As a kid of the 80s I found out about GIRL after reading articles on the bands that rose out of the ashes of their demise, DEF LEPPARD and L.A. GUNS (GIRL featured Phil Collen and Phil Lewis respectively). After seeking out their albums at various out of the way shops, I was hooked. GIRL came from the early 1980 era U.K. scene but had a totally different image and hard rock sound than the denim and leather metal of Iron Maiden or Saxon. Gerry Laffy and Phil Collen formed a fantastic glitter guitar duo and the band went far enough to smear a nice little mark across rock and roll history. The truth is, they deserve to mentioned along with Hanoi Rocks as two of the ancestors of the glam metal craze that followed their breakup and laid the groundwork for many a cock rocker to strut. Phil Lewis suggested we hit up Gerry for a chat as he is basically an expert on all things GIRL and we, of course, sought him out. Read on….
(Photos are from Gerry and Mark Brazier’s personal stash)
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hey Gerry, thanks for talking to us! I’ve been into GIRL for a number of years now and noticed there was a group on Facebook called “Sheer Greed” dedicated to you guys and then found you through Phil Lewis. What have you been up to as of late and did you start this new “Sheer Greed” page??
Gerry Laffy: I didn’t start the Sheer Greed page, it was a fan but there are several fan sites in various forms that have popped up on Facebook and on Myspace. I just liked this one, so I started to feed it pix and information. I have tried to seperate my Facebook page from my musical past as the endless posts by me, fans and that about the band drive my family and mates nuts!! Since I played guitar with John Taylor for 3 years on his sabatical from Duran Duran (1997-2000) I have worked on my art and I have trained and worked in Special Educational Needs since 2004. Now I work at a college with a department for SEN. I also work at a charity called Centre 404 where I run art sessions for various group from mild learning difficulties to severely challenged kids and adults. I really enjoy it but as you can imagine it can be challenging and tiring.
LRI: I’m sure you have answered this a few million times but what led to you getting into guitars and forming GIRL?
GL: Around 1975 my Dad got made redundant, with the money he gave me I bought a Shaftesbury (Bob Marley) Les Paul copy and a W E M amp that when cranked to 11 with a cushion stuffed in front sounded much like the rig I used in Girl and most other bands I later played with. I toyed with music but was more into art, then 1977/8 I met Philip Lewis. My brother Simon and his band were doing a session for him. We met and got on, soon we thought maybe we should try put a band together. Several incarnations came and went, when in 1979 we met Phil Collen and a real trio was born. We called it Girl.
LRI: GIRL released their debut on Jet and were a top 40 band based mainly on the strength of not only the performances but also the songwriting. The old saying is you have your whole life to write your debut, how long did you guys have the material that found its way onto “Sheer Greed”? Songs like “My Number” and “Hollywood Tease” were remarkably strong. Whose idea was it to include the cover of “Do You Love Me” by KISS when you guys clearly had a full album of your own songwriting?
GL: Well my recollection was that it was a record company influence. It is possible Lewis found this track and thought it may work for us. We sure were no Kiss fans though…more like Tom Petty, Queen or Aerosmith back then. Jet Records fucked with us often, songwriter Russ Ballard was often the topic of meetings…for some reason they thought we needed a hit single…we kept saying we are a rock band, fuck the singles. They NEVER worked and we did do a few, “Do You Love Me”, “Love Is A Game”, “Juliet”…ALL shite! “Hollywood Tease” was a romp that Phil Collen brought to the table…he and Lewis just emerged with it complete from a writing session. We all loved it. “My Number” was a song written very early that had legs so it just stayed…all along the line people have responded to that song. I listened to it a week or so again. I can still see why. After Phil Collen joined and we named the band Girl, we started to write as GIRL, the 3 of us…truthfully the drummers came and went, bassists too, until I demanded my brother leave his band and join us…we had a deal…”just come” I said. I’d say a good 50% was written within 6 months prior to it going down on tape. “Do You Love Me” was an after thought…a Nick Tauber (producer) idea maybe actually now that I think about it??? I wanted Chris Tsangerides to do the whole album, he really had us nailed as a sound…a really cool guy we thought. None of us liked Tauber, he was a label man, not ours….that was another theme that kept coming up… the wankers the label thrust at us…Nigel Thomas took the biscuit there…he destroyed months of Wasted Youth recordings in a weekend remixing it in Stockholm but that’s another story altogether.
