This band have never played a live gig, no record company has signed them up, and they’ve still kept their day jobs…
…But Girls At Our Best! are bound for glory claims ROBBI ‘I can pick ’em’ MILLAR
TO THE UNSUSPECTING Londoner, Leeds wears an impenetrable mask of sullen sadness. By night-time, the main streets are almost deserted, empty but for the atmosphere of a population forever looking over its weary shoulder, an air of malignant paranoia — but as Girls At Our Best! singer and Leeds inhabitant, Judy Evans explains: “Wouldn’t you be paranoid if you had the Yorkshire Ripper on your doorstep?” Ah well, they say it always happens to someone else…
It’s strange then, in this desolate place, to find such a strong unit, such a dedicated fighting force, a band called Girls At Our Best! They are a peculiar phenomenon. A band that doesn’t run along the usual pre-ordained tracks of shopping for business attention — begging around the clubs, scouring for gigs, scrimping for a debut ‘indie’ single, aiming towards a deal which will see them sink or swim — they have somehow reversed the procedure.
With a sum total of six songs, the six which their “perfectionist” songwriter and guitarist, James Alan, considers worthwhile, they(ve already released a couple of red hot singles —the infectious ‘Warm Girls’/ ‘Getting Nowhere Fast’ and the quality follow-up, ‘Politics!’ ‘lt’s Fashion’ on their home, and I mean home, label Record Records, distributed through the gallant Rough Trade. Both have garnered a spectacularly large audience through the Alternative Chart along with some interested press acclaim; in fact, since they were released a few months ago, the chart has seldom seen the band’s absence. Yet Girls At Our Best! have never played a single gig.
The band’s background, covered by Des Moines in a featurette earlier this year, lies deep in the history of Leeds bands (although not in the Mekons/Gang Of Four sector of Leeds bands which Alan admits to finding “a bit sort of serious, well, painful actually”). A group named SOS started off the ascent with Alan and GAOB! bassist, Gerard ‘Terry’ Swift, in ’77 and this venture was followed by The Butterflies after the former ran into Judy Evans at art college. Al’ parties concerned agree that GAOB! is the band at its best so fare But whence the peculiar name?
Judy, who has evidently answered this question many times before, sheds some light: ‘*It’s taken from the song ‘Warm Girls’, and suppose it’s an identity of sorts.”
James Alan: like the idea of a name that reflects the way a band are —like the Clash. Something along those lines. Something with similar feeling to the one that the Clash inspired. ”
Throughout their short history (as GAOB! and as the fore-running Butterflies), James, Judy and Terry have been drummerless Their singles have been completed with the aid of friends and stand-ins but, now, an ex-Expelaire, Darren Carl Harper who is better known as Titch, has taken over the sticks and that past problem is soon to be taken over by some new ones. Like, surely GAOB! are much sought after and much used by the major-record companies?
James: “A lot of them have shown interest — EMI, Warners, Chrysalis, Polydor and so on but we haven’t made any strong moves towards-a signing.”
Terry: ‘ ‘We’ve never gone any further than letting them hear our records.
James: ‘ ‘The thing is, so many bands leap into being signed up and then they have mishaps.”
Judy: “We don’t take any shit! We don’t intend to. We know that we'” have to deal with, say, journalists — people like your ‘
Titch: “‘Besides, I learned a lot from playing with the Expelairs, from their experiences with record companies and deals. The end result is often no money and ‘ little success.”
AT PRESENT, money’s not a great problem on the horizon. All of the band have day jobs (night-jobs for James and Judy, who work together in a Leeds club-cum-music venue called the Warehouse) which keep them on a financial even keel, although they’re left with too little time to concentrate on the music as much as they’d like to. I ask them if it wouldn’t be easier to do as the other bands do — sign on the dole and speed up their musical aspirations?
Judy: “We couldn’t be on the dole, we’re too used to working. Also, not being short of money means that we don’t immediately need a record company to prop us up. We can afford to wait for the right offer.”
All this talk of deals and money. You’ve yet to play a gig!
Terry: ‘*We’ll be signed up before we do a gig. There’s no point in playing in shitty places, in toilets. ”
James: “It’s a wonderful idea. Why, they’ll be signing up a band that they haven’t even seen! ”
It almost sounds as if you’re playing games with the music business, as if the challenge of taking these people on at their own game is as satisfying as playing the songs?
James: ‘ ‘In a way, the music is a small part of it. The whole thing is a challenge. I mean, at the moment, we do enjoy all aspects of being GAOB! but it’s wise to make sure that we’re in a position of making the music without having the hassles of not having enough to eat. That’s the way it should continue. ”
Judy: “A game? I suppose you could think of it in that way.”
Such business suss sounds good on paper, let’s hope it works in practice. Whatever the band’s mental confidence, they have a strong anchor in their music (ie their records), an honest, authoritarian pop. It’s a solid sound which leaves just the right amount to the listener’s imagination and the power is brought through by way of great production an outer coating which rarely gilds most tatty independents. The production is, of course, controlled by Girls At Our Best!
Terry: ‘We don’t arrive with a song and hand it over to someone else to manage’
James: We know what sort of sound we want There were definitely some deliberate ideas for the singles that were worked out before we entered the studio. ‘
Judy: ‘It saves time, after all. So many bands go into a studio for hours and hours, spend hundreds of pounds, but the production’s so bad, They don’t know what they re doing.”
But don’t you leave yourselves too little scope, too little chance for experiment?
James: ‘ ‘No. it’s better to set a rigid idea that makes everything easier to do well.’
Titch: ‘ ‘And we do each song as it is. Although some of the songs may Sound similar, there’s certainly no fixed ‘group sound’. “
OF COURSE, with a collection of six songs, Girls At Our Best! cannot sit back and philosophise about the future for too long. But they’re willing to bide their time until they feel they have enough “perfect” material on which to base their signing to a major — “There’s not a lot of point in signing to an independent really; it’s only the major companies which have the facilities and the money to support a band”
They despair of much of the present music scene. Judy cites only Bow Wow Wow, Adam And The Ants and Motorhead as bands worth seeing, while James sums up the circumstances thus: “On the whole, most groups are pretty awful. It makes us really want to do something good. We (him and Judy) buy Top Ten records. I know you’re not supposed to like them, but most are great.” (Methinks working in a disco has much to do with this; James has Lipps Inc next to the Clash in his record collection.)
Judy: “I do prefer the chart stuff to the alternative stuff. It’s more fun!”
And yet your records are distributed through that. most alternative of record companies; Rough Trade?
Terry laughs:” That’s the thing with so many of their bands. All hung up on ‘the typical Rough Trade sound. Heavens, we’re not like that.”
Judy: “The people who work there are much better than most of the bands. They’re such nice people so different from a major.
James: “But going back to the idea of Rough Trade and the alternative charts, the whole idea is so obsessed with fashion. I’m sure a lot of people have bought our records because they’ve seen them in the alternative charts and therefore seen them as fashionable, as really, er, cool. Those people will be very disappointed in us. As far as selling out goes, we’ve already sold out . . I hate that idea!”
With that, we’re up and off on a pub tour of Leeds which Culminates in five hours spent in the Warehouse club — an experience which leaves me more sure than before that enjoy disco best when I’m listening to heavy metal (and vice versa). At the end of the evening, ‘Politics!’ wafts through the sound system. Was there ever such a blissful relief?
The more observant readers among you may have noticed the rapid occurrence of the word “we” in this feature all the more to prove that Girls At Our Best! are a unified force, a force for the industry to contend with. The implements of war will be brains rather than fists, Don’t say I tell you so…