Lemmy. A rock’n’roll institution. With his bourbon, cigs and outlaw aphorisms (‘I much prefer to see my enemies coming, even if they are imaginary’) he was like a piece of performance art. This is a fuller version of the interview that appeared in The Word magazine in August 2006.
In silhouette against the hotel window sits a man with one leg on the table. He shakes back his long black hair and pulls a drag from his cigarette. A piratical figure he cuts, in his open black shirt, tight black pants and long black boots. Around him are his accoutrements: the bottles of Jack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola, the glass of ice he’ll scoop in handfuls, the Marlboros, the portable tape machine with a cassette of his new album.
I’m in a line of media people Lemmy must meet today. He sighs and proffers a brawny paw, then stares stoically out of the window, across Kensington Gardens to the Palace of Diana. To its gates are tied fresh flowers, left by devotees of her cult. Around the other corner is the site of Kensington Market, once a patchouli-scented trading post of the alternative culture, where the younger and fresher-faced Lemmy sold drugs. Today that building is a branch of PC World, which provokes our man, a non-computer owner, to one of his bleak assessments of human nature: ‘The internet is probably the greatest gift to mankind ever, and what do we use it for? Child porn. That’s humanity for you, man. They never let you down, do they?’
He speaks as you would hope from the voice of Motörhead: in a hoarse rumble and slurred growl. He lives in LA nowadays but his accent betrays the North-west of England and North Wales where he was raised. Born Ian Kilmister, he became Lemmy for no special reason; he took to saying it came from a habit of saying ‘lemmy a fiver’ but now denies it. He scuffled about in regional beat groups, including the fabulously-named Rocking Vicars, and became a minor hippy star on joining Hawkwind, makers of Silver Machine. They fired him over a drug bust, which is like being expelled from the Gestapo for cruelty. But he got his revenge by forming Motörhead, the loudest, fastest and frankly horriblest hard rock band of all time.
He is a bassman, a buccaneer and a bar-stool philosopher. (And ladies… he’s single.) He is, in the end, superb company. Lemmy doesn’t ask much of life beyond those simple accoutrements. In LA he lives in a modest two-room apartment. He shrugs. ‘A pretty simple sort of geezer, really.’
What made you become a musician?
I always knew what I wanted to do. I used to watch the TV show Oh Boy!, Cliff Richard was the resident singer and he was immediately surrounded by all these birds screaming and tearing his clothes off. So I thought, ‘That’s the fucking job for me!’ And his gimmick then was that he never smiled, doing the moody Elvis thing. But you couldn’t stop the cunt smiling now with a crowbar, could you? I used to trek up to Liverpool and see The Beatles at the Cavern. But Billy Fury was the first live show, another Scouser, in his silver lamé suit. That was a great bill, with Marty Wilde, Mike Sarne (Come Outside), Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers at the Llandudno Odeon. First record? Knee Deep In The Blues by Tommy Steele, on a 78 which my mother left outside in the sun one day. I had a couple of Elvis ones on 78. Ah, those dear, dead days.
Tell me about your early bands.
First band was truly awful, called The Sundowners, in Conway when I was living there, that didn’t last very long. Then a band which rejoiced in the original name The DJs, we thought we were well flash, doing all the Shadows steps. Then I went up to Manchester and joined The Motown Sect, we played soul clubs just on the strength of our name. We used to turn up in striped jerseys with our harmonicas and long hair but it was too late, they’d booked us by then. Went down like a concrete parachute. Then I joined The Rocking Vickers, from Burnley originally but based in Blackpool when I joined them. Played Odeons, Locarnos, Nelson Imperial, Blackburn St George’s Hall. We didn’t know if it would last until next week.
Why did you leave for London?
Everybody does. Even The Beatles had to do that because it’s where everything is. All the streets look the same when you first come down, all those rows of houses with pillars on the doors. The size was daunting, especially if you’re from Colwyn Bay. But it was great, they really were the Swinging 60s. I was working for Hendrix, humping gear; did a few tours with him until they went back to the States. I was at all the sessions for Axis: Bold As Love. Jimi was the best, never seen anyone like him. Then I became a drug dealer in Kensington Market. It was a great place to sell dope, to pull chicks, get clothes you didn’t get anywhere else, really cool. Hendrix gave me couple of buckskin jackets, but they didn’t fit me exactly so I gave them away, like you do. I didn’t know he was going to die, did I?
You joined Hawkwind, who eventually sacked you. But did you get off on the whole ‘underground’ era?
It was a great time. Drugs were the making of it, as well as its undoing. Everybody was doing acid. You could still trust the pills too. And the drugs were cheaper. But it’s a dead scene now. People go, ‘Oooh, we’ve got ecstasy’. I go, You poor cunt, you haven’t got a clue. I fucking hate heroin, though. It’s the only one I ever saw kill people. That and downers. I never saw anyone die on speed or coke or dope or acid. I still see Dave Brock, from Hawkwind. When I went off and formed Motörhead, I just wanted to be the MC5, basically. But two of them bailed and we became the MC3. Us against the world, mate.
You were always the heavy band that punks could accept.
