An epic interview with Lemmy – by John Robb
An epic encounter with Lemmy by John Robb boss of LTW site and frontman with the Membranes who once supported Motorhead…
Lemmy is one of the last great rock stars.
Where most his generation have disappeared into stadiums, dropped dead or got boring – he’s still out there with Motorhead, sounding tougher and harder as the years go by.
Before Motorhead he sang vocals on Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’ single which is still the weirdest ever UK number one – a space rock, freak out boogie that never ages. Lemmy got to sing the vocals on the track because no-one else could get the key right and his great larynx busting vocal and attendant fame caused the cracks in the band that he claims he would still be in to this day.
Lemmy formed Motorhead in 1976 after he was thrown out of Hawkwind for taking the ”wrong drugs’ which is perhaps the greatest ever reason for being thrown out of band.
In 2010 Lemmy has became a national institution. With the ”Lemmy film, and the band’s new ”The World Is Yours’ album and another sold out UK tour he is part and parcel of our culture.
He has also become an unlikely elder statesman, the eternal teenager whose gruff personae hides a self deprecating, deep intelligence and a charismatic no bullshit rocker who says it like he sees it with words of wisdom and a bass that still spews gravel and comes with a life story that is the very history of UK rock n roll
Lemmy is unchanging, unflinching- a gunslinger surrounded by mice. Motorhead never budge for anything pointless like fashion, they remain loud and direct, pure, unstinting and unapologetic. Lemmy has become a byword for rock n roll and embraced by the trendies whilst still being loved the rockers.
There is a great documentary about him called ”Lemmy’ doing the rounds at the moment with a whole host of rock animals and bizarrely Jarvis Cocker paying tribute to him.
Motorhead’s new single, ”Get Back In Line’, is a great dig at the bankers and the video is hilarious with Lemmy and gang bottling the creeps who caused the recession and gave themselves bonuses.
Lemmy doesn’t really do politics but when he does it great.
Motorhead are one of the great British bands.
Often mistaken for being a metal band they are, in fact, pure rock n roll and part of a lineage that starts with Little Richard runs through the Hamburg Beatles and through primetime Hendrix and then the MC5 and mid seventies UK punk rock. Interestingly Lemmy himself was there for all of these high points like a rock n roll anti- Zelig.
Always on the pulse ,whether it’s checking the Beatles at the Cavern or attempting to teach Sid Vicious the bass or holed up in his current abode in LA, Lemmy is pure instinct.
On growing up
I was born in Stoke in 1943. My father was vicar and the way he behaved put me off religion for life. He ran off and left my mother and I didn’t see him for 25 years when he lived on the Isle Of Man.
He’d been kicked out of the church. He was a creep with a bald head and glasses. I didn’t’ fancy him much. After he left us we moved to Anglesey which was difficult to say the least.
I was expelled form school when I was 14 for smacking the headmaster. I had been sent to his office for two strokes of the cane.
I said fair enough but not on my hand with the bandages. So he hit my hand with the bandage on it and opened up the cut that was on it, the scar is still there now.
He was a miserable, sadistic twat so I smacked him and got expelled. It was at Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones School in Amlwch, Anglesey. They didn’t like me at the school because I was English- they would beat me up in Welsh! I would fight but what was the point there was masses of them! (laughs).
I stayed in Wales for a couple of years, worked for Hotpoint and worked on a farm in Conway, looking after horses.
On the birth if British rock n roll
I remember what it was like before rock n roll. Tommy Steele was the first thing I heard. You got to understand that in those times he was really big, I’ve never seen anything like it- one minute it was Frank Sinatra and the next minute Tommy Steele.
We used to go to Prestatyn near Rhyl to see bands play at the Royal Lido. We met Gene Vincent- he was in constant pain for the rest of his life because all the tendons were fucked in his leg from a bike crash. He was very good, better than he ever was on record, the one record representative of him was ”I’m Going Home To See My Baby’.
This was more like he was live. More than even ‘Be Bop A Lu La’.
For me it was Little Richard that was the king. Imagine being black and gay from Macon Georgia, no wonder he became a singer- he could never have been a boxer”!
