Interview with Girlschool – Manchester Ritz – November 2016
Interview by Mark Dean || Photos by Philip Goddard
A recent British classic era metal tour rolled through the UK. Joining headliners Saxon and Fastway were long-standing legendary band Girlschool. I had the opportunity to chat with the band in their dressing room prior to their afternoon soundcheck.
What was your first introduction to music?
Denise: I had uncles who were jazz musicians, so I suppose that was it.
Any artists or songs that you remember?
Denise: No, no…
Jax: My dad used to be a drummer in a rock and roll band, a teddy boy. I got introduced to Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and the like – the rock and roll stuff really. That was my first memory of music.
What about yourself, Enid?
Enid: My brother, he played guitar in Jazz bands. There was a big Django Reinhardt, Stefan Grapelli. I used to go to gigs that he played at the local social club when I was three or four, something like that. I saw him play in Leicester Square when I was 11 or 12 with the Andy Macintosh band. A few years ago, I was writing an astrology article about Amy Winehouse, and I looked at her album. Andy Macintosh was playing saxophone. I said, “I saw him play in the Empire, Leicester Square in about 1970 with my brother playing guitar.” My dad and his brother in Wales, they used to play banjo and ukulele, just musical kind of things.
How were you all at school? Was music a talent that you developed in that environment?
Enid: I went to grammar school, and there are plenty of political reasons why we should not have grammar schools. It worked well for me not least because I was exceedingly shy (laughs). Denise and Kim went to two local comprehensive schools in the same catchment area. They hated my school because we were all so intelligent. I didn’t really do music at school – half the girls did, but it was a school that was popular for music. Although you had to pay for one on one lessons, and my parents… A lot of people were middle class, but we were a bit more working class and could not afford the lessons. When I started playing it was just outside of music at school. That really didn’t have an influence at all, but my family did.
What about you and Denise?
Denise: I used to be in the school band at secondary school. I was a drummer (obviously) and I got an A in music – the only A that I have ever had at school.
Seemed to have worked out well for you though. (all laugh)
Denise: Yeah, I suppose so.
Jax: I went to a grammar school also but didn’t do music at school either. I did play trumpet in the brass band.
Denise: Oh yeah, and I played recorder.
Jax: The neighbours used to love us! (they both laugh)
Music was always going to be the career path for you all then?
Enid and Denise: Yes, never anything else.
Jax: I did go into the army for about six weeks. Couldn’t wait to get out – a punk rocker!
What would be your favourite Girlschool song to play? Do you have one out of all the ones that you have done over the years? Or does that vary from night to night?
“Don’t Call It Love” for me…. a few replies of “Revolution” before they are all united in that opinion.
Enid: It’s a short set.
I was quite surprised at the running order of the bands.
Enid: Yes, a few have said that. There are so many factors involved in putting a tour together.
Jax: Someone must go on first.
This tour was originally scheduled with yourselves, Saxon and Motorhead.
Jax: That was last year. We were supposed to go back in January, but obviously Lemmy died in December and that would have been the second leg.
Given that you have all been in the music business a long time, have you ever been arrested?
Enid: No. (laughs)
Denise: Kim and Kelly were, and me and Enid climbed up into the vans, so we were alright.
Jax: We’re all good girls, you know? You see the halos.
Looking back at your long musical career do you have any regrets?
Jax: That we didn’t break America.
Denise: Oh, yeah.
Jax: Whatever we want to do, we can still achieve. I suppose in theory.
Enid: My greatest regret is that other people have done certain things, like, when there was a lead singer in the band, I regret that certain people made that happen. But we don’t talk about that so let’s not – We don’t talk about that album. That era.
Speaking of your longevity, why are you still here?
Jax: Because we are stubborn.
Denise: And we love doing what we do.
Enid: I would add to it – one of the reasons that we’ve lasted so much longer than any other female band has probably got a lot to do with the fact that not a single one of us has got kids.
Jax: I’m the only one who’s been married.
Enid: There has been a lot of, you know… plenty of men have kids, and there’s usually a woman at home, bringing the kids up, and holding everything together. Now there might be some women that like a lot of money coming in and not having to have the man there under their feet, which is fair enough. Most guys play around when they’re away, especially when they’re younger, maybe less so when they’re older; sometimes women go on the road, you’ve got like Linda McCartney and whatever, but it’s basically nearly impossible for a woman to go on the road and have kids unless you’ve got a lot of money and you can afford permanent nannies, or you’ve got a supportive husband, or you’re gay and then you’ve got whatever you’ve got. But, you know, it’s a much harder situation for women. And in some areas, things have gotten worse for women; in some ways, better – it’s more common to see women on-stage – in some ways worse. So, that’s one of the reasons, a huge reason, why in a band of four women, you’re going to always have one who leaves.
Denise: And another reason is, probably, we’re still together because we’re all friends. Basically, like sisters, you know?
Do you live and breathe music totally, or do you have any other spare time to invest in hobbies?
Denise: We love gardening…we had other hobbies when we were younger…we lived and breathed.
Jax: That’s all I do, because I live in Leeds now, I’ve got a little studio.
And of course, you also play in another band.
Jax: I’ve got another band as well, yeah. So, I kind of literally breathe it, yeah.
What about you Denise, what do you spend your spare time doing?
Denise: Soap operas, Facebook. When I’m not doing Girlschool, I like to stay at home and relax and watch soaps, and I like a lot of movies, so I watch a lot of films, yeah. American. And – yeah, we’ve got cats.
Enid: Kim has rabbits, and Kim’s got a quarter of an acre garden. Our garden is 200 foot and I grow vegetables.
Are you happy in your life right now? Is the glass half full rather than half empty?
Denise and Jax: Yeah.
