Entertainment Music

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Obituary: Lemmy

Motorhead frontman who fuelled his heavy metal sound by an appetite for drugs, sex and booze

Don't try this at home, kids: Lemmy on top form Photo: PA
Don't try this at home, kids: Lemmy on top form Photo: PA

Lemmy, who died on Monday aged 70, was the founder and, for some 40 years, bassist and frontman of Motorhead, the heavy metal band which took pride in its reputation for playing and living louder, faster and harder than anyone else. "If we moved in next door to you, your lawn would die," he once claimed.

Lemmy (real name Ian Kilmister) began climbing the ranks as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. In 1971, he joined Hawkwind, the psychedelic band which specialised in trying to induce fits in their audience through the use of ultra-low frequency soundwaves. Unfortunately, LSD was the band's drug of choice, while Lemmy preferred amphetamines. By his account, this pharmaceutical difference of opinion was the reason why he was kicked out of the band after being busted for possession on the US-Canadian border in 1975.

The same year, he founded a new band with guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox, replacing them (respectively) within a year with 'Fast' Eddie Clarke and Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor. Originally christened 'Bastard', they changed their name to Motorhead after being persuaded that the original name would prevent them appearing on Top of the Pops.

Motorhead recorded an album for United Artists, which deemed it unreleasable (though when the band became successful, they released it as On Parole).

They were about to break up when Ted Carroll of the indie label Chiswick Records offered them recording time, during which the band completed their debut album, Motorhead, issued in 1977. It did well enough to persuade them to stay together, but it would be their next album, Overkill (1979) that marked their real breakthrough.

Motorhead came to be cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the loudest band ever, and they were proud of their reputation for ear-splitting noise and amped-up excess.

Lemmy himself set the pace, claiming to have abused his body with industrial quantities of drugs and alcohol and slept with hundreds if not thousands of women.

"There was a magazine in England who said I screwed 2,000 women and I didn't," he recalled. "I said 1,000. When you think about it, it isn't that unreasonable."

On one occasion. the band was said to have got their paws on what they thought was a jar labelled amphetamine sulphate, which turned out to be atropine sulphate - the deadly poison belladonna. They came to in hospital, where a doctor informed them that had they been brought in an hour later they would all be dead. Lemmy liked telling the story of another doctor who once told his handlers: "Don't let him give any blood transfusions. It'd kill normal people."

Their often drug-addled state did not stop Motorhead becoming one of the biggest bands in Britain, their raw energy helping to establish a rabid fanbase through their live shows. At their peak, they sold some 300,000 copies of each album, including the seminal concert recording No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, (1981) which went straight to No 1 in the album charts.

Motorhead toured not just Europe and the US, but South America, Japan and Australasia, while their most successful single, Ace of Spades (1980), became a staple in student bars across the country.

Over the years as guitarists and drummers passed through Motorhead's line-up, Lemmy remained the one constant. His bronchial rasp - directed into a microphone tilted down into his weather-beaten face - was one of the most recognisable voices in rock, while his Rickenbacker guitar recast the bass as a distorted rhythmic rumble. His appearance - long hair, facial warts, skintight jeans and boots (with optional cowboy hat) - never varied.

The group went through lean times in the early 1990s, when the craze for heavy metal waned. At one point, their fan club dwindled to just 200 and they were unable to mount a tour. For a time, Lemmy moved to Los Angeles in the hope of relaunching his career.

But within a few years he found himself back in vogue, riding on the back of fellow heavy metal star Ozzy Osbourne's rise to television stardom to win a new generation of fans. He never settled down, telling the Independent in 2010: "This is how my life was always meant to take place: in the back of a tour bus somewhere, a girl I've never met before in my lap and who will be gone by morning. It's how I live. It suits me."

Ian Fraser Kilmister was born at Stoke-on-Trent on Christmas Eve 1945 and brought up by his mother and stepfather on a farm in north Wales after his biological father, a vicar, ran off three months after his birth. He became known as Lemmy, it was said, after he constantly pestered people to "lemme a fiver".

He met his real father only once, in a pizza restaurant when he was 25. "He was this little a--hole with a bald head and glasses who was trying to clear his conscience," he recalled. "I told him that... he should give me pounds 1,000 and we would call it quits. He said he couldn't do that, but he offered me driving lessons so that I could become a travelling salesman. I told him he was lucky the pizza hadn't arrived yet or he would be wearing it."

Lemmy was expelled from school at the age of 15, by which time he had discovered the music of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

Concluding that a guitar conferred automatic sex appeal, he took up the instrument and by the early 1960s was drifting in and out of local bands like the Motown Sect and the Rockin' Vicars, with whom he made his first recording. One reviewer described it as sounding "as if 999 monkeys had been handed guitars and locked in a room until one of them came up with something approaching free jazz".

In the mid-1960s, he moved to London, where he worked as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

"I used to score acid for him," Lemmy said. "He'd take seven and give me three. I got to know him very well. He was a great human being."

In 1972, he joined Hawkwind as bassist and occasional vocalist. Within months he was fronting their No 3 single Silver Machine.

Lemmy was not, as one interviewer put it, "the person you would want your daughter to bring home", but he was surprisingly bright and reflective, with an interest in the Anglo-Saxon kings and Cromwell's campaigns in Ireland.

As Oliver Poole discovered when he interviewed him for the Daily Telegraph in 2002, the man whose song titles included Die You Bastard was a convinced Thatcherite who confessed that one of his favourite bands was Abba and that he was "addicted" to PG Wodehouse.

A claim by another interviewer that Lemmy was also a "stickler for good manners" was, however, somewhat undermined by an expletive-laden rant on their importance.

In 2005, Motorhead celebrated their 30th anniversary, by which time they had acquired a status verging on celebrity. That year, they carried off an award at the Grammys and made their first UK festival appearance in many years, while Lemmy was presented with Classic Rock magazine's first Living Legend award. He appeared alongside Gary Lineker in a television ad for Walkers Crisps and in 2004 the band performed at the Royal Opera House as part of a tourism promotion campaign.

An avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, Lemmy was at pains to emphasise that he was no Nazi sympathiser, "but the bad guys always have the best uniforms".

Lemmy never married "because I never met one woman who would stop me looking at all the rest".

He had two sons by different mothers, one of whom became a session guitarist, based in Los Angeles; the other was given up for adoption at birth because Lemmy was only 17 and the mother 15 at the time he was born.

Lemmy was predeceased by his bandmate Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor, who died in November.

"People don't become better when they're dead; you just talk about them as if they are," reflected Lemmy in his autobiography White Line Fever (2002).

"But it's not true! People are still a--holes, they're just dead a--holes!"

"I didn't have a really important life," he admitted, "but at least it's been funny."


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