The School Report 1978-2008 (5CD)
HNE / Cherry Red
Now here is a package and a half, from a wonderful rock band largely associated with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. A rare all female set up, who are technically gifted, musically underrated, and have worked hard to strive past the novelty factor and recorded some very fine material along the way.
Their material, especially the Bronze era, has been reissued more times than a politician’s lies, but this compilation adds so much more. MUCH more, including parts of the career criminally overlooked on CD and on stage. And packaging taken to a new level , in a hard back and very solid book with bonus tracks, pictures, annotation, the kitchen sink.
The band has its roots in covers band Painted Lady, formed in the mid 70s by bassist Enid Williams and guitarist Kim McAuliffe. A very much DIY garage approach that spilled over to their debut single. Several line-up changes and taking their name from a Wings b-side, Girlschool were born, featuring McAuliffe, Williams, drummer Denise Dufort and guitarist Kelly Johnson.
Disc 1 kicks off with their 1979 debut 45 Take It All Away / It Could Be Better, and tracks from their first three albums (originally issued on Bronze 1980-1982). Many will know Emergency, the cover of Race With The Devil, the duet with label mates Motorhead on Please Don’t Touch (Headgirl), there are touches of Motorhead in the influence, but equally glam and punk are in the mix. Some fine guitar, catchy riffs, layered vocals, what’s not to love? The tracks from third album Screaming Blue Murder show you just how good the band were beyond the first 2 albums. Don’t Call It Love is one of my Girlschool tracks.
Disc 2 takes in 1983-1988, by then with bassist Gil Weston on Bass and the Noddy Holder / Jim Lea produced Play Dirty is a wonderful album that is sadly oft overlooked. There’s an excellent cover of 20th Century Boy, and it shows how polished the band had become, but were still rocking, relevant and thoroughly enjoyable.
There are a few tacks from 1985’s Running Wild, originally released in the USA only, as a five piece, featuring vocalist / keyboard player Jackie Bodimead, lead guitarist Chris Bonacci and bassist Gil Weston alongside Dufort and McAuliffe. In retrospect a fine if polished / commercial album but well worth checking out. The decade is rounded off with a return to a four piece and the two albums released on GWR, Nightmare At Maple Cross and Take A Bite. Given the changes in the music trends at the time, Girlschool were like a breath of fresh air but these albums get overlooked too often.
Enter the 90s on disc 3 and with bassist Jackie Carrera on board, the eponymous Girlschool was released on Communique. This album was far more metal, just out and out metal, and if it weren’t for the grunge and alternative trends of the period, this album could (should) have been huge. Check it out. Enter the new millennium and we get tracks from 2002’s Not That Innocent (which introduced current lead guitarist Jackie Chambers, also featured bassist Tracy Lamb), 2004’s Believe and 2008’s Legacy. Now here we have some excellent modern heavy metal and if you’ve ever seen Girlschool live you’ll know how well these tracks fit it. Seriously rocking, blistering in places.
A fine spread over three discs, but if that weren’t enough, there’s more.
Disc 4 mixes non album singles and b-sides, some of which you’ll have heard before, but a fine collection, and additionally some demos that add value to any collection.
Disc 5 is something I have mixed feelings about. The live set is Painted Lady circa 1978, when they were still a covers band. While it is interesting to hear the girls play Smoke On The Water, King Of The Blues, All Along The Watchtower, Paper Plane and All Right Now, the quality is bootleg at best (tinny, distorted, audience noise etc). An interesting side note.
Overall a fantastic compilation with a lot of gems from several eras of the band, and the packaging is on another level. Well done Cherry Red.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine