Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool Straddles Punk & Metal (INTERVIEW)

What happens when you have a couple of British chicks who want to play rock & roll and no boys will let them play in their bands? They start their own. That is how Kim McAuliffe and Enid Williams went from wanting to play music to actually doing it, forming Painted Lady in the mid-1970’s, eventually becoming Girlschool when the former band split up and reformed. With guitarist Kelly Johnson and drummer Denise Dufort filling out the new lineup, and support from Motorhead, Girlschool began to take off, straddling the worlds of punk and heavy metal, rocking out harder than many had seen women do up to that point.

Girlschool would release twelve albums and tour with bands like Motorhead, Rainbow, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. Johnson would leave, come back and leave again; and would succumb to cancer in 2007. Jackie Chambers has held down the lead guitar position for the past fifteen years, while McAuliffe and Dufort are the only members to stick with the band from the get-go.


Come November 13th, Girlschool will release their first album of all new material in eight years, Guilty As Sin, with the new single, “Come The Revolution,” debuting this past Friday. With a spot on Motorhead’s 40th Anniversary tour through Europe also coming up in November, it looks as if the Girlschool girls won’t be spending much time in their lovely British gardens. “We’ve all moved out to the countryside where it’s a lot more gentle on the nerves, you know,” McAuliffe reveals with a laugh. “I like being in the garden.”

It appears that music is not the only thing near and dear to the guitarist and vocalist who used to spend her time in wild London. “I’ve got a garden out in the back where I’ve got me rescue bunnies. I’ve rescued four bunnies from hell.” McAuliffe is fiercely passionate when it comes to animal cruelty. “I can’t bear it, can’t bear the cruelty,” she says in all seriousness. “These rabbits, they haven’t got any protection by law because they are still thought of as meat. Some of them are literally left to die in boxes and it’s absolutely horrendous.”

Glide had the opportunity to talk music and rabbit rescue with the Girlschool founding member recently, looking back at a rocking career and forward to playing their new songs – “Revolution,” “Treasure,” “Take It Like A Band” and “Perfect Storm” – for their fans.

What can you tell us about the upcoming record, Guilty As Sin?

It’s pretty much back-to-basics again, really. We have a few political things tucked in here and there, and a few songs, in fact not really love songs but sex songs (laughs). I’m quite pleased with it, I must say so.

I understand that “Come The Revolution” is the first single.

Enid actually wrote those lyrics and she sings it. Obviously, we all sort of agree on the sentiment. It’s a bit like, times have changed, basically, and that’s what we’re all talking about there. We’re all getting a bit fed up with austerity and God knows what’s going on so it’s time for a bit of change.

Did you try anything different or new in the recording process this time around?

No, no, we went backwards (laughs). Tim Hamill, who actually ended up remastering it, he was all digital, all very new stuff. But we went with Chris Tsangarides, who we worked with back in the eighties, and he is very much in the old style. So I would say we went backwards a bit and that’s what we wanted. We wanted to put out a rock & roll album, which I think is what we got.

Everyone in the band contributes to the songwriting. Who is usually the first one to bring something in for everyone to work on when it’s new record time?

Well, basically, this time around it was quite funny cause I can’t believe it’s actually been eight years since our last original studio album. The record company kept saying, “It’s time for another album,” and suddenly you realize it’s been eight years or something and it’s ridiculous! They said, “We’ve booked you in the studio and blah-blah-blah, with Chris Tsangarides and you’ve got like a month to get it all squared away.” And you’re like, “What?!” (laughs) So it was a bit mad but obviously over the years, we all just write down bits. You have an idea and, yeah, that might make a good title or that might be something good to write about. So we all sort of had these ideas over the years, so we blew the dust off all of it and we literally got it together in sort of a month or so, really. Sometimes I think that is the best way because it’s quite spontaneous and fresh, you know. So basically, we all sort of had our own ideas and we all got together and did it.

So it’s going to be really fresh and not a whole lot of older songs you’ve been holding onto then?

Obviously older ideas from over the years but we went in there and sort of whacked out new and fresh. I mean, me and Jackie actually did have a couple of these older songs from when I first met her and we had those ideas floating around but we obviously just now recorded them for this album. And they do sound fresh, hopefully. To us they do anyway.

