The loudest band in the world rocked my world in the 70s, and the new Lemmy documentary is a corker. I also met Philthy Animal in a cottage in Cornwall...
Dominique was a French-Italian exchange student living in a flat in Notting Hill. She was into leather, mascara and Class-A drugs. So was my college roommate, which was how the two of them became an item. But Dominique was no one-man woman, and whenever my girlfriend and I hung out at her place, ‘the other guy’ was never far away.
One summer, my roommate booked a cottage for the four of us in Cornwall, but the morning we were due to drive down, they had a bust-up and he pulled a disappearing act. So just the three of us drove down, me and the two girls, to remote Lesnewth, nothing there but a farm and a little church designed by Thomas Hardy. We passed the first night in a sort of vodka-fuelled collision of Performance and Far from the Madding Crowd. At six the next morning I answered a knock at the front door in my underpants. Dominique’s reserve boyfriend stuck one hand out at me while the other clutched a vodka bottle. A monster American car stretched across the yard behind him.
‘Hi. I’m Phil.’
And that was how I met Motörhead’s drummer, ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor.
What followed in Cornwall is irrelevant but involved large quantities of booze, shooting pool, a cracked front axle and him being a thoroughly generous and top geezer. His Popeye arm muscles, Tex-Mex face furniture and Wild Man of Borneo hairstyle were already familiar to me from Top of the Pops and their hit collaboration with Girlschool, ‘Please Don’t Touch’, a kind of Harleyed-up, rough-arsed take on a Status Quo boogie. Phil’s was the bandit biker image that the then trio of him, Lemmy and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clark had finessed to perfection on the cover of their just-released Ace of Spades album, a record that was about to rock my world.
Prior to that meeting, my musical tastes ran to a slew of ‘new wave’ bands that were literate and cerebral – Talking Heads, Magazine, Gang of Four, Pere Ubu. They wrote lyrics you could read like poetry and referenced writers I dutifully intended to someday plough through: Nietzsche, Gramsci, Dostoyevsky.
While Iron Maiden were running to the hills and composing paeans to Alexander the Great, Motörhead were getting their rocks off on sex, death, drugs, booze, loud music and big fuck-off motorbikes.
Then ‘Ace of Spades’ hit the charts and slammed into everyone’s consciousness like a dig of whizz, centre-spreading what Ice-T recently cited in the documentary film Lemmy as a favourite lyric and all-round philosophy to live by: You know I’m going to lose/And gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it, baby/I don’t wanna live forever.
Lemmy’s JD-and-Marlboro-soaked voice had been part of my musical landscape as a kid, when I’d fallen in love with Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’, and now it was back, spewing out classic title after classic title from an album that to this day can still beat the shit out of any metal band on the planet. ‘Shoot You in the Back’. ‘Love Me Like a Reptile’. ‘Fire Fire’. ‘We Are the Road Crew’. ‘The Hammer’. Track after track after track of pure, stripped-down, mainlining, brain-frying rock ’n’ roll. You’ve got to laugh when you recall that, at the time, they were considered part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Just think about it. Compared to Motörhead, Def Leppard sounded like Wet Lettuce. While Iron Maiden were running to the hills and composing paeans to Alexander the Great, Motörhead were getting their rocks off on sex, death, drugs, booze, loud music and big fuck-off motorbikes.
Purists still hark back to that lethal threesome and turn their noses up at subsequent Motörhead line-ups. No one plays a guitar solo like Fast Eddie. You’ll never beat Philthy’s double kick-drum technique. OK, that was when they entered the Guinness Book of Records as the loudest band in the world. But when I saw later incarnations live, once at Leeds University and once at the Helsinki Culture Hall, I was every bit as thrilled. And when Lemmy told the Helsinki audience they were the best he’d played to, I don’t think he was necessarily being insincere; I think he was being a genuinely nice bloke.
This is certainly how he comes across in the abovementioned Lemmy documentary, released in 2010 and now available on DVD. Interviewed in his memorabilia-cluttered museum of a home in Los Angeles, he’s asked what’s the most important thing in the room, to which he replies without hesitation, ‘My son.’ Not so surprising perhaps – other than to the son himself, who was genuinely choked up by his father’s sudden emotional candour. The other key point in the film comes when Lemmy attends a congregation of fellow militaria aficionados. Poking his head out of the turret of a German tank wearing an Iron Cross and the cap of a WWII Panzer commander, he says, ‘Some people think I’m a Nazi but that’s ridiculous. I’m about as far from being a Nazi as you can possibly get.’ It’s a hilarious moment to witness yet it has a deep ring of truth about it.
I’ve never met Lemmy but my mate James Brown told me about bumping into him at his favourite LA hang-out, the Rainbow Bar and Grill, and had only good things to say about him. Another friend of mine, Sean Carr of Kiev-based band Death Valley Screamers, played on the same bill as Motörhead last year but missed meeting up with Lemmy for a drink, after which he got a phone call from Lemmy apologising for missing him. Like I said, a nice bloke.
Maybe his most admirable quality however is his commitment to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. You don’t hear a Motörhead song without knowing who it is. It’s music of a thoroughbred pedigree – like The Ramones (who they paid homage to on the album 1916) or The Stooges at the end of the 1960s. Iggy and the boys maintained a purity across their first two albums, The Stooges and Funhouse, that still defines the term ‘rock ’n’ roll’. Motörhead have managed to do it and keep their credibility across a career spanning more than thirty years. I would say, here’s to the next thirty, but I have a feeling that Lemmy’s philosophy is of the burning out rather than the fading away variety. So I’ll just say ‘Cheers, bud’ instead.
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