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'Headcase - 82%

Bertilak, May 7th, 2011

To a metal-fixated, pre-pubescent boy in England at the start of the 1980s, Motörhead were who you wanted to be and Girlschool were who you wanted to be with. Admittedly, you didn’t fully understand why (on either count), you just knew that you did. Consequently, ‘The St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ EP constituted something of a dream pairing, although the lewdly punning moniker of Headgirl chosen by the two bands was also something the average 10-year-old wouldn’t quite have grasped back in those naïve times.

The EP was released around the high-water mark of the mainstream popularity of NWOBHM – mere months before ‘No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith’ was destined to reach the number 1 spot in the UK album charts – but the motivation to record it was not a cynical urge to ring the cash tills but an unforeseen and oddly fortuitous consequence of Phil Taylor piledriving his head into the concrete during some post-gig shenanigans and thereby fracturing his neck, delaying Motörhead’s tour. Mind you, it was probably also not unrelated to Lemmy’s desire to spend a few days cooped up in a studio with Girlschool, almost certainly the only thing he had in common with English 10-year-old boys at the time. As his sleeve notes to the ‘No Remorse’ compilation wistfully observed some years later, “I still love Kelly”.

However, it’s also worth noting that those same sleeve notes see Lemmy describing ‘Please Don’t Touch’ as “…one of my proudest moments” and there is no doubt that despite the suspicion of novelty that inevitably attends a one-off collaboration like this, with its cover versions and fancy-dress sleeve photo, ‘The St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ is not a throwaway diversion from each band’s ‘real’ output but a genuinely solid addition to any metal fan’s collection that sees each band at the height of its game.

Originally released in 1959 by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, it’s not much of a surprise that ‘Please Don’t Touch’ is, in essence, very much a straightforward rock’n’roll song, driven along by a fast, springy bass line and crisp, energetic drumming with plenty of snare and rolls. What elevates it into the realm of metal is the overhaul undertaken by the combined bands, with a raw guitar tone and harsh vocals well to the fore thanks to a hard-edged, gritty production that gives plenty of depth to the twin bass lines of Kim and Lemmy and plenty of muscle to the blistering lead guitar work from Eddie and Kelly.

The sense of enthusiasm and experiment that pervades the EP is clear in the swapping of conventional roles, Eddie providing the lead vocals on the version of ‘Emergency’ and Kelly, rather than Kim, undertaking vocal duties for the Girlschool contingent on ‘Please Don’t Touch’. Indeed, the duet of Kelly and Lemmy is one of the highpoints of the track, Kelly’s rasping yet soulful voice a fitting feminine complement for Lemmy’s in their shared lines, and she holds her own very well in her solo verses, vibrant and powerful and perfectly fitting the track’s pacey and grimey tone. Hearing Lemmy squaring up to a more melodious vocal line than a conventional Motörhead number is also fascinating and he nails it well, without sacrificing one iota of his characteristically hoarse snarl.

The strong production by Bronze stalwart Vic Maile is nowhere better evidenced than in the guitar solo, which is really a guitar duo, comprising a tag match between Eddie and Kelly as they swap sections between them. Each guitar is clear and distinct and tears out of the speakers with plenty of satisfying distortion, both playing with precision and pace as they try and outdo each other. Considering ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke’s status as the greatest of Motörhead’s guitarists, Kelly more than keeps pace with him, a high-profile testament to her ability that lives on following her untimely death in 2007.

After the merging of the two bands for ‘Please Don’t Touch’ (minus the fully neck-braced Phil, of course, who provided only “insults and inspiration” according to the sleeve notes), the B side sees each band separate out to cover one of the other’s songs. Girlschool’s take on ‘Bomber’ includes some odd whipcrack sound effects in place of cymbals but other than that is a fairly reverential facsimile of the Motörhead classic, with Kim’s slightly tentative vocals only adding to the subdued feel. The solo again showcases Kelly’s fluid style but overall the song is rather too clean and antiseptic, lacking the dirty low-end and fuzz of the original and highlighting, by its absence, that ability of Motörhead to commit totally to every song and simply let rip. This urge to perpetually give it 100% is perfectly illustrated by Motörhead’s own aggressive and hyper-accelerated run through (or over) Girlschool’s ‘Emergency’.

Generally, the production of the B-side tracks lacks the spark of ‘Please Don’t Touch’, both songs being noticeably flatter and more anaemic, particularly Eddie’s vocals on ‘Emergency’, which are perfectly decent but way too far back in the mix and swamped by Lemmy during the chorus. However, the same cannot be said of his excellent solo, which is needle-sharp and precise and complemented by some great double-kick drum work from Denise Dufort.

Denise is, in many ways, the star of ‘The St Valentine’s Day Massacre’, fulfilling the drumming duties on every track in Phil’s absence and doing a marvellous job in a variety of styles – light and precise for the rock’n’roll-flavoured ‘Please Don’t Touch’, solid and metronomic for ‘Bomber’ and equally as aggressive and bludgeoning as Lemmy and Eddie on ‘Emergency’. However, singling out one person for praise doesn’t really fit in with the genuine sense of camaraderie that pervades this record, the feeling that everybody involved was equally important and wholly believed in it. There’s no taint of a mercenary cash-in nor any suspicion that Girlschool were seeking to ride on the coat-tails of their more illustrious peers, it’s just a great heavy metal EP where all concerned were palpably having a great time to such an extent that the listener can’t help but be carried along.

Even now, more than 25 years after the event, the mythical union that was Headgirl holds up very well and plays its part in ensuring that middle-aged English gents still want to be Lemmy (even though the only point of similarity in their lifestyles now is a love of PG Wodehouse and an early night) and, when all’s said and done, Enid can still fill a pair of leather trousers better than most…