Sounds 15th August 1981
JOHNNY WALLER gets a frosty reception from GIRLS AT OUR BESTI
LAZING on a sunny afternoon. . . in a pretty green Leeds suburb, I’m relaxing on the lawn and chatting — iced drink in hand — to three members of fab beat group Girls At Our Best! , who have a happy knack of releasing emotionally joyful singles.
In the summer heat, gorgeous GAOB! singer Jo flutters her eyelids and strips off to the briefest bikini top imaginable — is she trying to make me feel awkward? I wonder. Meanwhile I chat casually to boyfriend/ guitarist Jez and bassist Terry… the horribly ‘rock-biz’ scenario of a formal interview seems (thankfully) light years away.
Around tea time we finally stir ourselves from the quasi pool-side indulgencies and whiz into town for me to rendezvous with La Turbine and head for the Warehouse, where Girls At Our Best’ rehearse every night when there isn’t a gig. Some songs, some drinks. some photos, and it’s back to Jez’s house with an Indian take-away to watch tv — ah, a great day out. It certainly beats working!
Everyone vs feeling so tranquil that we all agree to postpone the (ugh) interview until the next day. One by one. people drift off home or retire to bed, leaving just Jez and I to descover — to our mutual amazement — that we share a pass.on for so many of the interests. opinions and attitudes
I’m stunned when it suddenly dawns on me that the two books at either end of his sprawling collection are those which so dramatically altered my whole (philosophy to) life three years ago. The Vermorels’ hastily cobbled yet stimulating Sex Pistols diary and Robert Heinlein’s brutally brilliant novel Stranger In A Strange Land.
We must have staved up half the night, Jez and I, babbling enthusiastically about the Pistols, Slits, great singles we’d bought. great films we’d seen, books we’d read — all in a delightful. incomprehensible gush of dialogue — ‘do you remember…’ and ‘what about…’! Later, I slept the peaceful sleep of the contented.
THE NEXT day, the sun didn’t shine and — for some dark, mysterious, unfathomable reason — the bright warmth had vanished from GAOB! too. From the time Jo arrived and merely muttered a brusque “hi” where the day before she’d been radiantly good-humoured, I could sense I was being frozen out.
Terry seemed sullen and withdrawn, while Jez was peculiarly jumpy, forever dashing off to answer the phone, make a cuppa, anything but sit and talk at length. And we had to wait for Tich the drummer to arrive.
We waited — and this is no exaggeration’ — for three bloody hours, and all the white GAOB’ remained twitchy and uncooperative, almost like a negative image of their previous chirpy selves.
The wait became claustrophobic and stupid for we all knew Tich would add virtually nothing to the interview. GAOB! knew because he never does, and I knew because they had told me so. But still we waited… a pointless charade, a pathetic (cosmetic) concession to group democracy.
I was becoming increasingly frustrated at their apprehension and suspicion as the atmosphere became markedly antagonistic. Virginia. too, noticed it and flashed me a glance of sympathy.
But while we wait for Tich, let’s introduce Girls At Our Best’ in their very own words.
Girls At Our Best! is from Leeds. Their favourite group is Girls At our Best!
Judy Evans (known as Jo) sings and writes all the songs and is incredibly beautiful (and modest). She thought up the whole idea and did all the artwork. She hates stew, but lists Orange Juice as a group she likes.
James Alan (known as Jez) plays guitar and writes all the songs. He manages Girls At Our Best! and tells them what to do and think. He also dd all the artwork and loves doing some things…
Gerard Swift (known as Terry) plays bass and hates the name Girls At Our Best! He likes banana milk shakes and the Beat; dislikes watching Tich eat sardines in bed.
D. Carl Harper (known as Tich) plays drums and used to be in the Expelaires. Favourite film is Kes. Influences — adverts for Monster Munch and Rat Scabies.
At last Tich arrives and then nothing much’ We touch briefly on various subjects without ever getting to the heart of anything. Yes. says Jo, they did consider not playing gigs . “but not seriously. because we all wanted to play”. But after a few more faltering, half-stuttered replies, she pauses for a long time, then tries to explain “1 can’t put it into words.
