So good bye Lemmy.
You may have a fairly good idea of what Motorhead sound like and if you are as old as me you may have memories of what I consider the classic line up of Lemmy,Fast Eddie Clarke and Philthy Phil Taylor and the classic hit of ‘Ace of Spades’. In fact, unless you are a fan you may not be able to remember much else about them because after the classic line up the template was pretty much set for the next 40 years.
There is however an almost forgotten chapter in their existence which serves to illustrate the mess of the mid 70’s in terms of musical direction.
Every few months I treat myself to a listening of Hawkwind’s Space Ritual. I love the album, for it’s limitations, every song sounds pretty much the same and every now and again there is a comedy/poetry interlude form Bob Calvert but there’s something about the relentlessness of the record that induces a meditative state. And one of the highlights is Lemmy’s bass playing which penetrates the general audio sludge with a melodic and rhythmic inventiveness.
After being kicked out of Hawkwind ‘for taking the wrong drugs’ Lemmy found himself part of the Dingwalls crowd which was the watering hole for various out on the edge rockers such as members of the Pink Fairies and NME writer Mick Farren. Lemmy was by now convinced that this was the time to form a straight ahead rock band which he decided would be called Bastard.
To aid and abet him in this project he selected drinking cronies Lucas Fox on drums and Larry Wallis on guitar. Fox was unknown but Wallis was a veteran of various Westbrook Grove scene bands most notably the Pink Fairies.
Lemmy was persuaded to change the band’s name realising that Bastard was probably too uncompromising, it was 1975 after all. The band cobbled together a few numbers and set out to play some gigs. At this point the set consisted of ‘Motorhead’ ‘Lost Johnny’ And ‘Silver Machine’ from Lemmy’s Hawkwind days, ‘City Kids’ from the Pink Fairies, ‘Leaving Here’ which was an old Tamla song but Motorhead had probably taken for the Birds version, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, a blues standard and, allegedly, the Velvets ‘Waiting for my Man’
All simple 3 or 4 chord stuff, difficult to get too wrong but difficult to create anything inspiring out of.
The first gig was apparently supporting Greenslade who where a B division Prog Rock band who by 1975 where reaching the end of their creative life. A far better pairing followed when Motorhead supported the Blue Oyster Cult which is where the band first came to my intention.
Because Lemmy had cultivated enough drink and drug buddies around the scene one of the bands first gigs was actually reviewed in the NME. Despite extensive internet searches I cant find the review but it was hilarious. The gig apparently ‘made the average motorway snarl up sound like Mozart’. Well that’s my 40 year old memory anyway, the band were too loud out of tune and out of time and it looked like it was an appearance by a bunch of drugged up waster’s who wouldn’t last.
This was partially true, the band took the usually route of ‘if thing’s aren’t working out,sack the drummer’. Fox was replaced by Phil Taylor who first job was to replace Fox’s recorded drum tracks. With an album recorded Eddie Clarke was added to the line up whereupon Wallis left.
The first album didn’t actually get released until Motorhead were a popular commercial band and its not the best introduction to the band. The album was initially produced by Dave Edmunds and it’s got a pub rock feel to it. It was only when Eddie Clarke settled in that the band really hit on their powerful rock approach, just comparing the two versions of Motorhead one from the initial ‘On Parole’ album and the Clarke version from ‘Motorhead’ shows how the band were transforming. By this time (1977) I was frequenting a bar named ‘Whites ‘where ‘Motorhead ‘ was on the jukebox every 10 minutes to I absorbed the track by osmosis.Its a great sing and the beginning of the Motorhead sound.
Fox went on to play with Warsaw Pakt who were one of the hopeless punk crossover bands that sprang up like a rash post Sex Pistols. Wallis was involved with the Stiff label and featured on their first package tour before settling for a period of heavy drink an underachieving. Motorhead managed the transformation form a pub rock band to their own brand of unassailable hard rock which is beyond criticism.
Here is a recording of their first gig. I’ve listened to it so you don’t have too. It’s hard going but disappointingly not as bad as I hoped it would be