A love for hard rock and heavy metal convinced two school friends, and the singer’s younger sister, aged just nine at the time, to form a band. That band would go on to win them support slots with the likes of Iron Maiden, front covers of Kerrang! and record deals with major labels. And now they’re back! GREG MOFFIT meets ROCK GODDESS and discovers that LOVE LINGERS STILL
Formed in Wandsworth, south London in 1977, Rock Goddess were one of the few all-girl rock bands of their era. The original line-up of sisters Jody (guitar/vocals) and Julie Turner (drums) alongside bassist and school friend Tracey Lamb released just two albums at the height of their fame, but they remain one of the most memorable acts from the NWOBHM, and not just as members of the fairer sex. In ’77, Jody and Tracey were a mere thirteen – that’s one three – years old, while Julie was – wait for it – just nine. They may have still been several years away from gigging or recording, but their sheer fresh-faced innocence places them none too far from the likes of The Jackson Five in terms of diaper-to-stage career curves.
Casual observers might baulk at their inclusion in the NWOBHM, but they were right at the heart of it. Beyond generic notions of what a typical band of the day sounded like, the NWOBHM was a surprisingly broad (pun intended) church, and the Rock Goddess sound – gritty, thudding, straight-for-the-throat, with the occasional ballad tossed in – captured the working class, street life zeitgeist as well as any other.
Managed by Jody and Julie’s father John, the girls enjoyed an almost meteoric rise to fame compared to some of their male counterparts – it was almost as if the testosterone-fuelled press hadn’t seen an all-girl outfit before – but they duly paid their dues in the sweaty, piss-stained pubs and clubs, asked no favours and received no special treatment. When success did arrive, it was well-deserved. By contrast, line-up disruption and record company woes tragically meant that albums three and four achieved almost nothing. Album three remains in a dust-covered vault somewhere, unreleased to this day, while album four appeared only in France. We’ll leave you to decide which record suffered the worse fate. Our tale of ladies, leather and hot licks, however, begins at the beginning…
“Our dad’s a musician and had been in the business since forever,” Jody recalls, “so for me and Julie, that’s how we became involved in music. Tracey was my best friend from school.
My dad also had a rehearsal room and one day I brought Tracey down for a jam and from that minute the band was literally born. We were very, very young so it’s all a bit vague! But I do remember that first day at rehearsal and Julie with her school skirt on behind the kit. We were all buzzing that we were in a band!”
Back in the late ‘70s – and even into the ‘80s – female rock fans often faced a harsh grilling from blokes along the lines of “Do you REALLY like this stuff then?” The idea being that very few “chicks” actually dug heavy music and that for some it was nothing more than a pose or perhaps a chance to hang out with tough-looking biker types and so on. Looking back, it all seems laughable, and you can be sure that the Rock Goddess girls – and the vast majority of their lady compatriots – were every bit as raunchy for rock as any of the boys.
“AC/DC, Sabbath, Zeppelin, The Runaways, Van Halen…” gushes Tracey with obvious enthusiasm.
“And Kiss!” yells Jody. “I was always and will always be a massive Kiss fan. I was in the fan club when I was twelve!”
Listening back to the band’s earliest rehearsals and recordings, it’s perhaps unsurprising to perceive a certain punky edge. After all, ’77 was punk’s spit-soaked peak, and the music was everywhere. And, of course, many other NWOBHM outfits borrowed more than a little inspiration from punk, whether musically, the DIY approach to releasing records, or both. As ubiquitous and popular as the likes of Purple, Zeppelin and Sabbath still were, as the ‘70s drew to a close, there was an undeniable sense that the dinosaurs of rock’s first great dynasty might soon be facing an ice age of their own.
“Yeah, we did have a punk phase,” says Jody. “If you think about how young we were, at that time punk was huge. But because we were young, we liked the Sex Pistols and things; we didn’t really know all the hardcore punk bands. I liked the vibe of punk, the anarchy of it. It shook it all up a bit, which was important at that time as things had got a bit stale. There were a lot of great prog bands around who were brilliant musicians, but I think kids wanted something simpler that they could maybe play themselves and with that rebellious side to it. The fashion was amazing as well. I wanted a big mohawk when I was about twelve but my dad quite rightly wouldn’t let me.”
Rock Goddess played their first ever gig at the 101 Club in Clapham, south London in 1980. By this time, both Jody and Tracey were still only sixteen while Julie – gamely attempting to catch them up – was just twelve.
“I think I was in the toilet a lot!” laughs Jody. “It was quite nerve-wracking as it was surprisingly packed.”
