I’m writing this just after watching the stream of Lemmy‘s memorial on YouTube. Still doesn’t seem real. The thought that there’s never going to be another Motörhead album… never going to be another new interview to read… never going to be at another gig and hear THAT voice growl, “We are Motörhead and we play Rock and Roll”, before launching into the first song.
The man we all know as Lemmy was born in Stoke-On-Trent on 24th December 1945 as Ian Fraser Kilmister. Over his lifetime he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, bass player in Hawkwind (from which he was fired for being on the wrong kind of drugs!), then he started Motörhead, sealing his place in Valhalla. He could always be relied upon for a quote, and as a raconteur, he was unsurpassed. If you want to find out what I mean, read White Line Fever, his autobiography. Yes, it was written by someone who wasn’t Lemmy, but it was obviously verbatim. You can hear his voice when you read it.
From a personal, semi-professional standpoint, there’s now something that I’ll have to cross off my bucket list as something that is now impossible. I’ll never meet and/or interview Lemmy.
Let me wind things back to my teenage years, taking my faltering first steps into appreciation of Metal. A compilation album called Metal Killers Kollection III. Nestled in amongst the likes of Accept‘s Burning and Judas Priest‘s Freewheel Burning, was a track by the name of We Are The Road Crew by a band called Motörhead. Like most of the bands on there, that I’d grow to love over the next few decades, they were a band I’d never heard of.
I think my next exposure to the band was on a repeat of the Bambi episode of The Young Ones. Lemmy with his head tilted back, shades on, playing the bass, Pete Gill on drums, and Würzel and Phil Campbell on guitars. That was the first time they’d really made a proper impact on me.
Over the next few years, I bought several of their albums, including Ace Of Spades, Bomber and No Sleep Til Hammersmith. I finally got to see them for the first time in 1991 at St George’s Hall in Bradford during the 1916 tour. The line-up at the time featured Lemmy (of course), Würzel, Phil Campbell and Philthy Animal Taylor. For me, that’s the classic line-up. They recorded my favourite ‘Head albums: 1916 and Bastards. One of the abiding memories of the show is Lemmy asking the assembled throng if we liked his suntan (he’d just recently moved out to Los Angeles at the time). It was really that moment that turned me into a true Motörhead (and especially Lemmy) fan. I’d been to a few gigs before. I’d seen the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Faith No More, Prong, Kings X… but I’d never seen a frontman so relaxed and personable, so obviously enjoying himself as on that night. OK, the sound that night was pretty awful. Muddy as anything, so much so that it was hard to tell what songs they were playing, but it was my first Motörhead show. I was now a TRUE Metal fan!
Over the next couple of decades, I bought every album and went to multiple shows. They never let me down once. OK, some of the albums weren’t as good as other ones, but when Lemmy himself expresses disappointment with one or two of them, not being so impressed is fine.
My final live encounter was at the O2 Academy in Leeds in late 2010. They were being supported by Michael Monroe‘s band (which at the time included Ginger Wildheart). That was when I got to hear my favourite Motörhead song played live – Born To Raise Hell, with Michael Monroe and Lemmy duetting on vocals.
They were playing at Bloodstock in 2011, but seeing as I’d only seen them a few months before, and reports feeding back from Wacken weren’t good (the beginnings of the ill health that haunted the band right up to the end)… so I left before the headline slot. I’m glad I did. As it stands, my last memory of a Motörhead show is the Leeds gig. Which was awesome (just like it had been the year before).
During 2014 and 2015, Lemmy‘s health slowly deteriorated. The photos of him showed him looking more and more his age. He started to look like an old man of nearly 70. Some gigs were cancelled and rebooked for 2016.
Then, on the 28th of December 2015, only four days after his 70th birthday, Lemmy died of an aggressive form of cancer.
To say that Lemmy embodied what Rock and Metal are all about is something of a cliché. But he did. He still does. His death doesn’t change that. If anything, it just strengthens the legend of The Last True Rock Star. He died a few days after his 70th birthday, less than three weeks after finishing 2015’s touring cycle, with dates already booked for 2016. This was a man who lived completely by his own rules. Unlike most of us who just pay lip-service to rebellion, Lemmy lived it.
Like it said on the tattoo on his arm. “Born to lose, live to win”.
And he did.
God has gone home.
Rest In Peace
Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister (24/12/1945 – 28/12/2015)
Other members of the Wyrd Ways Rock Show team have also written their own tributes:
When I was about 14, I found a book in my school library about the history of heavy metal. On the cover, alongside pictures of Slash and Iron Maiden‘s Steve Harris, was a big picture of Lemmy; Rickenbacker bass in hand, warts-and-all. I barely knew who he or Motörhead were, but I was intrigued enough to buy a Motörhead compilation CD that I saw in my local supermarket shortly after.
I was struck dumb by this furious, hedonistic wall of noise that did not seem of this world (certainly was far removed from my quiet Westcountry upbringing!)
As the years have gone by, my musical tastes have spread in several directions but I have always returned to Motörhead at times when nothing but unpretentious, to-the-point and LOUD rock and roll will do. A reliable constant in an ever-changing rock music landscape, it is hard to believe that Lemmy is no longer with us. His legend and music will live on though; hopefully future generations will find him as much of an inspiring figure as I did. Tom Mead
To me Lemmy was iconic. Period. Not just because of the ‘Head. Let us not forget his work with Hawkwind. Anybody into Prog or space rock would no doubt echo my words there. Something tells me Silver Machine would have sounded quite different, for one thing!! Rick Ossian
Hawkwind was my first Lemmy Love too. I grew up with Hawkwind, and it was much, much later I discovered Motörhead. The first song I properly listened to was Killed by Death, and I remember both laughing and musing that yeah, whatever kills you, kills you… you’re dead, either way! Later, when more familiar with Mr Kilmister, it made me realise that it would probably take Death himself to come and take the crazy rocker away. He went swiftly, while playing a video game- enjoying himself to the last. I doubt he’ll ever stop. Mabh Savage