Enid: I’m somebody that doesn’t believe in the glass half full, glass half empty. I believe the whole fucking reservoir is empty and we’re all about to die.
Denise: She is very pessimistic.
You’ve been in the music business a long time. Do you not get to the point where you go out and you’re constantly recognized? Do you miss having a sense of privacy? You’ve been in the public eye for so long?
Jax: If we are together then we get recognised. We don’t dress like this to go, you know – I mean there’s a million people with dyed blonde hair and there’s millions of people like that, so you don’t stand out unless you’re in that environment. You know what I mean?
Enid: Anything from rock through to metal in all its guises is like a family. It kind of – it’s not a cult is not the right word, but it is, it’s a cult within itself. It’s a bubble. And you can be kind of very well-known within that world, but we’re not known walking down the street unless we’re in and out doing a gig. It’s a bit like everybody knew Lemmy partly because of the advert and the way he looked, and he did the talks about drugs 10 years ago and so on, but they probably wouldn’t recognize Mickey D and Phil Campbell, the average person in the street. Whereas to people that follow music, they’re revered because they’re fantastic, you know?
Do you all still have unfulfilled hopes, dreams, ambitions?
Denise: Oh, yeah. Loads, yeah.
Jax: Die if you don’t. Yeah, I think you’ve got to have… you’ve got to always have a… you want to achieve something.
Make it in America maybe?
Denise: Yeah, yeah. Maybe but even just have another hit album, maybe.
Jax: Yeah, hit album would be nice.
Enid: Yeah. I want a show with Alice Cooper again. That’d be nice.
Denise: That’d be nice, yeah.
Enid: It would be nice to see things change for the women because there was a lot of stuff on posters last year about the number of women playing at festivals. In other words, virtually none. And we did headline Redding festival in 1981 on the Friday night, and I didn’t read a single article that mentioned that. There’s a tendency with female bands for journalists under the age of 40 to think that everything began with Riot Grrrl in the early ’90s, and it would be nice to have a little bit of credit and to be able to do slightly bigger gigs on a slightly higher level. There’s certain things that go against you as a female.
Or on a higher billing?
Enid: Yeah, that would be nice. We get treated great by other bands, but within certain areas of the business, we still have a tough time.
So, the music business is still sexist even today?
Enid: But it’s female music journalists, I’ve noticed, like the Guardian and stuff, but those places that, because of their age, that they just will never go back before 1990. Whereas some of the male journalists on those papers mention us. Partly, maybe, because they’re a little bit older and remember some Top of the Pops (Uk TV show) and so on. But it’s like well, if you’re a music journalist, shouldn’t you do your homework? It’s very disappointing when it’s the female journalists that we get no support from. There are female journalists, music journalists and stuff that have been brilliant, but the sort of – when I’ve read in the general journalism hubs and – tend to get on my nerves, but like you know where they’ve got lists like top 100 female musicians, female icon, whatever, we get missed off a lot of those lists. It’s like they don’t consider rock as, you know, as influential. Whereas you get someone like Chrissie Hynde or people like that who clearly are. They put all these female musicians, pop musicians, and like Anvil and things like that, they all get put on the lists, but Girlschool get missed off because we’re in this genre of rock.
What have you found have been the major changes in the music business and industry? Obviously, it has changed a hell of a lot since you all started out. Has it changed for the worse or the better?
Denise: I think it is worse because of downloads.
Bands and artists are no longer able to earn a sustainable income and living from their music alone.
Jax: You really can’t. Touring is the only way and merchandise is the only way you make money on shows.
I used to be very cynical about the whole VIP concept of fans paying to meet their heroes, but realistically, the bands need to make a living the same way as the rest, you know? It must be frustrating when you’ve devoted all your time, passion, energy into something that is just basically being given away. It’s like working for free.
Jax: It’s like when we did the Legacy album. The Legacy album we did in 2008, got released and we had people like Dio and Lemmy and all these people on it and we thought “oh, this is going to be good because people are going to want to buy it because it’s got these stars on it.”
Denise: But they downloaded it for free.
Jax: And people downloaded it for free and we were like ‘what do you do?’ You can’t stop it, you know?
What about the pledge scheme which Girlschool have utilised previously?
Jax: Well, the pledge, well, obviously was a good criteria doing it and then that, to me, is the only way to go these days because you get all the money yourself, no record company involved, and you pay for everything yourself, so you know where the money’s gone, and it’s – like I was talking to Lips from Anvil. I was Skyping him a bit back and they did the pledge themselves and he said to me, “Jackie, it’s the first time in my whole 40-year career I’ve ever made money from an album,” and says, “We made a lot of money.” He says, “Do it,” and that’s what he was telling me.
And from the fan’s point of view as well.
Jax: Brilliant. You get exclusive content. The fans also get it on preorder. They get things that are really personal to them. You know, I put one of my guitars on there, things that you’ve owned or you own – Most people are doing it. I mean, in fact, most people are doing it because you miss out on the middle man.
And you’ve done it yourself?
Jax: And you do it yourself, so you’re controlling what you’re doing. It’s absolutely all in your power. Yeah, I think it’s brilliant.
Viewing your own musical legacy and back catalogue, how does that make you feel?
Denise: What’s it called, that one?
Enid: Running Wild
Denise: Running Wild‘s the one when we became a 5-piece. But there are some good songs on there that me and Kim like, but we never mention it because it just wasn’t Girlschool.
Jax: And the Gary Glitter period.
Denise: We had Polygram sign us up in America. They tried to turn us into a band like Heart or Vixen, and that sort of thing with the image and everything. I hated it, so off we go. That’s why we never mention it. There are good songs on there.
Our time is up and you have a soundcheck to do. Thanks very much for chatting to me today.