Heavy metal gods Motörhead have been the bad boys of British rock for over 30 years. Ahead of their upcoming Belfast gig, fiery frontman Lemmy gives Andrew Johnston a taste of just what to expect
There are musicians, there are rock stars, and there are legends. Lemmy falls firmly into the last category.
And the 63-year-old Motörhead vocalist is on fine form when 24/7 catches up with at his home in West Hollywood, where he has lived since 1990.
Motörhead have survived 34 years of changing fashions and cultural shifts, and have seen off punk, glam rock, grunge and nu-metal with their primal appeal. Lemmy’s trusty Rickenbacker sounds like a Luftwaffe bomber. Phil Campbell’s lead guitar slashes like a madman on a murder spree. Mikkey Dee’s drums clatter like an out-of-control freight train.
At the helm is one man, born in Stoke-on-Trent on Christmas Eve 1945, Ian Fraser Kilmister. Since then, Lemmy has been on a mission to live life in the fast lane. “I can’t think of anything better to do, can you?” he says.
“I can’t see retirement being any better than running round the world chasing birds.”
Motörhead were absent from Northern Ireland for much of the Eighties and Nineties. As Lemmy explains, there was a valid reason: “Würzel (guitarist from 1984 to 1995) got posted to Belfast when he was in the Army. We just didn’t want to risk it, you know? There are some nutters out there”
Motörhead first came to Ulster in 1980. “The first place we played was at the university (Queen’s). That was on the Overkill tour, I think. We played the leisure centre (Maysfield) on the Bomber tour, I know that. I remember someone climbed up and was hanging off the Bomber lighting rig.”
Those nascent adventures still figure highly in Lemmy’s memories. “Tours really blur after a while,” he says. “But every tour’s good, as long as you’re not crippled!”
Former drummer, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor nearly was crippled at a 1981 Ulster Hall bash, when he drunkenly fell down some stairs: “He broke his neck,” sighs Lemmy, who sacked Taylor in 1992 when he didn’t learn the drum tracks for the March ör Die album. In 2001, the band visited Belfast for the first time in nearly 20 years, on the We Are Motörhead tour (“About time!” says Lemmy) and returned in 2004 for the Inferno album tour.
The current Motörhead line-up of Lemmy, Campbell and Dee is the band’s longest lasting configuration, with seven studio and three live records. For a string of recent US dates, Dee bailed to appear on the Swedish version of I’m a Celebrity... while Velvet Revolver sticksman Matt Sorum filled the gap temporarily.
Since unleashing their self-titled debut in 1977, Motörhead have churned out 19 studio albums. Their latest is the aptly titled Motörizer. For many fans, the 11-track release is up there with undisputed head-banging classic Ace of Spades.
“I suppose we’re good at what we do after all this time,” says Lemmy. “We’ve got a formula, and it’s worked so far.’’
Many other veteran acts take five or more years between albums. That’s not for Lemmy.
“I think the band kind of dies about the third year in without another album. If I sold as many records as AC/DC, I’d do one every six f***ing months!”
Motörizer got Motörhead into the UK Top 40 for the first time since 1991. It also gave them their debut US Top 100 hit (“Number 82 and straight out again!” roars Lemmy).
Motörhead’s influence is huge, with everyone from Metallica to Dave Grohl crediting the English rockers for having inspired them.
“It’s nice to be complimented,” says Lemmy. “If we made somebody pick up a guitar and make music, then it can’t be all bad.”
Following their 30th anniversary gig in 2005, it seems Motörhead might make it to a full half-century of active duty.
“I’ll be too decrepit by then. Bits’ll be falling off!” says Lemmy.
Speak to any rock star, from Axl Rose down, and they will all tell you a great Lemmy story. But does the man himself have any choice anecdotes about meeting his heroes? “Ah, let’s see,” he says, raking through the whiskeysoaked memory banks. “Me and Würzel were going into the 100 Club (in London), when the Rolling Stones played there, with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and all that.
It was downstairs in the basement. Würzel ran down there all excited, and, just as he comes to the bottom, Bill Wyman comes along and he hits him full-on and lands him flat on his back. F***ing hilarious. Great start to the evening, you know? ‘Hello, Bill, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Oh, sorry, have I knocked you out?’”
Würzel quit Motörhead during the making of 1995’s Sacrifice, since when Lemmy, Campbell and Dee have soldiered on as a three-piece. A constant spectre is the socalled ‘classic’ line-up featuring guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and drummer Taylor. But Lemmy has resisted calls to reunite the mob that recorded seminal metal masterpieces like Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades.
“It wouldn’t be fair on these two,” he says. “These guys have played Ace of Spades a lot more times than Phil (Taylor) or Eddie did. We’ve been working too hard at this band now to put it on hold while I go f***ing around with the other two. I’m loyal. I was loyal to Phil and Eddie, too, until they weren’t loyal to me any more.”
With another Motörhead album due in 2010, Lemmy says he hasn’t run out of inspiration. As well as numerous songs celebrating the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, the singer’s lyrics continue to rail against the injustices of modern society.
“It’s all war and child porn,” Lemmy spits.
“Mankind hasn’t progressed beyond the caves. All we’ve got are bigger weapons. We can just kill our enemies from further away. We don’t have to see what we did.”
Motörhead play the Ulster Hall in Belfast on Monday, November 9, with support from Sweet Savage. Tickets are £38 and are available from all Ticketmaster outlets