A Class of Their Own
UK Metal Maidens Girlschool
w/Dirty Power, Rotten Apples
Sun Nov 21, Graceland, 9 pm, $10.
As a teenager growing up in the '80s, I was obsessed with heavy metal. Unfortunately, uncovering any female representation in that field felt futile: Lita Ford and Joan Jett were initially intriguing, but lacked the darker tone and brutal execution that drew me towards the British metal scene and bands like Judas Priest, Motörhead, or Iron Maiden. Scouring an early Runaways record for a harder edge left me disappointed and MTV pop-metal drivel like Vixen just pissed me off.
Then I discovered Girlschool.
As soon as I dropped the needle on 1982's Screaming Blue Murder and unleashed Kim McAuliffe's guttural, fearless voice, I knew I'd found my girls. Where as the Runaways sounded like they just wanted to get drunk and rebel against their parents, these South London women came off like they'd take you to a trash-strewn alley and either fuck or fight you. Between McAuliffe's antagonistic growl and Kelly Johnson's lightening-fast, intricate guitar playing, they sounded like Motörhead's hard-bitten younger sisters.
Fittingly enough, it was a mentoring friendship with Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister that lead to a deal with Bronze Records, who released Girlschool's debut, Demolition, in 1980. The two bands also teamed up in '81 to record a split EP, St. Valentines Day Massacre, released under the joint monikers of Motorschool and Headgirl. St. Valentines also yielded the band's first successful single, "Please Don't Touch," a muscular and melodic duet with Kilmister and McAuliffe. But their ambitions were landlocked; the label only released the album in the UK.
Girlschool's sophomore effort, Hit and Run, built upon the strengths of their debut, namely their menacing fusion of metal's instrumental complexities and merciless speed with punk's roughneck attitude and delivery. Thanks to expanded distribution, they started making a dent in the U.S. markets, even bending the ears of members of Seattle's emerging punk scene. "They brought it more than any other girl band ever brought it, ever," says former Fastbacks/current Visqueen bassist Kim Warnick. "I was so freaked out that other girls played good rock music, so it was a big deal to me."
When the band made an in-store appearance at Tower Records in the U-District, Warnick went with her barefoot friend Duff McKagen, ex-Guns N' Roses/current Velvet Revolver bassist and a passionate Girlschool fan. Chatting with McKagen via phone, his love and respect for that group remains evident. "They were such an underrated band--just a fucking kick-ass English rock 'n' roll band. When I went [to the in-store appearance] I was just a punk rock kid, really kind of overeager and had probably had a couple of beers in me. I think I got my concert ticket or something signed, but then [an employee] from Tower Records--who I couldn't give a shit about--was telling me 'No bare feet allowed in the store.' I thought the guy was fucking joking. I was like 'What do you mean, no bare feet in the store--I'm here for Girlschool!' The guy kept on going and I was like 'Fuck off, Girlschool's here!' And the band thought it was funny, they were like 'Yeah! Leave the kid alone!'
"The first time Guns N' Roses went to London in 1987, we got invited over to Motörhead's studio, where they were recording a record--and some of the members of Girlschool were there. They couldn't believe that I knew who they were, and I said, 'Well, you probably don't remember this, but I was at this signing at Tower Records...' And they remembered me!"
Sadly, shortly after this encounter, a combination of perpetual lineup changes and studio missteps began watering down the band's previous potency and they all moved on to other projects in 1988. There were sporadic reunion shows in the UK throughout the '90s, but this Sunday's performance is one their first Seattle appearances since the '80s. Whether the women tear up the stage remains to be seen, but if they muster even half of what Warnick witnessed back in the day, it'll be well worth attending. "I saw them play here probably four times," she recalls. "They were great live. When the guitars ripped in, they were just so fucking amazing. It sounded like a concussion bomb going off--that's the only way to explain it."