This interview is courtesy of Paul Marko who runs the excellent Punk77 website.
Ghislaine, Gem, Gil...what should we call you or were you all of these at different times through your career?
I have always answered to all three, along with (more recently) “your Royal Highness”, “Auntie” or “Grolly”. Mostly I get called Gil though.
What sort of music did you grow up? Influences?
All sorts of music was around the house when I was growing up but I really loved pop music (still an avid consumer of new music). Between the ages of 3 and 8 I was at various times under the impression that:
- Our local butcher was Cliff Richard
- My Uncle Geoffrey was Dell Shannon
- I was John Lennon
I have to say I used to hyperventilate when I heard any music that just hit the spot – there were thousands of records that did this but a few artists (in no particular order) were:
60s – Spencer Davis, The Move, any Wall-of-Sound, Donovan Leitch, Canned Heat, The Beatles
70s – Slade, T Rex, Jo Jo Gunn, Curved Air, Hawkwind (just the one song though), Slender Loris (huge influence on how to play properly and with fun), The Stranglers, Ultravox, Fashion, Colin Blunstone, Little Feat, Mike Oldfield, Genesis, Minnie Ripperton, Family, The Gladiators, Sweet, Syd Barrett.
80s – Judie Tzuke (friends with bass player who joined Dexy’s then Status Quo), Iron Maiden & Deep Purple (these 2 because we had good tours together and had immense fun)
90s to current – Eminem, Faithless, and just about anything influences me. Farrell Williams, The Neptunes, N.E.R.D., Kanye West, and best of all currently is Estelle because she raps in her own language (which sounds like South London though I couldn’t say for certain).
How did you come to take up the bass and what made you pick that instrument? What was your first bass then?
It seemed easier to play than the classical guitar I had (4 strings?! only joking) and it was easy to play along to records without sounding too naff. I had a Fender Musicmaster Bass. It cost £85 from Musical Exchanges when it used to be in Broad Street, Birmingham. I paid £5 or £10 a week until I could take it home on the bus one day. Mum said “that’ll be a good investment”…she was right.
Had you always wanted to be in a band and what did you expect to get out of it?
I had, though I didn’t know how one went about things so I just thought be patient and I expect it’ll happen (it did, just like that…). I had no idea what to expect but I hoped it would be fun (which it was).
You joined up with Kevin Rowland and Mark Philips in Lucy & The Lovers around mid 1976. What sort of music was the band playing and how was the band going down?
At the very beginning it was a bit like Roxy Music with the 2 girl singers and sax player – people were curious because we looked different and had more people on stage than other bands but the music didn’t make much of an impact.
As punk rock blew through the music scene Lucy became the Killjoys and a rather more raucous band emerged in the new punk style?
The music quickly got faster and harder and there was a lot less singing and more shouting of songs. Now that was really fun.
What was your first introduction to punk and how did you view it? Or in view of Girlschool later on had you always favoured heavy rock?
The first time I saw people play like that was seeing Gnasher (no by then they were called the Suburban Studs) at Barbarellas in Birmingham. Someone threw beer and it landed on me. I got very traumatised and had to go and have a Vindaloo. I didn’t particularly prefer heavy rock to anything else, though I do like rock played very loud like Nirvana, Oasis, Motörhead and of course Girlschool.
What punk bands did you rate? And conversely what punk bands did you not rate?
Oh I liked all the usual ones like the Sex Pistols and The Clash but I also liked The Buzzcocks, The Slits, Wire, and The Adverts (because of Gaye Advert).
“We cut our hair and did our Oxfam shopping and took showers in the Euston Station super loos. Gil and I used to treat ourselves to a Caramac once a week - we were that poor.” That quote is from Mark Philips. Lee Wood remembers the band sleeping in a transit van with the drummer sleeping on top or below depending on the weather. How hard were those early days?
Not hard at all as far as I was concerned because we were young and enthusiastic and knew we had to savour the moment. Every time I did something daring (to me anyway) like moving into a van and giving up my job and cutting my hair and really living hand to mouth, the sky never fell in and the world didn’t end and we didn’t starve and our parents still loved us. So, not hard at all.
The band had two couples you and Mark and Kevin and Heather in it which kinda makes for a punky Fleetwood Mac situation! Relationships in bands are notoriously bad news. Did it affect the band dynamics in any way?
No I don’t think it did. As far as I was concerned when we were on stage the whole of the band was what mattered to the exclusion of everything else. It was a performance and I was used to those having trained as a ballet dancer.
What was Heather’s role in the band?
She was a singer and punkette babe – audiences loved her because she looked so little and sweet even with the black eye make-up and spiky hair.
You had the one single come out on Raw Records that without doubt is one of the classics of the punk era and sold some 18000 copies. At the same sessions you also recorded Recognition & At Night which is some session. What do you remember of the sessions for it and Lee Wood & Raw Records and how do you view that single now? Strange cover for it…would have expected to see the band on it.
The night before we recorded the session we had camped outside Spaceward Studios in Cambridge (me and Mark in sleeping bags on the roof of the van, Kevin and Heather behind the steering wheel, Trevor the Drummer (aka Joe 90) in the back of the van with all the equipment (and his feet). The next morning we thawed out and I think the studio gave us a hot breakfast. Then we got down to recording and I learned an awful lot about mic vs direct injection and how you have to be so precise recording compared to playing live which was all I’d done before. I quite like the single though it sounds more tinny in real life than as I remember it. I have no idea why the cover is as it is.
