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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Brixton Academy, London
November 25th 2006

Ask any one hundred rock fans to choose the epitome of the wild man of modern rock and roll and statistics prove that ninety-nine will name Lemmy Kilmister, the Burslem-born front man of “the loudest band in the world” Motörhead (the name is a slang description of a heavy speed user – the umlaut a casual addition to “make the name seem more menacing”). Bad-boy Lemmy has done it all – a roadie for Hendrix he found his way into psycho-space rock-combo Hawkwind, and sang them into the charts with ‘Silver machine’ in 1972.

Sacked following his arrest for amphetamine possession in Canada in 1975 he retaliated in typical style – “It's a terrible thing to be fired, especially for an offence that everyone else was guilty of. So I came home and fucked all their old ladies. Outrageous? No, not at all. I took great pleasure in it. Eat that, you bastards." He followed this with the formation of Motörhead (he’d wanted to call the band ‘Bastard’ but was persuaded this might limit radio airplay time), who gave punk a heavy-metal counterpart and whose high-speed heavy sound (apparently) "created speed metal and thrash metal", whatever they may be. And since their rise to fame and a place in every music-lover’s consciousness with 1980 hit ‘Ace of spades’, Motörhead, in their various guises, have never looked back, never stopped recording, and never stopped touring (indeed, in addition to Motörhead he’s now got a new ‘physco-rockabilly’ band, The Headcat). He’s at number eight in Maxim magazine’s list of Living Sex Legends. Wart-faced finger-poking smoke-toking whiskey-throating Lemmy is every mother’s nightmare.
But how can that be? There are more than a few mothers in the audience at the Brixton Academy, many with their sons. You see something has happened over the past few years and remarkable rock-survivor (quite how he has survived is a mystery both to Lemmy, his doctors, and the rest of the world) Lemmy has been transformed, transmuted, and even transmogrified, from Satanic stereotype to National Treasure. Quite how I’m not sure. His self-depreciating humour must have helped.
Moving revelations about his childhood (he and his mother were deserted by his clergyman father when he was three months old) have thrown a different light on his persona. He’s played it up for kids in adverts for things like Walker’s crisps. He still loves his mum (she’s one of the two people in the world who still calls him ‘Ian’). He’s sixty and shares the same doubts as a growing part of the population – “I hadn’t planned to live this long …it’s weird being old. I don’t feel old. I will not be old, fuck you”. He’s campaigned in the Welsh Parliament against drugs (well, heroin at least). And as the Times told us a few weeks ago, he even sponsors a hard-up under-10s soccer team in Lincolnshire, ‘though for their sins the boys now wear a shirt bearing Motorhead’s Snaggletooth logo, and run onto the pitch to the sound of ‘Ace of spades’. Yup – he’s just an old pussycat really.
And if Lemmy is a National Treasure then his black-shirted audience (am I the only one here not wearing a black T-shirt?) are almost subject to an English Heritage conservation order too (even though a good many of them are German). One in ten are being ‘tagged’ as they come into the theatre for future posterity, “who knows mate” says one, grimacing as his ear receives its fifth piercing, “we could become an endangered species soon”. And for all their lagers, Jack Daniels and Jägermeister (it’s on promotion, being handed out in test-tubes to the punters, apparently it’s very rock and roll these days, and of course it shares a font - Lucida Blackletter - and an umlaut, with Motörhead) the audience are pretty tame, are very solicitous of the Photographer (offering her a bite of a beef-burger was a mistake) and don’t seem to deserve the prodigious police presence they have attracted.
As for the music – well it’s loud, but I’m sure the Bad Seeds at the same venue a few years ago were louder. And of course the sound level at gigs like this is closely monitored – exceed permitted levels and your licence is gone. But let’s agree it’s a deafening wall of sound. We’re almost dead centre, just behind the sound desk and would have a great view but for the fact that the sound desk enclosure is packed with engineers, management (whisky lovers may care to know that Motörhead’s manager is the spitting image of whisky scribe Michael Jackson) and celebrities, including Queen’s Brian May, who brushes past us halfway through the first song, shielded by his menacing security guards, and proceeds to place his perm directly in our line of sight. Nice one Brian.
As befits his National Treasure status Lemmy is a true journeyman of rock.
He stands tall, boots, legs firmly apart, sleeves rolled up, bass slung low and bellows “We are Motörhead. We play rock and roll” before the band burst into “Dr Rock”, or maybe it was “Stay clean”, or maybe ‘Be my baby’. To be frank it was a bit hard to tell through that wall of sound, but normally by about half way through each song you could persuade yourself that they were all playing in the same key and same timing, and that the deep accompanying growl wasn’t a fractured speaker cabinet but rather Lemmy’s singing, if that’s the word to use.
And it was a mixed set, demonstrating that ‘new’ Motörhead can be just as invigorating as the ‘old’ – Lemmy it seems gets somewhat frustrated when their more recent work is disregarded. There’s ‘One night stand’ from this year’s Kiss of Death, and ‘Killers’ and ‘In the name of tragedy’ from 2004’s Inferno, in addition to songs like ‘Iron fist’, and of course ‘Ace of Spades’, ‘Snaggletooth’ (the appearance of which in a live set has for reasons best known to themselves got the Motörhead bulletin boards humming), and a Thin Lizzy tribute (that even had Brian May raising his fist in the air), ‘Rosalie’. In between which Lemmy and guitarist Phil Campbell chat away affably like comperes at a church hall fundraiser in their vaguely Welsh accents, Lemmy’s sounding as if his false teeth need fixing.
It’s all pretty good fun really. We escape during the opening bars of final song ‘Overkill’, manage our way past the menacing plain-clothes policemen outside (honestly, they’re more frightening than the fans, but maybe it’s a Brixton thing) and back to the car for a drive west. I’ve got Lemmy’s words echoing through my brain, “I don’t want to live forever”. Well on the basis of what we’ve seen of Lemmy tonight that, like Pete Townsend’s “Hope I die before I get old”, is clearly another line destined for the trash-can. The old boy’s here for the long-haul.- Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate, Maxim)

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