This September, a brand new musical called It’s Different for Girls is coming to the East Riding Theatre inspired by Hull group Mandy and the Girlfriends, famed for being the first all-girl beat group in the UK to play all their own instruments live on stage.
Devised by She Productions (Beverley does Broadway, Miss-Cast) and directed by Becky Hope-Palmer (assistant director on RSC’s The Hypocrite, Hull Truck Theatre) the all-female collective promise to transport audiences back to the swinging sixties, a time when revolution was in the air, to celebrate five girls from Hull who made their mark on the music scene.
The title of the new production It’s Different for Girls is taken from the book of the same name penned by Girlfriends group members Merle Phillips and Margaret Brown which tells the remarkable story of this little-known group of trailblazing female musicians.
Meeting with former member of The Girlfriends Lynda Harrison inside the plush surroundings of the Station Hotel in Hull, I learn that she joined because her mate Karen—who was already in the group—was always in trouble for being out with her, not rehearsing. Lynda joined The Girlfriends as a singer and found herself—in more ways than one—and began a stage career which has lasted a lifetime.
Mandy and the Girlfriends were formed after singer Mandy Smith met drummer Hillary Morgan and bassist Lesley Saxil-Neilson in The Sombrero club in 1965 in Hull. They began playing on the Hull music scene in venues such as the Locarno, the Gondola, Club 41 where the likes of The Rats (Mick Ronson) The Aces, ABC (John Cambridge, Spiders from Mars) could be found.
"We all used to go the clubs and watch these groups and that was our dream… lads had it all back then: that’s what we wanted to do."
Lynda paints a picture of what it was like for the group during their first UK tour, "we were sixteen-year-old girls chasing our dreams, stomping about tough working men’s clubs, wearing Mary Quant mini-dresses and white boots, driving from gig to gig with all our gear in the back of a van."
In the '60s, you might expect to see girls on stage singing but never playing guitars and drums. The Girlfriends' presence in a male-dominated world attracted attention from all sides and they were snapped up by promoters.
The dream really did come true when the girls played a big Saturday night show inside Hull City Hall. They still talk about the time each made grand entrances, running down the steps at either side of the stage, in front of a home crowd of five hundred or more.
Mandy and the Girlfriends were one of many British beat groups at the time who went across to play the clubs in Germany and, like so many other young acts, they burned bright for a while, putting out a self-titled LP. By competing on the same stages as the male bands, Mandy and the Girlfriends proved that they were far more than just a novelty act.
"And after 52 years, we are all still friends," Lynda says flashing me a brilliant smile.
For this new production, the company She Productions has devised a fresh story and written new music inspired by discussions with original group members. The scratch performance attended by some of the Girlfriends last year proved very popular with audiences and the September run is likely to be even more so. Tickets are on sale now and selling well.
It’s Different for Girls by She Productions runs from 6 to 23 September at East Riding Theatre.