GIRL – Wasted Youth

Girl’s debut album ‘Sheer Greed’ wasn’t a massive success upon release in January 1980.  It reached a modest #33 on the UK album chart and spawned two flop singles. With Iron Maiden, Saxon, Judas Priest and Motorhead all scoring top five hits on the album charts during the year, so with that in mind, Girl’s chart placing seemed somewhat modest.  However, what the young band had lacked in sales they made up for with a sheer weight of live appearances.  Regulars at the legendary Marquee, the band also supported a lot of famous rock acts throughout 1980 and 1981 and rarely seemed to be off the road.

Upon returning to the studio in 1982 and seemingly having spent an entire year on stage, they were arguably a more experienced band.  Their second album, ‘Wasted Youth’ retains a lot of the youthful energy present on the debut, but in a few instances shows off some more sophisticated playing.  Not that it won over the great British record buying public – the album barely sold enough copies to scrape the top 100 album chart upon its original release.

Nevertheless, it has its champions and has been reissued a few times over the years.  A 2016 reissue from the Rock Candy label paired the original album with a complete show recorded at the Marquee in 1981, but that’s got nothing on the 2020 Cherry Red edition, a reissue that’s nothing short of a Girl fans dream.  A six disc box set, the deluxe package puts their second – and final – studio album in context with four discs of live material (two of which were recorded around the time of the album’s release) and a disc of rarities – previously only available as an expensive Japanese import and long out of print.

*

THE STUDIO MATERIAL

While Girl had improved as musicians, it’s the inclusion of a couple of really commercial tracks that benefits this second long-player the most.  The first of these, ‘Thru The Twilght’ is used as an effective opener, as it retains the glam-ish stomp of a couple of earlier Girl tunes, but couples that with a very AOR inflected chorus.  That’s enough to make it sound like a potential hard rock hit from the era, but when factoring in a couple of dive-bombing guitar sounds, a brilliant twin lead and a great bassline, it has all the makings of one of Girl’s best tunes.  Likewise, ‘Overnight Angels’ applies a slightly more commercial sound to the kind of swagger that filled ‘Sheer Greed’.  Here, you can really hear how Collen and Laffy have grown as players.  Their twin guitars – augmented by a superb stereo split – have a superb sound.  Phil Lewis’s vocal, meanwhile, has a young man’s arrogance, but at the same time, just enough of that easy cool that would have made him a great front man.  By the time this track reaches the lead guitar break – moving from something resembling early ZZ Top to something a touch more metal oriented – it really asserts itself as one of the Girl greats.  The fade, featuring the repeated refrain of “We are a rock ‘n’ roll band” is as cheesy as hell, but also a nice reminder of how these lads – barely out of their teens at the time of recording – seem unafraid of showing a youthful naivety.   Also in the top tier, the fantastic ‘Shattered Romance’ comes across like a muted version of Judas Priest circa ‘Stained Class’, which coupled with a bratty, post-teen vocal creates an excellent contrast, often showing why Girl managed to stand on the fringes of the NWOBHM.  Lewis turns in his best performance throughout this number, perhaps inspired by Collen and Laffy hitting upon such a masterful groove.  For lovers of the debut’s occasional forays into energetic shredding, the featured solo is an absolute corker too, with the musicians absolutely burning into their fretboards.  It’s a little raw and a little naive maybe, but if you’re a fan of straight up hard rock, these four minutes have the potential to absolutely thrill.   ‘Wasted Youth’ is worth owning for these tracks alone.

The rest of the material is of a slightly lesser quality, but there’s no obvious filler.  ‘Old Dogs’ moves away from Girl’s hard rock/glam hybrid rock for something with a quieter, moody feel, almost like a deep cut from a Thin Lizzy LP – or, more specifically, something from Brian Robertson’s short-lived Wild Horses project.  Although it shows off some great understated guitar playing, its a track that needs time to embed itself as Lewis’s choice of louder vocal seems very out of place.  It mightn’t be the album’s best tune, but in terms of trying something different, it’s an improvement on the previous album’s ‘Strawberries’.  It’s worth hearing just to experience how Phil Collen and Gerry Laffy had refined the way in which they blend together, while the semi-funky ‘Ice In The Blood’ is a great showcase for bassist Simon Laffy, whose playing is incredibly powerful throughout.  The swaggering arrangement is decidedly early 80s – half a world away from the more sophisticated funk metal boom of 1990 – but even so, the taut style shows off a band who’ve arguably improved as musicians since ‘Sheer Greed’ hit the shelves.

Elsewhere ‘Nice ‘n’ Tasty’ reinvents Girl as sweaty pub rockers (definitely the album’s weak link; it’s more than a little laboured and would only really find its true calling in the live set); ”McKitty’s Back’ teases with an intro that sounds like a dry run for a Gary Moore tune before blossoming into a busy, rock shuffle that is nicely innoffensive and Sweet Kids’ gives the album a trashy stomper that comes closest to transferring Girl’s live bluster into a studio setting.  Naturally, if you’re half way interested in a six disc reissue of ‘Wasted Youth’, you’re in it for the long haul and will end up loving this more workmanlike material in time, if you don’t already.

Both the title track and ’19’ present a very muscular sounding Girl, making it even easier to spot how they’d honed their chops through extensive live work.  ‘Wasted Youth’ works a mean, muted riff and heavier chug that the passing decades haven’t diminished.  Various tough guy lyrics are of the era, but there’s enough great music to make it very enjoyable several decades on. In terms of great riffs, ’19’ is a particular highlight. As with ‘Wasted Youth’, there’s just enough musical confidence to stop the number being weakened by a few tossed off lyrics.  The dual guitar work is on point once more, but if anyone carries this swaggering juggernaut of rock, it’s drummer Bryson Graham whose playing is incredibly hefty.  An ex-member of Spooky Tooth, Graham was drafted in to replace the AWOL Dave Gaynor.  On the basis of this album (and especially this track), his decade’s worth of experience helped to give Girl a real kick.  [It wouldn’t last, though: between recording the album and the sleeve’s photographs being taken, he’d already made way for Girl’s third drummer, Pete Barnacle.]

Although the production is a little thinner sounding and Girl had once again been outsold by many of their peers at the time of the original album’s release, there’s actually a lot of decent material on ‘Wasted Youth’.  Whether you’re approaching it purely for nostalgia, or someone who’s still curious about Phil Collen’s pre-Leppard existence, the best tracks sound great several decades after its original release.  It isn’t a masterpiece, but given the musical landscape in early ’82, it certainly deserved to break the top 40 with a lot of the era’s other hard rock platters.

*

Joining the ‘Wasted Youth’ album, this 6CD set includes the first domestic release of the rarities compilation, ‘Killing Time’.  A collection of tunes scheduled for an uncompleted third album (in both finished and demo form), this is welcome reissue for the Girl fan that couldn’t afford an expensive Japanese import back in 1997.  That’s not to say it is wall to wall gold, of course – like the two released albums, the material can be inconsistent – but there are some good songs to be discovered.

Of the lesser material, ‘Mad For It’ should have at least been half decent, since it revisits a couple of Girl’s mid-paced affairs and even though it does this with an almost casual approach, the playing is solid.  Since it’s also number that features some really tasteful lead work, it’s not a complete dud, but the fact that it’s presented seemingly before a proper chorus had been written, there’s something obviously amiss and ‘Mogal’ sounds like the basis for an interesting, slower tune with some terrific twin leads, but the demo quality recording loses something in translation.   Also somewhere in the “uninspired” pile, a cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’ doesn’t really stand up to being made into an 80s rock banger, but that didn’t stop it becoming a live favourite (as evidenced elsewhere in this box set); ‘Aeroplane Food’ weakens a solid riff with an odd lyrical contrast and a weird robotic vocal delivery on a non-chorus. Girl somehow manage to marry the kookiness of Sparks to the no-nonsense boogie of Status Quo and although that could have been very interesting, it doesn’t entirely work.