How do you and Jackie create together with you both playing guitars? Is it very organic?

Yeah, yeah. In the old days when we all lived in London, she had a little studio in her flat where she lived so we used to go there and do all that sort of jamming right there. But it’s funny, it’s quite weird now, cause whomever gets an idea, we’ll sing it down the phone. That’s what we’ve been doing. In fact, the other day, cause Denise the drummer, she lives up near me now, up in the countryside, we literally have been on Skype with Jackie. I’ve got an electronic drum kit and little Marshall stack here and, lucky enough, I’ve got great neighbors, so we’ve been playing away with Jackie on Skype. It’s quite funny, really. But you just sort of do it like you do it. She’ll come up with riffs and I’ll come up with some and say, “I think it should be like that” and then Enid will come up with some lyrics and then we’ll collaborate. But there’s no one particular form for Girlschool for how we end up doing things.

On the new record, which song do you think will surprise people the most?

Oh blimey, I reckon “Stayin’ Alive,” the Bee Gees song. We covered that. We always used to do a cover version of a song that we grew up with. Normally, it would be like a glam rock type thing or something and we were sort of wracking our brains this time of what we could do and actually it was our manager’s idea and I thought he was nuts. I thought, “What?” (laughs) I actually like the Bee Gees, and I’m sorry to tell you this, everybody (laughs) but I think they’re brilliant songwriters. You can’t fault their songwriting. I do remember seeing John Travolta, going to the cinema and seeing him in Saturday Night Fever when I was young. But I just think it’s a great song. And I was like, “How do we do this?” and of course we went in the studio and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. We rocked it up a bit.

I can’t imagine you doing that; well, I think I can imagine.

I couldn’t imagine it! But I must admit, Chris Tsangarides, he put in his bits of magic touches on it and I think it’s turned out really well. So I quite like it, yeah. It’s one of my favorite ones on there. But apart from that I think “Awkward Position” is a bit weird. We’ve got a song called “Awkward Position,” which is a bit rude so people might be quite surprised about that one (laughs). Hopefully people will enjoy it. That’s the main thing.


What is the biggest change you’ve seen in touring since the early days? How does the touring work nowadays?

Well, actually, at our age, I like a bit of luxury (laughs). When we first started, of course, we were sleeping in the van on top of our equipment, just literally surviving on a pound a day, deciding whether to have a pint of beer or a sandwich. We literally went through the typical rock & roll road type thing. Then of course we had a bit of luxury and from then on I’ve never looked back really. So yeah, for us touring now is we tour a bit more comfortably and we’ll leave it to the young’uns to do all that other sort of stuff. But it’s been good. But again, as the touring thing goes, it’s pretty much you’re still sitting in a van. Like the last American tour, we were sitting in the van for like nine hours a day just to get to the next place. People say, “Oh yeah, you’re going here and there and it’s so amazing,” but we don’t actually get to see anything all the time. It’s too much traveling and then you get there, you go straight to the gig, straight to hotel, do the gig and then you go back to the hotel and then you’re off again; unless you have a couple of days in between. It’s not all that glamourous but it is sometimes.

Are you going to be touring some more once the record comes out?

Yeah, yeah, we’re doing the 40th anniversary tour with Motorhead in Europe and Britain, and we’re looking forward to that. That doesn’t start till the album comes out and then we start with Motorhead on the 15th of November. It’s quite an honor for us to be there for Lemmy’s 40th anniversary cause we were there right from the beginning. We were on their first UK tour, which was in 1979, I think, or 1980. Anyway, long time ago! (laughs). On their Overkill tour and that was their first major British tour so now we’re back with them, with Lemmy, for their 40th anniversary. That’ll be good, spend a little time with Lemmy. Haven’t seen him a lot lately. Of course, we’re all around the world now, different countries, Eddie’s in Spain, you know Fast Eddie from the old days, Philthy is up north. So it’ll be nice to actually spend a bit of time with them again.