“The thing is, everyone seems to think we’ve got this huge plan for Girls At Our Best’ ever since we started. but it’s not like that at all — we just take it as it comes.’
But you do seem to suggest that.
But that’s only because we do it all very carefully. but it’s never particularly planned ahead.”
SENSING THAT they’re not about to add anything, I revert to cliché questions (the safest ground) and ask about the debut album which is being recorded. I’m told that four more songs are still needed, which prompts me to foolishly ask if such writing to order doesn’t stifle their creativity — I mean, wouldn’t it be better having an extra eight songs to chose from, and Pick the best ones ?
‘Yeah. but they'” be four GREAT songs,” retorts Jo icily.
‘They’ll be four better ones than if we wrote eight mediocre ones to choose from,” clarifies Jez. “That’s how it works for
The answers are ail alarmtngly short, as though the three of them (TICh, as forecast, says nothing) are wary Of being manipulated Into a mitting terrible secrets or e uttering vague half, s that the disreputable journalist can er twtst into damaging sen, ‘tionalisms. The problem IS obvtous — they just don’t trust me!
A fresh approach: Jez and I were talking last night about bands like the Au Pairs and Specials who tend to adopt a more radical stance towards politics and sexism. yet others seem to avoid that, so what is the GAOB! point of view?
Everyone immediately looks to Jo for a reply — presumably because I’d mentioned sexism and she is the Girls’ only girl but after a long pause, no-one else offered to speak. ‘Oh God!” she sighs. “1 think the silence answers your question,’ Jo adds after some thought. ‘We don’t ever think of it like that at all.
‘We’re not in a group in order to put our political beliefs across,” says Jez
But don’t think those other bands are either’ Surely it’s just down to the people who are actually in the Au Pairs, Delta 5, Specials…
‘Ok, we’re not that sort of people then,” Jez counters.
What — like you don’t feel politically motivated?
‘No. not really,” Joe declines off-handedly, ‘ •no more than the man-next-door.”
Are you just entertainers then?
Jez: “Yeah, in the proper sense that we are entertaining, cos there’s something there to think about as well as just tunes and what we look like.”
“To entertain people.” continues Jo, “you have to be different and exciting — and a bit new — and I think that’s what we do try to be a bit more exciting and a bit more different than the average.
Ah, but is that enough? I pose innocently but in earnest.
‘Yeah, it’s bloody hard,” she snaps. ‘ ‘You ought to try it some time ‘
We glare at each other and I see no spark of humour in her eyes. Jo is deadly serious and obviously views me as inquistator and persecutor all in one.
What makes you think I don’t?” I laugh, desperately trying to defuse an awkward situation.
All right then,” she concedes, gradually softening “You must KNOW how hard it is to be different
OF COURSE I do, but you said ‘ ‘a bit more than average” — shouldn’t you be striving to be the absolute best?
“Well yeah — you obviously want to do your best or you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Jez nods in assent, “l think even though the group hasn’t thought out its reasons for doing it, we’ve each got our own personal reasons for being in a group. Like, I don’t think my reasons are the same as Jo’s, are they?”
OK, what are your reasons, Jez?
Curiously, he never gets round to giving his reasons; in fact, the whole band are still far too cagey, too conscious of the cassette machine pet happily (but intrusively!) whirring away, and maybe still a little worried about the power of the press (haha).
Jo sighs heavily almost confessionally and fixes her eye on me. “1 think just at this time — this actual week you may have caught us at a cross, roads, you can tell by the way we are.” (An under-statement’)
When Robbi (Millar) interviewed us, we knew exactly what was happening, and we gave her the impression we knew what was goinq on, but I think this time, we’re having a bit of a think about the whole thing, about what we should do next.
“It’s not like ‘Oh God, what do we do now?’ but just personally . (pause) things like the business side, it’s getting a bit much now.
