Girl groups rock! From The Supremes to Fanny to the Go-Gos to L7 to modern rock supergroup boygenius, all-female musical acts have played, and continue to play, a vital and vibrant role in popular culture.
The Celts have had their fair share of girl groups over the years also. Many are familiar with Ireland’s Celtic Woman, who continue to record and tour to great popular acclaim. Celtic Woman are far from the first and only girl group from the seven Celtic nations, however. In fact, Wales might be the birthplace of the region’s first all-female band, The Fabs.
Founded in 1963, The Fabs were coined “Britain’s First All-Girl Beat Group.”
Now, more than 50 years after the height of their fame, a new book cements the quartet’s cultural legacy.
Written by the group’s guitarist and singer Sarah Wrigley, Twenty Pairs of Pants and a Passport documents the four-piece band’s life in the limelight, in the studio and on the road.
Speaking with Celtic Life International by email, Wrigley says that she grew up in a musical milieu, spending much of her youth in Cardiff listening to her father’s album collection.
“He was a musician himself and played 78 RPM records of the great American singers and bands on a radiogram. I loved much of that music.”
At the age of 10 she took piano lessons, although – admittedly – she did not take to tickling the ivories. It wasn’t until two years later, when her father brought home a ukulele, that her interest in playing music began to take off.
“He taught me some simple chords and I found I could play and sing along with some of the current hits at the time,” shares Wrigley, noting the song “Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell as an early favourite. “I then progressed to an acoustic guitar, and then went electric so I could play some of the early rock ‘n roll songs which came flooding into the U.K. from the States.”
Some of her earliest musical influences include Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley.
When she was 19, Wrigley met musician Wally Bishop – known professionally as “Waldini” – through her father. Bishop was looking to form a Beatles-like, all-girl group to appear in a show he was presenting at a holiday resort.
“So along with three other girls, all from around Cardiff, we became The Fabs,” explains Wrigley. “We continued playing until 1972. Linda was on drums, Maggie on bass guitar, Marie on rhythm guitar, and I played lead guitar.
“During this time, we travelled extensively and struggled against the prejudice of the male dominated pop scene in the U.K.,” she continues. “We did TV shows, winning the most watched show Opportunity Knocks in 1970, and made an album while working in Mexico City in 1968. For many years people said I should write a book about our adventures – of which there were many!”
Wrigley notes that Twenty Pairs of Pants and a Passport was a tale she had to tell, and that the COVID-19 pandemic gave her the perfect opportunity to write it.
“I had hundreds of photos, recordings, posters, and even some cine film, which was all a real help reminding me of our travels and experiences. It was great to finally put everything on record.”
The new narrative traces the troupe’s travels through the U.S., Europe, and Mexico, showcasing standout shows and career defining moments, including the band’s performance at the Olympics and Wrigley’s own experience as a Hollywood icon. The book also details the discrimination and misogyny of the musical industry at the time.
“It was hard for a girl group to have success in the 60s in a pop group. Audiences loved us, but record companies did not see us as being commercial so, although having great success in some ways, we never ‘made it.’”
The book has received strong response from readers, critics – and even from her former bandmates – since its release.
“The other girls, of whom only two remain, really enjoyed having our story told.”
Wrigley is currently focusing on her next creative steps.
“I have met up with some ‘women of a certain age’ who play various instruments, and I am enjoying jamming with them for a bit of fun. We may play publicly for a charity event this summer, which will bring back many emotions for me.”