bass) in 1975, bringing in female bandmates because “we couldn’t find any blokes who wanted to play with us”. Vocalist/ lead guitarist Kelly Johnson and drummer Denise Dufort joined in 1978, and Girlschool were born.
The final disc of this comprehensive five-disc collection includes charming lo-fi live recordings by Painted Lady (Johnny B Goode, The Beatles, Honky Tonk Women) which give a very good sense of Girlschool’s roots, mutating rapidly through pub rock, glam and taking in a fair Joan Jett and Go-Go’s influence along the way, until they arrived at the good-natured high-octane heavy rock band still extant today. Johnson sadly died of spinal cancer in 2007.
Most of the good stuff is on the first disc, Demolition Girls 1979-1983 – Race With The Devil, Hit And Run and (of course) Please Don’t Touch – but that doesn’t prevent the remaining four discs from being a fascinating evisceration of a trailblazing female rock band at a time when rock music was in desperate need of female trailblazers.