On British rock n roll
In 1958/59 I was into rock n roll. Billy Fury was great and Marti Wilde were doing it. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates was great till he got killed, Mick Green who played guitar in the Pirates was a great guitar player- Mick Green’s version of ”Blue Suede Shoes’ is fucking great.
Vince Taylor played there once, he was alright- I seen him play in France he was big there. At one time it was Jerry lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis fighting for the top spot for rock n roll in Britain. They were main three for me.
I liked Elvis before Elvis lost it. The way he sings ‘Blue Suede shoes on the Vegas tapes is garbage, it’s a parody of himself.
I thought 68 comeback was fucking brilliant. That was great. Then he went straight to Vegas and he let me down again. He was always letting you down Presley. I think he was lazy. He could do fuck all and get paid for it all the time. He didn’t want to do it anymore. He was a good actor- the first few movies including King Creole were great. He could have done anything. He could have played Hamlet and what did he do? he accepted all those shit movies. I hated it. All rubbish
It’s Little Richard’s fault, all of it. Little Richard is directly responsible for Motorhead. I heard “Good Golly, Mrs. Molly” and that was the end of it. I’ve only seen him once, in America at the House of Blues onstage going on about god- he lost it as well but he gave so much joy to the world that he’s forgiven. All the old guys always had this war going on with god. You have to remember that Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart grew up together.
The only interesting thing about religion is how many people it’s slaughtered. Communism and Nazism are religions as well, make no mistake about it”Â¦
On getting into bands
In 1961 I started in local bands in north Wales. There were no bass players and drummers were hard to find. Drums were so expensive and you were never going to get them in north Wales- you had to order them. Even buying records was difficult- you had to order them from the electrical goods shop. I looked at a Telecaster as a magical visitation from god, it was like, ”You can get them in two colours!’ It was magical. It was like an alien had come to visit us with guitars.
The punks were as good as the original rock n rollers. It’s just they wasn’t the first time and it could never be as good as the first time.
On The Beatles
I saw the Beatles play the cavern. These chicks had been going on about them and I had to check them out. They were amazing- greatest rock n roll band ever. You could tell something was really happening. They were the real deal, the Stones were too art school, the Beatles were real working class. They were a great rock n roll band. The Beatles kept doing great rock n roll right till the end. ”Back in the USSR’ is a great piece of rock n roll, as good as anything I’ve heard. There was always a rocking song on a Beatles album”
On being in bands in the sixties
I went to Manchester first in 1962. I was in a band called the Motown Sect. We called ourselves that to get shows because Motown was big then. We did Pretty Things kind of thing- blues with harmonica. I played guitar and sang a bit and we played lots of gigs round Oldham. I lived in Dukinfield for a while I lived there and then in Wythenshawe for a bit before Stockport, Prestwich and Cheetham hill.
The band split in 1965 so I joined the Rocking Vicars or Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars as they were originally known and we played round Manchester before moving to Blackpool.
We played clubs in Middleton, Oldham, Rochdale, another place we used to go to was on Sackville St- Heaven and Hell it was called, the Oasis club in Manchester and the Manchester Cavern- it’s where that big fucking shopping centre is now, it’s all underneath the Andale centre.
I used to go to the Twisted Wheel but never played there.
Manchester was great, like Liverpool there was a lot of bands. I knew the Hollies, who was that other band, Christ! Er, the Herman mob- Herman and The Hermits, we used to hang around in that guitar shop on Oxford Road, Barratts.
We played with Manfred Man with the Motown Sect but not the other bands, the Rockin’ Vicars always topped the bill, except one night when we played the Free Trade Hall with the fucking Hollies. It’s a long story but our drummer succeeded in being a complete cunt and destroyed the stage under himself and fell into the hole (laughs). It was a lesson you would have thought he would have profited from but I’m afraid not.
The Hollies played first we were supporting Ciggy (Ciggy Shaw, drummer) insisted we went on last and the Hollies didn’t give a fuck they just played anyway, the legs of the bass drum went after two drum beats and whole stage went up and he fell in (laughs).
