Musical scenes are equal parts think-tanks and ecosystems. While it might seem like a non-stop mindless party to fans on the outside, the fact is that bands are often in a state of constant evolution due to close proximity to one another. Maintaining a constant touring and recording schedule is hard and often lonely work, but empathetic admiration and camaraderie among musicians in this insular world can prove to be fertile ground for creativity.
Collaborations are displays of deep mutual respect among peers. While they have become more commonplace in recent years, the practice is almost as old as the genre itself. While it doesn’t come up very often in contemporary conversations, when British greats Motörhead and Girlschool combined forces under the banner of Headgirl in 1981, it yielded the biggest hit for either band at the time.
It all began in March 1979, when Motörhead took Girlschool on the road to open for them on their Overkill tour. In his autobiography White Line Fever, frontman Lemmy Kilmister said: “I listened to a single called ‘Take It All Away’ that they’d put out on some little label and thought they were fucking excellent. Plus I liked the idea of girls being in a band–I wanted to stick it up these pompous bastard guitarists’ asses, because Girlschool’s guitarist, Kelly Johnson, was as good as any guitarist I’ve ever seen in my life. The nights when she was really on, she was as good as Jeff Beck. So I went down to see them at a rehearsal they were having. I thought they were great, and I went back and told the others, ‘They’re coming on tour.’ The boys were a bit weird about it at first, but after the first night they played with us, they shut up.”
In December of 1980, Motörhead’s drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor broke his neck. Unable to play, Motörhead’s producer, Vic Maile suggested they record a single with Girlschool. At Lemmy’s suggestion, this new configuration tackled a cover of the song “Please Don’t Touch” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. For the B-side of the slab of wax, each band took a stab at a track from the other’s respective catalog, with Girlschool giving their all to “Bomber” and Motörhead attacking “Emergency.” Notably, Girlschool drummer Denise Dufort played drums on the entire single due to Taylor’s medically-induced absence.
Released on February 14th of 1981, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart, marking the biggest success either band ever had up until the moment. The bands filmed a concert for a Nottingham TV show called Rockstage on February 6th and on February 19th they appeared on Top of the Pops under the name “Headgirl” to play “Please Don’t Touch.”
Even though the collaboration was short-lived, both bands maintained a close friendship for years to come. When Girlschool joined Motörhead as special guests for their ‘Inferno UK Tour’ in 2005, Lemmy teamed up with the band at the end of their set at the Brixton Academy gig on November 19th to play “Please Don’t Touch” for the first time at a proper live event.
Check out Headgirl demolishing Top Of The Pops below!