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Lemmy: The Last Outlaw

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Lemmy Kilmister didn’t give a f*ck. He didn’t give a f*ck when they kicked him out of school at the age of 15 after he took offense to being caned, taking the offending instrument of torture off his headmaster and slapping him upside the head with it. He didn’t give a f*ck when years later he was kicked out of Hawkwind, instead, getting his revenge by breaking into their rehearsal studio to steal back his equipment and sleeping with their girlfriends behind their backs. And he really didn’t give a f*ck when he formed the “Loudest Band In The World”, turning his back on the trippy psychedelic noodling of his past to play music so fast and heavy that it, arguably, paved the way for the Punk and NWOBHM movements that would follow in its wake.

…to me, more than any other rock musician, he is the baddest motherf*cker in the world.” Dave Grohl

It was this lack of giving a f*ck-itude that helped make Motörhead the most original band ever to walk the face of the planet. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at the facts. Name a band, any band, and you can find about a million others that sound like them. The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zep, each of them unique in their own right, but each with imitators that have carved careers out for themselves by, basically, stealing their sound and moving a few chords in their songs around, but not Motörhead.

And you know why? Because it’s f*cking impossible. Nobody sounds like Motörhead; it can’t be done. Motörhead’s attitude is as intricately woven into their songs as the music they’re playing, and there is no other band in existence that has that Motörhead frame of mind, which is in no small part down to the heartbeat of the group: The Man Called Lemmy.

Lemmy on stage with Motorhead
Image credit: Rama

Growing up, I had quite a head start on my peers when it came to rock/metal music. My step-dad might’ve been an epic asshole, but he filled his record collection with the likes of Deep Purple, Nazareth, and Black Sabbath. While my cousin, who would become an epic asshole a few years down the line (must be something in my family blood), decided one day that AC/DC wasn’t for him anymore and bequeathed me his entire collection, up to and including that years For Those About To Rock LP. It’s probably safe to say I came out of the womb banging my head.

Yet nothing could’ve prepared me for the first time I laid eyes and ears on Motörhead. I was 11 going on 12, and The Young Ones was the must-see TV for my generation. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s about a bunch of students sharing a house, who spend most of their time beating the hell out of each other and making virgin jokes (hey, I was 11, f*ck off).

Each week they’d have a band play the show, and during the episode called ‘Bambi’, that band was Motörhead. I had never seen anything like it. Still haven’t, if truth be told. The anger and fury with which they burnt through “Ace of Spades” had me, virtually, pinned to the wall of my bedroom. If I hadn’t had earphones in, the sheer wall of noise that would’ve blasted through the black and white TV speaker would’ve alerted my parents to the fact that I wasn’t asleep as I was supposed to be, but instead watching the idiot box.

It was jaw-dropping. The pace with which Philthy Animal Taylor beat on his kit was accentuated by the brutal riffs laid out by Phil Campbell and Wurzel. (I didn’t know that the song had been recorded as a three-piece some year’s earlier because, as I pointed out earlier, I was 11, f*ck off). It was the rumbling cacophony of noise, hair, and boils, stood in the middle of the screen with his head titled back at an angle as he growled into a mic that really caught my attention.

Who was this man, a scruffy ass vision in all black clothes and white cowboy boots?  I had to know more.

Ian Fraser Kilmister was born in Stoke-on-Trent on Dec. 24, 1945. His old man split when he was three months old, leaving the future Metal God to be raised by his mum and his grandma, which he’d later claim gave him a better understanding of women. Post-War Britain was about as dull as it could be. Vast swathes of the country were nothing more than bombsites, and the entertainment still had its roots in standing around the piano and belting out old favorites such as ‘Roll Out The Barrel’ and other Cockney classics.

Lemmy himself said during the documentary of the same name;

I remember before there was rock and roll.”

It was bland, it was boring, and it sure wasn’t the kind of entertainment that young men and women of Lemmy’s generation could’ve been looking forward to inheriting. So when Elvis hit and brought rock n’ roll along with him it must’ve been like breaking the surface when you’re drowning.

Having seen what this music meant to people, mainly women, Lemmy decided that this was what he wanted to do for a living and after mixing it up in what seemed like a new band every few days he settled in for a two-year stint with The Rockin’ Vicars.

If you’ve ever read his book ‘White Line Fever‘, you’ll know that Lemmy enjoyed his time within the band, even if he didn’t really like the drummer, Cyril “Ciggy” Shaw, but even though they were huge in the north, Lemmy had his eyes set on an even bigger conquest. London.

Lemmy on stage
Image credit: Carlos Ramón Bonilla

He quit the band and headed to The Big Smoke, where he ended up crashing with Neville Chesters and Noel Redding, bass player extraordinaire with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It turned out to be quite a good deal as he ended up being a roadie for Hendrix, which had quite an effect on him;

When he performed, he was magic. You would watch him and space and time would stop.”

Though the aftermath wasn’t always so great;

After he played, we would have to repair his fuzzboxes because he’d just stomp all over them. And they’d go into bits all over the stage, and you’d have to go fine the bits and put them back together. F*cking murder.”

