Going for gold

Paulo Hewitt meets GIRLS AT OUR BEST

  1. WE MEET…

AT a posh wine bar really. That’s where a lot of the real talking gets done. Not the interview, but exchanging views, sharing experiences, cracking jokes, and eating chicken.

We’re relaxed because Judy and James of the Girls At Our Best pop group already know Tom and l. They know his camera work and they know that I thought “Go For Gold”, their last 45, was one of the better attempts at a single this year. And that’s something we all agree on.
So we find common ground. The band come from Leeds and are going to play there soon. But they won’t get a hero’s welcome home. “They don’t particularly like us up there,” snorts Judy. “Like Soft Cell are from Leeds so they’re everyone’s favourites.”

The reason Girls At Our Best are playing Leeds is because their debut album, “Pleasure”, has just been released and they’re touring to promote it. An obvious ploy, I say, as the salad arrives.

“Yeah,” agrees James, the guitarist and mainstay of Girls At Our Best. “But people want to hear your songs. So which is better? Bringing out 14 singles for 14 quid? Or one LP for three quid with all the same songs on it?

“So you bring out an LP. That’s one thing. You’ve written all the songs so you think ‘well I need to go out and actually play these songs to people that want to hear them, even though it is a real cliche, as you say.”

Girls At Our Best think “Pleasure” is wonderful. I tell him I think that half of it is really good, but the other half is ruined by the fact that the album’s overall mood stays on one emotional plateau—There’s not enough diversity. Even Judy’s soaring ethereal vocals get tiring after a while. They start off as something special but aren’t used well enough.

Still, not to worry. No-one makes classic albums anymore. “Pleasure” is typically 1981 in that it’s half good, half nothing.
“l bet I know which songs you liked,” replies James knowingly. “You see we didn’t have enough songs for the album. So we had to sit down and write five more. I bet those are the songs you liked.”

Girls At Our Best, it transpires, work a lot of the time in this fashion. They sit around for ages doing nothing and then . . . bang! Inspiration strikes and the band shoot into frenzied activity. It’s because of this attitude that they believe they’re not pop stars. Yet.
At present Girls At Our Best are there, but not there. If you see what I mean. “YES!” laughs Judy. “l lay awake at night thinking about that. It’s true. You see, what we’ve done basically is to do everything all at our own pace.

“It’s not to do with what the next photo session is about or are we going to do this interview. It’s more to do with the creative side of it, what we really want to do ourselves as people. What sort of songs we want to write etc, etc.

“People always say to us, we know you’re going to get there. When is it going to happen? It’s just a case of well… when we want it to.”
For sure, following the encouraging reaction from both press and public alike over their singles, “Warm Girls”, “Politics” and “Go For Gold”, it would seem that Girls are destined to reach their ambitions.

Which is why we spent an hour and 40 quid in a posh wine bar. Tough life.

© Tom Sheehan / Melody Maker


IN one of Happy Birthday’s small offices. Judy sits on a chair, James slums against the wall. Everyone feels a bit tired after eating at lunchtime. We spend the first few minutes talking generally.

Yes, it is important for the band to stay with Happy Birthday because they trust and love them. But it’s not important that they’re seen as an Independent Label Band. They’ve made plans and have ideals, but they don’t wave banners about it.

Those plans include no long tours. Because?

“All the rock ‘n’ roll clichés,” says James brightly. “Like having a party till five in the morning and driving 20 hours a day on a motorway. All that sort of thing.

“But then I’m not into the other thing which is these modern bands who say ‘we’re just a modern cabaret band. We do one-off things in such and such a club’. Not into that. We just like the happy medium in between, which is like doing three gigs and then having a full week off.”

“We just do weekends,” explains Judy. “Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then a bit off.”

A sensible attitude. Girls At Our Best are clearly aware of the current questioning by groups of rock’s traditional methods, For instance, before they wrote songs for the new album, the new batch, they sat down and… “instead of listening to rock music, we listened to a lot of different music,” says James.

“Most people listen to rock music and they write a load of rock songs from what they’ve heard. We listened to some really different stuff, like Iranian folk music and 12th Century organ stuff.”

Also on the playlist were musicals and Charlestons, Noel Coward and classical. “You keep all the things like it’s got to have a good beat and a good tune,” says James, “and you approach it in a completely different way so you end up doing something more original than you would do otherwise.”