Thankfully, among the disc’s twenty track trawl through the archives, there are several tracks that stand up with Girl’s best tunes. ‘Lucky’ finds Girl in full on 70s swagger as they take an old Thin Lizzy-ish riff and apply that to the kind of youthful bluster you’ve become accustomed.  While the recording quality sounds a little lacking, it still holds up with a lot of other Girl tunes.  With the rhythm section in robust form, it almost doesn’t matter that the guitar solo perhaps could have used a little more polish.  The punchier ‘This Town’ throws out jagged riffs aplenty, hitting upon a sound that pumped the heart of the NWOBHM with Laffy and Collen approaching their fretboards with speed and precision, while Lewis’s over-enthusiastic vocal recalls the best parts of the debut LP.  One of the greatest “lost” Girl tracks, one listen to this is enough for you to realise how much of a travesty it is that the band never got to release that third LP.

Exploring their more AOR side, ‘Juliet’ has a simple and harmony driven chorus and a riff that sounds like a mid-80s Judas Priest affair (though pre-dating such things), making it an instant classic.  Also essential listening, ‘King Rat’ works a mean and funky bass riff, harsh chopping rhythms and a band full of 70s attitude.  It would have been great to hear this in better quality – or better yet, with Girl giving it six-nowt at a well recorded live show – but settling for the only available option, it’s still a fantastic track.  …And that’s before Laffy and Collen trade off angry solos, fully exploiting an old style stereo split while doing so.  Almost a companion piece to ‘This Town’, ‘Green Light’ shows how well Girl could cut loose on metal-oriented material when the mood took them and this has an absolutely razor sharp riff which, when coupled to a simple hook, sounds like another great throwback to the early 80s.

Those tracks combined very much make ‘Killing Time’ an essential collection filler, but the disc has a few more things of interest, both good…and average.  A demo recording of ‘Nothing But The Night’ shows off a somewhat workmanlike tune in a similar mould to ‘My Number’ and despite an unnatural fade attempting to disguise a missing intro, it more than suggests a good idea had taken shape. Although it sounds like there was more work to do here, it’s a solid listen.  ‘Big Night Out’ takes a solid metal riff, but after ‘Green Light’ and ‘This Town’ sounds like too much of the same.  It works much better if heard in isolation, of course, especially since Collen’s lead work is great.  Carrying a slightly off kilter chorus, ‘Make It Medical’ is an unfinished tune that tries its best with an AOR slant, yet doesn’t quite make the best of a decent melody.  With some fine playing and another great twin lead, you can hear a few things that more than suggest a reasonable track might have been on the cards in time.  The bigger issue is that Girl very much sound like they’re just reverting to easy and familiar territory throughout.  In retrospect, if you’re a big fan, it’ll be more obvious that the band’s demise wasn’t too far away, especially with 1983 heralding a new dawn for rock and metal via the thrash boom.

It seems almost redundant to say that ‘Killing Time’ is for fans only, but if you’re buying a six disc reissue of a Girl album, you’ll fall into that category.  Chances are you’ll find stuff to enjoy whatever the outcome, but in some ways it’s best not to set your expectations quite so high.  That said, ‘Juliet’, ‘This Town’ and ‘King Rat’ are great enough make it possible to forgive anything else that doesn’t quite hold up.

*

THE LIVE MATERIAL

The rest of extras are taken from live sources of varying quality.  Some of them have been available elsewhere, but the opportunity to experience material from five different sources in one place makes for interesting listening if you’re a big fan.

For the more forgiving listener, ‘Live At The Greyhound Fulham, 1982’ will the biggest draw from the live sets.   Previously issued as an official CD-r and only available directly from Gerry Laffy himself back in 2013, its inclusion within this box not only makes it widely available to fans for the first time, but also gives it a debut on a proper silver disc. Taken from an audience source, this is very much a rough diamond. Most of the bass is inaudible; the cymbals are harsh and the snare drums have a lot of echo.  However, on the plus side, an extremely loud presence from Phil Lewis shouting all of his stage announcements in full on London accent and tackling most of his vocal performances with a less than subtle approach gives the set a real energy. The constant reverb on the vocals kind of adds to the overall atmosphere and the setlist is great, although heavily weighted to the forthcoming ‘Wasted Youth’ material.

