Music: Pop: Time to face the very heavy music
Ten years ago, this reviewer risked his life and gave Lemmy's band a bad press. Now Motorhead are back, and its time for Glyn Brown to meet them face to face
Friday 27 February 1998
The scene is a hotel room in central London, foggy with cigarette smoke and littered with bourbon bottles. Beside the TV set stands our man. He's a big bloke, is Lemmy; a looming, hulking presence. At 52, his hair is grey, cascading past the famous facial warts and down over his shoulders. His vast barrel chest strains the black shirt forced into a belt holding 40 bullets (maybe just cartridges); his sizeable pelvis strains against painfully tight black jeans. All this is poured into a pair of white leather pointy-toed boots. (There's a spare pair by the door: "Why buck a winning formula?"). He's known as a mercurial, not to say volatile chap, and he has not altered. Yesterday, he walked off the set of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, apparently disgusted by Mark Lamarr; after this interview, he tells his resigned PR he won't be bothering with the live appearance on GLR that's due next. Ten years ago, unhappy with a review I wrote, he warned another journalist he'd kill me if he met me. I think he's forgotten, though, because for the next 45 minutes he is the soul of charm and sagacity. For the most part.
Lemmy was born in Stoke, the son of a vicar who walked out on his wife when their son was two months old. Little love is lost: "Apparently, he was a gifted concert pianist, but he never had the nerve to go into it as a career. Thought it was fragile and fickle, y'know?" Lemmy slowly exhales smoke. "So he was obviously always a gutless son of a bitch." His mother remarried and the family moved to Wales where, after being expelled from school, Lemmy got a job as a capstan lathe operator at the Hotpoint factory. A little later, he worked on the family farm, and would have stayed had he not heard Little Richard and decided rock was the better bet. Around the same time, he developed a rabid interest in history, particularly war, and particularly Hitler and the Nazi party, which he admires for its elaborate regalia and not, he stresses, its racist policies. An autodidact, he has romped through seven history books (he gives me two) on this tour alone, and watches only the Discovery Channel - "I don't want to watch frivolity. I have enough of that on the bus."
Ah yes, the tour bus. Last night, I saw your video, "Everything Louder Than Everything Else". "Now that's a great little video." Lemmy points across the table at the compact Welsh guitarist Phil "Zoom" Campbell, recruited to Lemmy's ever-changing troops in 1982. "He's funny as shit on that." Someone else who's funny is drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, whose departure from the ranks has left a nasty taste.
"I love where Philthy says, `they never give us any ashtrays', then tips his ash on the dressing-room carpet."
Phil chuckles genially. "Or when he fixes a mini-fan to a headset, `Personal cooler, he says, I'm gonna patent this,'" A beat. "My God, what a tedious little sod he was."
Amid cruel hoots, Philthy stories gather pace. "He tried to climb through his bathroom mirror once, over the taps and everything. Thought it was a window. Another night, he was seen in dark glasses going for 20 minutes round the revolving door of his hotel. Couldn't get out. Another time, he's on a ferry, he disagrees with one of the road crew, pulls a knife on him - stabs his own foot!"
Philthy, of course, is not alone in having been ridiculous. Way before he started Motorhead, Lemmy served in the Rocking Vicars, who performed in Finnish national costume - "Smocks, with royal blue and red and yellow borders". Where did you get those made up? Lemmy stares at me as if I'm stupid: "In Lapland." There's also a grotesque story about the Motorhead show that featured a Heinkel 1-11 bomber rigged to a lighting truss. Lemmy mounted the thing, which was intended to ascend with him playing, then return to the stage. Except that it got stuck, trapping Lemmy in mid-air, still playing as his guitar lead stretched to breaking-point. When he finally got down, the engineer responsible had wisely got a lift a long, long way away.
Lemmy is not, however, really a violent man. Put out of your mind the songs of blood and war and death and the devilish, womanising reputation, and let us return to the farm, "I love horses," he says. "Great animals. Do you like horses?" Well, I'm a bit scared of the teeth. They could bite. "Not unless it's a rogue, or it's being needled. Weird thing about a horse is, it'll stand on your foot, then take the weight off the other three feet until you're in absolute agony, You can punch him in the kidneys - he doesn't care, because he can't feel it. Then he'll turn round and go ..." Lemmy beams a big, dozy grin. His teeth, like a wolf's, like those of a horse, are very, very big.
`Snake Bite Love' is released on 9 March. Motorhead will tour the UK in October.
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