“Motörhead will keep on as they are until one of us drops dead” PHIL TAYLOR, 1981
In Issue #2 of Iron Fist we interviewed Motörhead, the inspiration behind our name and most of heavy fucking metal since 1975 if we’re honest. As part of that feature we got veteran journalist Gary Bushell to remember his hedonistic days as one of the road crew. In honour of Philthy’s untimely passing we will re-publish this whole article again on our website and raise a glass to this legendary hellraiser
It’s one the most surreal nights of my life. Iron Fist regularly gets to take over nights at The Alibi, a punk rock dive bar in East London, and tonight is one such night where I’m DJing between hard rock karaoke (it’s more fun than it sounds – promise). But earlier that day we had a phone call from Motörhead’s UK PR asking if we’d like to speak to the man, the legend, the one who gave us our magazine’s name, that night at 10pm. You don’t say no to an opportunity like that. So before I’m set to DJ, while they’re playing the film ‘Robocop’ REALLY LOUD in the bar, I camp down in the Alibi office to have a conversation with God, between Murphy’s cries of “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”. It’s kinda fitting, in the same way Murphy refused to die and came back armoured with some serious heavy metal, so did Lemmy. He shouldn’t be here, he’s lived his life to the heights of rock ‘n’ roll excess but the fact that he’s survived it all and is still going strong is testament to his legendary status – the Peter Pan of speedrock.
“That sounds familiar,” Lemmy croaks down the line from his LA home when we tell him what magazine we’re calling from. We ask nervously if he minds, and he says that of course he doesn’t and that he’s honoured. He’s so effortlessly chilled, compared to my nerves, his words peppered with his Staffs accent and not a touch of Californian, surprising for someone who’s lived in LA since 1990.
As we talk he’s preparing to go on tour around the UK with Anthrax, who he toured with this summer throughout America. “We had a ball. They’re good lads. You gotta fight to the keep the crowd a bit more, like,” he drawls, in reply to questions about touring now compared to touring back when the band started out. “But I’m doing alright. I’m still around to show these young upstarts.”
Lemmy is also so incredibly modest. I’ve interviewed countless bands, and they’re all so eager to put themselves across in earnest fashion, but with Lemmy this is just another conversation, not even an interview where he’s concerned. I’m sure he’s even a bit bewildered that some lass from London is calling him on his mobile on a Monday night. But he’s happy to chat, not be interviewed, just chat. I explain that Iron Fist is a magazine dedicated to old style heavy metal and he’s quick to explain that “I wasn’t a fan of heavy metal to be honest.” But, Lemmy, you’re THE heavy metal god? “Yeah, people tell me that, but I’m not the godfather of anything. I’m not rich enough. Legends are finished, I’m still here. Plus I always considered us as a rock ‘n’ roll band, you know? And we were going before heavy metal anyway.”
He’s also not a fan of dredging up the past, much to my disappointment. I would love to grill him about the making of ‘Iron Fist’ or what it was like to hang out with Wendy O Williams, but he’s got a point; “It’s done to death. You can find it all on the internet just by typing my name in.” It’s true, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister is the subject of many biographies and one of rock’s most sought after interviewees so what could Iron Fist possibly say about him that isn’t said already? When we’re focussing on bands, in this issue especially, like Sarcofagus, Thor and Jaguar, who have not (at least not since the ’80s) been grilled in music magazines is a feature on Motörhead redundant? Of course not. As long as Motörhead are still touring, and still, as Lemmy tells us “writing a new album, first thing next year,” then we will always want to celebrate the band and the man who, back in 1975, laid down the gauntlet for every band we’ve covered, and will cover, since.
One month later, after our conversation, Motörhead have arrived back in the UK and they’re playing the Apollo Theatre in Manchester. Dressed head to toe in black, all the way south to the stack heels of his cowboy boots, each single string on his weapon of choice summoning forth an end-of-times miasma of famine, pestilence, war, death.
Ministering to his similarly attired congregation, the Church Of Kilmister prostrates itself upon the altar of its four-string messiah, as the overwhelming odour of lager, sweat and testosterone swirls together, a brutal aroma that sears the senses and tattoos the memory, the black-clad mass bellowing their approval with a one-word chant that does its best to compete with the shock-and-awe aural assault of ‘Overkill’, which roars through the auditorium with all of the grace and subtlety of a breezeblock to the side of the head, rumbling and menacing with intestine molesting intent. For Lemmy, this is what passes for a Tuesday night. Indeed, this is what passes for every night for a man more comforted by the lurching sway and the faint whiff of diesel of the tour bus bunk than a quiet life and a plethora of laurels to rest on, a restless heart pulsing in time with the cities left in its wake and a mileage saturated in wanderlust spirit that can only be measured by the needle of the speedometer. “On the road is where I live,” Lemmy told our sister magazine Vive Le Rock. “That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
But Lemmy has certainly paid his dues. What’s the worst job the rock legend has ever had? “Making parts for washing machines in a factory,” he recalls. “It was unbearable. I just screamed my head off until they fired me.”