I offer to turn off the cassette for a while, but Jo says it’s OK
‘Jez looks after all that side Of it, but the actual organisation of the group now has perhaps to change in that we need a manager or someone else not only to organise things, but to egg us on I don’t know, the whole thing’s got to be a bit more high-powered, we’ve got to get the means to do that, and not just through the record company.
“And also the record contract ends at Christrnas, and so that’s why we’re being a bit…”
“Hesitant,” adds Jez helpfully.
“You’ve caught us at a time when we’re trying to get over the gap from being a critically acclaimed ‘good little group’ to being a big pop group.” Jo finally clarifies. “We want to cross that gap, but also to make it with a group that we think is good enough, and at the moment we don’t think we are.”
AND SO, we’ve regained some sense of trust, the frosty pretences are dropped and we can smile again. Girls At Our Best’ are struggling to shrug off the restrictions of betng provincial and independent hell, they want to be international and in control!
The real problem is that they have no fixed ideas of how to achieve this, no master plan for domination of the airwaves “We do have a vague feeling about it all, but it’s difficult to explain.”
Playfully. we begin to suggest impractical ploys for GAOB’ success — GAOB! ice creams, GAOB! comics and a tongue-in-cheek video of an orphan in the pouring rain who finds happiness and sun through listening to ‘Go For Gold’ – but the band staunchly refuse to use Jo’s attractive charms as a selling point at all.
“I think if we were on the radio, people would buy our records without any need for all that,” Jez states firmly. “It’s only that they don’t get to hear us. I mean, we could pursue success through becoming a real cult band, but we’ve chosen to try via Radio One, so in the end you reach loads more people.”
Which is fine in principle (well, it would be great in actuality as well – I’d love to hear GAOB! On the radio all day!) but the vagueness of the band’s attitudes is more than a little worrying.
Jez tells me of Girls At Our Best! being “totally unique”, but is unable to say why, to give reasons, actions or ideals that separates them from hundreds of other bands. Jo talks of wishing to take alternatives, but can list none. Maybe they’re just a great pop band, but still frightened to admit to such an unfashionable image.
And so we left the sunny suburbs(with the clouds disappearing again for brilliant sunshine), laughing and screaming – friends again after the last day’s ordeal of numbing counter-interrogation. We part with a smile and restored faith, blissfully unaware of the further bombshell imminent.
Four hours later, in the back bar of Tiffany’s, Girls At Our Best! drummer Tich effectively destroys his image as ‘strong but silent’ by bellowing in my ear that he really doesn’t like the rest of the group.
As he downs yet another pint, I warn him that I’m duty bound to mention all this in the article, to which he arrogantly retorts: “I don’t care – as long as I’ve got enough money to buy drink and so I don’t have to get a job, then I’m happy. I always wanted to be a professional musician, so that people can say ‘There’s D. Carl Harper – he’s a drummer’… that’s why I left the Expelaires, cos they weren’t serious enough.
Tich’s brother gets another round in and confides in me “he’s always like this after a few – I don’t know why he doesn’t leave the group.”
But D. Carl Harper is not about to leave the group – he likes playing drums and drinking beer far too much to jeopardise his cosy lifestyle for a principle he considers relatively unimportant. Nevertheless, his comments are obviously based on truth and some other allegations he made about the others suggest not only a degree of jealousy on his part, but also possible some dubious deception from Jez.
However, a week afterwards Jez phones me at home and apologises for the band’s apparent reticent attitude – “We feel as though we should do the interview all over again.”
I politely decline the offer, saying this feature should represent what actually occurred, not some perfect meeting that we all might prefer. And anyway, this indecision, those doubts, that veiled arrogance, are all part of Girls At Our Best!, a group so exciting and vital that arguments and misunderstandings are a natural – almost essential – part of their development.
The magical healing powers of Girls At Our Best! as so wondrous, their singles so uplifting, that music so emotional… the best part of breaking up is when you’re making up!
This interview would have been around the time that the band were halfway through recording Pleasure and Tich did not appear on several tracks… which could explain his mood!