Amazingly you were offered a deal with Bronze which Kevin turned down. Were you disappointed that you didn’t sign with a major and only ever released 1 single? Kind of coincidence that Bronze offered you a deal who of course later had Girlschool on their books who you then later joined.
I wasn’t disappointed and I’m not sure how real the deal was anyway.
You also played on two Killjoys sessions for John Peel. What do you remember from these?
The excitement of wheeling the equipment in through the back door at Maida Vale Studios and saying “We’re doing a John Peel session”, while what we really meant was “wow brilliant he thinks we’re worth having on the show so we must be worth it”. Recording was great, John Peel was brilliant, John Walters was great, the engineers were great – it was all really exciting.
The two sessions sound like two completely different bands? Had the Killjoys changed direction by the second session and what sort of music were they playing then?
We were playing more melodic songs (all thrashed-out by then I expect). We went to see John Peel do a gig around this time and on the radio later he said we seemed a very nice bunch of lads which I hope someone still has on tape somewhere?
How much input did you have in the songs? I say this because Kevin appeared to have had a very autocratic leadership of the band based on interviews with other members of the band. All the songs appear to be credited to him when Mark Phillips clearly co-wrote a lot of them.
I think I only wrote one song and that was under pressure I think. I am either lazy or was never really visited by the muse – I am a consumer rather than an artist and that’s the way I like it.
You played all the great punk places like the Vortex, Barbarellas and The Roxy? What your memories of places like The Roxy, the atmosphere and reaction?
You used to go into the club early in the evening and sometimes have a soundcheck. There was a lot of dub and reggae playing and it was fantastically atmospheric. You used to see “famous” (punk rock) people all around in the clubs and I’m sure some of them used to look at us and think “who are they” but they couldn’t be sure we weren’t famous anyway…there was a lot of posing.
You also did tours with bands like The Heartbreakers and Siouxsie & The Banshees, how did these tours go and how were the Killjoys treated and regarded by other bands?
Don’t remember playing with Siouxsie – it might have been one of those times where you played shows in different places on the same night so you had to move on before the next band played – that happened when we played with The Clash. The Heartbreakers were great to us except for Johnny Thunders - who made it known in no uncertain terms that he wanted us out of “his” dressing room. I know he is dead and can’t answer back but that attitude sours things a bit coming from people you had liked or respected.
Through a Birmingham band where was the best reaction to you?
Not Birmingham that’s for sure – they thought we were a joke I think. Probably London was the best.
Without kissing butt too much here I think its fair to say that for someone who only picked up the bass fairly recently in the Killjoys you played it bloody well. Not only that you moved as well on stage which isn’t easy playing at that speed. Keith Rimell mentions 8 hours a day enforced practices by Kevin which may have something to do it but it doesn’t hide the fact that you were a really good bass player.
Thank you. We used to try to do the set 10 times in a row to get really tight. It was actually fun but then I was used to long rehearsals through ballet.
You were also incredibly horny looking! (c’mon I was thirteen and a half!) and used to wear some interesting clothes that were to say the least sexy. Was this Kevin’s idea or your own?
Mine I suppose. Or maybe a bit of input from everybody. Not sure what Kevin wanted me to look like from week to week as his ideas changed a lot.
One story is you were asked to leave a pub because you were wearing the skintight white number! Is this true?
Yes it was The Ship in Wardour Street. It was a white leotard and tights but it was not rude in any way in fact they were ballet practice clothes…
Punk threw up a lot of women musicians? What did you make of other women in bands like Gaye Advert, The Runaways and The Slits. Did you socialise at all ? How did other people in bands treat you as a female musician and one who lets face it was better than 99% of the male punk musicians around then.
I used to like watching women musicians play even if they weren’t very good. I think they are generally more interesting to watch and usually more pleasant to look at. We didn’t socialise much at all, not sure why but it just didn’t turn out that way. I got treated very well by people in other bands – I don’t know how they felt about women musicians but I didn’t feel any animosity.
Punk bands then suffered from horrendous showers of gob which is never nice. Did you and the Killjoys suffer from this goddawful punk habit?
Yes we did and yes it was really horrible.
The song Ghislaine. I know you wrote the lyrics to it? What were they out of interest if you can remember as Keith Rimell says you used to tale the piss out of Kevin by singing about old socks!. Why a song like this which would be guaranteed to wind up I presume a hardcore punk audience and how did it go down?
It used to go down well generally. The lyrics started out as French-type phonetics and morphed into real French words which were largely gobbledygook, though there were references to smells, feet, vegetables and facial features, for which any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental…
Were you aware that Kevin Rowland was auditioning for another Bass player while you were still in the band? What did you think of this?
I don’t think I knew until afterwards but it didn’t matter to me.
Keith Rimell describes a mounting tension with Kevin as the band enters its final days? How bad was it?
It affected everyone in different ways though I think the person worst affected was probably Kevin. Keith had enough and left which was a shame. Mark, Bob and I were very excited about a new musical project we had started.
The dreaded worst times/ best times question
I truly can’t think of a worst time. Best time was probably being on the John Peel show.
Do you look back at the Killjoys and punk as a good time?
What did you do between leaving the Killjoys and joining Girlschool?
Wrote, recorded and played gigs as Out of Nowhere, Alternating, Sister Sister and probably other names too.
And lastly how did you come to know Lemmy?
He came into the dressing room at the Vortex after a show and just got talking. Mark was a Hawkwind fan so he recognised him.