Since the ’60s he’s been living his rock ‘n’ roll dream but his early bands such as Opal Butterfly, Sam Gopal’s Dream and The Rockin’ Vicars were a very different, less aggressive style than what he is famed for. A stint as roadie for Hendrix in ’67 must have been quite an experience too. He then went on to join and enjoy success with the seminal space rockers Hawkwind in 1971.
After being kicked out of Hawkwind in 1975 for “taking the wrong drugs”, he formed Bastard, who would quickly be renamed Motörhead after the last Hawkwind song Lemmy wrote. Taking on vocal and bass duties this was his band and would see a list of musicians come and go. The classic early ’80s line-up, that saw Motörhead at the peak of their success, was Lemmy, Fast Eddie Clarke (guitar) and Philthy Animal Taylor (drums).
Numerous members, including Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson and Philthy were kicked out at various times because they couldn’t play or didn’t learn their parts. “That’s unforgivable,” Lemmy states bluntly. “Robbo got the sack because he couldn’t fucking play. He was drinking too much. You can do what the fuck you like, you can snort fucking Harpic for all I care as long as you can deliver on the stage.”
Lemmy settled on the current Motörhead line-up of Lemmy, Phil Campbell (guitar) and Michael ‘Mikkey Dee’ Delaouglou (drums) in 1995. His unstoppable musical juggernaut would define the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll with fast, heavy and raw tales of debauchery and carnage.
Back in the late ’70s and ’80s, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC and the mighty Motörhead were among the small handful of bands that were accepted by both metal fans and punks.
“It was because we sounded like a punk band but looked like a heavy metal band,” laughs Lemmy. “That’s why we were called heavy metal, because we had long hair. Otherwise we’d have been put in the punk bracket. The Ramones managed it. Some people call them heavy metal.”
But by 1982, 30 years ago this year, Motörhead were on a roll, to use a gambling term that fits so well with one of Lemmy’s favourite pastimes. They’d just had a #1 album with ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’ and were touring the US and preparing to record the album that inspired us to start this very magazine. “It’s not my favourite album,” Lemmy admits. “A couple of the songs we didn’t finish properly, we were under the kosh as per usual with the label trying to get us to finish the album quickly. A lot of it was rushed because it’s impossible to follow a number one live album. Whatever we did in the studio was never going to be as good.”
Does Lemmy prefer then the buzz of the live shows, than the pressure of the studio then? It is after all where the band really come alive, never off the road, never letting up on their furious trademark shows. “I used to,” he admits. “I understand the studio now. Before it was like people talking gibberish but you learn a few tricks of the trade and it becomes more fun.”
But back in 1981, on the back of their ‘…Hammersmith’ success and ready to break America, with ‘Iron Fist’ not even written, live was where Motörhead ruled and they crossed the pond with music journalist Garry Bushell in tow to capture the carnage. The infamous writer and punk rock’s best-dressed man, according to Adam Ant, remembers his tour for Iron Fist…
Lemmy Kilmister is standing on stage in his Damned t-shirt, leering manically at the young American audience.
“Has anybody got the ‘Ace Of Spades’ album?” he growls. “No? Well, why don’t you steal it!”
The Yanks go nuts, hooting and hollering their approval. Not the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen, but they’re noisier than a Saturday night out in New Orleans.
It’s the summer of 1981 and Motörhead are defying scores of music biz ‘experts’ who reckon the band will bomb like a squadron of B52s here. US audiences will never buy it, they say; they like their music more subtle, more April Wine…
One US record company said that Lemmy and co would be a “disgrace to the label”. Others seem genuinely terrified of them. Mercury finally took the plunge, releasing ‘Ace Of Spades’ here last Autumn, before comprehensively failing to promote it.
And yet the word is out…
The kids down the front at last night’s gig in the makeshift pit of some godforsaken sold-out 2,500 seater hall in Poughkeepsie, New York, were so into it that they were literally pogoing, yeah POGOING – there was no space left to go but up – and their heads and arms were thrashing about wildly; punching along to the beat, pounding on the wood of the temporary barrier and, uh, inadvertently me.
Two luvly black eyes, OWWW! What a surprise? I was rolling on the floor seeing more stars than Brian Cox, but it was worth it.
