Episode 1. Forty Years of Friendship

In the music business, it is very difficult to make friends. You work with people, you have acquaintances, you occasionally form bonds or partnerships but it’s very rare that a real friendship is formed. This is because people in the music business generally have egos bigger than the Grand Canyon and clashes of personality will not allow one person to be more subservient to the other.  This is a good thing of course because without it, rock music would not be where it is today. Who could imagine what The Who would have been like if Pete hadn’t been forced to take full control and the other three hadn’t fought back or if Mick and Keith didn’t have their occasional falling outs? It would have been bland to say the least. As for myself, there are a handful of musicians I can truly call friends. These people I would drop everything and fly around the world for to be with and they would do the same for me. One such person is the drummer in Girlschool, Denise Dufort.

 

The reason I first went into the music business is because of Denise and her sadly departed dear friend Kelly Johnson. Kelly played lead guitar in Girlschool and together they toured the world with some of the greatest bands of all time. Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Motorhead are just some of the legends who have had to put up with the on-tour antics of Denise and Kelly and their other rather sensible band members, Enid and Kim. Starting out as a fan of the band, I travelled around the UK every weekend to see them play, making friends with other fans along the way. For the hardcore fans of Girlschool, our priority was attending as many gigs as possible, no matter what the conditions or sacrifices we had to make. We slept in railway stations, car parks, building sites or occasionally on someone’s sofa; we chose cigarettes and beer rather than food and warmth and it still amazes us (the original gang of fans are still in touch and reunite for a few beers every couple of years) to this day that we wore T-Shirts and leather jackets for days on end without washing – we must have smelt very bad.

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Kelly and Denise backstage before the first show of the UK Screaming Blue Murder Tour 1982

 

We lived and breathed Girlschool and watched them grow from playing small clubs of about 50 people to headlining Reading Festival on the Friday night in front of 35,000. As we saw them become more popular, we also became to know them personally. Turning up at the shows early, we were always put on the guest list and we would often help out the road crew – who we also got to know very well – setting up the equipment. This part of touring fascinated me even more than playing in a band (which I never did) and I started to learn how a lighting system was rigged, how a P.A. was put together and what necessitated the smooth running of a tour. Denise and Kelly both encouraged me to do this and I eventually found myself being offered a job with the P.A. company on a freelance basis. The only problem was, the P.A. company was in London and I lived a couple of hundred kilometres away. Denise solved the problem when she suggested that I stay with her Mum and Dad who just happened to own a guest house in London.

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Denise and boyfriend Tim Warhusrt having a few beers in their garden, Clapham, London 1987

I spent the next few years living at her Mum and Dad’s house as I worked for various bands on many different tours. As Denise was touring as well, we would often go for months without seeing each other but whenever we did, it was always with a big hug and barrels of laughter. We spent many nights sitting up late watching films, talking of each other’s problems, went to see bands and gave each other advice when needed and eventually, almost inevitably, our two paths became one when I started working for Girlschool full time. Again this was Denise’s suggestion to the other girls and I happily hopped on board the Girlschool tour bus for three years. Kelly had left by then and her replacement was Cris Bonacci who filled the musician role of Kelly amply but had a completely different personality so it was Denise and I who used to pair-off and go to the clubs after gigs or surf the foreign TV stations in the hotel room for something watchable.

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Glenn and Denise in one of our many get-togethers in a pub somewhere in the UK 2005

In 1989, I was considering leaving the UK to go and live in Australia. It was a big decision for me to go as I still had family in the UK but once again, it was my dear friend Denise who gave me the advice I was looking for. ‘I’d fuck off if I were you.’ she said one night. ‘Make sure you don’t fuck off forever though’ she then added with her trademark grin as she poured me another large JD and coke and with those words of wisdom still ringing in my ears, I packed my bags and left.

Australia was good to me and I enjoyed my life there. These were pre-internet days however so the only communication could be by letter of very expensive phone call which made keeping in touch with family and friends difficult. It was also expensive to fly anywhere from Australia and of course impossible to fly back to the UK whenever I wanted so it was with great sadness that I could not be there for Denise in 1994 when she really needed help and support. Denise’s boyfriend was Tim Warhurst – also Girlschool’s Sound Engineer -  who whilst working for Take That, fell from a P.A. stack, badly damaging his neck and spine which put him into a coma from which he never awoke (both of the Take That Ultimate Tour and Beautiful World DVD’s have a dedication to him Tim Warhurst – Never Forgotten). Much later in 2007, Denise called me and told me that Kelly was losing her battle with cancer and that she didn’t have long to live. Remembering my angst at not being able to be with Denise when Tim was in hospital, I didn’t hesitate this time, cancelling everything and was on a plane from Japan within 48 hours just to be with them both. I was there for a week and watched Denise’s unending love and support for her dear friend who was so ill and although I felt I could offer little to either of them, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been anywhere else in the world at that time. Two weeks after I returned to Japan, Denise called me and told me the news that Kelly had died.

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Denise, Kelly, Tracey, Jax and myself with my friends Mark (left) and Ash (rear), both of whom I spent many days with travelling the UK in the early 1980’s to see Girlschool. The photo is taken in Mark’s house, 2006. We were all very drunk.

 

New Year’s Eve 2011 and I’m at Denise’s house with her and a few other friends including Denise’s road-roommate, Jackie Chambers, who has been playing lead guitar for Girlschool for the past thirteen years. I’m having fun chatting with Mat Sargent from Sham 69 and Suzi Webb from The Slits as well as Craig who has taken over where others have left off as Girlschool’s biggest fan and we all toast in the New Year to absent friends and laugh about the old days. We shout and scream at each other, trade insults and stories of daft things that have happened. It’s good to see Denise in good spirits and although Kelly will never be replaced, Jackie is obviously her new soul mate. I wander upstairs to bed at about 3am as I have an 8am flight from Heathrow. The sounds of merriment fade with each stair upwards, finally being shut out as I close the bedroom door, fall into bed and warm to the duvet, Drifting off to sleep, I wonder if I’ll ever get to see them play again or work with them in Japan as that is now my home and it is here I am bound for in a few hours time.

 

Since that night in 2011, I have been back to Denise’s house every year and stayed with her. We talk a lot, watch films, discuss each other’s problems and generally catch up on each other’s lives. We’ve lost a lot of friends in that time; Lemmy’s passing in 2015 was particularly hard for Denise to take but along with the sadness, there is always warmth and laughter whenever we are together. Earlier this year I was there and we went over to see Kim who lives close to Denise and it was just like old times; drinks were poured, voices got raised, Kim’s Mum Sylvia running around making sandwiches for everybody…I miss all that being away but then I have the sheer delight of being able to be part of UPP-tone and bring them here. They came last year which was a bit of a drama with lost luggage at the airport (that story is an entire column in itself which I shall write for you one day) and hopefully again this year providing the current Cononavirus pandemic doesn’t continue to shut down the world. Whenever they do come though, I’ll be there. Come along say hello.