He also carried on with his own plans for world domination, playing in some short-lived projects before settling down with Hawkwind.

Now, I know for a fact that my fellow 25YL scribe, a certain Christopher “The Flack” Flackett, would love me to do a huge piece on Lemmy’s time within the space rock pioneers, but outside of ‘Silver Machine’ I can’t f*cking stand that hippie s*it and as it’s my article, let’s just say he was with them from 1971-1975 and they booted him out when it suited them.

Lemmy himself said;

I did like being in Hawkwind, and I believe I’d still be playing with them today if I hadn’t been kicked out. It was fun onstage, not so much offstage. They didn’t want to mesh with me. Musically, I loved the drummer, the guitar player. It was a great band.”

Luckily for the rest of music, Hawkwind didn’t see it the same way, so feeling jilted, and after he’d pulled the stunts I mentioned back in the intro, he set about forming his own band out of spite. That’s right folks, Motörhead was born unto the world because Lemmy was pissed off.

Talking to ‘Sounds’ magazine back in ’75 he explained his manifesto for the band;

They’ll be the dirtiest rock and roll band in the world. If you moved in next door, your lawn would die.”

It was a promise that he’d stick with for the next 45 years.

Finding themselves signed with United Artists, mainly because they wanted to keep hold of Lemmy after he left Hawkwind, they recorded their first album On Parole, and assumed that this would be the start of something special, which it was. It was the start of the special relationship that record companies had with trying to f*ck Motörhead over at every damn opportunity, for the rest of their career.

On Parole got buried. So spectacularly in fact, that it didn’t see the light of day until 1979 when the band was hitting its stride, but this didn’t stop Lemmy from forging ahead with his vision of a great rock n’ roll band.

Between 1978 and 1980, after they’d managed to get booted off of UA, they recorded Motörhead, Overkill, Bomber, and Ace Of Spades. Four albums that still stand up today against anything you’d care to mention, and even though there would be changes to what some see as the classic Motörhead line up, with both Taylor and ‘Fast Eddie’ Clark leaving the band, as long as the focal point was the man in the black hat, then the band would march on.

Sure, there were a couple of hiccups along the way. Some people should never have been given a chance in the band, the ex Thin Lizzy guitar player Brian “Robbo” Robertson being the main one. Some of the albums had a bit too much filler and not enough killer, but there are some brilliant f*cking records put out by Motörhead after Eddie and Phil walked away.

1916, Bastards, Inferno, Kiss of Death, these are easily equal to anything the band put out during its so-called golden years and when it came to taking this music out to the masses, well, that was when Lemmy was at his happiest.

As he told Sylvie Simmons in 2006;

If you can give the kids a good time then that’s all it’s for. Forget art and all that – that’s bullshit. If you can send that shiver down a kid’s back then that’s what it’s all about. All else is bullshit. That’s what rock’n’roll was for in the first place and as far as I’m concerned that’s what it’s still about. I’m trying to give them that feeling I felt the first time I heard All Shook Up or Good Golly Miss Molly. I just want to send that shiver up their back because it’s the best thing I ever felt. It’s better than screwing.”

And that’s just what he did. He lived on the road. He had a small apartment in LA which was filled to the brim with collectables and random junk he’d picked up over the years, but he only used it on those days he wasn’t either in the studio or out playing in front of thousands of people, which was very rare indeed.

Motorhead on stage
Image credit: Stefan Brending

Alongside Mikkey Dee and Phil Campbell—who had 23 and 31 years of service respectively—the monster that was the live show traveled the world over and over, year after year, decade after decade. Bringing nostalgic joy to those of us that had been around for almost as long as the members of the band and road crew, as well as giving a whole new generation of fans the chance to experience that same thrill I had on that fateful night back in ’84 when my entire musical world changed.

I remember going to my first show in the 90s and meeting up with a lot of people who I never thought I’d see again, as is the want with the life of a fan. Yet every time I went to another concert, I’d see the same faces, and we’d carry on where we’d left off and as time went on those same faces would be joined by new faces who quickly became the same faces.

If you’re a Motörhead fan then you get it. We are a family. And I’d like to think that that’s how Lemmy wanted it. We were for him, we were with him, and we didn’t give a f*ck.

It’s been half a decade since Lemmy passed away. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried that day. If we were a family, then Lemmy was the head of the table, and for him to go like that, for him to actually die, well, it just seemed impossible. There was always that joke about how cockroaches, Keith Richard, and Lemmy would be the only things to survive the apocalypse, so to having to face the fact that even a God could die, well, it wasn’t easy.

He was punk before punk, thrash before thrash, he was The Last Outlaw who did it the way he wanted to and on his own terms and there isn’t one single f*cker in music today that can hold a candle to him. He might be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten, and when you play as loudly as Motörhead did you’ll be heard long after you’ve passed on. Right up until the point the sun goes out.

Not a bad legacy to leave behind, eh?

Neil Gray

Written by Neil Gray

Neil Gray is the host of The Old Metal Bar-Steward podcast.

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