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When British Prime Minister Tony Blair swept back into office a couple of weeks ago, English garage rock goddess Holly Golightly was not among the voters at the polls. Instead, she was here in the Bay Area, working on her next record and getting ready for an upcoming gig. Ms. Golightly, it seems, recently adopted San Francisco as her home away from home; she now performs here with greater regularity than she does in her native London.
The White Stripes headline and Von Bondies and Waxwings open
Tickets are $15
During her decampment, Golightly is staying with a friend in a modest railroad flat above an S.F. nightclub. While the blaring of local bands doesn't seem to bother the music veteran, she does confess that the volume makes it hard to have guests. Sure enough, when the night's opening act unleashes its first Ozzy-inspired power chords, the china on the shelves begins to rattle and vibrate -- along with the furniture, the floorboards, the kitchen table, and even the clock on the wall.
Golightly smiles, shrugs helplessly, and puts on her most proper Sussex accent.
"Would you like another cup of tea?" she laughs. "Or maybe we should move to the front room?"
In this country, Golightly's profile is as shaky as her friend's apartment. In fact, the only coverage she's received has been the very occasional altweekly review or fanzine article. Since she's a bit reclusive -- preferring the studio to the promotional grind -- she isn't the type of artist who gets widespread attention. Which is a tragedy, considering that Golightly is presently one of the world's most striking and innovative rock revivalists.
Golightly's career is inextricably tied to garage rock impresario Billy Childish, one of Britain's most revered DIY entrepreneurs. For nearly 25 years Childish has mixed mod style with '60s primal sounds and '70s punk attitude, releasing nearly 100 albums under a bewildering assortment of band names and side projects, including the Pop Rivets, the Milkshakes, and Thee Mighty Caesars.
Early on, Childish concocted the Delmonas, an all-girl trio that acted as an auxiliary to Thee Mighty Caesars. When the Caesars morphed into Thee Headcoats in 1989, the Delmonas adopted the doppelgänger title, Thee Headcoatees. It was here, when Childish was casting about for more members of this new backup group, that Holly Golightly entered the picture.
Golightly had been part of Childish's "Medway scene" for several years, initially as a teenage fan of the Milkshakes and later as girlfriend to longtime Childish stalwart Bruce Brand. She was also friends with one of the original Delmonas, Ludella Black, and sang with her on a few occasions -- mostly as a way to pass a Friday night.
"One day, Bruce rang and said that he had this new band with Billy going," Golightly recalls. "It was just a three-piece, and they were going to do their first show, and did I want to go?" The show turned into an audition of sorts, and soon she was onstage instead of in the audience.
Golightly and the other women adopted mischievous stage names to accompany the group's retro image, with ex-Delmona Black joining Belgian expatriate Kyra LaRubia and drummer "Bongo" Debbie. Holly's pseudonym was predetermined by her mother, who had named her after the tragic-but-stylish would-be socialite in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
After initially singing backup for Thee Headcoats, the quartet took on a life of its own. In 1991 Thee Headcoatees released their first album, Girlsville, which became a landmark effort in the garage rock scene. Live, Thee Headcoatees stirred up their fans as only a girl group could, dressing in matching go-go outfits or horse-riding gear, and, in a clever switch, using Thee Headcoats as their backup band.
Hitting the scene several years before the riot grrls or kitschy popsters such as April March, Thee Headcoatees occupied a unique spot in the continuum of female rockers. Although the vibe of the band was brash and playful, its mockingly come-hither, femme-fatale lyrics placed it halfway between the enlightened punk crowd and backlashy teen-teases like the Donnas. For her part Golightly finds the issue of feminist presentation to be a moot point: She saw Thee Headcoatees as a killer rock band that happened to be fronted by four women with divergent tastes.
"Ludella is really, really into the girl groups, that's her big thing. I'm mostly into old blues and R&B, proper dancing music and old soul, and then Kyra is into a whole line of other stuff," she says. "It was a load of mates just getting up and playing."
A few wags dismissed Thee Headcoatees as simply another venue for Childish to express his prodigious muse. Considering that he selected the majority of the band's repertoire and sculpted the rough-hewn barrage of the records, the critics may have had a point.
Golightly's eyes roll as she gingerly discusses Childish's anti-pop Svengali image. "I am really grateful and I feel very lucky that I've had the opportunities that I've had and I understand how much on Billy's shirttails they are. But having said that, I think everybody has a wall of talent around them. Billy obviously makes a lot of things happen; he's very organized and works really fucking hard. But other people in the band worked hard, too."
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