Motörhead aren’t so much a band as a phenomenon, a force of nature only ever experienced at 126 decibels or louder.
“Brained out, total amnesia/Get some, mental anaesthesia…”
I toured Europe and the USA with Lemmy and co back in the early ’80s. Neither my ears nor my liver have ever recovered. I was in West Berlin with them in 1980 when Lemmy informed the bemused audience: “This is something you haven’t heard for 35 years – ‘Bomber’.”
Classic. You won’t be too surprised that he originally wanted to call this band Bastard.
On their first US tour they won over a new army of bastard fans. “I think a lot of the audiences are still wondering what to make of us,” bestial beat-keeper Philthy Phil ‘The Animal’ Taylor told me after the show. “But we seem to have a street level following. It seems to be a close parallel to what happened with us in England. We’ve had no airplay, no promotion – the biz is not prepared to accept us yet – but all these kids seem to know about us through word of mouth. We’ve only ever had ‘Ace Of Spades’ released over here, but they all know the words to ‘Motörhead’. In every town we play there seems to be this cult following.”
The next night’s crowd were no exception. The band were bottom of Ozzy Osbourne’s bill at the Springfield Civic Centre and a rabid 500 filth-hounds were crammed round the stage letting off fire-crackers all around me. I felt like I was stuck in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, though Christ knows what George Orwell would have made of Motörhead. The sound of a boot stamping on a human face forever maybe? Or is that more the Last Resort?
The band don’t see themselves as metal, just pure, mental rock ‘n’ roll. Even stripped of their light show they convince totally, coming on like the Gods Of Roar raging total war on the senses, with Phil’s drumming more solid than the walls of Fort Knox, Fast Eddie Clarke whipping up a storm that Thor himself would have trouble topping and Lemmy’s bass pummelling pelvises black and blue like Joe Louis working out on Archie Bunker’s torso.
It’s bullet belts and Marshall stacks against the world and the world doesn’t have a chance.
Motörhead are cracking America the hard way, spending months on the road, playing shitholes, paying dues. They did more than 80 dates in this current three month assault, softening the blow with heroic quantities of hard drugs – speed, of course – easy women and neat liquor. Which, as Lem rightly observed is “better than sitting at home with your thumb up your arse”.
“I was first here in ’75,” he tells me in that familiar phlegmy rasp after the show. “But this is much better. We were headlining with Hawkwind but I don’t think the reception we got was as good as this. It’s amazing, kids are shouting for numbers off ‘Overkill’, which is unreleased here. There are diehards in every town. And there’s not been a single beer can thrown, yet I’ve seen opening bands die such horrible deaths over here.
“I’ve always liked America. The great thing is you can play here for three years and never play the same place twice.”
Of course the whole Motörhead myth is steeped in US outlaw mythology. Even their moniker is taken from US biker slang for a speed-freak. But what baffles the Yank promoters I speak to is Motörhead’s cross-over appeal to punks as well as rockers.
They can’t compute the band’s close relationship with the Damned, or Lemmy’s friendship with Paul Cook and Steve Jones. Strewth, he once played a gig with Sid Vicious at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town. They’re like the Ramones in their simplicity, speed and power.
In Britain, Motörhead attract spikeys as well as the headbangers. No-one in the US does that – yet.
Phil Taylor seems particularly pleased to be here, but then there is a warrant out for his arrest back home at the mo – for not turning up in court on a dope possession charge. “I’m not worried about it, as long as they don’t nick me in Canada next week,” he says over our vodka and orange hotel breakfast (they didn’t). “The police are just being stupid about it all. Our lawyers explained about the US tour and asked if they could either bring the hearing forward or put it back, but they wouldn’t have it. So I just agreed to appear and came on tour.
“The Judge thought it was very unconvincing. Being on tour thousands of miles away wasn’t a good excuse for not being in court, he reckoned. So that’s 30 days or a fine when I get back, plus a drugs fine. I’ll probably get both with the optional extra of getting beaten up inside.
“It’s stupid, the lawyer told him I was pleading guilty and that we’d pay the fine but the Judge said, ‘No, he’s gotta be here himself’. He must have got out the wrong side of bed. The Old Bill have been after Lemmy for a long time, it’s like a vendetta, but they’ve never been able to pin anything on him. This is the nearest they’ll ever get. I ain’t too worried about getting thirty days. If it happens, it happens. It’ll be a holiday. But I’d rather be outside playing.”
This is the man who once played an entire tour with one hand in plaster and a drumstick strapped to it after he broke it “punching a geezer too hard, but he deserved it.”