I hope Lemmy is doing well

Well, you know, he hasn’t really stopped in forty years but I’m hoping after this 40th anniversary he might take it a bit more easy. But he always said that if he was to take a break he could still write, he can still record, he can still do all the other bits and pieces. We were on tour in America for a month and that nearly did me in (laughs).

Girlschool started out as Painted Lady. Why did Painted Lady end up all girls?

Well, we couldn’t find any boys that wanted to play with us. It was that simple. It really was, cause Enid and I both lived on the same street and her brother played guitar; my cousin who lived next door played guitar. And of course my cousin had a band and of course we wanted to join. “No, no, didn’t want girls, did they. No way.” And I remember knocking on her door one day. I said, “We’re forming a band. You’re playing bass, I’m playing guitar and we’re going to form a band. That’s it.” (laughs) It was as simple as that. We couldn’t find any boys. No boys wanted to play with us cause 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, 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 want us.

During your career, did record companies or promoters or managers try to change you, make you something else, try to make you look different?

Oh yeah, of course, and we fell for it a little bit in the middle of our career. But I think in the beginning they knew what they were getting because we were like tomboys, we still look the same now, so they sort of knew what they were getting. But then halfway through, they said, “Oh, perhaps you should sort of glam up a bit.” And we thought, why not. I mean, we like to look quite nice, everybody does, male or female. So yeah, I think it’s not particularly different for a girl band but I think possibly they wanted us to glam up a bit more. But then we gave up on that and went back to our scruffy-looking ways (laughs) and that’s what we’re still doing today.

Which band or artist of today do you see Girlschool’s biggest imprint on?

Oh blimey, good question, but I don’t know. Obviously, a lot of bands in the past have said to us that we’ve been influences on them but I don’t know cause tons of bands leave imprints on different bands growing up so I couldn’t even say. But when we first started out and we got really, really successful, I was expecting loads of female musicians to come up, you know, bands, but they never did. It’s obviously not like that now but I was expecting loads of other bands and it didn’t happen. I don’t know why.

Did you consider Girlschool more punk or metal when you started out?

Well, basically, in the old days, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks was probably one of the best rock albums ever in the whole world, I would imagine; I would say anyway. Me and Kelly used to put it on before we’d go out. Just incredible songs, the energy, the playing, incredible. So that was one of our favorites. And the Damned, still love them as well. So we liked all those and then of course Motorhead came along, who were a crossover, but then we also liked Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin as well so it’s possible to like all these sort of music. In the old days we used to play punk clubs and they used to think we were heavy metal. We’d play heavy metal clubs and they thought we were punk. So we couldn’t really win in the early days. But then of course Motorhead came along and then suddenly it was, “Oh, that’s what they’re about.” It became a bit more clear to some people, not that we thought anything. We were just playing what we do, we just did what we did.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Oh apart from Lemmy, who was already quite famous when we first met him. I’m actually a massive David Bowie fan, absolutely massive. I didn’t actually meet him but I was lucky enough to be backstage at the first Live Aid gig in 1984, or whenever it was, and I was phoning me mum backstage going, “blah-blah-blah, whatever” and these were old-fashioned phones, not mobile, and then David Bowie was literally about to go on stage, about twenty feet away from me and my knees went. I was going, “Mum! Mum!” and she goes, “Say hello to him!” And I had to put the phone down and I just stood there and I thought my knees went. So I didn’t actually meet him but I was just in awe. Apart from actually meeting him, we met Led Zeppelin, we’ve obviously gone on tour with Deep Purple, Black Sabbath.


How was Ritchie Blackmore, really?

Oh Ritchie Blackmore is amazing, absolutely amazing. He really is. His charisma is incredible. But I must admit this has been the most incredible career because all my heroes I’ve actually sort of met along the way and so it’s been quite amazing really.

What is the wildest concert you ever played?

I’d say probably Bingley Hall with Motorhead and Saxon and it was called the Heavy Metal Barn Dance back in the eighties. It was massive and people still talk about it now. We just partied for three days solid. It was brilliant. That was pretty wild. And talk about another wild one, we just played Brooklyn, Saint Vitus, with Crucified Barbara and everybody came on stage, they had punks in the audience and they came onstage, and Jackie was up on the shoulders of the guitarist from Old James and that was pretty wild. It’s on YouTube. And then of course, the last time with Motorhead, and looking forward to more wild stuff with Motorhead very soon.