‘Overnight Angels’ sounds like the most raucous glam band ever, as Lewis whoops and yells over the familiar riff.  Collen’s lead work could cut through glass and the backing vocals are so carefree, they sound like the work of shouting, pissed up teenagers.  There’s a fair bet that a few members of the pub audience could do just as good a job!  Things go from ragged to flat out sloppy when Collen and Laffy totally misjudge the twin lead and a few bars of guitar are utterly off key…and yet, it’s all impossible to dislike.  ‘Standard Romance’ comes with a similar raucous approach.  There are moments where Lewis’s voice sounds as if could break the PA system and Collen’s lead guitar work, although energetic, shows the kind of flaws throughout that an official live album might’ve attempted to disguise.

Doing his best to rouse an already raucous crowd even further, Lewis plugs an upcoming Marquee gig and teases that “drinks are on the house” before tearing through another newer number ‘Ice In The Blood’ where a world of chopping guitars and heavy drums spring to life.  Moving through a solid ‘Little Miss Ann’ (finally making it clear that Simon Laffy is present and chugging those bottom end sounds) and the then new ‘Killing Time’, Lewis and company really seem intent on making sure their brand of glam has a huge punch.  During heavier numbers like ‘Naughty Boy’ and ‘Icey Blue’ (home to some truly terrible vocals!), as well as the should’ve-been-more-subtle ‘The Sound of Cars’,  the distortion is perhaps a little too intrusive, but to be fair, this recording was only ever going to appeal to Girl’s most hardcore fans.  While this set is a strong one from the off, it’s perhaps the closing pair of numbers that best show off the no-frills and no-holds-barred approach of the Girl live show of the time, as the band half murders ‘Nutbush City Limits’ before thrashing through their own ‘Hollywood Tease’ at a pace that sounds way too chaotic for a small venue.

Assuming you don’t mind eavesdropping on something that sounds as if were from the end of a corridor, this is actually one of the best ever Girl live sets.  Everyone is totally up for it and – after some adjustment – it captures the band in especially aggressive form.  Although it’s as raw as hell and certainly not quite good enough to warrant a full price stand-alone release, it is so much more exciting than ‘Live In London’ [Deadline Records, 2014], or ‘Live In Osaka ’82 from the ‘Sheer Greed’ deluxe set.

*

The previously issued ‘Live At The Marquee’ is in better quality, although still obviously bootleg derived.  The gig finds the band working through a very different setlist as they road test a lot of new material.  At the point the listener joins the performance, it fades in at the beginning of ‘Ice In The Blood’, making it unclear what’s been missed.  The performance itself is strong; Simon’s bass is high in the mix as he plays his funkiest ever tune and the lead guitars – as with the Fulham show – are incredibly shrill.  By comparison, ‘Icey Blue’, ‘Big Night’ and ‘Old Dogs’ sound muddier and distinctly more bootleggy,  The bluesier qualities of the latter deserved better than they get here, especially with Lewis putting in so many hard yards.  Still, it’s lucky fans are able to  hear this at all, slightly rough recording or otherwise. This is the funny thing, though; this Marquee recording is about a hundred times clearer than the Fulham Greyhound audience boot, but it doesn’t sound anywhere near as adrenaline fuelled.  Part of its more sedate feel definitely comes from a general lack of audience noise – the crowd sound half a mile away…

That’s not to say ‘Live At The Marquee’ doesn’t have energy; as with almost every extant live performance from the Girl archives, you can hear a band working the stage and audience incredibly hard.  There are great versions of ‘Standard Romance’, ‘Mad For It’, ‘Sweet Kids’ and ‘Overnight Angels’ waiting to be (re)discovered.  On each of these highlights, Simon and Phil C. play like champions and Phil L. does his very best to use his natural talents to entertain.  Although rough in places, it’s a decent collection filler if you don’t already own the disc in a previous edition.

