irlschool was originally founded in March of 1978 as Painted Lady by members Kim McAuliffe (guitar/vocals) and Enid Williams (bass/vocals) who in turn recruited Kelly Johnson (vocals/guitar) and Denise Dufort (drums). After a debut 45 on the independent 'City' label, a company owned by band friend Phil Scott, titled Take It All Away they were snapped up by Motorhead manager Doug Smith and then signed to 'Bronze' in 1980. Later that same year, they released Demolition, an album that received a 28 U.K. with a Glam and Runnaways-esq style punk (the Runnaways are widely considered the very first all-female hard rock act). They even spun off a top 50 single for their cover of Gun/Adrian Garvitz track Race With The Devil. All of this activity set the stage for their hugely successful #5 U.K. charting EP St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1981), collaboration with their label mates and male buddies Motorhead who were on the rise in their own right. The record's 'A' side featured a tongue-in-cheek version of Johnny Kidd's Please Don't Touch, while on the 'B' side the rabble rousing continued with more Girlschool/Motorhead collaborations of Emergency and Bomber. Based on this success they sailed up the charts to U.K. 5 position for their follow-up album Hit And Run (1981).
Gil Weston (ex-Killjoys) then replaced the frustrated and departing Williams on bass.
Screaming Blue Murder (1982) followed making only a U.K. 27 position. Play Dirty came at the tail of the NWOBHM movement in 1983, seeing Girlschool take on a more hook laden and accessible musical style helped by Noddy Holder's (of Slade) and Jim Lea's production work. Although that production was intended to only be a single with the album originally scheduled to be recorded in Los Angeles with Quiet Riot producer Spencer Proffer, the chemistry with Holder and Lea got them the contract for the album. Despite the group changing both their appearance and their musical style in order to appeal to a large American audience, which 'Bronze' considered more AOR and glam rock rather than the band's traditional 'biker' metal. The album landed flat at 66 on the U.K. charts. A struggle between 'Bronze' and 'PolyGram' for the worldwide contract of the band resulted also in poor promotion for the album in the USA. A disastrous performance at Wembley Arena supporting ZZ-Top did not help Girlschool's already degraded image in Great Britain.
Johnson left during the follow-up US tour to an unsuccessful solo career, tired of the style of music the band had been playing over the past four years without a break and the lifestyle on the touring road. Johnson was be replaced by Cris Bonacci (ex-She) with Jaqui Bodimead (ex-She) adding an extra vocal and guitar spot to take over as front-woman. The almost bankrupt 'Bronze Records' failed to extend the band's recording contract for a follow-up album featuring these new members, however.
Released only in the U.S. by 'Mercury' (a division of 'PolyGram') in 1985, Running Wild failed to get a grip on the U.K. market, traditionally their stronghold. The album flopped, and the band was soon without a record contract again.
Now trimmed of Bodmead, the act attempted another all-star coup with Gary Glitter on a version of his I'm The Leader Of The Gang (I Am) in 1986 on 'G.W.R.', a label suggested by Lemmy whose band Motorhead had also been signed too ('Enigma' in the U.S.). The single failed, as did two other lackluster albums of theirs in the 1980s including Nightmare At Maple Cross (1986) and Take A Bite (1988), the former seeing Tracey Lamb (ex-Rock Goddess) take over from Weston.
A few years later, the girls came back to class with the returning line-up of Bonacci, McAuliffe, Dufort and adding Jackie Carrera on bass to complete the self-titled Girlschool (1992) and completing with a live set titled simply Live (1995) to little success on the indie 'Communique' label. The band was assumed ended thereafter, certainly from studio recording for what followed King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents (1997;live), Race With The Devil: Live (1998; live) were simple live renditions until the release of 21st Anniversary - Not That Innocent (2002) that saw Jackie Chambers take over from Bonacci. The plethora of compilations of old Girlschool material that had started to be released from 1989 kept the band alive on the CD market and guaranteed enough visibility to get a good number of gigs every year in every part of the world, often supporting other NWOBHM acts like Motörhead and Saxon.
Believe arrived in July 2004. In 2005, the band re-released Believe in a new package with a DVD containing footage taken from concerts of the 2000s and sold it through their official website. Unfortunately, the album was poorly distributed and remained unknown to large parts of its potential audience.
On 15 July 2007, Kelly Johnson died of spinal cancer, after six years of painful therapy and treatment of her illness.
Legacy arrived in October 2008. The album celebrates both the departed guitarist and the 30th anniversary of the band, who, so far, hold the record for the longest running female rock band ever. The recording was self-produced with the assistance of Tim Hamill and featured more individual compositions to reveal a large array of influences including: NWOBHM, punk and West Coast alternative rock.
Hit and Run - Revisited (2011) and Guilty as Sin (2015) followed.
Footnote: Founding drummer Denise Dufort is related to drummer Dave Dufort, who appeared on Angel Witch's debut album.