By Devorah Ostrov
Girlschool at the time of this interview (Enigma publicity photo)
L-R: Cris Bonacci, Tracey Lamb, Kim McAuliffe & Denise Dufort
According to the original itinerary, the band was supposed to kick off the California leg of the Take A Bite tour at the Country Club outside Los Angeles. That show should have been followed by Iguanas, then a private party at Raji's and a day off to drive to San Francisco, where they would play two gigs at the Stone before returning to Southern California.
|Take A Bite (Enigma/GWR 1988)|
Iguanas is located just across the border, in a mostly-empty shopping center. You can't miss the place: the building's architecture is recognizable as "Old Mexico," but the garish yellows, oranges, pinks and greens of its paint job actually pulsate in the bright afternoon sun and give me a headache. Apparently, the club caters mostly to young punk and metal fans from San Diego, which is less than an hour's drive away; the only Mexicans I saw inside Iguanas were the guards and the bartenders.
While Girlschool prepare to hit the stage later that night, I ask bassist Tracey Lamb (who replaced Gil Weston-Jones, following stints in UK all-female metal outfits Rock Goddess and She) why the band didn't tour the US back when she first joined.
"There was talk of a tour," she explains, "but it didn't happen. It didn't have anything to do with us. It was delayed by management hassles and record company hassles."
Cris Bonacci and Kim McAuliffe in Tijuana
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"Things are starting to happen for us," confirms Tracey. "I think it's the right time and we have the right record company."
"We're keeping our fingers crossed," adds vocalist/guitarist Kim McAuliffe.
The first single from the new album — a cover of the Sweet's '70s glam classic "Fox on the Run" — has already been picked up by 200 radio stations across the country. However, the promo video has received surprisingly little attention from MTV.
Directed by Jean Pellerin, the video incorporates scenes filmed on a park bandstand with live footage and quick cuts of the girls goofing around. Lacking any special effects, silly concepts or staged choreography, much of it looks for all the world like a charming home movie.
"It was ten in the morning when we were on the commons," grumbles Kim. "We'd only gotten back from the Gary Glitter tour at five the morning before. We were dying! But Jean was saying, 'Just jump around a lot and they won't be able to see how rough you look.'"
My backstage pass for the Girlschool show
at Iguanas - June 17, 1989
The next morning found all of us back in California, in the tiny border town of San Ysidro debating over eggs and sausages for here or to go. Then it was time for Girlschool's tour bus to head up Highway 5 to their next show in San Francisco (with a quick detour to drop me off in Hollywood, because according to my plane ticket I wasn't going home yet).
Plans for a stop at the beach and a boat ride were quickly forgotten as signs for the Orange County K-MART loomed in distance. And there was no stopping Kim as she strode intently across the acres of parking lot and into the ultimate American shopping experience.
"Kim becomes a different person when she's shopping," confides guitarist Cris Bonacci (who replaced Kelly Johnson in 1984). "She gets really aggressive!"
With shopping bags stuffed and everyone satisfied that no corner of the store remained unexplored, the tour bus again wound slowly up the freeway. I took advantage of a mid-afternoon traffic jam to ask Kim if a rumoured move to Los Angeles was true.
|Girlschool - publicity photo|
She also points to Def Leppard's U.S. success as a reason to concentrate on these shores. "I told Joe [Elliott, Def Leppard's vocalist] we were going to try to crack America, and he said that's exactly what they did."
As the bus finally turned onto Sunset Blvd., the conversation shifted back to how it all began. It was 1978 when the group changed its name from Painted Lady and played its first shows as Girlschool. Now the band, which Kerrang magazine termed "a great British institution," is being cited by more and more young female fans as a musical influence. It's a compliment Kim takes with a grain of salt. "It makes me feel really old," she laughs. "But then there's bands like Heart that are still going, and I'd heard of them before I ever thought about picking up a guitar."