When Julie finally turned fourteen, the band were able to go professional without falling foul of the law (something about Victorian chimney sweeps). Once they did so, progress was swift, with various support slots, their own headlining shows, and a feature in Kerrang!’s regular up-and-coming talent column Armed & Ready coming in quick succession. Several nights headlining London’s legendary Marquee club and their first UK tour saw the band on the front cover of Sounds, and by 1982 the girls found themselves on the bill at the Reading Festival alongside luminaries such as Twisted Sister, Budgie, Iron Maiden, and many more. No mean feat, to say the least. All of which gave John Turner a lot of leverage as he set about securing a record deal. The band tried out for EMI and CBS who, although quite keen, wanted to wait a while for things to mature a little more. In the interim, however, A&M stepped in and by late ’82 the girls were holed-up in the studio recording their self-titled debut album with producer Vic Maile (Motörhead/Girlschool).
“We’d done a couple of demos and one track for a compilation album”, recalls Jody, “but not much. Vic Maile was just such a fabulous guy. He was like an uncle to us, he was just so lovely. He made us feel so relaxed and he didn’t pressure us, so in those terms, it was a fabulous environment. He understood us, got the best out of us, and we could not have wished for a better producer.”
Preceded by the 1982 single ‘Heavy Metal Rock ‘N’ Roll’, the album itself was released in early ’83 to general critical acclaim, its brazen, ballsy sound grabbing fans and critics alike, and the trio soon found themselves plastered across the front cover of Kerrang! Thus dawned a short but sweet time that saw Rock Goddess score eye-teeth support slots with both Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, a co-headline trek with Y&T and, of course, mounting their own headlining tours.
“We couldn’t have asked to support better bands than that,” says Jody. “We toured with Leppard twice and apart from the band being lovely people, the crew and everyone were so helpful and nice to us and it was such a great experience. And then to watch them from the side of the stage with a beer – we were living the dream! Maiden like a game of footie so we often sound checked while watching them play.”
Despite the tantalizing proximity of truly heady heights, behind the scenes, all was not well in Goddess land. Disgruntled and discombobulated – our words not hers – Tracey decided to quit.
“I think it was just a disagreement about the musical direction of the band, really,” she recalls. “I wanted the band to be more melodic and the others wanted it to be heavier.”
Jody and Julie advertised for a replacement and quickly found one in the shape of Dee O’Malley – a bassist who also played keyboards – and forged ahead with the recording of their second album ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ with producer Chris Tsangarides (Thin Lizzy/Judas Priest). Although just as successful as their debut, the follow-up – released in 1984 – was somewhat slicker; smoother song-writing and the addition of synths ultimately tempering some of the band’s early bite.
“Chris was another fabulous producer,” says Jody, “and a great man, but we were touring so we had a much shorter time to prepare, which is not ideal. I never really sit down and say ‘I want to write this way’, I just write and what happens, happens. So it wasn’t contrived that we had to sound a certain way. But it was tight – tour, write, record, tour.”
In the days when record labels ruled the earth, pressure on musicians to be either in the studio or on the road was standard, and across the decades, many promising bands have been sunk by such unreasonable demands. In ’84, however, the tide was changing anyway, with big hair and big trousers lurking just around the corner. It was the age of MTV. Motley Crue’s 1983 breakthrough album ‘Shout At The Devil’ was still cooling in the racks, Bon Jovi’s debut effort had just been released, and meanwhile back in Blighty metal titans Judas Priest were busily preparing to ransack their dignity with the Aqua Net avalanche that was ‘Turbo’. Against this background, Rock Goddess were simply going with the flow.
“My hair got bigger by the year!” laughs Jody. “But it was a very pressurised time and things just started to go wrong. But we all stayed mates and it was just one of those things. Tracey’s never really been out of the fold.”
The 1980s fetish for rock dudes that looked like ladies – from the androgynously pretty to the terribly tranny – seemed to, in its own strange way, further legitimise the objectification of women within the scene. From Whitesnake, Crue, Ratt and beyond, this trend led to a bonanza of barely-concealed breasts and butts in rock mags and on the aforementioned MTV. It was no surprise, then, that Kerrang! – and in time the rest of the press – began staging puerile poster photo-shoots such as the former’s Lady Killers series. Girlschool, Lee Aaron, Doro Pesch, Lisa Dominique, Beki Bondage, Rock Goddess: you name it; they were snapped, together if possible. But despite all this, our girls simply don’t recall it as a tedious, trying time at all.