On the Rockin’ Vicars and Blackpool
We relocated to Blackpool because that was where all the work was. We were big in the north of England. We were on two hundred quid a week each then which was a lot of money. We had our own cars and even our own speedboat up in the lakes. There were chicks everywhere.
I was always on my way to London really. That is where it happens in England. You have to face it. We don’t like it but that’s where it all happens. You can’t really be in Manchester and have it going for you. You have to be in London.
You can’t sustain it there it’s a provincial town. It’s like any other city that is not the capitol. It seems to be especially true in England and in France. You don’t look at Bordeaux or Lyon to see what’s happening in France (laughs).
On being a roadie for Jimi Hendrix
The first time I saw Hendrix was in Blackpool at the Blackpool Opera House in April 1967. He come round with the Walker Brother tour with Engelbert Humperdinck and Cat Stevens- talk about a mixed bill!
He was magic. He just stole the show, and I wanted to be playing that type of music, because the Vicars were very conservative in their choice of music, a lot of covers.
I moved down to London a year later. I just wanted to do my own stuff and be wilder. So I went to London in ’67 and that was it, as they say.
The only guy I knew in London shared a place with Noel Redding and he was part of Hendrix’s road crew and they go out on tour and I was humping gear and they were doing ‘Axis Bold As Love’. It was amazing. Hendrix was an original. There has never been anything like him since and certainly not before. The man could control feedback. I watched his hands and you couldn’t tell how he did it. He had big hands and they were over 10 frets long- that’s big they were. He could do it either way, he could turn the guitar upside down if he had to.
You could spot the guitar players in the place they were the ones cutting their fingers off! They were thinking, ”fuck it, it’s not worth it!’
He was the best. He was the most innovative guitarist ever, Clapton was never near him. Hendrix was out there.
I got to play with him once. I rehearsed in his rehearsal room in White City. You can’t fucking describe it. He was good best. The first time I saw him play was backstage and play and acoustic backstage. It was amazing to watch him in a small room and play
On taking acid
I was into a lot of acid then, the ones with the little owls stamped on them because Owlsley Stanley III had re-invented acid along with Timothy Leary. He wasn’t what you expected. He was a really goofy guy, you know?, he would speak like ”Hello! My Name is Owlsley Stanley III I was wondering if you would like to try some L.S.D.’
It worked with Hendrix because he said ”Sure, why not’ and brought back a thousand tabs and they all had that little owl stamped on them.
All the acid I took then made me smart. It turned me around, I was your average Joe Blow before acid I never knew anything we never had anything before. Acid was not even illegal then. This was in August 1967 and they didn’t make acid illegal until that November. Everyone on the tour was tripped stupid- Hendrix, Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett. Hendrix was giving acid to all the crew. We were at the start of the tour and one of the crew said do you want try this acid and I said why not, I’m the tope expert in smoking marijuana this can’t be much different.
How wrong was I? Well I was driving the truck and I said which way are we going? There’s four roads ahead of us and they said, ‘no Lemmy there is only one!’ I carried on diving the van and took another tab of acid. I though it might help. I was driving the van with Hendrix’s Marshall’s in it to Crawley and somehow I got them there.
I got really into the acid until the mid seventies. They were making really crap stuff by then I had to give it up by 1975 and it was bad by then.
After working with Hendrix I had a stint in this psychedelic band called Sam Gopal- he was a tabla player and I played guitar and sang. I then got the job in Hawkwind.
I got to sing ”Silver Machine’ because none of the rest of them could do it. But when ‘Silver Machine’ got to number one the NME put me on the cover and the problems started. It was really traumatic for them! They never forgave me for that I think.
Any band who says they don’t want to be famous is a bunch of fucking lying cunts. If you play music you want to get it to as many people as possible, that’s obvious. They all loved being rock stars but they weren’t very good at it (laughs). ‘Silver Machine’ was the only hit they ever had. Everybody else had tried to sing it in the band but I was the only one that got it and then it went to number 1 that really pissed them off.
I got sacked by them for taking the wrong drugs. Can you believe that! Getting sacked by the most cosmic band ever for taking the wrong drugs! They were into acid and I was into speed. I ended up in jail in Canada overnight on tour and they then sacked me. I loved that band. Would have probably still been in them now.
