Courtesy of Keith Sanderson
In my previous post I made a lame joke about death being ‘all around’ in 2015. Unfortunately, even though we’re just a few days short of the year’s end, the Grim Reaper shows no sign of slackening. For he has just claimed Lemmy, front-man with one of heavy metal’s most brilliant bands Motörhead and a general all-round role model for how to live your life (i.e. loudly, always disreputably and occasionally downright badly).
In his long and varied career, he managed the remarkable feat of being thrown out of Hawkwind for taking too many drugs. He shared a flat with Sid Vicious and once said memorably of Nancy Spungen, “If he hadn’t stabbed her, I would have strangled her — she was the Courtney Love of her day.” He composed the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song ever, Ace of Spades. He also gave rise to the greatest rock ‘n’ roll joke ever – “If Lemmy had a fight with God, who would win?” “It’s a trick question: Lemmy is God.” – which was so funny because it was true.
Here as a tribute to the great man is a review of a Motörhead concert that I wrote back in 2008 for the University of East Anglia’s student newspaper, Concrete. It’s an excitable and breathless piece of writing but, hey, I’d just been at a Motörhead concert. My only regret is that the prediction made in the final sentence didn’t come true.
UEA, 21st November
If the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm ever creates a Nobel Prize for Heavy Metal, surely its first recipient will be Lemmy, singer, bassist and general driving force of Motörhead.
Founded in the 1970s, a decade when heavy metal consisted of strutting spandex-clad idiots singing songs about elves and wizards (e.g. Rainbow) or about their abilities in making vigorous love to the ladies (e.g. Whitesnake), Motörhead were a revelation.
Lemmy’s hoarse roar was stuck onto a racket of guitars played at the loudest possible volume and at the fastest possible speed, a sound that helped to spawn the speed and thrash metal sub-genres and supplied Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and co. with at least 666 tons of inspiration.
Lemmy was also an early and crucial champion of Girlschool, the groundbreaking all-female metal band who helped the music to shed some of its reputation for sexism. And in the segregated pre-grunge era, when heavy metal and punk fans weren’t supposed to associate with each other, Motörhead was the one metal band it was okay for punks to like. Lemmy and the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious were good mates and he even tried to teach Sid how to play bass guitar – unsuccessfully, it must be said.
Taking the stage tonight after a short-but-well-received set from Toronto band Danko Jones and a ludicrous-but-loveable one from Saxon – ironically one of those hoary old-style metal bands that Motorhead helped to make obsolete – Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee went to work with their usual, blistering single-mindedness. Old favourites like Bomber, Born to Lose and Killed by Death got blasted out alongside items from their new album Motörizer – though unsurprisingly the new stuff didn’t sound entirely different from the old stuff.
Apart from a blues pastiche where Lemmy displayed some unexpected harmonica-playing skills, this was business-as-usual in the best sense of the phrase. Rounding off a perfect evening for the head-grinding crowd was an encore containing Ace of Spades, surely the most brain-batteringly brilliant song in heavy metal – and possibly in 7000 years of human civilisation as well.
The big heavy-metal news this week was that Guns N’ Roses had finally put out Chinese Democracy – an album so named because it’d taken so long to record that democracy could have feasibly come to China by the time of its release. From tonight’s showing, however, Motörhead will be going strong long after China has taken over Wall Street, bought up Coca Cola and put a man on the moon.