It’s good that you are still having fun and it hasn’t become boring or a chore or uneventful.

I wouldn’t do it anymore if it was because the whole thing about it is that you have to convey. If you’re not enjoying it onstage I’m pretty sure the audience would realize. People aren’t stupid, are they. I would imagine if you’re standing there going through the motions, I think people would know that. So as soon as I stop finding it fun I probably won’t do it anymore. Or if I can’t actually physically get onstage anymore.

In your catalog, which song do you think strayed the furthest from your roots of who you are?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know what wasn’t typical of us. We just sort of do what we do and we don’t really think about it. I suppose the new one, “Stayin’ Alive.” That isn’t a typical Girlschool thing at all. So possibly that one. But we made it typical, know what I mean.

What was the worst advice you were given when you became a professional musician?

No one ever really gave us any advice. I think, probably, don’t get pregnant (laughs). Obviously, in the early days, record companies used to sign up bands to have like a five year relationship, to help bands sort of grow. So a lot of times they would think, “Oh no, if you got females they’d just go and get pregnant and off you go and our investment would sort of be wasted, you know.” That was what it was like in the early days. They didn’t ever think that you might actually want to have a career. They all thought, oh you want to get married, settle down and have babies and off you go. That was how it used to be. I don’t think it’s like that anymore.


How is the rest of your year going to look?

We’ve got the album coming out on the 13th of November and we do a tour with Motorhead for three or four weeks before Christmas and then we go back with them up until the end of February and then we do some more festivals and stuff.

Any chance you’re going to come back to America?

I hope so. It might be in the cards.

You’re very passionate about animal cruelty and rabbit rescue especially.

Yeah, I’ve got a garden out in the back where I’ve got me rescue bunnies. I’ve rescued four bunnies from hell. There are four different ones from different times. Where I lived before, before I moved here, I was looking out my kitchen, and this was when we had a dreadful winter, absolutely dreadful, freezing, snow and everything, and I was looking out and these new neighbors moved in across from us and I saw this hutch suddenly appear. I said, I think there is an animal in there. They weren’t giving it any attention and I thought, oh God. So I used to run over the road and I looked in there and there was a poor bunny in there and it was in a terrible state and I used to try and give it fresh water and food. Anyway, long story short, I ended up getting him. And the first time she came out in the sunshine and started running, it was amazing. I didn’t know anything about rabbits, nothing about rabbits at all.

Anyway, I said there was no way they’re having this rabbit back and I took him to the vet and found it was a girl and we called her Veronica. That was my first one. Then we got a big run that she could run around in. Then of course, rabbits can’t be by themselves, they just can’t, they’re social creatures, so I was looking around for a little friend for her and lucky enough we went down the road to a pet shop and we got little Eddie. He was all by himself cause they couldn’t afford to have him fixed so I put in another big run and blah-blah-blah and now they are so in love, it’s incredible.

So I thought two would be fine. Then six months later, someone else has got this rabbit and he was literally kept in the shed, in the heat this time in the summer, no water, no food, three inches deep in his own poo, and I thought, I can’t have this so we got him, Alfie, and then we went to the rabbit rescue down the road and got Luna, who is a nutcase! She was literally left in a box in the street to be run over when she was three months old. And nobody wanted her but we put our hands in and she came straight up to us. So now I’ve got four. I’ll probably end up with more because I can’t bear it, can’t bear the cruelty. What is the matter with these people? Why couldn’t they just drop it off at a vet’s or a rescue center or something?

Do you have a special charity or something you deal with regarding the rabbits?

Yeah, yeah, one of the rabbit rescue centers that I used to be up at all the time, she is actually giving up cause she’s found it so stressful that she can’t really do it anymore. Thumpers, it was called but she’s not really doing that anymore but there is It’s an informative site. But the rabbits are a joy to sit and watch. We sit in the garden at night and watch them jumping around and it’s lovely.

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