© Daily Mirror
“The party’s through there,” said the mother of a schoolmate who’d invited me to a shindig at her house one evening in 1980. With a grimace she added, “Just follow the noise.”
And what a noise it was – a relentless, clattering, crashing onslaught of guitars and drums with a sepulchral voice growling over the top of it: “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man, you win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me…” Yes, the noise was Ace of Spades, signature song of the mighty rock-and-heavy-metal band Motörhead.
And when my fifteen-year-old self obeyed my friend’s mum’s directions – moving awkwardly because of the one-litre bottle of Woodpecker Cider I had stuffed up and hopefully concealed inside my T-shirt – and walked along a passageway and passed through a door into the house’s living room, I entered a blitzkrieg of extreme sensations. The sound of Motörhead, hitherto muffled by the living-room door, suddenly jumped to a truly skull-cracking volume. And I was assailed by the heat, commotion and flying dandruff generated by two-dozen schoolmates whose heads churned in unison to the music. Meanwhile, I observed lurking in a corner a few members of the local Ska and Mod communities, clad in their customary tight jackets, polo shirts, braces, rolled-at-the-cuff jeans, drainpipes, Doc Martens, loafers, trilbies and pork-pie hats, all with expressions on their faces reminiscent of Dracula’s when Van Helsing tore down the curtains and flooded the room with early-morning sunlight.
An evening’s partying ahead of me, a litre of cider, a roomful of friends, Motörhead going full-blast on the hi-fi and a bunch of Mods and Ska-kids looking miserable? Wow, I thought. What a great time to be alive!
‘Alive’, alas, is no longer an adjective that can be applied to the line-up of Motörhead that were playing on the stereo at that memorable moment in time. I write this having just heard of the death of guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, who along with vocalist / bassist / main-man Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilminster and drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor constituted the band’s ‘classic’ line-up from 1976 to 1982. (Lemmy and Phil Taylor died within two months of each other at the end of 2015.) During those half-dozen years, they released a half-dozen albums, Motörhead in 1977, Overkill and Bomber in 1979, Ace of Spades in 1980, live album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith in 1981 and Iron Fist in 1982; and these were choc-a-bloc with splendid, ear-battering songs.
Songs like the afore-mentioned Ace of Spades, which if you ask me at least two days of the week I’ll identify as my favourite tune of all time. And the eponymous Motörhead, which Lemmy had actually written for his previous outfit, the ‘space-rock’ band Hawkwind, and which since then has been covered by everyone from Lawnmower Deth to Primal Scream. And Bomber, inspired by Len Deighton’s 1970 World War II novel of the same name, which warns, “Because we shoot to kill, you know we will, it’s a bomber, it’s a bomber!”. And Overkill, which begins with the mission statement, “Only way to feel the noise is when it’s loud and good…” And that paean to a little-acknowledged but vital group of people in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, We are the Road Crew, which with its sledgehammering rhythm describes the tribulations faced by the average roadie: “Another town I’ve left behind, another drink completely blind, another hotel I can’t find, another backstage pass for you, another tube of superglue, another border to get through…”
One nice thing about Motörhead during this era was that despite their uncompromising sound and hardcore image – the monstrous, fanged, tusked creature that was their emblem, the jagged Germanic lettering used in their logo, the outfits they wore onstage that made them look like crosses between spaghetti-western villains and Hells Angels – they clearly didn’t take themselves too seriously. I first heard Ace of Spades, for example, when they featured on the famously anarchic Saturday-morning TV kids’ show Tiswas, an appearance that saw them getting drenched in buckets of water and pelted with custard pies. In 1981, for a laugh, Lemmy recorded with the allegedly wholesome, granny-friendly Irish singing group the Nolan Sisters, of whom he later said: “We were supposed to be the smelliest, loudest motherf**kers in the building but we more than met our match. We were in awe. You couldn’t mess with the Nolan Sisters.”
© Valkyrie Records
However, a decision in 1982 to record a version of Tammy Wynette’s Stand by your Man (with the late Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics) proved a joke too far for Fast Eddie Clarke, who left the band in protest. That marked the end of Motörhead’s greatest line-up, although the next three decades, when Lemmy worked with guitarists Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson, Michael ‘Wurzel’ Burston and Phil ‘Wizzo’ Campbell and drummers Pete Gill and Mikkey Dee, were pretty good too – mainly because the many later albums didn’t tamper with the band’s fast-and-loud formula. Lemmy surely believed the old adage that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Mind you, I think his finest late-career moment wasn’t with Motörhead but with Dave Grohl’s 2004 project Probot, when he and Grohl collaborated for the rousing song Shake Your Blood.
In 1997 I had my first opportunity to see Motörhead live. I was living in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo and the band were booked to play a gig at the local venue Sapporo Factory (which appropriately enough was a former beer brewery). Alas, the gig clashed with a rather important family event – my sister’s wedding, which necessitated me being back in Scotland – and I missed it. Afterwards, a mate who’d attended the gig told me how Lemmy asked the crowd if they wanted to hear some ‘new songs’. When the crowd shouted back “No!”, he retorted, “F**k off, I’m going to play the new songs anyway.” My mate noted that it didn’t matter because “the new songs sounded exactly the same as the old ones.”
Luckily, I got around to seeing the band twice during the noughties, both times while I was living in England: in 2004 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in 2008 in Norwich. At the Newcastle gig, Motörhead performed a song by the legendary New York punk band the Ramones in honour of their guitarist Johnny Ramone, who’d recently passed away. There seemed to be a curse on the Ramones because their founding members were dropping like flies at the time. Lemmy announced wearily, “We keep saying we’re never going to play another Ramones song again. But then another one of the bastards goes and dies on us and we have to play another Ramones song, as a tribute.” Well, we’re now in 2018 and by a sad coincidence not only has the entire classic line-up of the Ramones expired – Joey Ramone in 2001, Dee Dee in 2002, Johnny in 2004 and Tommy in 2014 – but so too has that of Motörhead.
Of course, they themselves may be gone, but their music remains. I’ll finish this post by paraphrasing one of the characters at the end of the 1982 movie Mad Max II – that’s the last we’ll ever see of them, but they live now in our memories. And on our stereo systems.
© Bronze Records