You know you’re moving swiftly through your life when the popular culture icons you grew up on start dropping like flies. For me Lemmy’s death is the most significant in rock music since Phil Lynott’s in the early days of 1986. Both were iconic and charismatic front-men, both were bass players, and both were hugely influential.
On the three occasions that I saw Motorhead, the band covered Thin Lizzy’s version of the Bob Seger-penned classic, Rosalie. Their show at the Olympia in 2006 was one of the best rock ‘n’roll shows I’ve been to – it was also the smelliest. The band were tight, banged out a great set and Lemmy looked to be in fine nick. The last time I saw them was at the same venue in 2009 and Lemmy’s health looked to have taken a dip over the previous year. He lost his voice a third of the way into the gig, struggled through the middle third and then rallied at the end. Whatever about the audience, it must have been an awful experience for him – the band never returned to Ireland.
I recently saw some footage from Motorhead’s appearance at this year’s Glastonbury and Lemmy finally looked like what he was – an old man. I mentioned to a friend that I didn’t think he’d be around for too much longer, but then again you could have said that about Lemmy at any stage of his career, given his lifestyle. That he lived to the age of 70 will go down as one of life’s great mysteries. Maybe the man upstairs finally decided to call him ashore, after realising that by letting him survive so long he’d played a preposterous joke on the rest of us.
His reputation was such that many attended Motorhead concerts more out of curiosity than any love for their music which was dirty, raw and gritty. It’s a shame that there wasn’t anyone out there to interpret his music in the way that Roger McGuinn did for Bob Dylan as underneath the gravel voice was a remarkable facility for words and, yes, melody even.
Lemmy didn’t have much time for the term heavy metal, and considered his music to be simply rock ‘n’ roll. He drove the message home at the start of every concert with his nightly greeting…“Good Evening, We are Motorhead, and we play Rock ‘n’ Roll.” It sounded like metal to me, and some of the albums veered dangerously into speed metal territory. They were undoubtedly the big influence on the thrash metal movement that emerged in the early eighties.
One of my favourite Lemmy interviews was carried out by Emma Brockes for the Guardian in 2004. During the interview Brockes – possibly the most unlikely interviewer of the great man – proclaimed her love of show tunes, to which Lemmy responded with the following:
“You should be nailed to the f&%king cross.”
While living up to the hellraiser stereotype for his entire career the picture that emerged from interviews, and testimonies of his peers was that of a kind, generous and articulate man with a social conscience to boot. He’s the last of his type, in fact was there ever anybody like him? Like Phil Lynott in Dublin before him I’m sure that one day the people of Stoke-on-Trent will see fit to give him a statue of his own.