“Generally no,” says Jody, “and that’s really honest. I never got a sense of that and maybe that’s because we weren’t even thinking that people would be like that. We weren’t looking for it. It sounds cheesy, but I wish I could give you a terrible story but I just don’t have one.”
“Most of our musician friends were very supportive,” Tracey adds. “We were such a novelty – obviously Girlschool were doing it at the time – but there was no-one else from Britain and we got a lot of respect.”
No sooner had the band begun to capitalise on the success of ‘Hell Hath No Fury’, disaster struck again. On the eve of their first US tour, Dee O’Malley announced that she was pregnant and would have to pull out. Although the album had since gained a Stateside release and provided them with their biggest success to date, Dee’s departure made finding a replacement impossible. As missed opportunities go, it was massive.
“We had a tour all fixed up with an American agent,” Jody laments, “but then mother nature came along. Dee was in love with the father so that was that really.”
A period of relative chaos and confusion then followed. Staff ‘restructuring’ at A&M meant that many of the familiar faces that John and the band had dealt from day one were gone, and they soon found themselves without a record deal. A third album – begun but uncompleted with Chris Tsangarides – lay in limbo. Elsewhere, recordings produced by late UK guitar legend Paul Samson in 1985, in an attempt to salvage the best songs from the aborted Tsangarides sessions, became mired in delays. Issued in 1987 as ‘Young And Free’, its extremely limited European release came far too late to benefit the band. In a last-ditch bid to make the best of a very bad job, Rock Goddess regrouped as a four piece with Julia Longman on bass and Becky Axten on keys, but the end came shortly thereafter.
Keen to keep playing, Jody gigged with various musicians, sometimes as The Jody Turner Band, later as Braindance, and very occasionally as Rock Goddess, although never with any pretense of it being a proper reunion.
“I got together a band that didn’t involve Julie,” Jody explains. “She’d already decided she’d been doing it since she was nine and now she was gonna have a different life. Then there was a problem and Julie came back to do a tour, but she never intended to stay. But she saved the tour, we had fun, and it was good to play with guys actually. What I loved about Braindance was that it was a complete departure, getting into the heavier side of metal. It was pretty melodic in places but it started introducing different styles and I really enjoyed that.”
While Jody subsequently embarked on a career that she cryptically refers to as ‘programming’, sister Julie became a happily married mother of two. Tracey, meanwhile, following a short-lived stint in a band called She, hooked up with Girlschool for a decade before training as a fitness instructor, emigrating to Spain, and opening a rock club, amongst other things. Which brings us neatly full circle as the girls prepare to unleash their comeback album and embark on their first live dates in a very, very long time.
“We moan about aches and pains and what ailments we have but apart from that we’re in pretty good nick!” laughs Jody. “But it’s good to have a Pilates instructor in the band. I was surprised how quickly Julie got back into it not having played for 25 years. I was thinking it might have taken her a few months but it was less than a week. The main thing when we got back together was that the adrenaline and excitement and chemistry was there. We immediately knew it was the right thing, the way it should be and there’s certainly unfinished business. We’re really, really excited by this.”
The fans, for their part, are every bit as enthusiastic.
“It’s been absolutely crazy!” beams Jody.
“I was absolutely stunned and amazed at the reaction,” Tracey adds. “I started a Rock Goddess official Facebook page and that was up to 5000 in just three months. I had to start a new personal page and my own was drowned in Rock Goddess fans. I’m not complaining but I never saw any posts from my friends and family!”
Although the band are diving back into a world awash with reformations, they themselves see it brimming with opportunity. The business may have changed almost beyond recognition, but the power and passion of fans and bands alike remains resolutely undiminished.
“I love that!” agrees Jody. “I think it’s energised bands that were around back then to reform and I’m amazed how many people who wanna listen to us now are so young.”
“The category from say 15 to 35 is really growing,” says Tracey. “They’re really interested in the music, and the NWOBHM was very significant. And it’s worldwide – many of our fans are coming from places like Mexico and Brazil.”
With the album – tentatively entitled ‘Unfinished Business’ – just recently completed and live dates – including Swedenrock and Germany’s Headbangers Open Air already booked – 2015 is looking busy and busier for Rock Goddess.
“There’s new energy which is very exciting,” Jody concludes. “I think if anything, this album, in terms of how diverse it is, it’s like a cross between the first two albums. It came along really well and we’re really excited about it. We’re looking forward to it, we’re really gonna enjoy it, and we’re just dying to get back out there. We’re not going in half-arsed. We’re aiming high!”
Originally in Iron Fist #13
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