Likewise, ‘Live In Tokyo 1980’ comes with a similarly rough feel, but with much less bottom end.  Even from the trebly source and with pops and crackles that more than suggest it’s been taken from an old vinyl bootleg, the recording provides a decent look back at the ‘Sheer Greed’ era.  The presence of older songs like ‘Little Miss Ann’, ‘Heartbreak America’ and ‘Passing Clouds’ are very welcome indeed and help the gig to stand as a pleasing alternative to the officially released ‘Live In Osaka 1982’.  A hard, driving performance of ‘Nice ‘n’ Nasty’ captures Girl in enthusiastic form – complete with wobbly backing vocals.  They’re giving their all on this still-new rocker which, at that time, was set to be the title track of their second album.  They obviously had a change of heart and most people would surely agree that naming the album ‘Wasted Youth’ was a change for the better.  The bootleg sound of this Tokyo gig means it isn’t for the casual listener, of course, but between a more balanced setlist and a solid performance, it’s an hour that has a lot to offer.

Those looking for more semi-professionally recorded live material (as per the aforementioned Osaka show included with the ‘Sheer Greed’ reissue) will gain the most enjoyment from four tracks taken from a January ’82 gig at Hammersmith Odeon. Although slightly thin sounding, most of the audio is very clear. There’s a decent amount of separation between the instruments and although a general lack of crowd noise suggests this is from a soundboard source, as a reference for how Girl sounded just a few days after the release of ‘Wasted Youth’, it’s invaluable.

The swaggering ‘Big Night’ places Lewis front and centre and in reasonable voice; the twin guitar assault from Laffy and Collen is grubby but serviceable and, all things considered, Girl seem in good shape from the outset.  ‘Overnight Angels’ sounds a little underwater due to some slight tape damage, but again, the recording shows off a band that sounds tough, even if in many respects the performance is far more polished than various recordings from the previous year.  A track that doesn’t always translate in the live set, the version of ‘My Number’ included here is especially good since all of the backing vocals and bass come through really clearly.  The performance isn’t always in tune, but that’s a different matter entirely!   [The sleeve notes claim these tracks are taken from a show at the Birmingham Odeon in ’82, but since Phil Lewis clearly addresses Hammersmith during one of his speeches, these tracks actually date from the January of that year when Girl supported UFO over two nights at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon.]

Switching to an audience source, more recordings from the UFO tour – this time actually at Birmingham Odeon – show that, on this night, Girl sound as if they’re trying to upstage the headliners at every turn. Although the source material is understandably rougher with a lot of microphone feedback at times, the band’s intents are clear as they move swiftly through a barrage of new material. ‘Standard Romance’, ‘Wasted Youth’, ‘Killing Time’, ‘Sweet Kids’ and ‘The Sound of Cars’ all sound as if they’ve been in the setlist for years, In fact, although the source isn’t perfect, these highlights still provide an interesting listen. The only real drawback is ‘Nutbush City Limits’, which sounds little more than a chaotic, metallic mess. As already demonstrated during the Fulham show and the earlier studio recording, it just doesn’t suit being transposed from funk to hard rock.  As expected, the almost-hit single ‘Hollywood Tease’ finishes this set with the usual fire and fury.  It’s worth noting that even via a particularly echoey recording, Collen’s lead guitar work sounds especially angry.

*

If you ask most rock historians, Girl are never going to be considered a world-beater of a band (though a few very vocal fans will argue…), but all the time labels like HNE are willing to celebrate their short career with sets as vast as this, they’ll never be forgotten.  If you’re one of those fans, you won’t need convincing to put your hand in your pocket for this box set.  You could argue that six discs for a single album reissue is excessive – and especially so, since four of them are in fairly rough quality – but this really isn’t a package for the casual buyer and never would have been considered so.  For the fans, it’s a lovingly curated piece.  It’s also reminder that ‘Wasted Youth’ is all too overlooked and also a real gift in that it cancels out the need to track down CD-Rs of some of the material. It all feels far more legitimate now that silver discs are involved.  If you can accept that you’re essentially paying for ‘Wasted Youth’ and a long overdue domestic release of ‘Killing Time’ with the rest thrown in for free, it becomes unbeatable box set, rough and ready or otherwise.

Further reading:  Girl – Sheer Greed

December/January 2020