This attitude similarly applies to the band’s ambitions. Well aware of how bands are treated with disdain once they’re successful, they wrote the exquisite “Go For Gold” with one band in mind — Adam and the Ants.

“It’s not like a slag-off,” James puts in quickly. “It’s a tribute. You know when they first started doing all this Ant Music stuff we thought it was really great… all that Red Indian stuff. So we just wrote a song about it.”

A cynical song, no less. “It is cynical,” agrees James, “because they’re cynical themselves about what they do. It’s such a big put-on, so it was a song about that. Also it’s about fashion and the music business in general.”

“The thing with Adam and the Ants,” chips in Judy who wrote the lyrics, “was it was such a change. It was like so obvious to everybody. Everyone knew why it happened and that was why it was so funny, because it just happened overnight. It was great. Really good imagery. It was so quick, so obviously done that I thought it was funny. But I don’t think it would happen with us because we’re not… I think we’re a bit more natural, actually. It’s like a natural progression that’s happened with us, whereas they’ve suddenly got very big.”

Girls At-Our Best have no qualms about reaching such dizzy pop heights. Unlike the Au Pairs they say, just for example, Girls At Our Best want to be pop stars and don’t see why they should disguise that fact.

I tell them that’s all well and good. But wouldn’t that place their morals and ideals in a precarious position? Success and morality rarely go hand in hand to the altar.

“It’s very easy to come to that conclusion,” Judy argues. “I think that’s a problem in this country, in that once people become successful people tend to think ‘Oh God he’s up there and I’m down here’.” Not true, I argue. Look at Madness, Dexys, the Jam…

“l think what it is is that the Jam and Madness make a conscious effort to keep saying in their video or we’re one of the lads,” argues James. “And ‘Adam doesn’t do that. He says ‘I’m really flashy’.

“That’s his image, what he’s selling, what goes with his music. But that doesn’t mean he’s saying he’s above us or anything.”

“It’s like Paul Weller,” says Judy. “l really like the Jam and… well I fancy Paul Weller, but when I read things that he’s said like ‘God I’m really intelligent and I’m really one of the lads, and I really want to make things work for all of you people’, it really makes me sick because he’s trying to make a point about how he’s not lost his morals and I don’t think that’s on as far as I’m concerned.” Later on Judy will reiterate this theme.

“It’s like you’re in a group which is in the music business which has loads of shitty things going on, and that’s why we’re on an independent label, that’s why we don’t go on long tours and take drugs and have sex every night with anybody.

“So there are certain things that you have to do, which we’ve done but we don’t make a big thing about it. We just do it. We don’t say right, wave a banner! We’re on an independent label. You just do it and you keep to that personal moral thing.

“That’s like the sexist thing about being the only girl in the group. That’s why I don’t want to appear like Toyah or Kim Wilde. Even though I admire girls who go out and do that. It’s not what l would want.”

Then again, the band dislike the feminist extreme. Judy likes to dress up. Go out. Flirt around a little. Good clean fun.

James tries to do what 90 per cent of the population do which is have fun without encroaching on people. That means making records which have smart lyrics, some decent tunes and project the band into worthwhile areas.

Girls have no political stance as such except their personal politics. They want success quite badly deep down inside and refuse to bend to current trends just for the quick buck. In part they agree that rock music is dead, but in part don’t. They are honest enough to admit this — unlike so many others.

“A lot of what we do,” says James, “if you take down the basics, is rock ‘n: roll. But then on the other hand there’s a song on the album called “Too Big For Your Boots” which is like those songs like riding along on a crest of a wave. Real showband stuff. We play it because it’s a really great song.

“In a perverse way it’s trendy because it’s breaking all the rules and doing what you shouldn’t do. But in terms of electronic and salsa, we’ve got a jazz piano on these numbers so in that sense it is unfashionable.”

AT the bottom of the stairs. Swop addresses. Promise to see each other at one of their gigs. I go away clutching their debut album not expecting greatness, but thankful to have been talking with friendly, sincere human beings.

They go away to start their tour and establish Girls At Our Best as a potent force within this ever changing, confusing pop world.

Just girls and boys playing at their best.