TAKING NEW YORK THE WOOLWORTHS WAY!
RICHARD GRABEL sees Girls At Our Best through the worst of their American tour.
THAT FIRST single, ‘Going Nowhere Fast’, was great. A springy, bouncy pop song with a sound poised nicely on the border between the raw and the slick, it was fresh and alive and fun. But I thought ‘Politics’, the second single, was already a bit tired.
But their album is doing well in England, and they came to America, so I met GAOB, and we talked’.
A lot of their talk was self-serving advertisement. This is not unusual. A lot of their talk was very sharp, observant and sensible. This is less usual. Anyway, we found a few things to agree on. And then we went out to a
Japanese restaurant and ate sushi and drank jots of saki and had a good time.
It was a bit sad to see GAOB playing to about thirty people on a Thursday night at Interferon. Sadder still to realise that even those thirty people weren’t really there to see the band. But GAOB took an indifferent audience and won them over. Kids who had hardly glanced their way when they started playing were calling for encores by the end of the set.
GAOB onstage are three almost invisible guys and one centrepiece girl: Judy Evans (Jo to her friends); James Allen (Jez to his friends), who plays the ringing, buzzing guitar that gives the songs their punch; bassist Gerard Swift (Terry) and drummer Darren Harper (Titch).
Jo looks good up on stage, easy and comfortable, and she radiates warmth and friendliness. But her manners and
moves eventually seem as limited as her voice, which is very pretty but goes on and on in a sweet, chirpy trill that doesn’t change. The same problems limit their album. The back-up is competent but characterless, and only when they come up with a particularly good hook does any one song stand out. There are a few such cases — ‘Fast Boyfriends’, ‘Goodbye To That Jazz’, and especially the title cut, ‘Pleasure’ — that show the pop potential in this band. GAOB are lightweights, with good chops and a chirpy, pretty lead singer and a few good ideas they are stretching too thin. But, but — they could, and they just might, come up with that one song that will take them all away, that one perfect hook that will set up Jo’s voice just right and catch the ear of everyone who hears it and make them temporary big stars.
JO AND JEZ are the core of the band. They are a couple, and stick pretty closely together. Once we started to get to know each other we got a good and easy exchange going. Bassist Terry is friendly but in the interview he lets Jo and Jez speak for the band. As for drummer Titch, he is the most painfully shy character I’ve ever met. in all the situations I saw him in at dinner, at a gig, at a party — I never saw him say a word to anybody.
When we met, GAOB had played in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Trenton. So how’s it going?
Jo: “It’s been really good here. I was expecting less than it is. We’ve had no negative reactions. Except that in England we don’t usually play clubs. We prefer to play colleges. In clubs a lot of younger people can’t get in, and I think the attitude at college gigs is less self-conscious. You go to see a group, not just to hang out.”
You waited a long time before doing any gigs.
Jo: “Yeah. That wasn’t big tactical thing or anything, it was just the fact that we didn’t have any songs, and we didn’t have a drummer. At one point we had four songs, and no drummer, but we had two singles out, so everybody thought we were a group, but it wasn’t like that.”
Coming from Leeds, GAOB have a deep suspicion of what they see as a London-dictated fashion parade of trends that dominate the English music scene.
Jez: ”In England the audiences are shit scared, and the American audiences aren’t. When we went out to gig in England we were already known, so it was alright. If we had gone out in England as an unknown quantity, as we’ve done here, we would never have got the reaction which we’ve received here. Even the so-called trendy clubs here like the Peppermint Lounge are nothing like the trendy clubs in England. There’s something desperate about the way groups in England jump on the newest fashion, and change when the next thing comes around. They’re desperate to be stars, to look the part.”
Jo: “This is why we find it hard to answer questions like what sort of band are you or what are you about, because were really just doing what we want, pleasing ourselves. But we’re facing this huge, preconceived idea of what groups should be about.”
Jez: “People don’t like you for reasons that have nothing to do with music but only with those preconceived ideas. People are not sure what they’re into or not into.”
Resisting the dictatorship or fashion is a good thing. But aren’t you being a bit overly defensive?
Jo: “The younger people are really afraid of that fashion thing. They’re afraid to go into a record shop like Virgin, which is quite trendy, where any given month a certain attitude is prevalent. The W. H. Smith shops or Woolworths, where the young kids can go on a Saturday afternoon with their Mum, that’s where the young kids buy their singles. There’s no threat, they can just walk up to the chart rack and pick out the singles they want.”
The ideal GAOB consumer?
Jo: “Yeah, that’s why we want to do Top Of The Pops. ‘Cause there you’re able to reach kids who will go out and buy it, so they won’t have to fee! it’s underground.”
So you’re not into using your position as a group as a soapbox?
Jez: “No. That sort of thing is for people with great ego problems. For me the purpose is to entertain me first. I think one trouble with a lot of groups is that they write songs thinking about what the audience is going to think about what they’re saying.”
Their last gig in America is preceded by a press party in the upstairs room of the Mudd Club. Surprisingly few people turn up to partake of the free drink and birthday cake on offer. But the gig later on is comfortably crowded, and the band goes over very well, as usual. ‘Going Nowhere Fast’ still seems their most rousing song, which is worrying. But I also love their modernized ‘This Train (Is Bound For Glory)’. Jo, is that your folky roots showing?
“Yeah. Our bluesies”.
GAOB see themselves as defenders of rugged individualism in an English music scene gone all worried and self-conscious. The question is whether their music is distinctive enough to back up the stance. l don’t think it is, yet.
But as I said, that could change. They do know how to write a good song, and if they come up with that one great one, they could be stars. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.