The punks loved us. The only reason we weren’t in that lot was because we had long hair, so obviously we must be heavy metal. That was the thinking, but a lot of kids heard us without seeing a picture so they thought we were a punk band. Whatever. I always thought we had a lot more in common with The Damned that we did with Judas Priest. I used to love The Damned. The Captain! I went down to the Roxy to find out about the punk number and all these punks are sitting there with needles through everything and I walk in with me flares on. I’m at the bar and this voice behind me goes, ‘Hawkwind. I used to sell acid at your shows’ and it was Johnny Rotten. He used to sell acid at the Kings Cross Cinema, he had long hair and a big army great-coat. There goes your street cred.
You’ve just finished your new album Kiss Of Death. Would this be a good time for ex-fans to come back to Motörhead’s world?
If they’d had that singular lapse in judgement, I suppose it would be. We’re one of the few bands that never let you down. We’ve been true right through. We had a good idea at the beginning and we didn’t fuck with it too much, and I like that in us. A lot of bands get confused and change the plan and it’s always fatal. And we’d have broken up if we’d stayed in England cos the interest here was zero. In America they’d never heard of us so we went over and had a go at them. And got a Grammy last year, so there you go. Actually we’ve never had a plan of any kind, we just played the music we like. We don’t like people telling us what to do: ‘Get your hair cut, it’s out of fashion.’ Fuck off! How does that sound? There’s that much of the Northerner in me still. I don’t like being told what to do by grotty Southerners: ‘What the fuck do you know about it? You sit on your arse all day listening to opinion polls.’ I play bass but I’m still not normal, I just play what seems right and it’s worked all right for 31 years. I like Paul McCartney but John Entwistle was the best for me: it’s impossible what I saw him do. I met him in 1966 when the Vickers supported The Who on the South Pier in Blackpool. He was nice geezer then and until the day he dropped. He went out fairly well, I thought: five strippers and a quick heart attack. And in the Hard Rock Café in Vegas at that.
You must have a hell of a constitution.
I must have. I got checked over in Berlin two weeks ago and my doctor said I have the liver of a new-born baby. That’s some justice, isn’t it, eh? I’m sure everybody who’s switched to fucking nut-cutlets is really pissed off by that. I don’t do anything to keep in shape. I eat junk food, I drink all day, I still take speed. What the fuck. I think the secret is you find out which bits work for you, and then do only them. Don’t fuck with the programme. Everybody I ever knew who went on heroin or downers then fucked up. They were asleep when the phone call came. I much prefer to see my enemies coming, even if they are imaginary. The main thing is not to lose your hair. Mine’s on its way, at the back. But we have the technology. And you can always dye the motherfucker. It helps being skinny, too. How many good players are really gross now? Whole bands of them.
Why did you move to Los Angeles?
I moved to LA because it had stopped happening in London. We would have broke up before now if we’d stayed in England, cos the interest here was zero. In America they’d never heard of us so we went over and had a go at them. And got a Grammy last year, so there you go. I’ve been there 17 years now, half my Motörhead life. I was sick of London, I’d been in London since 1967, I was 44 and I thought, ‘Fuck it, if I’m going to go anywhere I’d better go now’. I miss Britain, but only a bit. I don’t miss the weather for a kick off. People say ‘Oh I love England, it’s so green.’ I say, ‘That’s because it’s under water half the fucking time, it’s seaweed!’ The only thing I really miss is the cheese, which they can’t make in America to save their fucking lives, it’s terrible. And they can’t do Marmite so I take that home with me. I like LA, I’ve got good friends there. Everything’s half price. And the chicks are cuter. They are! They wear much less clothing because of the torrid heat. So, any questions? Ha ha!
What is the lure of the road? Are girls still the incentive they used to be?
We’re on the road seven months a year. That’s where a band belongs. You have to prove that you can deliver on stage. You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear in a studio, but you have to be able to whack it out on stage. You have to be able to murder an audience with one note. And luckily we’ve always been able to do that. I still enjoy it in the same way. I just love being up there showing off. Cos, let’s get down to the basics, that’s what we’re all doing up there. ‘Look at me!’ The girls were always a big incentive, even if you get musicians going ‘Oh, I have a message for the kids.’ Well bollocks to that. I didn’t have a message for the kids, except for the female kids, where my message was ‘Come round backstage’ y’know? We don’t get a lot of women now in our crowd. It’s mostly spotty oiks who want to be in a band like us. But we get a few occasional spin-offs.
Will there always be a Motörhead?
I see no reason to stop. If you enjoy it keep doing it. And anyway, we’re filling a hole that no one else is going to fill. When we’re gone there’ll just be a hole. Regrets? Life’s too short, man. It’s where you’re going not where you’ve been. I can’t be bothered about what might have been. Fuck that shit.
Tell me about your sons, and your own father.
I see a lot of my kid now [the musician Paul Inder], he’s 39, he lives in LA and works as a producer, he’s all right. And the other one I never even saw, it was adopted at birth, very bad news, the mother was 15 at the time. My dad left when I was three months old. Just as well: he was a fucking vicar! Though he did get thrown out the church. He didn’t get in touch ’til I was 25, then he started getting a conscience, he started writing letters to my mother saying ‘I feel bad about the boy’. He probably couldn’t even remember me fucking name, ‘the boy’. So I met him in a pizza place in Earls Court Road and he offered to pay for a course for me to become a commercial traveller. I said, ‘It’s a good thing the pizza hasn’t arrived yet, it’d be your new fucking hat’ and I walked out. I never saw him again. He’s dead now. Him and my step-father died within six months of each other. I’m sure they had lots to talk about on their way up there, or down there. I’m going down there, because that’s where all the pool tables are. You can’t imagine any pool tables up there can you?