LRI: Do you recall anything in particular as far as how “The Things You Say” or “Little Miss Anne” came together and do a lot of people mention those tracks as favorites off of SHEER GREED?
GL: I wrote both of them, took them to Philip who wrote lyrics. Both fairly early in the Sheer Greed writing process I’d say, evidently a little after the ‘his and his’ on “My Number” and what ever the song was we considered ‘HIS’ Number…I’m not kidding this IS where the title came from.. “Little Miss Anne” was an Irish cleaning lady that came to a flat we shared…so that would have been Cromwell Gardens 78/79, as far as “the Things You Say”. I’m not sure how that came together. I do remember that the day after we got a deal and got into Morgan Studios to make the album we were doing guitars on that track and I was deathly ill with flu. I did my rhythm parts and then had to go home and die…so I asked Phil to do ‘my’ solo. He tried valiantly to mimic my style…(the whammy bar was a bit of a give away to anyone who knows my playing). Ironically, my favorite solo on that album is Phil Collen’s main solo on “The Things You Say”…its SO emotive, when I first heard that I was blown away, my estimation of him as a player went up 1000%. The speed widdlies were cool but never banged my bell, his ability to bend a string with that much emotion did! Phil was ahead of his time as a guitarist…he was a leader not a follower…like Van Halen…love him or hate his style he SURE wasn’t easy to copy! His love of Richie Blackmore and Al Di Meola helped forge a great style. Good luck getting from one end of the neck to the other with 1000 perfectly placed notes, in scale, in tune and with not 1 bum note. THAT is Phil Collen, he can do that all day long. Me? Sure I have feel, but its a bit more like a train wreck, at any time the whole thing could come right off the rails. These really ARE 2 of my favourite songs too though.
LRI: You guys DID manage to do some good touring during your day and the live show was always the thing to set the bands apart, especially back then. Hindsight being 20/20, are most of your memories of the gigs for the first album good ones?
GL: We were lucky, we did get some good touring mates to hang with. We were such newbies and we ended up being under the wing of UFO who were veterans. Our first ever tour was opening for them in Europe. Then in the UK, before we went out on our own. Its ALWAYS better as a new band to do your own shows, support acts get a rough time or just get ignored. We took shit from crowds because we asked for it, we were camp, confrontational and liked to wind up the NWBHM punters. We opened for UFO, Kiss, Ozzy, Ted Nugent, ZZ Top, Pat Travers…but for us we peaked at the Marquee shows. For me that was the best time, those home shows. Scotland, too, for some reason, really took us to its ample bosom! Some of our gigs were dynamite, some pretty ropey. For sure our debut at Music Machine was nothing short of awesome to most who watched it…so I have been told many times and the press LOVED it! Maybe it all started to slide down hill from there (laughs).
LRI: By the time you got the second album out it was more clear than ever that the band itself was tight but in terms of the New Wave of Metal bands you were CLEARLY odd man out and had your own style. Do you think THAT individuality amongst the scene helped or hurt the next album WASTED YOUTH?
GL: There were a few issues going on. An empass with our label, heroin was proliferate, and we were sick of being hated so we backed off the make up and that, we wore what we wore off stage on stage, leather jackets and “normal” clothes. It was perceived as a cop out by some but on the 1982 UFO tour the audiences certainly gave us a chance. So evidently the camp as Christmas approach perhaps DID put the rock crowd off. We wanted to be liked, by then we wanted to be a working / touring band…but we had too much against us. No label support, no manager, no producer. We did the best we could but it was a struggle.
LRI: There were still some great songs there on WASTED YOUTH including the title track and “Old Dogs” among others. Was there additional pressure from Jet or within the band itself to break the group to a bigger audience or in the states and did that pressure start to wear on you?
GL: We had no pressure, we didn’t give a fuck what the label wanted. We had alternate income, we had smack and we had our music. There were some good tracks we had written, but no producer, so it was never captured anywhere near as good as it could have had some hot shot producer honed it and actually got great results on tape. To boot we had Nigel Thomas remix the entire album in a weekend at Polar studios (Abbas studio in Stockholm). After the album was ill received Jet Records pulled us from Ozzy’s USA tour, the tour that broke Def Leppard WIDE open in the USA. To be fair, they also had Peter Mensch/Cliff Bernstein as managers and Mutt Lange to write and produce with them. I’m not saying we would have gone on to sell 70 million albums too but I do believe we would have been a household name, at least in rock circles.