Sounds Magazine recently ran a picture of Phil as a skinhead youth. He looked particularly disgruntled.
“Yeah. That was 11 years ago and the reason I looked so pissed off was it was Saturday and I wanted to be at Leeds United kicking the fuck out of the other fans but I’d got dragged out to Butlins instead with the family. A fucking prison camp with amusements!
“I was really young when I first shaved all me hair off. I was like a 13 year old Mod with striped shoes and Sta Press but I developed into a skin. I was into all the Tighten-Ups and we all used to go to the local Leeds gig in Lulu’s Coffee Bar. It was all reggae and bluebeat. But when I started playing drums I listened to other stuff and started growing me hair cos all the great musicians had long hair. Like Ian Paice. I still think he’s the best.”
Chesterfield-born Phil met Lemmy via the drug scene – he used to score speed and Tuinal from him after moving to London. He joined Motörhead in late ’75; Fast Eddie was recruited as second guitarist a few months later, before they became a trio.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Phil acknowledges. “But you can’t get anywhere without it. And the harder you work the better you get. We’ll never lose our energy, I’ll guarantee that. You’ll never see Fast Eddie with an acoustic guitar. Motörhead will keep on as they are until one of us drops dead.”
He waits a beat. “Obviously Lemmy’s the prime candidate being 35.”
I speak to Eddie Clarke after the next gig. He isn’t quite so enthusiastic. “I’m not yet convinced about our success over here. It’s a big country, a lotta people. Mercury are happy, but we’re obviously not in the same league as Ozzy. Nowhere near. I’d rather come back with all the gear, the lights and the bomber. But the audiences have been surprisingly good.
“The kids seem to relate to us as a people’s band. When you chat to ’em after a gig they only seem to mention local bands, they never mention Rainbow or anyone like that. There are a lot of good grassroots scenes going.” (Step forward Twisted Sister). “The Plasmatics came to see us at New York, they were really nice people.”
You can’t be making money on this tour? “I’d say we were probably losing all we’ve ever made, but it’s a laugh. I’m like wide-eyed and legless all the time. For me and Phil it’s the first time here and I just feel I wanna write some music. It kinda inspires me. I s’pose it’s different for Lemmy this time too ‘cos when he was with Hawkwind it wasn’t his band.”
Lemmy (overhearing while staggering towards the vodka): “And now it’s my band I’m as happy as a pig in shit.”
The dressing room is filling up with tall, cute leather and denim clad groupies keen to party, but the Lemster agrees to a chat on condition that I mention that he doesn’t like my trousers (they’re pukka Tonic strides too, the philistine).
He is a funny fucker; eminently quotable. When I ask him why he sings with his microphone tilted down from above his head, he replies with a grin: “It’s to hit those high notes.”
Lemmy enthuses about the band’s new live album, ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’, and then gets round to the cops.
“We’ve had the police after us for years,” he says in that gruff Staffs accent. “I dunno why they bother. They seem to have this idea that we’re all huge dealers, which is stupid. Even if I wanted to be, which I don’t, I’d be an idiot to get involved with drug dealing now with the band just getting our international prestige.
“But I’ll tell you what gets me down more and that’s people like the NME and the way they’re always running down metal and saying it’s not going anywhere. They must be fucking stupid. What they should be writing about is what the kids are doing. Thousands of kids love heavy metal and popular music is what it’s supposed to be about.”
Their next album, ‘Iron Fist’ will be “more of the same,” he says. “Hopefully getting better all the time. People only change ‘cos they think they should. We’re happy as we are. We wanna be like Status Quo and go on forever. Chuck Berry never changed. Little Richard never changed. I’d rather be like that and stick to a formula we’re happy with.
“Put this in though, this is important. We’re not gonna be like Slade or Def Leppard. This American tour is strictly temporary. There’s no way we’ll forget the kids in England. We’ll be trying our hardest to be back touring in October. And that’s a promise.”
Motörhead never did conquer the States as such, but they built a loyal cult following, and their harder-faster sound did contribute to the birth of thrash and speed metal. Both Metallica and Guns ‘N’ Roses cited them as an influence.
Fast Eddie Clarke quit in 1982, horrified by Lemmy’s decision to record a cover version of Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ with Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics (he formed Fastway with UFO legend Pete Way and drummer Jerry Shirley from Humble Pie.) Legends came and went – Brian Robertson, Würzel, Phil ‘Wizzö’ Campbell, Pete Gill, Mikkey Dee – and despite a couple of brave departures (like Lemmy’s moving First World War ballad ‘1916’), the Motörhead sound remains unique, uncompromising and unforgiving. As immutable as the laws of gravity.
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