On forming Motorhead
I then put together Motorhead. Everyone said we had no chance. That’s what everybody else said but I thought we had a fine chance.
Mind you, the original line up stunk. It was fucking terrible. We had a bad drummer Lucas Fox and Larry Wallis from the Pink Fairies in the band. Me and Larry seemed to rub up against each other and I don’t mean sexually (laughs).
He was still in the Pink Fairies and he would tell the Fairies that he was trying both bands out- seeing which one went first you know.
He fucked up somehow, I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t understand Larry. He’s apparently still around. I don’t know whether he’s doing much playing.
The original Motorhead was a 5-piece band. I wanted to form the MC5 of Britain. They were such a great band, the MC5. I did that MC5 gig a few years back and they were fucking great man. They sound exactly the same! I sang ”Sister Ann’ and ”Back In the USA’ with them. It was fucking brilliant. I came out high as a kite. It was one of them shows
So the original Motorhead was modelled on the MC5. Luther Grosvenor was in the band for a month, Ariel Bender (laughs) great guitar player. I like the bass better than guitar. I’m a really mediocre guitar player. Luther was going to be in the band but bottled out and we were going to get a singer and that never happened to I got stuck with the singing.
We were never properly called Bastard. It was just an idea that I had but as our manager rightly pointed out we wouldn’t get a lot of Top Of The Pops with a name like that (laughs)
It pretty much sounded the same as Motorhead already. You’ve heard all the music we ended up doing. It’s strange but it just happened like that.
Many people didn’t understand us but then many people don’t understand what the Ministry of Fisheries is about (laughs). Even if you know every fucking detail you don’t know why things happen. You know when and how but you don’t know why.
We are a rock n roll band we always were.
We have heavy metal hair so you can see why so people put us in there with that. They got no brains these people who categorise you- that’s what they categorise you (laughs).
They are at these award ceremonies- here is an asshole who is taking your money on false pretences and he’s getting the award on the unanimous decision of all those cunts who never buy records and get into gigs free (laughs)
The records are much better now than ”Ace of Spades’ or ”Bomber’. They are not even good- primitive, bad sound, bad equipment and in a lot cases played really played badly. There is something good about it if you were 16 but the moment has passed.
We do what we do and no one else does it. If no-one buys an album we put out another one and then another one till they do.
Every album up to ”Hammersmith’ sold more and more and we were getting bigger and bigger and all those people who said that we wouldn’t last six months were proved wrong. They said that we would be down and out on heroin. The success was a fuck you. There’s a lot of fuck you-ness about me and my basic fuck you-ness has survived.
On teaching Sid Vicious how to play bass
Punk was great. It was what rock n roll needed at that point in time. I never had time for the Clash and their pretend politics but the Damned and the Ramones were great rock n roll bands. Motorhead fitted right in. We may have had long hair but the punks understood us.
Johnny Rotten used to go and see Hawkwind play. I remember him turning up in his long hair and great coat at London gigs. Sid Vicious lived in my flat for a couple of months and I tried to teach him bass but he was hopeless.
One day he came rushing into the flight all excited saying ”Lemmy I got the job with the Sex Pistols’ and I said ”Great, as part of the road crew’ and I laughed ”You can’t even play the bass, you’re hopeless’.
On his Nazi collection
What’s the problem? People seem to get confused with the uniforms and being a Nazi. I’m the least Nazi person you could ever meet. I’m the total opposite of a Nazi. It’s just that they had the best uniforms, the best gear. You wouldn’t want to collect the Belgian army uniforms would you.
Lemmy on modern music
Don’t be fooled into thinking the rock n roll scene is any worse or better than it was in 1966. There’s too many charts now in Rolling Stone. I mean what the fuck is ”Post modern’ that would be tomorrow wouldn’t it (laughs). It just doesn’t work. It’s crap and that’s what fucked it. We went straight in at number one with ”Hammersmith’ we were against anybody we were against Barbara Streisand and everybody, there was just one chart and that’s it.
That’s much healthier than being number one in your own category. What the fuck does that mean! It takes all the prestige of it away.