LRI: GIRL of course did plenty of promotion from the early “videos” to interviews to touring. Do you consider some of that work a crash course on the music business and your career that followed?
GL: We soon learned to be defensive of the UK press, not to give them ammo. Initially we all wanted to do the Japanese interviews and constant photo shoots, but that soon became very boring, we would do photo shoots every week…and 1000 inane questions like what your favourite color (laughs).
LRI: You, of course, toured with Ozzy but we were wondering who was the best or WORST touring partner GIRL had in your opinion?
GL: UFO was like family…the Kiss tour we had a miserable time, ASSHOLE crew and a spitting, hate filled audience, up front at least! Ozzy was strange, he wasn’t in a good space during that tour, it was soon cancelled and postponed. We knew Ozzy and Sharon since they were label mates but even we were warned “Don’t let him see you before he goes on stage!” if he saw ANYONE he didn’t want to, that was enough for him to say, “cancel the show, I’m off home”…weird. I remember Randy Rhoads as being a REALLY sweet guy, and Ace Frehley giving me a bag of his picks one time as I’d somehow lost mine. I remember torturing some really fucker Kiss fans who were spitters, showing them Ace’s picks as I was using them and denying them the opportunity to have them as souvenirs..retribution!!
LRI: You formed a BAND called Sheer Greed and a couple other bands after GIRL. You also did some solo work and film scoring before hooking up with the Duran Duran’s John Taylor, whom I consider underrated in some respects. I have been a fan of his since the first Duran Duran album through his Neurotic Outsiders group and the solo albums you were a part of. How did you get to know John and what were your impressions of him as you watched his career unfold?
GL: I met John Taylor on the set of the Duran Duran video for “Planet Earth” as I knew the director and the designer I worked with at LWT. Their guitarist Andy Taylor said “what’s the fucking guitarist from Girl doing here?” We became firm friends thoughout the 80’s…he did a solo record in late 80’s and so did I so we played on each others. In 1997 I was somewhat surprised when he wanted us to put a band together. I was 37 and never thought I’d play as a pro again. I played with John Taylor from 1997-2000. It’s a shame that I have barely heard from him since. If I were to email or call he’d return it but we just live in different worlds…I work with Special Education Needs support and get a bus to work. He has a live in chef and £5 Million Nash house near Sting. If I win the lottery I may bump into him. I gotta say you would have to drag me to another Duran Duran gig, nor do I feel we have anything in common anymore anyway. Some people you gotta let go of eh? But, they took me into their house and family life. I got nothing but kind things to say about John and Gela, they were always good to me. But never it feels good when a mate of 2 decades decides not to stay in touch. We never fell out, we just drifted apart when he rejoined DD in 2000.
LRI: The legacy of GIRL never really goes away because everytime Def Leppard or L.A. Guns does something the old GIRL material eventually gets sought out. There have been numerous live releases and of course the KILLING TIME album since 1987 but many of these albums are hard to properly find or purchase short of bootlegs or Ebay. How involved were you in the post 1985 releases and what is being done as far as seeing about making the catalog better available?
GL: I was involved in all of it really. I have recently given all my Girl collection to a fan, a longtime, loyal fan, I dont want it anymore. Its all out there now, online and digitally. I had masters of unreleased material that became Killing Time, then Sanctuary bought the entire catalogue and made the Antholgy CD. A few CD releases have been licensed (in Japan) but I emailed Steve Hammonds at Sanctuary recently to ask the very same question you ask John. He said he will try “Rock Candy” again, they were gonna re-release “Sheer Greed” and “Wasted Youth”. I met with them, we agreed to have Dave Ling to do sleeve notes. I offered them all my photos and discs and all that ..then I just never heard from them again. I currently sell T shirts and Girl DVD’s though my Facebook page. If I owned the catalogue I would release the stuff, its out of my hands…so get the DVD is what I would suggest. Yes, you are right about our famous counterparts…this year they BOTH have new albums and huge tours to do…I’d better order in some extra DVD’s and T’s eh?